Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Book Review - The Watchers of Ur: Cradle

The Watchers of Ur, by Lamonte M. Fowler
1. Cradle       05/11/2012     * * * *

From Goodreads:
"From before the Dawn of Man, good and evil have battled on the Earth. As humans progressed from Eden to the skies and to space, Azrael watched over humanity — teaching, guiding, and protecting the Children of Earth.

The Enemy, imprisoned on Earth for their rebellion, carry out the Master’s plan to end their bondage and take the war to a new front — a pristine ‘cradle’ world where suffering and war are not known. Using the Emperor of Earth and the resources of his vast empire to build mankind’s first star ship, the Enemy weaves a plot that spans generations, and threatens two sentient races.

In Book One, Azrael enlists Father Bożydar Joffre, a Jesuit priest, and Kavan Ferre, a brilliant physicist, to prevent the Enemy from escaping to the stars. Joined by an unlikely group of space pirates, Azrael leads an epic race across the solar system to halt the Enemy before their great migration can begin.

THE WATCHERS OF UR: CRADLE will take you from Earth to Mars, Europa, Titan, and beyond on an epic journey filled with fast-paced action, gripping human drama, and stunning glimpses of the future of Mankind."

My Thoughts:
This novel was an interesting experiment for me to read, because I really had no idea ahead of time whether or not I would like it.  Usually when I pick up a book and start reading I have some idea of whether or not I'm going to find it enjoyable, but that wasn't the case here at all.  I was excited to read it, and excited by the basic premise of the story, but having never read the author I knew nothing about his style of writing or pacing or if the story itself would actually be any good.  Luckily for me, it was.

Mr. Fowler presents an interesting question - If Lucifer and his fallen angelic followers were imprisoned on Earth and left without the ability to transport themselves through time and space, are they tied to the planet itself, or to the human population?  If humans leave the planet, can the enemy of good follow them into space and ultimately to other worlds?

"Cradle" takes place approximately 500-600 years in the future, and the human race has spread out across the solar system.  Earth and parts of the solar system are ruled by an emperor, though some of the space colonies have various levels of independence from the Empire.  Azrael, an angelic being, is involved in a long, on-going plan to stop the "Enemy" from completing a top-secret project to build a new type of spaceship that can quickly cross the vast distances between planetary systems.  In their desperate attempt to escape Earth, the Enemy uses the immense resources and military authority represented by the Empire, while Azrael has only a few people on his side, whose skills and abilities seem ill-fitted for the task at hand.  "Cradle" ends with a bit of a cliff-hanger and the story will continue in "Offspring," due in July of 2012.

 In my opinion, the best parts of this novel, and where I feel that the author excels, is in the world building.  Fowler has imagined an amazing and fantastic future history in which humans have overcome the obstacles of space and colonized the most incredible environments.  Space navies patrol the inner planets, pirate fleets operate on the fringes of society, and scientific complexes inhabit deep seas and hollow asteroids.  Reading the authors' ideas of where humans have gone and what they've done once they got there in this future was impressive and highly entertaining, and definitely made me fall in love with the story.

What didn't always work quite as well were the characters inhabiting this amazing landscape (Space-scape?).  While some of the characters are well written and their existence makes sense within the confines of the story, more than a few of them felt a little flat or shallow, and there are several instances where I felt that some of the characters' motivations didn't make sense.  For example, one character makes a life-altering decision in what feels like a heartbeat, when perhaps that choice should have been more difficult, or taken more time to think and consider the ramifications of the choice.  Characters walk away from home or career without a second thought and no remorse afterwards, and it just doesn't always "feel" like something a real person would do - merely that the story requires the character to be in a specific place and so they move there.  Oddly, some of the secondary characters seemed more realistic than most of the main characters did.

Fortunately, the rest of the story, together with the world building, tends to push these concerns towards the back of the mind, but every now and then they popped back up and pulled me out of the reading experience briefly, which is the only reason I mention them.  None of the other reviews I've read talk about the characters at all, so maybe it was just me.  But the lack of real character depth would probably be my only complaint about "Cradle," but it certainly isn't enough to keep me from reading "Offspring" when it becomes available.  I'm giving "Cradle" four stars, and I look forward to seeing where the authors' vision takes us next.


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