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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An wonderous excavation of myths, men and the meaning of death, 15 Sept. 2013
This review is from: Travels in Elysium (Paperback)
Forget, for a second, the other excellent qualities of this novel. Leave aside the crisp chapter and paragraph sizes. Overlook the stock of interesting, sympathetic characters, the immersive scene setting, the spot-on dialogue, and so forth. The key question for any novel is: Is it a good yarn? The answer is a resounding yes. Here's why I think so.

It's rare to get a novel that performs multiple functions well, rarer still to find one that combines them satisfactorily. A novel can have pace, but then miss depth and detail. A novel can provide food for thought, but leave me thirsting for friction, action and explosion. As mood and backdrop increases, dialogue decreases. Not here. And how William Azuski accomplishes this seems rather clever to me.

As I read Travels in Elysium, I found it hard not to compare it with other novels. It starts with a young man called Nicholas traveling to a Greek island for educational purposes where he meets an overpowering personality who acts as a dangerous mentor figure. There are beautifully crafted disriptions of his travel to the location and the local culture, written by someone who clearly knows their stuff. My immediate thought was of The Magus (Vintage Classics) by John Fowles (see my reiew).

Then, the atmosphere darkens, the mood becomes nocturnal. Without spoiling the plot, there is talk of vampires, exorcisms, murder, rituals for the dead. The hero becomes a passive pawn, playing with arcane knowledge and forces beyond his merge ken, pushing him to the brink of sanity itself. I sensed the spirit of H P Lovecraft hovering nearby. Instead of the Necronomicon we read instead of the Necromanteion, although the dreamscapes sound similar.

Azuski flips it again, flowing along with the plot. Next, it's all about mysteries, ancient cyphers and sects, well-known legends with a possible basis in fact. The church is not happy with these pagan flashbacks. Rich, shady aristocrats are lining up pro and con with their own agendas. Secret societies show us their hands. Time is ticking. Robert Langdon to the rescue, anyone? Thankfully not.

It important for me to say that Azuski's writing style does not roam wildly over the course of events. These literary comparisons were conjured up in my own brain by the twists and shifts of the plot. Travels in Elysium reads like a single novel with the main characters acting in a consistent way. The yarn is primary, coherent, yet full of surprises, reveals, depths. It grows along with the hero, and with readers understanding of what exactly is happening. It's Indiana Jones for post-modern grown-ups.

I need to mention three other superb futures about Travels in Elysium. One is its intellectual playfulness, or rather, the way Azuski treats his readers as possessing a brain capable of handling plot material that refers to Plato, Atlantean legends, immortality, archaeological processes and questions about the nature of reality. This probably isn't an airport or poolside novel. That is a compliment. Secondly, Azuski has the knack of making you feel like you're there, with local customs and characteristics, phrases and fears, all explicable. Finally, the ending is superb, containing closure without conclusiveness. Many a novel flounders here. I had two possibilities in my mind. Neither were correct and so much the better.

Negative Points? I'd have enjoyed a little map near the start to plot all the hero's initial travels. And maybe a few sketches of the artefacts or legends mentioned along the way. Also, I fear the size of the book's bulk might put potential readers off (98 chapters, 539 pages). It shouldn't. Chapter are short and sweet. Azuski has a great tale to tell, one, like real life, in which answers don't come easy. Finally, the novel's title might seem a little soft in comparison to its rugged, raging contents. 'Travels'? More like 'Tremors' or 'Terrors'! However, there is an internal plot device that makes the chosen title necessary. Which is? You'll have to read it to find out.
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Location: Belfast, Northern Ireland

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