The Daily Monocle

Critical book reviews from a literary skeptic.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

The Fruit of the Fallen by J. C. Burnham

Posted by J. P. Wickwire

Serenity D'Evele has no idea that she isn’t like other sixteen year old girls. She doesn't know that her grandmother, Sophia, isn't actually her grandmother. She doesn't know why she's moved from school to school her whole life, never bothering to stay in one place. She doesn't know how sixteen years ago, a nun thrust her into the arms of a man called Dr. Johnathan Keats, and that he risked everything to protect her. Why? Because she is of prophecy, almost as if she's a modern day Joan of Arc.

Or is she?

What Serenity does know is that strange things are happening at her boarding school. Sophia leaves for weeks without a word. Strange creatures, voices, and dreams come to Serenity in the night. Even the people seem to be changing. Soon she finds herself sucked into the middle of a story laced with secret societies, supposedly mythical encounters, and corruption of what she thought to be good.

"The Fruit of the Fallen" by J. C. Burnham is a wild ride that straddles the fine line between complicated and convoluted. The plot, though slow for the first half of the book, is very much the driving force in this novel. We as readers find ourselves continually faced with yet another plot twist—another layer in the already tightly-woven fabric of the story itself. From chapter to chapter, we bounce back and forth between Serenity's almost clichéd existence as a sixteen year old orphan, and Dr. Keats's gripping struggle in Europe.

Nearly every chapter we are greeted with a new group of characters—some more vivid than others. And, while I've always said, "the more the merrier", I think some of the characters in "Fruit of the Fallen" could have used a little more fleshing out. Serenity is one such character. I felt like I never really knew her, except through the archetype friends she made, and the few words she spoke, until the end of the book. There, we suddenly see an entirely new character who, at times, tries to leap off the page to proclaim, "look at me! I'm here! I'm the protagonist!"

Conversely, Dr. Keats—who I wish I could've seen more of—was wonderfully developed. His atmosphere was more vivid than any other setting in the book; his character more defined. Not to mention, he seemed to grow and change throughout the course of the novel at a steady pace. Some of the other characters also adjusted themselves, but not consistently. They're personalities seemed jerkier, as did their pieces of the story.

One thing I did love about "The Fruit of the Fallen," was its myriad of supernatural beings. Fallen angels, hellhounds, demons, spirits… each one had its own, distinct flavor and characteristics, largely avoiding clichés and predictability. These creatures and Dr. Keats's character are what lead me to finish this book.

I wish I could read the final version of this manuscript (the one I read hadn't seen the final edits) so that I might properly judge the writing. For now, I'll just say that I'm glad there were other edits, because I did notice some common writer's pitfalls like passive voice, and "show vs. tell".

Although not without its flaws, "The Fruit of the Fallen" is an interesting book from a writer with a big imagination. If J. C. Burnham continues to layer his writing as he has in this book, every sequel will be brimming with promise.

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