After tragedy strikes their family, Hadyn and Ewan Barlow must adjust to a depressing new life. But when a secret viking runestone opens the door to a world in peril, they are given a choice: join the battle of this magical, foreign land, or never find their way home again. In the Hidden Lands of Karac Tor, names are being stolen. Darkness spreads. As strange new powers awaken within, will the Barlows reluctantly answer the call to fight? Or will they succumb to Nemesia’s dark spell and join the Lost…forever?
Book 1, Legends of Karac Tor – young adult fantasy.
Review by Rebecca LuElla Miller
The Story. The Book of Names brings the Barlow brothers to the mysterious Hidden Lands of Karac Tor, a place of magic and conflict and power. While Hadyn and Ewan desire to return home above all else, they have been marked by forces of evil who wish to capture and destroy them. When one of them falls into enemy hands, the adventure is on.
Strengths. The two main characters, Hadyn and Ewan Barlow, are sympathetic. Their mother has recently died, they’ve moved to a new place, and they’re hurting.
The fantasy world is dense, as you can tell from the above quote describing the land. It has a somewhat complex religious system, ripe with strife; layers of evil; a governmental structure complete with political intrigue; and numerous magical forces, some rather ambiguous. There is a detailed history and traditions and geography. In other words, Karac Tor has fabric, as a real place would have.
The story is the classic fantasy tale of people from one land transporting to another in the throes of a good-versus-evil struggle. But at risk in this new world are the children, and consequently all of Karac Tor. In that regard, The Book of Names may be viewed as a parable of our world today.
The themes aren’t presented through allegory, but are woven into the story with symbols and allusion. As you would expect, names are important, and Briggs includes names that allude to the Arthurian tales, Celtic and Norse mythology, and Scripture.
The writing is good and in places, fun. Giving a nod to Lloyd Alexander’s character Fflewddur Fflam in the Chronicles of Prydain, Briggs introduces Cruedwyn Creed who plays a significant role in the story but also provides some comic relief.
Weaknesses. The fantasy world is dense. Yes, I view this fact as a strength and a weakness because much of the first half of the book was devoted to setting up the parts of this extensive world. For fantasy writers, set up is always an albatross—we fail if we don’t set the world up in a way that makes it seem real, but we slow the story down too much if we do. The ideal, of course, is a story that includes the depth of The Book of Names but at a pace closer to today’s commercial fiction.
Others will disagree with me on this next point, but I felt jerked about with the omniscient point of view. Because the story took me to numerous scenes away from the Barlow brothers and because I didn’t firmly identify with one brother over the other, I had trouble connecting with the characters until the halfway point. However, when the one protagonist expressed a clear desire and took steps to achieve it, I strongly identified with him from that point on. I can only wish that had taken place sooner.
Recommendation. The Legends of Karac Tor is a crossover series — from YA to adult. The Book of Names is, in some ways, an introductory book. Though it has stand-alone features, including a satisfying resolution, it begins the tale that obviously continues in the next book, Corus the Champion. I am so grateful for this rich fantasy, the closest thing to epic Christian fantasy I’ve read in a long time. For those who love the genre as I do, this is a must read.