Sunday, May 29, 2011

Book Review: Jeremy Chikalto and the Hazy Souls by T. S. DeBrosse

Early in Jeremy Chikalto and the Hazy Souls, the main character, a teenage boy whose paranormal encounters have marked him as different, is traveling far from his home to boarding school. Sound familiar? Well, that's pretty much where any similarity between T. S. DeBrosse's debut novel and Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone ends. Oh, also, both novels came from the pens of talented individuals who write under their initials. Cajjez Jeremy Chikalto, who in the opening scene the reader witnesses abusing his servants, more closely resembles Harry Potter's bratty cousin Dudley, the one you probably love to hate, than Harry Potter himself, who has managed to grow up kind, humble, and moral despite his unpleasant upbringing. Jeremy Chikalto is a different kind of hero, one whom you may at first dislike. And that is kind of refreshing.

The hero of DeBrosse's novel is a brat, for sure, but he is a brat with redeeming qualities. Kind of like brats you might know in real life. He is a departure from the humble yet valiant hero around which the genre of science fiction and fantasy more commonly centers. He is complex, a good person with believable flaws.

Another intriguing character I'd like to highlight is Maren Nononia. She is in some ways an unlikely heroine. Maren, too, represents a departure from the narrowly defined roles most women in the genre are allowed to occupy. She is not conniving and catty, she is not airheaded or weak, and she is not the blindly courageous, hot-tempered, self-confident heroine busting through boundaries in a man's world, and then saving the world while she's at it. Though having nothing to do with fantasy or science fiction, think of the personality of Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice. Maren is more like another Jane Austen character, the unsung heroine Fanny Price of the lesser-sung novel Mansfield Park. She is timid, yet principled, and able to speak her mind and stand her ground where it counts.

At face value, the debut novel by T.S. DeBrosse features a vast multitude of the tropes of many beloved sci-fi and fantasy classics all in one novel. Jeremy Chikalto and the Hazy Souls includes a prince, magic, space travel, prophecy, monsters, and even talking cats, although DeBrosse would probably correct me on semantics. The "prince" to whom I refer, Jeremy, is actually the Cajjez of the planet Watico; the "monsters" are really abominations; and the talking cats are not cats at all, but fizdrufts. This might seem like too much, like a mishmosh of too many fantastic elements, but DeBrosse is able to make it work. Instead of the work of an unskilled fantastical fiction fan throwing all of his or her favorite fantastical ideas together in a busy, uncoordinated, eye-roll-inducing mess, Jeremy Chikalto and the Hazy Souls represents skillful balancing of all of these elements. That DeBrosse is able to seamlessly combine them amazes me, personally; it is a testament to the writer's talent.

Speaking of testaments, the prophecy to which I referred in the previous paragraph isn't completely some story DeBrosse dreamed up, or a tired reiteration of the standard plot in which an Evil being is going to destroy the world unless the Chosen One intervenes. Closely tied to Jeremy Chikalto's fate is the Old Testament of the Bible. While the Watican Bible varies somewhat from that of Earth, it is the same religion. The moment that this connection became clear to me, the reader, I stopped and thought, "This book is really well constructed!" Because here was yet another element added to the mix of space travel and talking cats, and still, nothing stuck out and everything fit. The addition of recognizable religion to the book also sets it apart from others of its genre; in my mind, this is what makes DeBrosse's book really original.

In fact, the Earth we know exists in this novel and parts of the novel take place on Earth. Which reminds me of another thing that makes this book great. Have you ever read a science fiction novel where characters from a distant planet have an uncanny ability to speak English? Well, Jeremy Chikalto and friends do speak English, but DeBrosse even has a plausible explanation for that.

Because this is such an original piece of writing, I'm not telling you anymore. I don't want to give away anything about the plot. Being surprised by this unique novel is part of what makes it enjoyable, and I wouldn't want to ruin that for anyone.

Jeremy Chikalto and the Hazy Souls is available in paperback and e-book form. You can find it at Amazon (Kindle and print), Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords. Hey, Portlanders! Powell's has it too!

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