The Chronicles of Ara: Perdition, by Joel Eisenberg and Stephen Hillard

I have noted that there are certain pursuits, like skiing, piloting small aircraft, sailboat racing, and living in rainy places like the Pacific Northwest (or the Lower Mainland, as we in B.C. call it) where the weather makes the usual experience so ghastly that when you finally hit a beautiful day, you enjoy it inordinately. I admit to a certain degree of this Stockholm syndrome effect while reading this book.
What Have We Here?
This is not a novel. It is part two in what promises to be an eight-part literary puzzle, the achievement of which will, in the words of one of the authors, “change perspectives, and by extension contribute to a new understanding and appreciation of free expression and tolerance.”
Though not without merit, this work does not live up to such hype. True, it is creative, complex, and at times entertaining. It plays clever games with the nature of the boundaries between the artist and the story. It weaves a huge number of plot threads together, jumping often through time, space, and other dimensions. But it is not a work of “artistic and illuminating brilliance,” as one of the reviews in the front material suggests. There are simply too many flaws. Its strength is that, like many non-realistic works of art, it stimulates the imaginations of people who put more of their own creativity into the experience than the story provides. It is to this audience that the book appeals.
The Story
This work is based on a Da-Vinci-Code-type theory that famous works of art have hidden codes in them, sending a message to the intellectual elite of the future. Writers such as J. R. R. Tolkien, Lewis Carroll, and Mary Shelley parade through, masquerading as characters. The hook is that this novel has secret messages that the elite of today’s world may discover if they are clever enough to unravel them. Unfortunately, there is a grave suspicion here that, in truth, the Emperor may not be fully clothed.
The Nature of a Puzzle
In this respect, “Perdition” and its companions are like really, really difficult New York Times Saturday Crosswords. But the New York Times Crosswords have an editor who can aim the difficulty of the puzzle directly at a known audience and weed out all the mistakes that same audience is intelligent and experienced enough to recognize. This book needs a bunch of that kind of help. I can see the authors saying to each other “Why would we need an editor? We can edit each other’s work.” Big mistake.
At the beginning of a puzzle, the author knows everything and the readers know nothing. The author has to tread the fine line of giving readers just enough information to figure things out for ourselves, but not so much that we get bored.
The big challenge with a novel is to keep readers persuaded: first, that we have a chance to solve at least part of the mystery; second, that the author isn’t cheating and third; that the answer at the end is worth the effort. We have to care enough about the ideas presented to do all the work required to discover them.
What is Cheating?
Apropos of the last two, any student of politics understands obfuscation for the sake of hiding the fact that you have nothing to say. If an author obscures meaning through poor syntax and faulty paragraphing of dialogue (denying the reader information about which character speaks which line) this makes the reader suspicious of the author’s intentions and abilities. When you’re breaking the big rules, you must be scrupulous in following the little ones, or all your cleverness is suspect.
It’s a real bonus if the clues we are given grab our imaginations and the answers are witty or revealing. And somewhere in the puzzle we need to connect with a few characters.
All of these flaws lead us to wonder whether the authors are writing this book as an intellectual exercise for their own benefit, and whether they really care to connect with their readers. Then, no matter how much we respect the authors for their intelligence, their creativity, and the incredible amount of work they put into their art, we are not inclined to go along with them. Especially for eight volumes before we reach a doubtful conclusion.
For readers who love literary puzzles at the New-York-Times-Saturday-Crossword level: for jaded readers who are tired of always knowing what will happen next.
I do not recommend this book for average readers looking for a narrative-style novel. Doing so would lead to a bunch of one- and two-star reviews that the book does not deserve.
3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

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