Xenolith by A. Sparrow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Complex and intriguing...
Xenolith starts with the definition of the stone of the same name: "a stone foreign to the matrix that embeds it." This story has many elements that refer themselves to this definitions.
First, the story is told in a non-linear fashion. Something will happen, sparking a memory, and then we travel back with that person and experience it with them, before coming back to the present, or sometimes almost back to the present. I've read books using this format before, sometimes with confusing results, but in this book, there are enough clues, prompts, and guides built in to keep everything straight. Each change of time and perspective is purposeful and meaningful, and I love the complexity it yields and how it relates to the title of the book.
Second, it isn't obvious from the description, though it's hinted, but the story isn't limited to earth. Like the timeline, the locations seem layered, with Earth (referred to as Ur in the book) the xenolith between three other disparate lands, Gi, Venen and Sesei. Earth is the path between the others, a closely guarded secret held by those from Sesei. Only a select few know they exist, and of those, even fewer know how to predict the convergences that briefly connect the two worlds. But invasion forces Sesei to use their knowledge in defense, and the secret is revealed.
The xenolith stones provide the third, most obvious, link back to the title. Beautiful, resembling fool's gold, these stones exist in two worlds. At predictable intervals, they draw the two locations into one, a convergence. Anyone or anything caught in the convergence on one end is shifted to the other end, though the process is sometimes dangerous, even deadly. As such, the stones are kept in out of the way places, where incidental discovery is unlikely.
The people are the fourth link to the title. Doctor Frank, finds himself in a strange land, which he believes at first to be Guatemala, but eventually concedes is not. Seor and her scouting team from Sesei are on a mission that makes their own comrades their enemies and that lands them in Ur, a world they know little about. Seor as leader of her team feels uncomfortable in her position of leadership, as though she doesn't truly deserve it. Ara, a member of the elite cadre, finds herself questioning longstanding loyalties and her role in the war, and as such no longer quite fits in with her countrymen. It's a theme that repeats itself in subtle and not so subtle ways throughout the book, and I enjoyed looking for the connections.
Overall, I greatly enjoyed Xenolith for it's complexity, it's unique story line, and most of all for the rich cast of characters. People who like contemporary fantasy or sci-fi books, especially those that make you think, will most likely enjoy this book. Those who are easily confused or frustrated, especially when a story isn't told in order, may want to steer clear, or at least recognize that this one doesn't conform to a normal storytelling format if they do decide to read it.
I came across this book for free on Amazon, which is, I think, its normal state.
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On a side note, you really should check out the author's profile on Goodreads or on Amazon. What's the most interesting pen name and/or bio you've come across? Let me know in the comments.