Thursday, June 12, 2008

Legend of the Dark Messiah

Legend of the Dark Messiah:
The Mask and the Sword

by J. Johnson Higgins
(iUniverse / 0-595-47215-X / 978-0-595-47215-4 / December 2007 / 204 pages / $14.95) 
Reviewed by Ron Baxley for PODBRAM
Comic masks, in the modern theater, are often symbolic of comedy itself and go back to ancient Greek drama. Wearing a projected comic mask, President Dmitri von Calvin in J. Johnson Higgins’ suspenseful Legend of the Dark Messiah in actuality creates tragedy on his home planet of I-Star, a fantastical planet that blends magic and technology. One would find a match for President Calvin if suddenly Big Brother and Rowling’s Minister of Magic and Lord Voldemort had merged under an illusory version of the Guy Fawkes mask from V is for Vendetta. It seems at first that the villains do always get the best development and concepts in fantasies but Higgins soon proves even this old saw rusty. After all, Cassidy, the intriguing main character of his book, can magically see through his mask and becomes involved in what could be a tragedy of her own. Keeping potential tragedy under a mask of his own is part of Higgins’ skill.

The suspense of what could be a tragedy is the highlight of this book as Cassidy is shown in a prologue battling an evil force and surrounded by dragons. The dragons are part of the suspense as one begins to wonder what her connection is to them. Perhaps more clues could have been given, but this would have hindered the author’s mastery of suspense. Cassidy is soon encased in a kind of magic cryogenic chamber of ice and, upon escape, finds herself on the modern world of I-Star.

I-Star is a technological, highly political world with some magic users, but Higgins, among his politicians, who are a blend of the Jedi-like and the Empire, does not get bogged down into too many political discussions like one of George Lucas’ Star Wars prequels. With too much politics and not enough suspense, readers will not be engaged with speculative worlds. However, Higgins engages the reader, leaving him wondering what the connection is between Cassidy and the aforementioned president.

Eventually, after Cassidy discusses with a spy how something should be done about the area’s big landmark, a gigantic clock tower, she is sought out by President Calvin to bring a clock tower to its former glory. Little does Cassidy know that President Calvin is a dark figure from her past. Irony abounds as the reader grows aware of this while Cassidy is skillfully kept unaware by the author.

Hindering the suspense is some of the dialogue, which focuses on mundane aspects of life. True, modern people have many mundane tasks that they engage in, but the author need not create verisimilitude in a fantasy book by having the characters harp on about the minutia of life.

The author creates more excitement with the dialogue and plot surrounding Cassidy’s magic powers. Soon, Cassidy discovers that she has them, powers that also connect her to her past. She, much like popular culture characters like Phoenix and the little girl from Firestarter, realizes that she has trouble controlling her powers and often times they are based in anger. She also begins to realize her connection to President Calvin and seeks him out with some friends with adventurous gusto. Some of her realization occurs through a little too much exposition from minor characters and the antagonist.
Though the author could have kept more of the potential tragedy more skillfully hidden under the mask, Higgins does a good job keeping most of it incognito. Probably the weakest element in Legend of the Dark Messiah is that the author could have displayed somewhat more of the storyline’s depth through a show, don’t tell methodology instead of a narrated back-story from other characters. Details could have been expanded to increase the narrative. Higgins also has great potential for future books because many of his characters have a secret connection that will have to be experienced to be believed. What Higgins ends up with in this slim volume is a comedy in the oldest sense of the word, an adventurous romp with a happy ending. This first novel displays a commendable level of taut editing and clean proofreading, too. The excitement and suspense of the basic plotline will keep the reader turning the pages. J. Johnson Higgins has composed a promising first effort.

See Also: Ron's B&N Review
J. Johnson Higgins' website

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