I love reading, and as a writer I like to broaden my scope by reading outside of my comfort zone, so that I can learn more about my craft.
Book – The Journeyman (The Commons #1)
Author – Michael Alan Peck
Star rating - ★★★★☆
Plot – an exciting mix of contemporary and fantasy, with a little sci-fi thrown in.
Characters – unique, well developed and relate-able
Movie Potential - ★★★★★
Ease of reading – very easy to read and follow
Cover - ✔
Suitable Title - ✔
Would I read it again - ✔
** THIS BOOK WAS GIVEN TO MY, BY THE AUTHOR, IN RETURN FOR AN HONEST REVIEW **
This book was pretty magical, to be honest. Not in story terms. The plot was a lovely mixture of contemporary (for the first few chapters) and fantasy (the rest of the book). There was even hints of steampunk/sci-fi thrown in at one point. But don't for once think that it means this book is confused about itself. Nope, this one knows exactly where it belongs and is perfectly at home there.
To me, The Commons is a little like Narnia. It's a middle ground, where a journey tests the strength, resolve and character of the individual, to decide whether the 'incident' that sent them there will send them back or not. Narnia has always been a journey towards God and a life or death decision, as to who returned and who didn't. I see The Commons in the same light – not towards God, as much, but towards Good or Evil. If they are kept in the Commons, then they died in the 'incident', which is the bug crash in this story. If they get to leave, then they've survived.
Let's start with the blurb:
““Paul Reid died in the snow at seventeen. The day of his death, he told a lie—and for the rest of his life, he wondered if that was what killed him.”
And so begins the battle for the afterlife, known as The Commons. It’s been taken over by a corporate raider who uses the energy of its souls to maintain his brutal control. The result is an imaginary landscape of a broken America—stuck in time and overrun by the heroes, monsters, dreams, and nightmares of the imprisoned dead.
Three people board a bus to nowhere: a New York street kid, an Iraq War veteran, and her five-year-old special-needs son. After a horrific accident, they are the last, best hope for The Commons to free itself. Along for the ride are a shotgun-toting goth girl, a six-foot-six mummy, a mute Shaolin monk with anger-management issues, and the only guide left to lead them.
Three Journeys: separate but joined. One mission: to save forever.
But first they have to save themselves. ”
Let me just say that Michael Alan Peck is a genius and I will be reading anything else he's written or writes in the future. The writing style was just up my street, with enough hints and POV's to let me know what was going on, without giving everything away.
The story focuses on 4 main characters. There are a lot more than this, involved with the journey and having an impact, but these are the main 4:
Paul – the Journeyman of the title
Annie – an ex-army single mother of one
Zach – Annie's autistic son
Truitt – the evil bad guy 'Mr Brill's right hand man
The story is told through their POV's, though you will occasionally get a glimpse from Porter, the Envoy leading Paul through his journey.
The Beginning -
“Paul Reid died in the snow at seventeen. The day of his death, he told a lie—and for the rest of his life, he wondered if that was what killed him.”
This is a brilliant quote and it's a really great hook to get you into the story. It did just that, for me.
Let's run down who is who, from the blurb -
a New York street kid – Paul
Paul, as a main character, is brilliant. I loved him right from the first. He's spunky, intriguing and street smart, which opens up a lot of doors that other MCs can't access. I found him really engaging through the whole story, relate-able and mature, for a teenager, because of his circumstances.
Paul was a hapless teenager sometimes and this all-seeing power the next.
His Journeyman, once he reaches the Commons, Porter, is just as great of a character. He's quirky, mysterious and like a librarian (in my head) with the old fashioned clothes, manner and attitude. I loved him right away, as well.
As I did for the other two main characters Annie and Zach; mother and son.
an Iraq War veteran – Annie
Annie is a mess. In the story. She starts out this dedicated, exhausted, at-the-end-of-her-rope single mother, to an autistic child. I felt her exhaustion and the stress she's under, but I also admired her for keeping it together and taking such good care of Zach. However, once Annie reaches the Commons, her life changes. She's a military girl and therefore, of use to the big bad guy of the story.
Here, my heart just about broke. Reading of Annie's struggles, under the influence of the 'pink pills' the bad guy gives her, to ease her pain and keep her mind controlled by his will, I felt every moment of hope being snatched away from her. I found it heartbreaking, to read of her new relationship with Zach, to read his POV on it and know that she had no understanding or knowledge of what she'd lost, through the power of the 'pink pills'.
her five-year-old special-needs son – Zach
Zach, as an autistic child, is incredibly well written. I've never seen anyone write a child in such amazing depth, with such an understanding of their mindset and still remembering to use child-like terms, for things that a boy of five would, literally, not know the real names of. Being autistic, Zach had a second challenge, as a character – he barely spoke. So every time he came into the story, you were as surprised and excited as he was and as the other characters were, when he did something out of his comfort zone. I knew the minute I read about him, handing his marble to Paul, that this kid was going to be something special. I wasn't disappointed.
Zach was a strong, smart, brave boy (read it and you'll see what I did there ;) )
There was such authenticity in the writing, for all the characters, even though who didn't get a big part or the main focus of the story.
shotgun-toting goth girl – Rain
Rain was the tough girl, with the attitude and a deep dark secret.
The addition of Ken and Po was genius; I didn't understand at first, but they quickly became real, heart-tugging characters.
a six-foot-six mummy - Ken
a mute Shaolin monk with anger-management issues – Po
the only guide left to lead them – Porter
Porter was always proper and knowledgeable, even when it wasn't always appropriate for the time or situation.
Overall, this story was original, captivating and enthralling. The more I read of Paul and Zach, the more I loved them. I even grew to appreciate horrible old June, in the end. I got some conflicting vibes about Brill's assistant, Truitt, though, because I knew he was important, but I couldn't be certain how or what part he was going to play. I couldn't even decide if he was good or bad.
So…while I've waxed lyrically about how great this book is, you might be asking yourself why it's only 4 stars and not 5. Well, that's for the ending. When their journey inside the Commons was over, it's very abrupt. The fight is over, a few minutes/hours (I'm not sure which) later, everyone is being sent to their judgement. This is when the Commons and their journey there, decides whether they've to die or whether they survive and go back to their 'real' lives.
We get 2 chapters for Paul, at the end. I'm not telling you what happens or whether they go back to their lives or whether they stay. But what happens seems is a nice way of letting us know what happens and what the judgement is, but it's also sad, because half the characters I grew to love are no longer there. I'm not telling you which half. Then, we have the Epilogue for Uncle Lights-Out. It's an intriguing epilogue, that very nicely leads into a suggestion of book 2, but it's also a little confusing. I spent the whole chapter thinking it was referring to Po, because of the suggestions it made (maybe that's my mistake – it probably is) only to find out it was about someone else. Someone much more confusing, mysterious and enigmatic. Someone who will definitely stir up trouble for book 2.
Although I can't wait to read the next part of The Commons series, I do have to remove 1 star for the confusion over the last 3 chapters and the bluntness that snapped me out of The Commons and rudely forced me back into the real world. I wasn't ready to leave yet, but maybe that's how I'm supposed to feel…
Favourite Quote: “All-out heart of darkness, man.”
I love that book and that reference, in the perfectly timed placing was brilliant.
I also really loved this one - “Beware the soft-spoken when secrets are kept, for they hear what the thunderers do not.”