In recent months, I have been taking a greater interest in fiction projects on Kickstarter, and I have the author of Birthright to thank for this. His book was the first project I've ever backed, and since then I've had the joy of discovering more authors, both independent and established, who have turned to such crowd-funding sites as an alternative to traditional publishing.
Not to mention, sites like Kickstarter are also beneficial for writers with great ideas who plan to put out their work by themselves -- writers like B.J. Keeton, with his novel that plays with genre conventions. Birthright was successfully funded in the summer of 2012, and all the hard work came to fruition earlier last week when the completed book went up on Amazon and backers like myself found ebook copies in our inboxes.
Birthright is the first book of a planned science-fiction/fantasy trilogy called the Technomage Archives. It begins with main protagonist Ceril Bain's discovery of a mysterious sword buried in his grandfather's garden. Gramps identifies it as a Technomage sword and tells Ceril stories about these high-tech wizard-like members of the Charonic Archive.
Six years later, Ceril is himself preparing to become a full-fledged Charon in his own right, after training and being educated aboard a space ship capable of inter-dimensional travel, called the Inkwell Sigil. However, right before he can begin the final step to become initiated into the order, the Sigil loses power and becomes stranded in space. Together with four of his fellow classmates, Ceril must embark on a mission into uncharted territory to find a legendary Technomage who may be the only person alive with the power to help them.
Know that famous quote from Arthur C. Clarke about any sufficiently advanced technology being indistinguishable from magic? I keep seeing this book's premise as an exploration of that very idea, with its creative blending of sci-fi and fantasy elements. This hybrid-genre book is unlike any I've read before. The "science-y" bits are fascinating and imaginative, always piquing my interest to find out more details behind the technology. At the same time, so much about the Technomages are magic-based and shrouded in mystery, enough to keep the hardcore fantasy fan in me happy and in her comfort-zone.
Like many self-published works, I think the book can benefit from additional rounds of editing and revisions just to sort out the pacing, tighten up the plot and tweak things up a bit, but I'd imagine writing and putting out a book on your own can't be easy or cheap. Bearing in mind it is an indie author self-published book, I really do think Birthright is quite fantastic as it is. The only real rocky part I felt was towards the beginning, before the "Six Years Later" kicks in and we skip ahead to Ceril's life aboard the Inkwell Sigil. Still, the marked difference almost makes me think this might be deliberate, to reflect Ceril's young age and innocence at this earlier stage in time, his simple and naive way of looking at the world and people around him. In fact, while reading the first few chapters of the book, the point-of-view and tone made me think Birthright was meant to be a Young Adult novel.
However, this definitely shifts as soon as we skip ahead the six years, which occurs about a quarter of the way into the book. It is noticeable enough that it almost feels like Birthright has an unspoken Part I and Part II. For me, it's like the book actually starts at this point six years later, when the plot picks up, the action and adventure begins, and Ceril grows up to become a more complex and interesting character.
Speaking of which, I find there really are no standard "cookie-cutter" protagonists in this book, and that's a good thing; like real people, they are multi-faceted and sometimes so hard to pin down. So many times I found myself shocked (for better or worse) with a character's decision when they do something completely unexpected, which keeps me wondering and on my toes. Ceril himself is not someone I would at first think of as a hero or even a leader (he's always saying things like how he has no desire to become a soldier because he doesn't want to risk himself, or that he doesn't want responsibility for other people's lives, not to mention he's the kind of person who would carelessly sleep through an alarm on the most important day of his life) and it's fascinating to see him grow into the role.
Finally, as a big fan of massively multiplayer online games, I was also really geeking out at the book's description of "Instances" and of the way the characters would travel to and between these "pocket-universes" that exist in the same physical space as one another by using swirly-looking portals. The author admits to being an avid MMO player on Birthright's Kickstarter page, and it's always such a treat to read books by a fellow gamer and see gaming references and nods to MMORPGs in their work. If he decides to do another Kickstarter for the sequel, I would definitely pledge my support again.