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The Book of Names by D. Barkley Briggs

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The Book of Names by D. Barkley Briggs

Reviewed by Heather West

"...has a strong premise and an ambitious goal, grabbing the imagination from the first line."

Google “Book of Names” and you will be rewarded with many results, from baby naming guides to apocalyptic thrillers. None of these, however, come close describing the work of D. Barkley Briggs, the newest Christian fiction author from NavPress. Briggs is the mind behind The Legend of Karac Tor: The Book of Names, a young adult fantasy with nods to Tolkien, Lewis, and Lloyd Alexander. Set in the medieval Hidden Lands, The Book of Names tells the story of four brothers who are called to liberate an ancient kingdom from an evil sorceress.

Hadyn, Ewan, Garret, and Gabe Barlow, along with their widower father, have recently relocated to rural Missouri. Still struggling to cope with their mother’s death, Hadyn and Ewan find new enthusiasm when they discover a secret tunnel on their father’s acreage and four parchments with the words: “You have been chosen for a life of great purpose. Adventure awaits you in the Hidden Lands.” This summons catapults the four boys into the world of Karac Tor, where a small band of monks battle the world-dominating ambitions of the sorceress Nemesia. With the help of their newfound friends, the four boys must stop Nemesia from stealing identities from the Book of Names, defeat her teenage-zombie army and find their way home.

There are two ways to approach The Book of Names. First, there is the perspective of the average, adventure-seeking reader, who will doubtless enjoy the story. Briggs intended Names to be a parallel of his own life (he raised his four children after his first wife’s death) and a shining beacon through a difficult season. The main characters are realistic and believable, because they are based on people he knows well. The story has a strong premise and an ambitious goal, grabbing the imagination from the first line: “The day was gray and cold, mildly damp, perfect for magic…”

That being said, there are several problems with the novel. From an alternative perspective, that of the critical, analytical reader, Book of Names suffers from being too predictable. Briggs takes a fresh premise and inundates it with old ideas, many taken from authors he claims as his inspiration. The four heroes must fulfill a prophecy, much like Lewis’ Narnian crew, and they interact with characters strangely reminiscent of Middle Earth and Prydain. There is a fine line between inspiration and imitation, and Briggs often tends towards the latter. Personally, I’m still looking for the story where the main character is not “the chosen one” but instead the one who chooses his/her own destiny.

Briggs returns in April 2009 with Corus the Champion and in December with The Song of Unmaking; both continue the saga of the Barlow brothers. With a devoted fan base eager to read more, Briggs has the potential to add an original and memorable series to the Christian fantasy genre.

Heather West is a sophomore English and Communications major, who firmly believes in the concept of the Renaissance man (or woman, in her case). In that vein, her interests include everything from piano, Broadway, and gospel choir to snowboarding, missionary work, and filmmaking. Her writing is inspired by her reading; her favorite authors are Brian Jacques, Bill Myers, Timothy Zahn, G.K. Chesterton, J.R.R. Tolkien, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Kenneth Grahame, Chaim Potok, Isaac Asimov, and Lloyd Alexander. While she aspires to be a novelist and screenwriter, Heather equally enjoys journalism, particularly in the areas of film and music. Her dream job is creating clean, thought-provoking media that will point people back to God. She has written for Infuze Magazine, more recently for SoulAudio.com, and is thrilled to start writing for TitleTrakk!