CM . . .
. Volume XV Number 10. . . .January 9, 2009
The Oldest Game of All.
Brandon, MB: Emerald City Storytellers (Distributed by Peanut Butter Press, 55 Willowbend Cres. R2N 1V2 or www.peanutbutterpress.biz), 2006.
184 pp., pbk., $13.95.
Fantasy fiction, Canadian (English).
End of the world-Juvenile fiction.
Grades 8-11 / Ages 13-16.
Review by Darleen Golke.
The Call finally sounded in the furthest depths of earth and shadow. To herald the Great Reckoning, a terrible and dreadful being awoke from its slumber. The world above shuddered at her stirrings. She represented a presence that had not been felt in the realm of man for thousands of years, yet they had not forgotten her. Many ancient tales spoke of her horrible might and warned of her return.
In the east tales were told of the great serpent Vritra, coiled around the world's navel below the earth. These stories led to the myth of Jormungandr in the north, and how at the time of the Last Battle, Ragnarok, she would rise to spew poison over the land and sea. As Amanora, Anush, and Autak she was called the mother of all dragons. In the end it was said her brood would rise from under the mountains and consume a third of all living creatures. Throughout the millennia her legend had taken many forms in countless cultures. However, the common depiction of horror and destruction remained.
The earth cracked and parted. Through stone and the very fabric of reality a monstrous impossibly large creature broke the surface and took to the air. Massive boulders fell like pebbles from where they had become embedded between its scales and talons. Great wings stretched and carried the beast across the night sky. In its wake, the air grew foul, and sleep was filled with nightmares.
The Dragon had returned, and the end was very near.
Left in charge of his senile great-grandfather and irrepressible younger brother while his parents vacation in Hawaii, 17-year-old "uptight" Douglas Bower, a stickler for rules and order, suddenly must function in the midst of a Great Battle between the forces of good and evil, The Final Battle to be waged on "mystical lines of power" located "a short distance southwest of the city of Brandon, Manitoba." A mysterious woman claiming to be a business associate of Mr. Bower tries to kill Doug before gun-toting, motorcycle-riding, "undead" Mitch blows her away. Mitch explains a "battle that's been waged for thousands of years" will come "to an end here tonight." The task of defeating evil falls to Doug, his grandpa, Mitch and his spirit guides, and Ellen, a British airplane crash casualty whose body Despair (Akoman destroyer of human joy, kindness, and hope) appropriates. Despair almost convinces Doug to commit suicide before Mitch destroys the evil being and restores Ellen to join the "last defense in the final battle of a very old war." Gradually Doug comes to an "acceptance of the supernatural" and understands his family's role in the final conflict.
Doug faces the Demon of Wrath, a "giant of terrifying proportions," a "humanoid shaped behemoth," that leads him away from the Bower house and the "shining symbol of goodness" tree in the yard, and he defends himself with only a flimsy replica sword that becomes magical when infused with energy from the Greater Powers. Fortunately, Mitch arrives just in time to finish off the beast. However, the major opponent, the Greater Power of Darkness, the Mother of all Dragonkind with her "wicked demons of shadow" must still be faced. When the Dragon arrives, Doug's mind snaps at the horror; "strange visions of ancient Millennia fill his senses," and he recalls using his power to hide the "tall, vibrant cypress tree," the Greater Power "providing sustenance to man as a symbol of immortality" into "the streams of the world's blood beneath the earth," now symbolized by the "massive lone tree" standing in a field of wheat near the Bower's home. Joined by "countless ghostly forms on horseback," warriors from across the centuries, Doug and his sword, Mitch and his gun, and Ellen with her flashlight fight the Dragon and her forces of evil. Ultimately Grandpa channels the mystic energy from the tree to a "crimson brilliance" that banishes darkness, burns through the shadows and demons, destroys the Dragon, and energizes the Bower males including young Marty whom the evildoers attempted to murder. Sadly Grandpa's ancient heart cannot withstand the stress, and he leaves Doug to deal with Grandpa's body, a dead woman's body in the yard, a flattened Jaguar in the driveway, trampled crops in adjoining fields, Ellen, thousands of dollars damage to the house, and the news of his dad's hospitalization in Hawaii - all in a day's work for a Greater Being.
Magical realism, fantasy, horror - The Oldest Game of All amalgamates genres producing a complex plot rife with characters, not all of whom appear necessary to the action. "The Call" that goes out seemingly to engage the chosen in the final battle includes several characters whose presence is puzzling at best, and confusing at worst, especially in the early chapters where the body count is high. The novel opens with a bloody axe murder, and the violence continues unabated throughout. Even identifying the main protagonist poses somewhat of a challenge because, although Doug ultimately assumes the title role as a Greater Power and man in charge, Grandpa, Mitch, and Ellen also play important roles. Serious, nerdy, anxious, and socially awkward, Doug seems an unlikely heroic figure, a Greater Being reincarnated through thousands of years. No doubt readers comfortable with the genres might not experience as much difficulty following the story and character threads as this reader did even after a careful second reading of the novel. The addition of various strands incorporating world mythologies, most identifiably Norse and Persian, further complicates the universal theme of the conflict between good and evil. Representatives of evil like Despair (Akoman), Susan, Gideon, Sidney, the Demon of Wrath and Rage, or the Mother of all Dragonkind and the representatives of good like Henry, Ellen, Zara, Edgar, Ken, Mitch, or the Bowers, Doug, Grandpa, Marty, combine human and mythical aspects flung together.
Although a professional editor might have helped eliminate some of the inconsistencies and grammatical errors that disturb the flow of the prose, Town writes with intensity as he scatters symbols and mythological elements throughout, includes clever and amusing touches to balance the bloody battles, and he creates a powerful bond among disparate characters working together to defeat a common enemy.
Town, who self-published Ned Stapleton and the Wrath of the Death Gods in which he referred to Brandon events on a "dark and stormy night," adds The Oldest Game of All to his literary and film credits which include Prairie Wiseguys, Surprise Visit (Best Director, 2004 NSI National Exposure Amateur Movie Contest), Untamed Suburbia (2005 Vancouver Celebration of Excellence premiere), and Mosquito (a popular Firefly fanfilm). Nathan is currently in post-production on the retro sci-fi noir feature entitled The Magellan Affair. With partner, Bob Green, Town established Emerald City Storytellers, a Canadian publishing and production company.
Recommended with reservations.
Darleen Golke, a teacher librarian in another life, writes from Abbotsford, BC.
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