Friday, March 26, 2010

Wraiths and Worlds by Darrin Charles Wilson (dark fantasy)

Six years ago, I read author Darrin Wilson's debut novel, Pine Shallow, and saw behind the unpolished writing that there was an original thinker with a talent for storytelling. Since then, Wilson's writing has improved markedly, and he's still coming up with new ideas.

Wraiths and Worlds is a formerly online serial novel now available in print with a previously unseen ending. Tired of playing publishing games, for this story Wilson went straight to the Internet. He posted the first chapters and was about to move on to his next project when he received inspiration in the form of readers from around the world wanting to know what happened next.

The story concerns Grace Tiffen, a black, 23-year-old law student who dies in a car crash and finds herself naked in the middle of an Arctic wasteland. Helped by some other local denizens, she learns that this is the afterlife but that God has left. The one person Grace really wanted to see, her father, is also absent, so she and a fellow who calls himself Deacon go off to find them both. But soon people start dying, and what kind of afterlife kills you after you get there? And what kind of afterlife does God ditch when the going gets tough?

Meanwhile, during Grace's funeral, her psychic aunt Abigail is confronted by Jonathan Sand. He's looking for a book, and he has traced it to Abigail's grandmother. When Abigail find the strange, fleshy book in her library, Sand kidnaps her and takes her on a quest through the Middle East, including a place called the Devil's Needle, where wind storms can result in death by airborne scorpion swarm. When Abigail is able to make contact with Grace, things just get weirder, like the formation of a snowy crevasse in the middle of the desert.

Wilson combines tropes from sci-fi, fantasy, adventure, mystery, and horror fiction to produce a book that has a little something for everyone. He studied and combined numerous world religions to come up with the theology he presents here. I don't usually get into books with such a high reliance on "otherworldliness" — although my appreciation for it is increasing — but Wilson's characters are so well drawn I had to know what happened. Sometimes his words get in the way of his story, but there's enough pure talent in Wraiths and Worlds to carry the reader through to the end.

Wilson was probably right to avoid traditional publishing routes with this book, since they would not know how to market it. Which genre's audience do you focus on? In any case, Wilson poses some very interesting ideas about the nature of God, and he's left plenty of room for a sequel. Wraiths and Worlds is smart fiction, that rare kind that successfully brings a new perspective to an age-old concept.

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