Review: Awakenings, by Edward Lazellari

>>Published: September 2011

Dorn’s attention wandered for a moment. When it returned, he surveyed the town around him. “I started this search for the prince cautiously, opting for a surgical approach in a world I barely understood,” Dorn said. “A strange land of magical drought that I never knew existed. I’ve since found my footing, Colby—we’re locating streams of magical energy here and there, buried deep. Enough to empower more ambitious sorceries. I’m reluctant because this place might yet have some uses for me and my ilk back in Aandor, but at some point, very soon, I will abandon my ‘surgical’ approach. And that will not bode well for the innocents of this world.”

***

A New York police officer and a down-on-his-luck-and-barely-worth-a-dime porn photographer, both sharing a mysterious bout of retrograde amnesia that’s wiped the last thirteen years from their lives; a beaten and abused teenager, adopted, despised by the family that’s acquired him, with a ruling future more dangerous than he knows; a heartless—literally—detective on the ropes legally, desperate for one last job to give him the funds he needs to buy himself a clean slate; and a strange and vaguely detailed magical war that exists behind the scenes, threatening each one of them and the lives of their loved ones.

Awakenings, the first novel from New Jersey native Edward Lazellari, is an amalgamation of fantasy tropes paired with a gritty, urban setting—a grime-encrusted counterweight to the “my lord / my lady” primer coat. The threat to Aandor and the race to capture the prince, unaware as he is to his role in events currently transpiring, is an interesting, if not altogether original premise, and Lazellari does little to turn it into anything unique. Instead, the work is content to mine the barest bones of descriptive content: explanations of Aandor, of Lelani and her centaurian nature, and of the magic that she and Seth are capable of are fast and loose, doing little to build a confident structure to their existence.

Any world building is done with paper-thin context, matching the very paint-by-splotches personalities of the main characters (the self-hating pornographer who leaches off of others and shirks his responsibilities; the selfless and noble family-first cop, torn between duties). Unfortunately, this makes it difficult to feel any sort of attachment to this band of merry disasters, as they appear as little more than conceptual sketches.

The two largest hurdles for this book, however, are its writing and its forced visceral tone.

The writing is sometimes difficult to grapple with due to the shifting maturity in language. The word usage and very simple, clichéd exchanges feel aimed at a younger audience; the language and graphic descriptors, on the flip-side, feel targeted for a very male-centric, 18-25-year-old demographic.

Whatever the aim of the writing, the tone of the book is where it truly falls apart. The violence and actions of certain characters, even between humans and without mystical interventions, is extreme, cribbing more from comic-book dynamics than anything approaching reality. The confrontation between Daniel and his father Clyde is a perfect example:

Daniel slammed him square in the face with his bag full of texts and sent the man reeling backward, grasping for the banister but too drunk to find it. Clyde landed on his back on the edge of the first stair and floor. Sprays of spit shot from his mouth as he yowled.

“I’m gonna rip you apart, you piece of shit,” Clyde bellowed. “And not gentle, like before!”

Daniel jumped from the middle stair and landed on his stepfather’s breadbasket. He heard a rib crack, and Clyde vomited the contents of his stomach over his own face. He choked on his own puke as Daniel leaped off him and made for the exit, but not before a hand grabbed his ankle causing him to fall into the door headfirst. Daniel saw spots and struggled not to black out.

This goes on for some time, with increasingly gratuitous descriptors (and culminating with the third pant wetting of the book, which in and of itself is a strange visual element to repeatedly draw upon). As a result, Awakenings, which is the first in a series, feels trapped somewhere between adolescence and adulthood—wanting to show its rough and tumble side and give a little “fuck yeah!” to the fantasy genre, but lacking the maturity, restraint and detail to pry itself away from its fantasy forbearers and Dan-Brown-meets-Chuck-Palahniuk literary devices.

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