(2005-10-28)Storytelling is all about ideas; ideas that make a reader want to follow the story to its conclusion. One of the classic methods of creating such a relationship between the reader and the work is the pursuit storyline. Also often known as the chase, the story will create a build-up of tension as the characters are lead through a hectic series of events to a specific end. In JC De La Torre’s new book, Ancient Rising, the pursuit storyline is used to the fullest degree, creating a globe-hopping adventure that toys with the pre-conceptions surrounding one of mankind’s most enduring legends, Atlantis.
Ancient Rising follows the character of Dan Ryan on a forced quest to uncover the mysteries of Atlantis. De La Torre’s story takes in multiple locations around the world as Ryan, along with a scientific crew who have been searching for Atlantis for decades, track down clues left by the enigmatic Hermes that will lead to the lost civilisation hinted at by Plato.
There have been many interpretations of Atlantis, both scientific and fantastical, yet no-one has been able to find a single factual account or piece of evidence that would create an irrefutable claim that the city or society existed. This sense of mystery and uncertainty is what holds such appeal for mankind and why so much literature exists about the subject. In this choice of source material De La Torre has been brave; with such a vast quantity of works already available, any new piece can be lost amongst the wealth of material on offer. However, Ancient Rising holds it’s own as a fast-paced tale that doesn’t take itself or the source too seriously, instead offering a fun ride without challenging the reader greatly.
Much of the credit for the story must go to its pacing. The hunt for Atlantis using Hermes’ clues is breathless, moving at a breakneck speed that will have you turning the page quicker and quicker as the end nears. Although the choice of lead characters is a little strange; Ryan, a famous religious author, has recently lost both wife and daughter in a car accident, several of the support characters are interesting and it is them we pay more attention to. Doctor Constantopolus, referred to as Doc Constant, the Greek Scotsman (I kid you not) is a practical, heart-felt individual whose character offers a down-to-earth balance to the fantastic subject matter. His granddaughter, Mina, provides Ryan’s love interest as well as ties to the initial villain of the piece, Grahame Solitaire. Solitaire is the stereotypical bad guy; good looking, wealthy, with a dash of the sinister that hides a darker secret, his own interest in Atlantis causes problems for Ryan and company. Travelling to various destinations of archaeological importance relating to Atlantis, Ancient Rising does a solid job of creating a believable world populated by hopeful individuals eager to solve the mystery of Atlantis. Although having never personally been to any of the locations, they seem well researched with enough detail to create a strong mental picture, yet brief enough to not hinder the journey’s onward rush.
Unfortunately Ancient Rising is not without it’s faults. To begin with the nature of the story makes it very predictable, as the characters soldier from one site to another under Hermes command. The reader is never in any doubt about the outcome, even though there are a few well-sprung surprises on the way, and as a result it is the ending that becomes more important than the journey. Understandably, as the first book in a trilogy, De La Torre has to set the scene for the resurrection of Atlantis and establish the characters, yet it all seems to be by-the-numbers, even the bumps in the road are brief and quickly overcome. Also there is a degree of familiarity with the subject matter and style that is hard to shake, with obvious influences even mentioned in the book - Dan Brown particularly gets several mentions. The prose lacks polish, often reverting to a chatty style of storytelling that struggles to find a clear, distinctive voice. Spurts of excessive description hinder the narrative and De La Torre uses an occasional turn of phrase that is far removed from the main bulk of the story; ‘raped like a Hong Kong call girl’ being the most obvious.
The ending, which segues into the beginning of the next book Ancient Destruction, is a strange transition that is perhaps too sharp and at odds with the build-up to be fully accepted without reading the next book. It will suffice to say that there is a definitive change at the end of the book in the style and degree of fantasy, moving from grounded to very fantastical in the matter of a few pages. This isn’t a criticism of the storyline but rather recognising that the effect could have been more subtly used to allow the reader a slower transition into the fantastic setting and events. None of these problems overtly hinder the storyline but readers may struggle with the book being told completely in a first- person perspective. Very few authors can write first-person well, Robin Hobb is one of a short list that comes to mind, and the uncertainty in narrative voice – Ryan seems stuck between being a part of the story yet showing awareness of the reader – makes for an, at times, awkward, unconvincing read.
In conclusion, Ancient Rising is a promising opening book. The fast pace and intrigue are only hindered by a lack of subtlety and a confused style. There is an element of adolescent adventure writing that is partially refuted by some adult content, which sums up the uncertainties that arise from the book. A touch of clarity and refinement, with the possible reversion to third-person perspective, would make JC De La Torre an enjoyable author to read.
Reviewed by Owen Jones © 2005
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