Monday, October 08, 2007

Book Review: Illuminated

Author: Matt Bronleewe
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
ISBN: 10: 1-59554-249-3; 13: 978-1-59554-249-6

In 1997, Time-Life magazine declared Johannes Gutenberg’s 15th-century printing press as the invention of the millennium. Two years later, the Arts & Entertainment network proclaimed Gutenberg the man of the millennium. The story of Gutenberg and his printing press is so significant that it’s rather perplexing that relatively few authors have mined his life for historical fiction materials. Matt Bronleewe has filled that gap by taking details from Gutenberg’s life and times and crafting a historical adventure tale along the lines of The Da Vinci Code.

Illuminated is an adventure story that centers around a rare books dealer named August Adams and his family: ex-wife, April, and eight-year-old son, Charlie. As the story opens, August is seated next to a mysterious woman on a trans-Atlantic flight. His routine flight becomes a nightmare when he learns, via his seatmate, that Charlie is being held hostage. In order to save Charlie’s life, August must work out clues hidden in illustrations in several Gutenberg Bibles, one of which is in his possession. A short time later, while still in flight, August learns that his ex-wife, an employee at the Library of Congress, has been kidnapped and coerced into stealing that institution’s copy of Gutenberg’s Bible. She too, must assist in deciphering the clues hidden in her copy. A third copy of the Gutenberg has already been acquired (read: stolen) and the requisite clues have been made available to August via the Internet. In all, the complex puzzle is built upon nine clues hidden in three different rare Bibles, plus a tenth clue that is provided near the end of the story. The tale follows the separate adventures of August, April and Charlie, until a point near the end of the book when they are brought together to assemble all ten of the clues. From this point, the book quickly winds down to an exciting conclusion in which August’s evil airplane companion and her accomplices obtain their just rewards.

Matt Bronleewe has written a fairly compelling tale in his first novel. The story is well paced, the pieces fit together neatly and he balances description and dialog, plotting and character development quite nicely. He weaves historical tidbits into the narrative with ease, but did not inject quite enough of such material into the story to satisfy me. August and April are compelling characters, and Grandma Rose (April’s mother) is a feisty lady whom I’d love to meet. On the other hand, Charlie, for all his charm, seems more like a ten- or eleven-year old than an eight-year-old. Of course, children are probably the most difficult characters to portray realistically. A handful of other characters should have been eliminated entirely. Since extraneous characters frequently do little more than clutter plots, their essential tasks should be re-assigned to other, more prominent characters as often as possible. My strongest criticism of the story is that it grew monotonous reading the exhaustive details of the resolutions of nine analogous puzzles, all of which were resolved via similar, if not identical, methods. The tale would have been enhanced by having either fewer such puzzles, or a similar number of more varied puzzles. Notwithstanding these criticisms, Illuminated is an entertaining, quick read.

Similar to all publications offered by Thomas Nelson (a Christian publisher), this book contains no sex or sexual innuendo, no coarse language and no graphic violence. It is suitable for pre-teen, teen and adult readers. It also has no overtly spiritual message – it is simply a good, clean adventure story. Readers who enjoy such fiction will likely enjoy this book.

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