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Monday, October 10, 2011

Book Review: The Worker Prince by Brian Schmidt

Worker Prince

ISBN-13: 978-0984020904

This review is part of a blog tour for the introduction of Brian Schmidt's debut novel, The Worker Prince.

If Moses had led his people out of bondage in the future rather than the past, it might look something like this story. While at several points the story touches upon elements of the classic Biblical story of Moses leading his people out of Egypt, it doesn't stick to that story, nor is that the only plot line running through this science fiction, space opera style tale. One of the problems when people depict, either literally or by analogy, a Bible story is the predictable ending. That's not a worry here. The second half of the book bares little resemblance to the story of Moses. More like Joshua going to war.

Three elements of this book make it worth reading. One is the world Mr. Schmidt has created. In this world, a group of planets is ruled by a limited king and legislative councils of the main races. Except one race is not represented because they are called "Workers." They mostly live on one planet which appears to be the only planet in the system with agricultural products of any significance, and the rulers treat them as slaves, exporting food to the rest of the system.

Mr. Schmidt doesn't succumb to the tendency to dump a lot of back-story about this world on the reader, but it is worked through the story naturally. The only glitch for me is the rationale for why the Workers existed left me with more questions than answers and was hard to envision its evolution based on how things are now. Some could even take offense, to what could come across as an artificially generated political division, as making a statement beyond the story about our current religious situation. I took it as simply the way history worked out in this world, but did leave me with more questions as to how that could have happened. I'd say more, but I don't want to give away too much.

The second reason I enjoyed this story was the plot itself. The king fears a prophecy that a worker will rise up to release his people from bondage. Like Moses, to avoid the king's decree that all worker's children under a certain age be killed, his parents arrange to ship him off to another world where he ends up being raised by the king's sister as the prince destined to rule the kingdom. The story proper picks up when Prince Davies takes his first assignment away from home, discovers his real birth, and the story unfolds from there.

Like I said, while it touches at points on the story of Moses, it was different enough to keep my interest and avoided being a pure repeat of that story. I enjoyed the way Davies grows and develops into the leader, and his loyalty to the truth. And if a reader likes sci-fi battle action, there is plenty here especially through the second part of the book. Mr. Schmidt does a decent job of describing the action, though there was a time or two I didn't follow him too well.

The third is the characters are for the most part well drawn. One becomes attached to the main character, Davies, early on. Each character has a unique feel about them. And they are introduced slowly enough that the reader doesn't end up getting too lost on who is who, though that danger gets a little stronger toward the second half of the book. Still, I never struggled with that despite a rather large cast, and the characters came across as believable on the whole.

The only two instances his characterizations stretched it for me was Davies' secondary antagonist felt a bit too much of the stereotypical bully to me and the source of his antagonism to Davies was never clearly defined, though hinted at, but seemed stronger to me than merely family jealousy. And the girl Davies ends up in a relationship with seems to lose her initial antagonism toward him too easily. On rare occasion, the dialog felt unnatural. Despite that, I found the characters interesting and believable.

There are three things that could detract from the story, depending on the reader. One, the writing style, while good, does get a little telly at points. While not bad, there is room for improvement. However, this is much better than many I've read in that regard, and I doubt the lack here will throw too many out of the story.

Two, also related to writing skills, Mr. Schmidt has yet to get a solid grip on executing point of view flawlessly. There is a little head jumping in places. Occasionally he would mix one person's dialog with another person's actions, keeping you on your toes as to who is actually speaking. One scene break in particular, the shift in point of view wasn't established until I read about four or five paragraphs into it, so I had to backtrack to discover if I'd missed something. Most of the time I didn't have too much trouble tracking who talked and what point of view I was in, but occasionally it did become distracting.

Third, if a reader isn't a Christian, they may not realize until halfway into the book that this story contains some Christian themes. A non-Christian, getting to that point, may feel "tricked" if they are not aware of that up front. The Christian elements were natural to the story, and didn't feel forced. That said, it offered more of a complimentary plot line than anything essential to the main plot. Other than the stated reason for their existence, religion could be extracted from the story and the plot would still work. But truth be told, much science fiction is artificial in not portraying religion to be active and valid part of society into the future. While not getting too preachy about it, Mr. Schmidt does a decent job of integrating it into the storyline. That said, a non-Christian could feel tricked into reading a Christian novel if they aren't aware of that before they put down the money to buy the book. This review is written prior to seeing any official blurbs that will introduce the story to potential readers, which may make it clear it is a Christian story. Still, it seems many buyers miss that information, even when clearly stated.

I didn't feel those shortcomings reduced my enjoyment of the story or prevented me from finding Davies and the other characters interesting. Mr. Schmidt provides an engrossing story, believable characters, an interesting world, and decent writing. Because of that, I'm giving this a recommended read, holding onto a four out of five star score.

To continue following this blog tour, the next posting will be: October 12, Mary Pax - Guest Post: Coming Of Age & The Quest To Belong/Book Blurb

Note: R. L. Copple received a electronic copy of The Worker Prince from the author in order to review it for this blog tour.

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