Friday, December 10, 2010

REVIEW: "The Advent of Lena" by Neil M. Campbell

Park is a real ladies man; handsome and confident, he can have his pick of many women, and often does. Unfortunately, his cold heart doesn't match his handsome outside. Chloe is kind with a indomitable character, and her friends are fiercely loyal. Unfortunately, her outsides don't match her insides, and her visage often attracts stares of repugnance and disgust. After his careless comment sparks a reaction that snaps Park to awareness, he latches on to the idea that his redemption lies within Chloe if she'll just agree to be with him. Initially dismissive of his attempts, her curiosity eventually gets the best of her, and the two embark upon a relationship founded on Park's need for absolution. Their bond vacillates between complete betrayal and utter joy. How important are looks and how important is character? Is love and happiness at the end for these two seemingly mismatched individuals, or will Park once again destroy all that's beautiful?

In the foreword, Neil Campbell states that this book was inspired by a reaction to a comment he offhandedly made one day in a tavern. This tale is, perhaps, his own form of redemption, as he uses this opportunity to retell the ending to his own story. He has taken the traditional story of Beauty and the Beast, reversed the characters, and modernized the tale to fit today's times. It's a clever twist on an age-old tale, with added depth and additional characters helping to create a complex and compelling story.

Not just the tale of a man and his quest for redemption, "The Advent of Lena" is also the story of several people searching for their own happy endings. In the journey for his own redemption, Park struggles to find his balance. Can he look beyond the outside to find the beauty within? Can he convince everyone his motives are true? You want to root for him, yet at the same time you hate him for the choices he's made and those he continues to make. You admire Chloe's strengths while pitying her lot in life. With such a huge strike against her from the beginning, where does she find the resilience to go on? Where does Julia's redemption lie? Is her faith enough to protect her from herself? Will Eddie ever find whatever it is he's looking for? His sacrifices may not be equal to his rewards. And then there is Miriam; pretty on the outside, but emotionally empty inside, she seeks to fill the void by making choices born of jealousy and insecurity. The characters created are compelling and complex, and their stories fascinating, but I found their distinguishing characteristics to be limited to their descriptions and their actions. I found their conversations to add less to the character development and to be somewhat one-dimensional at times.

The author's writing style is unique, and there were several occasions I had to reread sentences in order to understand the point, as the cadence and phrasing seemed awkward. The story meanders around, sometimes making me wonder who the story was really about. It seemed meant to tell the tale of Park and his search for redemption, but at times the stories of the other characters took center stage. I found myself wanting Park to win Chloe's love, while at the same time wanting him to suffer for his cruel treatment of the women in his life. We are able to see the good and the bad in the personality of each character, making for more complete character development. There were times, however, when I was confused or surprised by a character's reaction to a plot point; I reread some passages wondering why the character reacted in a way that was different than I expected, or made a jump in understanding that I didn't follow.

On the technical side, there were a few errors in the book, although not so much as to detract. I also noticed frequent (but minor) front size changes in my .epub. I'm not sure if it would be present on other copies, but it was definitely in mine (on both the computer and my sony). There were also random question marks throughout many of the paragraphs. I realized they were in places where a dash or semi-colon might normally be located. I got used to it, but it was somewhat distracting to see questions marks pop up in the middle of sentences.

The concept was original and the characters engaging. I think this modern take on the age-old story was a unique and thought-provoking read. How much does outer beauty impact your choices?

3.5 /5 stars

Available at Amazon.

update: The author has informed me that he sees the issue I noted with the question marks in the .epub version, and has pulled the book from Smashwords while he works out the kinks! The book is available on Amazon, with no formatting troubles :)

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