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Author of the Mind Sleuth Series © 2015 Bruce M. Perrin


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Book Review: To Conquer Heaven by Felix Long

An Outstanding Story, but It Takes Some Persistence

College buddies Jeremy Wang and Brett East team up with Dr. Saffiyah Halcyone, Egyptian archaeologist, to search for the lost tomb of the first emperor of China, Shi Huang Di.  Joined by the mysterious Jin, the threesome face the perils of rivers of mercury, terracotta warriors, and a quicksilver dragon in order to stop the emperor before he can rise again and continue his quest To Conquer Heaven.

I found this story nothing short of outstanding in the way it weaves history, folklore, science, and magic into the plot.  Desperate to conquer death, the first emperor of China calls upon the Egyptians and their expertise on the afterlife.  That, in turn, brings into play stories such as the curse of the Pharaohs and historical characters such as Howard Carter and Aleister Crowley.  Coupled with the mythical figure of the Monkey King in Chinese folklore and the tyrannical legacy of Shi Huang Di, author Felix Long has a great deal of violence, magic, and mystery with which to work.  And he weaves all these threads into a conclusion, a feat I was not certain was possible mid-story.

Writings from the Tao Te Ching, the foundation of Taoism, introduce each chapter.  It’s basic form of declarations, followed by contradictions to stimulate thought, seemed to be continued into the novel.  The chapters when our explorers first enter the tomb are filled with contradictory situations, with Jeremy, a doctoral student, and Saffiyah seeking science-based explanations for what appears to be magic.  In some cases, science gets them out of a jam.  But when it doesn’t, magic is there as the backup.  It’s a fascinating interplay.

Character development in the story gave me some pause.  For an Egyptian archaeologist and a doctoral student, there was not much planning and forethought for their adventure.  And giggling and ‘horseplay’ were more common than I would have expected.  Even the budding romance seemed to come out of nowhere.  But overall, these were secondary issues.

More troubling for me was the writing style.  Clearly, there are passages that are beautifully worded and highly evocative.  Take for example: “The sheer delight of survival was trickling away behind her, like a melting candy coating revealing a seed of cold panic in her breast.”  Very expressive, but any technique can be over-worked.  And analogies are.  Then, there are phrases that seem complex for no apparent reason, e.g., ““There was a subliminal susurration on the edge of the audible spectrum.”  As far as I can tell, that just means there was a soft rustling.  It’s clearly a matter of taste, but for mine, the prose was unnecessarily dense, requiring some persistence to complete an otherwise outstanding tale.

If you’re drawn to adventures that cleverly mix history, myth, science, and magic, especially when they are of a Chinese and/or Egyptian origin, To Conquer Heaven is a treat.  You just need to be a bit persistent.

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