Chosen by Jerry Ibbotson
Review by Floresiensis
Chosen is the debut novel of former BBC radio journalist Jerry Ibbotson; an ambitious tale of contemporary fantasy influenced by the works of CS Lewis and Nick Hornby.
Magic books, undead vicars, God and fondue forks are brought together in the story of Alex Preston: a grumpy, daydreaming office worker who finds a tunnel in the basement at work. It leads to a land full of magic and fantasy, secret plots and ancients oaths. Armed with a sleeping bag, a small torch and an annoying work colleague, Alex leaves his family behind and sets off to explore.
Chosen provides an enjoyable reading experience, Ibbotson certainly challenges himself and there are many ideas thrown into the mix; most work, some don’t. Although CS Lewis is listed as an influence the style and theme reminded me more of Stephen R. Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant novels and it should be pointed out that this is no child’s fantasy; it is a book for adults.
There are two settings in the book - the “real” world and a “fantasy” world. As the narrative begins it is the real world setting that impresses the most, the characterisation is very strong and there is a real attention to detail displayed in the well-constructed narrative. Alex and Sarah (lead and long-suffering wife) benefit most from this narrative and become characters with real depth – particularly Sarah. The excerpt below shows a keen eye for observation that really helps makes Sarah’s character realistic:
Sarah pulled her hands out of the soapy dishwater and grimaced at the bits of rinsed off spaghetti hoops that clung to her skin, making it look like she had the pox.
Chapter 3: Running Away
At the start the fantasy world came across as rather uninspiring and lacking in the magic that makes Narnia and The Land so instantly appealing. This does, however, change as the book progresses and some truly memorable characters appear. There were two characters in particular that stood out - Avery Tavistock’s story was, for me, the highlight in Chosen, an ex-minister who had turned his back on his god. This story within a story was truly moving and stayed with me long after the book was finished. The second character to standout was The Guardian, Samuel, a tragic figure and last of a noble and majestic race. The friendship that he forms with a young girl is, once again, moving. The excerpt below is the reader’s introduction to Avery Tavistock:
The figure stepped back and raised a hand to block the light. The limb was thin and bony and the skin was the same colour as his face. He had no fingernails. Your lights won’t work forever Minister,” Avery spat, “The flames grow weak as I grow strong. Soon we’ll be able to cross this threshold and take what’s ours. So why not just send one out now for us to enjoy? It’s easier to be merciful if you’re not so hungry.”
Chapter Five: Tavistock
Chosen is not perfect but there is enough there to suggest that Jerry Ibbotson has the talent and the imagination to go on from here and create wonderful novels. There were moments in the book that allowed me to lose myself within its pages and this is what first-class fantasy is all about. There were also moments that made me think “Whoa there! You’ve gone to far, reel it back in, you were doing just fine.” Two episodes in the “real” world resulted in a double-decker bus and a tube-train appearing suddenly in the Middle East – these were the parts that didn’t work for me.
A couple of years ago I read Gay Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry. This was his first venture into the fantasy genre and it was OK, but not great. From there he went on to become the fantasy writers’ writer and an author of sublime skill. The future could well hold the same path for Jerry Ibbotson if he plays to his strengths and eliminates his weaknesses. Chosen is a promising debut but the best may be yet to come…
Paul from Chepstow
I loved this book. It's written in a flowing style that allows the story to unfold and build up to it's dramatic climax. You get to really know the various characters and form a bond with them, allowing you to care for what happens to them. As the story unfolds you become more and more aware of the scale of this story - this is not just about a man going on an incredible journey, but about morality, love, beliefs and power. The writing is witty and insightful with clever touches of the everyday. I would recommend to all, not just those looking for a fantasy read.
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