Monday, September 12, 2011

Awakenings - Edward Lazellari

About the book

Cal MacDonnell is a happily married New York City cop with a loving family. Seth Raincrest is a washed-up photographer who has alienated even his closest friends. The two have nothing in common—except that they both suffer from retrograde amnesia. It’s as if they just appeared out of thin air thirteen years ago, and nothing has been able to restore their memories. Now their forgotten past has caught up to them with a vengeance.

Cal's and Seth’s lives are turned upside down as they are stalked by otherworldly beings who know about the men's past lives. But these creatures aren't here to help; they're intent on killing anyone who gets in their way. In the balance hangs the life of a child who might someday restore a broken empire to peace and prosperity. With no clue why they're being hunted, Cal and Seth must accept the aid of a strange and beautiful woman who has promised to unlock their secrets. The two must stay alive long enough to protect their loved ones, recover their true selves—and save two worlds from tyranny and destruction.

Awakenings launches a captivating fantasy saga by an amazing and talented new storyteller.

348 pages (hardcover)
Published on: August 30, 2011
Published by: Tor
Author’s webpage

Thanks to Tor for sending me a copy of this book to review.


I wasn’t amazingly excited to read Awakenings, if for no other reason than the fact that it is a contemporary fantasy and I have horrible luck with contemporary fantasy. It was another one of those books I pushed to the top of my reading pile to “get it over with” quickly. However, I seem to be striking it lucky recently in this respect, as most of the books I’ve regarded this way have ended up being rather enjoyable. This is no different.

The prologue of the book is rather deceptive in the fact that it sets up Awakenings to be a dirty, dingy mystery some crooked PI is trying to solve, despite a myriad of troubles thrown his direction. Quickly the reader discovers that this isn’t the case. While the PI and his employer do enter the story a few more times throughout the book, they aren’t lead characters by any means. Despite this, Lazellari’s writing keeps the same tone the reader is introduced to in the prologue, but the noir feel almost completely disappears.

Lazellari’s writing is surprisingly polished for a debut novel and contains quite a barbed and almost sharp edge. Furthermore, there aren’t any awkward words or stumbling sentences and even has a few moments of dark humor. He keeps his novel, characters and pace tightly controlled and ever moving forward, which is good considering all that happens in this 348 page book. While Awakenings is told from the perspective of multiple characters with different personalities, the one thing every page has in common is the dark, uncensored, almost raw quality of Lazellari’s writing.

The one thing Lazellari seems to excel at is writing descriptive, poignant violent scenes that are almost haunting with their eerie or bloody evocative tones. While some of the gory actions did border on the campy side, the way Lazellari wrote it made it seem almost haunting, even if it wasn’t completely believable.

Awakenings follows the story of three major characters, with other points of view thrown in. It’s obvious from the start who the main characters are, as they are three dimensional and very well fleshed out. Some of the secondary characters and, specifically, the “bad guys” seem like cardboard cutouts when compared to Cal, Seth and Daniel. The main characters have a sense of mystery around them, and when following their stories it’s obvious that the title, Awakenings, fits the book perfectly as each character is discovering who they are and their mysterious pasts.

However, perhaps due to the fact that the characters aren’t completely aware of their true natures, the book has a very muddled feel to it. For example, the magic system remains rather vague throughout the book, though I attribute that to the fact that the characters aren’t quite aware of magic, themselves. Awakenings is also obviously a setup for other books in the series. It sets up the characters, background and the world, and while events happen at a quick pace and the writing is absolutely absorbing, Awakenings itself seems more like a prologue to the rest of the series than anything else. Case and point, the ending is more of a setup for book two than an actual ending, which is something that is pointed out in almost every review for this book written so far. That can be incredibly frustrating to some readers, who prefer stand-alone books and/or solid endings.

That being said, Awakenings, despite its flaws, is a surprisingly absorbing adventure. The writing is solid and fluid. The book itself has a raw quality to it that will appeal to many readers. Though Awakenings does read more like a prologue to a series, the series itself has huge potential to be a multi-dimensional epic fantasy. Awakenings crosses multiple genres from noir to contemporary and even has hints of traditional fantasy. Lazellari has great potential as a fantasy writer. The idea is fresh and new and even though the ending left me wanting and some of the characters were a bit two dimensional, I will anxiously read the other books in this series to see where Lazellari can take me next.

3.5/5 stars


  1. Sounds like a good one. I'm becoming increasingly interested in contemporary fantasy, so this might me my cup of tea. Thanks for the review :)

  2. There is a copy of this on its way to me, and I'm hoping I like it! :)