Stephen Theaker's Reviews > Chosen

Chosen by Jerry Ibbotson
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Nov 30, 08

Read in November, 2008

Reinventing the wheel is a danger for every author, but especially for ones approaching a genre of which they are aware, but not necessarily devotees. Every author runs the risk of unknowingly repeating a storyline already used. Where the new author can sometimes run aground is by limiting their novel too narrowly to what they believe to be the confines of the genre. Of course, there are some fantasy readers who want the same things again and again, but i think most of us like to be surprised.

I’ve no idea how widely read this author is in fantasy, but from its beginning, from its very title even, Chosen made me wonder. It’s easy to imagine someone writing this novel after reading a Narnia book, but much harder to imagine them writing it after having read Lord Foul’s Bane. It has a very similar premise – a guy from our world finds himself in their world – but none of the risk-taking.

In Chosen, the train ride from Unbreakable is followed by the journey to Narnia in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. And then it seems like the rest of the novel will play out like an extended stay in a rural village on a planet in Stargate SG-1… (But it does take a surprising and exciting turn towards the end.) It feels at times like a box-ticking exercise: protagonist from our world (check), rural fantasy world (check), rather dull grown man with kids and a wife waiting at home (um...?).

Perhaps the wish to meet expectations, rather than subverting, confounding or exceeding them, explains the dull title. Chosen joins The Hole (by John Davey) and Demon (by Peter Mark May) in being small press or self-published books recently released with appallingly bland names. It’s as if they don’t want to stand out, they want to look like all the other books; almost so that nobody makes fun of them. Well, they don’t stand out – none of those books comes within the first fifty results on Amazon from searching for their titles. Job well done!

I have to admit that after the first fifty pages or so I began to skim-read, so obviously you should take this review with a pinch of salt. I probably missed a lot. But to be honest if I hadn't been reviewing it I would have stopped altogether after those fifty pages. Not because the book was bad, but because I felt as if I’d read it before and it wasn't exciting me. Though it was also a little bit humourless, which made the going hard for such a frivolous person as me! For example, imagine the scenario: two guys at an office party discover there’s a door in their office that leads to Narnia. And they find themselves in a field of bluebells. And neither of them think it’s at all funny.

Someone who really loves this kind of stuff might go for this book in a big way. It’s competently written, with only a smattering of the usual oddities to be found in self-published books. There’s nothing wrong with it in particular, but not a lot to get excited about, either. And I’ve got over a thousand unread books on the shelf: books need to really excite me to push ahead of all the books vying for my attention.

If I seem frustrated by this novel, and maybe even a little bitter, it’s not Ibbotson’s fault. He’ll write other, better books, of that I have no doubt. This is certainly better than anything I’ve written.

It’s more that it shares its faults with a very similar book I published a few years ago by one of my best friends, Elsewhere. (What was I saying about bland titles?) Like this book, Elsewhere stuck too closely to the perceived rules, at least up until an exciting conclusion, and lacked humour. Now that my pal’s no longer alive it’s terribly frustrating that the only book he wrote is so unrepresentative of his personality and his potential as a writer. He tried to write the book he thought he should write, rather than one that stemmed from his own personality. If I took against Chosen too quickly, it’s possibly because it set me to thinking of lost opportunities and all the books I’ll never read that my friend could have written.

Chosen is a very handsome book; don't be put off by my lack of enthusiasm for it, which has much more to do with me than the book itself!
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