July 20, 2008
BRIGGEN: A Novel
Ann B. Keller’s new novel “Briggen” has all the elements of a great science-fiction novel and a great fantasy novel combined. From the opening pages, I felt I had stepped into a world not unlike that of Conan the Barbarian or Tarzan but then the book alternated into science-fiction scenes worthy of Star Wars. Whatever great book and film series from the past you want to compare it to, the book successfully captures the reader’s attention from the opening scene to the final page, and there are a lot of pages—476—yet I could not put “Briggen” down. I stayed up late on a Friday night to read it, then spent my entire Saturday finishing it without once feeling the need to take a break.
Briggen, the title character, is a prince of Neimus, who gave up his right to be king to his brother, Beckett. He then went into self-chosen exile on another planet where he lives as a type of barbarian, surviving by his wits and brawn and hunting big game for his meals. When the novel opens, Quinhelm the wizard appears to tell Briggen his brother has been murdered, so Briggen must return to rule his people. At first, Quinhelm does not reveal that darker forces are at work; an evil race, the Xandoth, are trying to take over the galaxy. Also, the nobles of Neimus will plot against Briggen if he returns to claim his throne. This information Briggen will learn as he travels home. Briggen is reluctant to return to his home planet and take on the role of king, but the journey becomes easier for him when he meets Telana, a strong woman and captain of her own ship, who is seeking to help her people in exile to find a new home. Telana has no idea about her own past, having been raised as an orphan, but Briggen soon has ideas for her future.
Fantasy elements are abundant in the novel. Neimus is a beautiful magical kingdom complete with a stunning palace. Besides the wizard Quinhelm, Briggen will find that Ephereon, the last of his dragon race, is there to help maintain Briggen’s throne. The evil Sorceress of Endih has her own plans to destroy Briggen’s kingdom. She uses her magical powers to create an army to fight against his people, and she uses her feminine wiles to seduce one of the allies to aid her. Quinhelm, Briggen, and Telana all have their own powers including telepathy and telekinesis. The fantasy elements not only give the reader a true sense of wonder, but the scenes where Telana learns about her true heritage from Ephereon are both moving and will resonate with readers, for who does not want to learn he is more than he seems? That is why fantasy and fairy tales still hold their appeal to us—they remind us we are capable of rising above the everyday—that we have self-worth, that at heart, we are all princes and princesses capable of achieving greatness. Keller uses this appealing aspect of fantasy to great advantage and readers will appreciate it.
I found the science-fiction scenes particularly refreshing. While Keller focuses on new technologies in the form of spaceships and even dangerous hologram games, what I most enjoyed is that she also shows a very human side to technology. Quinhelm transports himself from a spaceship to earth only to land on the edge of Briggen’s fire; Briggen has to help him douse the flames that catch on his robe. Later, Briggen, not familiar with the latest technological developments aboard the spaceship, has difficulty operating the appliances in his room including a food processor. No matter how many times he tries to order the meal he wants, another meal is produced until he has several dinners he did not request. These scenes add humor to the novel without falling into slapstick or corniness, and they reveal the human side of the characters while adding to the sense of realism in the novel because the technology is not flawless.
Human is a curious word to use in reference to the novel. While the cover does not state the book will have sequels, “Briggen” is the first volume in a trilogy. Readers are given several hints in the novel about the bigger picture of this galaxy where the characters reside, but they are left wanting to know more about this fictional world. Keller, only in passing reference, lets us know it is the 25th century. Some of the characters are referred to as Frenchmen or Italians, and toward the end, we are informed that the characters are speaking English. I kept waiting for explanations of these references to life on Earth, although Earth itself was never mentioned. While the history of Neimus is told, it only dates back three centuries, not far enough in the past to link it to the twenty-first century we readers live in. I trust Keller will explain in future novels how humans—earthlings—have come to exist in this galaxy. I wanted an explanation, but I am willing to wait for the future novels. Keller’s depictions of her fictional world and the hints that far more is yet to be told completely captured my curiosity. She has achieved the most important aspect of creating a fictional world, as E.M. Forster stated in “Aspects of the Novel”—“Expansion. That is the idea the novelist must cling to. Not completion. Not rounding off but opening out.” Keller has achieved that goal magnificently, creating a world that leaves the reader in wonder and wanting to explore further in Keller’s future books.
My only negative criticism of the book is the cover because it does not let the reader know the book is a trilogy and it deserves a far more enticing illustration—one that highlights a key scene from the novel and grabs a person right away, hinting at the adventure, enjoyment and awe to be found inside. An illustration like those that have adorned the covers of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Mars and Tarzan novels, something showing muscled warriors, fierce dragons, beautiful women, would have been suitable. The book is extremely visual—Keller never bores with details but her scenes are descriptive enough that they come vibrantly alive in the reader’s mind as if watching a major motion picture. A few illustrations in the book and especially an enticing cover would have added to the book. I can only say “Don’t judge a book by its cover” because “Briggen” is sure to be a favorite among readers for many years to come! I eagerly await the sequels.
— Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D., author of The Marquette Trilogy
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