Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Review: old reviews from Bookspot Central starting with In the Courts of the Sun

A while back I did some book reviews for a message board called Bookspot Central.  I never posted the full reviews here on my blog; only provided a link to the other site.  Well, things have moved on like they do on the Internet and I recently discovered that the links to the reviews I did for BSC are now gone.  I thought I would post the old reviews here so they aren't lost.

In the Courts of the Sun
by Brian D'Amato

Format: Hardback, 684 pages
Publisher: Dutton
Cover Design: Gene Mollica, Brian D'Amato
Release Date: March 26, 2009
ISBN-13: 978-0525950516

According to the ancient Maya, December 21, 2012, could be the day the world ends. In the Courts of the Sun begins with Jed DeLanda, a modern-day descendant of the Maya, who goes back in time to save mankind. He can’t go back physically, but it is possible to send back the consciousness of a person and to place it inside the mind of someone living in the past. The plan was to put Jed’s mind inside the body of a Mayan king in the year 664 CE, but, instead, he winds up inside the head of a man about to be killed by ritual sacrifice. Can Jed keep his host alive long enough to save the world?

Jed has experienced many of the hardships of being a Native American.  He’s also a math prodigy who was taught the Sacrifice Game; a divination ritual used by the ancient Maya, and uses that to his advantage in online trading.  When a previously unknown Maya Codex surfaces with remarkably accurate predication of disasters, Jed gets in touch with researchers in hopes of using the Game to avert the end of the world.  Unfortunately, many aspects of the Game have been lost over time.  A terrorist strike on Disney World starts the world sliding into chaos, leaving the one chance to save mankind in a one-way trip to the past. 

One thing going for Brian D’Amato’s book is that it has several intriguing concepts, one of which is the Sacrifice Game.  It differs from palm reading and prophecies in that it relies more on math and knowledge of events to discover the most probable outcome.  Thankfully, D’Amato provides just enough of the basics of the Game and abstracts the rest to make the story a lot more interesting. 

The most fascinating part of the novel is the journey to the Maya historical period.  This section is incredibly well researched and detailed, giving an extraordinary view into a very strange and complex society.  It was a joy to read about a civilization that did not think or act like modern society and sadly, the section was only a portion of the novel. 

While In the Courts of the Sun has an interesting premise, the book also has several flaws.  Ironically, while the section set in the Maya historical period is the best part, it is also the most unnecessary to the plot.  As previously stated, the time travel technology works by sending a person’s mind and it leaves no way for that person to get back.  The whole purpose of going back in time was to rediscover the lost methods of the Game and in that the research team did succeed, however, Jed had to leave clues that those in the future had to reassemble.  Thus, about half of the entire book could have been excised without any real loss to the main story arc. 

Another flaw is that Jed is not a very sympathetic or empathic character.  He’s a bit of a wiseass (which seems to be a popular in fiction lately) who has an intuitive understanding of games, but that is really all drew me to him.  He’s also a bit of a Gary Stu who knows and can do more things than I think the character is really capable of.  Some of this is explained early in the novel; however, since most of the character development happens in the historical period, nothing really happens to the original Jed in the 21st Century. 

I also did not like the plot twists at the beginning and end of the novel.  As you may have already noted, the story opens with a cliffhanger, which in my view is not really a good way to start a book.  Unless the author is planning to use it to play around with the reader’s expectations, a cliffhanger is merely a cheap plot device.  And neither did I like the twist ending for the character.  I did not buy the change in Jed’s mentality or the explanation behind the Maya end date. 

Overall, In the Courts of the Sun is an interesting book, however I could not get past what I considered to be several big flaws.  It’s almost as if the author wrote two different stories and then tried to force them together into one big novel.  Frankly, I don’t think D’Amato managed to pull it off.  Some people might be able to enjoy this book, but I’m afraid I cannot recommend it to anyone else.  I’m still uncertain if I will read the next book in the series.

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