Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Fourth Sage by Stefan Bolz

The Fourth Sage
Author:  Stefan Bolz
Publisher:  Beacon Books Publishing
Pages: 414
Release Date: June 15, 2014
Source: Received from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Fifteen-year-old Aries Egan lives in one of five super high rises in a nameless city. There is no government. There are no schools. People are controlled by a ruthless Corporation. Any deviation from the Moral Code, the code of living set forth by the Corporation, is punished - sometimes with prison, sometimes with torture, sometimes with death. 

Aries hacks into the main frame computer, creating a loop with the camera feed to her room and so stealing one hour per night for herself. Sometimes she reads a book. That alone could send her to prison for three months. At other times, she roams the massive building via the air ducts. During one of her nightly excursions, she finds something that has the power to change her life and that of everyone around her. But in order for her to follow it, she has to become an outlaw, a criminal, an enemy of the Corporation. 

As the hunt for her unravels, she flees ever deeper into the belly of her building. What awaits her there, she could not possibly have foreseen. And the fate of her people now rests on her ability to survive.

The Fourth Sage is a book that takes its own twist on familiar genres. A splash of super powers, dystopia, and fantasy, I found it engaging from the start. Aries is a character who is easy to like, and her plight is unique but not unrelatable. As she struggled to maintain a sense of freedom and identity in a world focused on duty, it wasn't hard to root for her. 

The plot was interesting, and I was never quite sure where it would lead. The deeper we delve into the building, the more we learn about the world and the forces driving it. The characters didn't feel too alike, which was nice, and the pacing worked pretty well. For the most part, I really enjoyed this book. There were a few points that kept The Fourth Sage from having a perfect score with me, however. 

While the beginning really drew me in, somewhere near the end on the book I felt the story got really dialogue heavy. Rather than being carried by prose and narration, it started to feel like constant talking. I just sort of had that "budget cut" sort of sensation, where every character was pointing and describing what was happening ("Look over there, what's that!" "I hear something coming." etc.) I just didn't feel like I was experiencing as much on my own. I would look at a page and it was just line after line of conversation. I just felt like the beginning did a better job at putting me into the world and letting me feel what was going on, while those end sections relied far too much on what everyone was saying. The final confrontation picked back up, and once again I enjoyed the book, but there was certainly a lull in the middle I had to push through. I would consider that maybe a context editing problem rather than an overall problem with the story. While fixable, it does mark it down a notch, which is always a bummer for a book you really enjoy when you first pick it up.

In the end, I would read later books in this series. While it had a few areas for polishing, I still liked the story in the long run. 

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