on April 2012
In The White Oak, the first book in the Imperfect Darkness series, Cora Alexander is pulled through a sinkhole and enters the underworld still alive. Her living presence threatens the tyrannical rule of Minos and the Infernal Judges who have hijacked the afterlife and rebuilt it, trapping human souls in a mechanical, computer-controlled city that lies at the core of the earth. To survive, Cora must rely on her untrustworthy guide, Minotaur, an artificial intelligence. She is helped by a mysterious voice, and by Sybil, underworld librarian and author of each person’s book of life. When Cora’s own book is destroyed, Sybil gives her a golden pen and sends her into the City to begin writing her own destiny. Along the way, she reunites with the ghost of her dead brother, Lucas, a genius programmer who alone is capable of finding the chink in Minos armor. This fast-paced adventure begins, and ends, in the middle of the action; introducing the characters, themes, and mysteries that find their resolution later in the series.
After years of pretending at emotions, he’d grown to appreciate their mystery, their chaos and randomness. Sometimes they were predictable, one-dimensional, almost stupid – other times they were so confounding, complex, and exquisite that he was convinced humans really were as special as they thought themselves to be.
The White Oak is a dark and interesting tale that takes well known greek myths mixes it with Alice in Wonderland and produces an inventive and unique fantasy that is guaranteed to hook in the reader. The story starts off fast and without any build up you are taken straight into a climactic scene of Cora being buried in a sinkhole desperate and frantic before arriving in Asphodel (also known as purgatory) alive and disoriented. The novel then takes you on Cora’s journey as she tries to escape the underworld with her life intact as no one knows what would happen to her soul if she really died while already in the land of the dead.
This is an action packed book and reminded me a little bit of early 90s adventure games (think Kings Quest). Each chapter introduces you to a new problem or adventure so to speak which keeps the plot moving at a good rate and also helps you visualise what the character of Cora is going through.
The biggest weakness with this novel is that there didn’t seem to be enough time to really build and explore the characters. There is a tiny amount of backstory of Cora & Lucas’s abusive father and mother who dissappeared, but considering what a traumatic childhood they had, both of them seemed incredibly well adjusted and I never once actually felt real empathy or sadness for what they had experienced in life. Cora was so bland for a main character, nothing seemed to really phase her and I just found her plain boring if slightly weird considering she sews seeds into dresses for no apparent reason.
The secondary characters were much more interesting and I really hope in the future novels we get to find out more about them. Minotaur as a computer program, how novel and fascinating! I love how he would change personas depending on the situation. Sybil was also very interesting and I loved the concept of everyone having their own book of life that all made up the entire story of the world – past, present and future. I’m also interested to find out more about the hatred between Minos and Sybil and how this is going to play into the over arching story.
The finale takes place in a courtroom discussing the possibility of Cora’s execution (Alice in Wonderland anyone?) and then just as things start to get interesting the book ends. This is a pet hate of mine – regardless of whether a book is part of a series or a stand alone there needs to be some resolution to the story. Ending it the same way you would end a chapter is just completely exasperating!
Even though the book had its faults I still enjoyed the adventure and would pick up the sequel. Just don’t go into this novel expecting anything profound, it really is more suited as a fun summer read albeit a dark one!
<em> – fun read for mythology fans<em>
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