RealmShift (2006)
By: Jeff Ritchie on May 9, 2010  |  Comments ()  |  Share 
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Author: Alan Baxter
Publisher: Gryphonwood Press
Pages: 268
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Isiah is an immortal who seeks to help keep The Balance in a universe where every God ever dreamt of by man exists, and of course where all the corresponding evil also exists. The Balance, a sort of unknowable cosmic entity, tasks Isiah with getting the Satanist Samuel to South America in order for Samuel to save the life of American Journalist Katherine, who is destined to do a great deed, but who is on a collision course with the psychopathic mercenary Carlos. Samuel was destined to tackle Carlos before he could kill Katherine, but when you piss off Satan the best laid plans are going to go to pieces.

First rescuing Samuel from the very bowels of Hell itself, Isiah must then somehow escape the satanic legions that are hard on their heels and get Samuel to the place of his destiny at the correct time. Vampires, assorted Angels, and others will help Isiah in his quest; demonic forces will dog his every step. It's a race against time and an unholy enemy with the lifeblood of the Amazon at risk.

"Are you asking if I believe that the skull has power?" - Sanchez

I got sent this one on the eve of Author Alan Baxter crashing the North American lifeboat party. The novel has been out for sometime Down Under but has recently been picked up for some tender loving care up North, and it's about bloody time as well if you ask me, not that you were. I'm getting my 2c in before Al Baxter becomes like famous and stuff and get's to drink tequila out of Paris Hilton's belly button, hence he might even read this review in between fielding movie offers. So hey unexpected book to review, just finished the climatic final confrontation, let's see how this pony trots.

Baxter doesn't waste much time ripping into things as Isiah is immediately battling the forces of hell, due to his being a thorn in the side of Satan. From here the book doesn't lag at any stage and actually cranks up the pace, and as things start rocketing to Mayan Pyramid central the reader will tend to get swept along in the flow, so just go with it. Alan Baxter has a keen eye for pace and lets his writing style reflect the race against time that his protagonist is consumed by. There are interludes as we get to meet additional characters and hit the metaphysical musings that form the core of the novel, but they are really only pit stops to help the reader get their breath back. I was actually reading at break neck speed as things got dicey for Isiah and was cheering the big fella on as time started running out. It's touch and go, things aren't preordained here, and the outcomes are not what you might think they are from the opening chapters. There are a few surprises in store folks.

There's certainly quite a bit of comparative religion and deep thought flowing through the novel, but Baxter never allows it to overwhelm the narrative or detract from where things are going. You can quite happily dial into deep thinking similar to the tail end of an undergraduate bong party, or you can just jump on the chariot race Alan Baxter has unleashed. Basically all Gods that have even been thought of exist, if enough people put their faith into a mythical being then that being will become a reality. Sort of like an out of control Tibetan toga party. Actually must do a bit of research and ensure it was the Tibetans that came up with the concept. So naturally you have the Christian God, Arch Angels, demons, and Satan. Joining the party are Mayan gods, vampires (who appear to exist here on the human plain), and about any other mythical being that wants to get into the ultimate tag team face up. It's a compelling idea and Alan Baxter goes one step beyond by having a force of Balance in the Universe to ensure we don't get over run by Satyrs or a giant mechanical Barbara Streisand and the like. Actually it all makes sense and you can dial into as much or as little musing of this sort as you desire.

What's interesting about Alan Baxter's central concept is that it takes out the normal chaos overtones that horror plays with like a five year old with a box of matches. While "The Balance" seeks some grand design harmony in the cosmos chaos is as likely to be unleashed by the forces of good as it is by the forces of evil. Don't expect the normal horror tropes to be renting a room in this particular hotel, Alan Baxter has thrown a particularly nasty curve ball at us. Which is of course to be applauded, if you read as much horror as I do on a regular basis then you get all complacent and start working out the plot from about page two. I was actually charging through the novel to see what new ideas the Author had coming my way and was caught up on the whole fabric of the universe thing. Just think the force kids and go with the flow okay.

So what you are getting here is a pretty decent yarn that rocks along at pace with a philosophical viewpoint of life, the universe, and everything. Quite the achievement when you think about it. And before anyone starts thinking this all sounds slightly heavy, I'm nodding at Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code that manages to wrap art history, theological debate, and the sort of mythos that conspiracy theorists love into one hell of a thriller ride. So you can have some fun, learn some stuff, and get a whole new interpretation of religion while still wondering if Isiah might be in imminent danger from hell's legions.

Structurally Alan Baxter side steps an immediate trap that has caught any number of would be novelists at the first hurdle. We are talking the sort of character list that you would normally expect from a fantasy novel. And before you ask, no this isn't the horror outing that sees a group of people trapped in an isolated Amazon farmhouse over the course of one night. Baxter introduces his characters as they become involved in the events unfolding, so we don't get a whole bunch of people thrown into the first chapter that'll take half the book to sort out. Besides Isiah and Samuel fighting the legions of Satan in their attempt to achieve Samuel's destiny, there's Carlos Villalopez a psychopathic mercenary who takes strong exception to a local hospital Priest, and U.S Journalist Katherine Bailey who has her own destiny to fulfil. This isn't even mentioning the various minor characters each major character attracts during the course of the novel. Everything is moving toward a hay ride to hell in the Amazonian jungle, and Baxter gradually picks up pace as the final confrontation looms ever closer. And by final confrontation I'm talking apocalyptic forces clashing over here. Alan Baxter isn't going at this half arsed, Satan wants his due, there are destinies to be fulfilled, and you wouldn't want to be the middle of this disagreement.

I had a whole bunch of fun with this novel, and yes really dug the philosophical side of things Alan Baxter was sending my way. Unfortunately I've run out of space, hence didn't cover some of the literary devices in use, but just take it as written that there's a whole bunch more depth and cool ideas coming at you in the novel.
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