Friday, June 01, 2007

In the Wake of Ashes

My Brother's Keeper: Book II
by Lorrieann Russell
(iUniverse / 0-595-22355-9 / April 2002 / 564 pages / $27.95)

The short version of the 1000-page, two-book story is that if you liked Lorrieann Russell's My Brother's Keeper, you'll enjoy the sequel just about as much. The first thing you will notice is the distinctive cover design by the author, who is also known as an accomplished graphic artist. The long saga of William Fylbrigge's short life picks up where the first book ended, with William on a ship bound for America from Scotland in 1612. Ms. Russell began with a bit of research into her personal family tree to discover a brief notation concerning a Scottish ancestor who lived in the early 1600's. The author has created a fictional story around this unknown, real-life character. This is the second of three books written about William Fylbrigge. The first, My Brother's Keeper, begins with William's wedding at Stonehaven Castle and mostly concerns his false accusal and trial as a witch. He is then imprisoned and tortured for several days before being rescued by his compatriots and sneaked onto a ship bound for America. He begins his journey practically in a coma, and he does not fully awaken until the ship has neared its destination. This book, In the Wake of Ashes, covers the remainder of Fylbrigge's life. The third in the series is a prequel to My Brother's Keeper, and it is scheduled for release later this year by a traditional publisher.

The strongest element of Ms. Russell's books is that she understands very well the concept of "show, don't tell" that more authors should take to heart. Her characters come to life in your hands with their natural conversational style. The story is told without a lot of unnecessary, third-person description to bog it down. The reader feels as if he is present in the room with the conversing characters. My guess is that this is one of the leading elements of what many readers would call a real "page turner".

The weakest element of In the Wake of Ashes is its lack of proper proofreading. I hesitate to say this, but in this case, it stands out like lipstick on a pig. I am acutely aware that Lorrieann rushed this book to press for an honorable reason, but surely in retrospect, she must regret that momentous decision. It is more than a little likely that In the Wake of Ashes will be re-released at some date in the future in a more perfectly edited version. That publisher could be iUniverse, the one currently planning the release of the prequel, or yet a third publisher. Whichever the case, this book deserves a better proofreading because the story and composition are first-rate. Now back to the story....

In the Wake of Ashes holds up to the original book quite well. Some other reviewers have said they liked it better than My Brother's Keeper. I do not feel strongly either way. Keeper seemed a bit more action-packed and Ashes seemed to unroll a little more like a quieter drama. I think any rating of Ashes that lessens its impact from that of Keeper must concern the higher error count in Ashes, not its story content. I like to think of Keeper as being more like The Crucible and Ashes as more like The Last of the Mohicans. I am referring, of course, to the mood and storylines of these legendary works, not their compositional style. I recently viewed the latest movie versions of these two classics, and I enjoyed Lorrieann's two books better than both of the legends!

If you are new to Lorrieann Russell's books, I highly recommend that you read the first book first. You will then get much more out of William's story in Ashes. Although the author has done a credible job of filling in the first part of the story for first-time readers in Ashes, there is no adequate substitute for the reading of My Brother's Keeper first to capture all the impact and nuance of the story. As in all my reviews, I say what I would want to read about the book beforehand as a reader. If you want to preview plotlines or quotes from the reviewed work, you must look elsewhere. Most of In the Wake of Ashes takes place in and around a small settlement named Port Edin in The New World in a time when we were still friends with many of the Indian tribes. William Fylbrigge learns to adapt to his new life as a cripple in the wilderness of young America. He has brought his family and a few friends with him, and he makes a bunch of new friends. He has a few exciting adventures and his friends surprise him a lot with their actions. Watch out for the many bumps in the road because what has passed is past. Lorrieann Russell knows how to write. Go read the book.

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