Monday, December 3, 2012

REVIEW: Keeper of the Black Stones / P.T. McHugh

TITLE: Keeper of the Black Stones (Stone Ends, Book 1)
PUBLISHER: Glass House Press
AVAILABILITY: Amazon US (paperback), Amazon US (Kindle e-book), Amazon UK (paperback), Amazon UK (Kindle e-book), Barnes & Noble (paperback and Nook e-book)

Recommendedfor fans of time travel adventures such as Michael Crichton’s Timeline and the movie Back to the Future.

Science Fiction—Young Adult/Fantasy

Keeper of the Black Stones walks the line between science fiction and contemporary fantasy. As a time travel adventure, it fits in with sci-fi novels such as Michael Crichton’s Timeline or the movie Back to the Future. On the other hand, the time travel device utilized, a set of black stones, seems magical. The protagonist, Jason, is able to communicate psychically with them, and little explanation is given as to how they work other than a mention hereand there about physics theories. Much of this novel takes place in 1485 England at the edge of the War of the Roses, in which Henry Tudor overthrows Richard III. For this reason, it also contains elements of historical fiction.

Keeper of the Black Stones is the first novel in a series, and while a self-contained story, the ending is a real cliffhanger.

Keeper of the Black Stones hooks a reader in with the promise of adventure, introducing the time travel element at the very beginning. The pace ebbs and flows, with some parts being as page-turning as any thriller and others slowing down to allow the reader to take in their surroundings—to get to know the characters and settings. As the stakes are raised, the pace speeds up, and by the time I reached the second half, I’d defenestrated any notions of putting the book down.

This book alternates between first and third person. The majority of the book is written from Jason’s first person past perspective, in his voice and describing only what he sees. The rest of the book alternates between the various third person perspectives of other characters, such as Jason’s grandfather, Doc, and the villain, Dresden.

Keeper of the Black Stones opens in 15th century England, where the Earl of Oxford leads his army. The Earl is actually Dr. Richard Evans, a time-traveling professor on a mission to stop Lord Dresden, another time traveler, from changing history. Jason Evans, the Doc’s fourteen-year-old grandson, stumbles upon his grandfather’s journal. Although incredulous at first, he is soon pulled into the quest. The titular black stones, devices that allow one to jump through time, call to him, sending him visions of disaster to come. The power-hungry Dresden plans to alter the outcome of the War of the Roses for his own purposes and kill Doc. It comes down to Jason to stop him.

At first glance, Jason is anything but the man for the job. At his high school, he’s the introverted dork the other kids either pick on or ignore. However, he possesses an internal strength that surprises even himself at times, a foolish determination to do whatever it takes to save the day. McHugh’s decision to write Jason’s scenes in first person makes the reader privy to Jason’s thoughts, making it easy to sympathize with him. As he finds himself in situation after situation, Jason pushes past his fears with dogged resolve.

Keeper boasts a colorful cast of characters. Jason is accompanied on this adventure by his best friend Paul, who has the tendency to crack bad jokes at inappropriate times, including an homage to Back to the Future. Protecting them both is a no-nonsense body guard called Reis, hired by Doc to keep Jason safe from 20th century forces pursuing the black stones. And then there’s the arrogant and tough Tatiana, a girl Jason’s age who blackmails her way onto the trip to the 15th century. She is Dresden’s estranged daughter, and she bears a hell of a grudge.

Dresden, meanwhile, is a classic psychopathic villain, one who admits outright that his goal is one of oldest in existence: he simply wants to rule the world. With the time traveling power of the black stones, he plots to change history to his own advantage, never mind that it could endanger the existence of the universe.Truly despicable and sharply conniving, he makes a great antagonist, one you can’t wait to see squashed and yet love to watch in action.

The plot twists and turns in so many directions that it’s virtually impossible to predict what will happen next. The build-up to the time jump contains all the elements of an action movie—mysterious motives, shadowy figures, and an explosive gunfight. Although stopping Dresden is the primary plot of this novel, one gets the idea that there are more forces at work. Jason’s journey into the 15th century is filled with danger from every angle, from medieval thugs to capture by Dresden’s men. McHugh does an excellent job of setting the scene, including historical details that create an immersive experience. Encounters with Richard III and Henry Tudor, the future Henry VII, add an exciting element of “what if?”

In Keeper, McHugh has given us a thrilling combination of fantasy and historical fiction. It’s a time travel adventure that had me restlessly flipping through the pages. Jason's spirited voicesnarky at times and thoughtful at othersbreathes life into the story and escalates it to something truly absorbing. Clever, courageous, and wonderfully nerdy, this is the kind of tenacious underdog we all like to root for.

I read an advance copy of this novel, and so I can’t speak to the final version. I can tell you that the version I read was quite clean and error-free.

This book contains action movie and medieval style violence, but nothing particularly graphic or gruesome. Its content is suitable for young readers.

P.T. McHugh was born and raised in New Hampshire and currently lives in Raleigh, North Carolina with his wife, two daughters, and a dog named Bob, daring to dream of alternate worlds and cheering for his beloved New England Patriots.

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Disclosure: Glass House Press is the publisher of my series, Flynn Nightsider. I received anadvance copy of this book and was asked for my honest opinion. The above reflects only my true thoughts concerning the book.

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