Book review: Dark Night of the Soul

A real gem of metaphysical fiction

Dark Night of the Soul by E.M. Havens metaphysical fiction sci fi-fantasy novel

Tahlia Newland, guest reviewer

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Dark Night of the Soul is a real gem. E.M Havens has used magical realism in this YA novel to examine suicide and the issues that surround it, and like all the very best indies, it’s a completely unique voice that explores its theme in a brave new way.

Seventeen-year-old Jayden commits suicide and finds herself in a kind of purgatory where teams of people who have committed suicide protect other suicidal souls from the demons that whisper in their ears and incite them to suicide. Life in this purgatory is a series of battles. If they defeat the demons, the person lives; if they lose, the person succeeds in their quest for death and their soul joins the team. When a new member arrives, the Judgement–a kind of sparkly storm cloud–comes for another. If it’s you it comes for, you’ll meet a statue of yourself and you can either submit to the judgment or fight to keep the demons off your statue/soul. If the judgment takes you, you’ll either move on to the next realm, or you’ll go back to your life. It’s a second chance. It’s difficult to explain and it’s bizarre, but it works.

Havens takes us through a series of events in which Jayden grows as a person.This isn’t a story you can say much about without blowing the intricacies, surprises and beautiful ending. What I can say, though, is that I didn’t want to put it down.

The author skilfully revealed the details of the world and the character’s lives as the story progressed, so that there was always something new to learn and a different angle to take on what we’d already seen. A romance blossoms as well, one with a bitter-sweet flavour because it apparently has little chance of long-term success. The environment is surreal, taking the group of demon slayers through various terrain and a wide variety of accommodations provided by “Him.” Is it God? No one knows. One powerful image is of a Walmart in the middle of a desert where the manager uses televisions to show Jayden the options the suicides don’t see due to their tunnel vision. That’s when she learns why they fight to keep the demons from luring people to their death.

Though the subject is suicide, this is not a sad or depressing book; it’s a great tale with layers of meaning. Though it appears as a fantasy, everything is a vehicle for insight making it more precisely metaphysical fiction and magical realism.

It’s simply but effectively written and warrants 5 stars once an issue of formatting has been corrected.

Favourite quote:

“Is it Heaven.”
“No.” He looked down at me in awe, a smile gracing his burnt and peeling lips. “Better. It’s Walmart.”

Details:
Dark Night of the Soul, by E.M. Havens
E.M. Havens, 2013
Kindle, 166 printed pages
Buy at Amazon

tahlia newland visionary fiction author

Tahlia Newland

Tahlia Newland writes heart-warming and inspiring contemporary fantasy, magical realism, and visionary fiction at tahlianewland.com, and she also writes reviews for AwesomeIndies.com

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Book review: Crashing Eden

Technology meets spirituality in this bold and satisfying YA novel

Crashing Eden Michael Sussman visionary fiction metaphysical novel spiritualRating: 4 out of 5 stars

Imagine an engrossing tale that samples the angst of  “Catcher in the Rye”  and insight of “Ordinary People,” barrels toward “Johnny Mnemonic,” and then smoothly sails past “The Celestine Prophecy” toward a truly unexpected climax. Michael Sussman’s young-adult visionary fiction builds upon these themes to create a truly original novel of technical innovation, psychological insight, and spiritual growth. Sussman’s second novel is by no means perfect, but it delivers a fresh, fast-paced read that you ponder long after the last page.

Story:  For one boy and his friends, the path to Paradise comes at a cost–one they may not be prepared to pay. When a biking accident leaves 17-year-old Joss Kazdan with the ability to hear things others can’t, reality as he knows it begins to unravel. A world of legends exists beyond the ordinary life he’s always known, and he is transported to the same Paradise he’s studying in World Mythology. But the strange gets even stranger when his new friends build a device that delivers people through the gates of the Garden of Eden. Now Samael, the Creator God, is furious. As Samael rains down his apocalyptic devastation on the ecstasy-seeking teens, Joss and his companions must find a way to appease Samael–or the world will be destroyed forever. (From amazon.com)

Spiritual/metaphysical content: Medium. Sussman describes the Fall of Man as when human consciousness was cut off from the divine force, which is a pervasive theme throughout most world religions. Mankind no longer experienced a “primal organic unity, fully in the moment, unfiltered by language or logic.”

Joss experiences this Edenic consciousness after a head injury and for a time exists in a state of ecstasy, at one with everything around him. After living in a profound state of depression for two years, he is desperate to regain that unity. Technology enables him to reconnect by tuning into the (fictional, as far as I can tell) Shankman Frequency, which Sussman describes as the primordial vibration of the universe–the OM.

I learned much about the world’s religions and mythologies, particularly Gnostics, and Sussman adds a satisfying convergence of religious traditions that brightens the penultimate chapter. However, technology rather than self-discovery drives the characters’ spiritual growth.

My take:  Sussman is a skilled writer. Crashing Eden offers rich characterization, nail-nibbling tension, and plenty of action for the metaphysical fiction audience. One of his greatest strengths is his ability to describe complex emotional issues such as depression and suicide in bald, unsentimental language that intensifies the power of those scenes. The tension builds as Joss and his friends journey beyond existential peril into mortal danger.

Sussman offers fascinating psychological insights, including parallels between the Gnostic Christian deity and an abusive parent.  He delivers the requisite explication with great skill, employing a range of narrators from teachers to dogs, which makes the novel less “preachy” than comparable spiritual/metaphysical fiction.

I appreciated the characters’ ethnic diversity and how Sussman showcases the common themes that unite most world religions, including Christianity. However, the teens in this YA novel occasionally lapse into language more suited to Sussman’s clinical psychology practice. He draws comparisons to the 1966 Hugo Award winner  Flowers for Algernon, which is an apt metaphor but one that may not resonate with contemporary teen readers.

Ultimately, the characters’ spiritual growth is driven by technology rather than self discovery, which makes the book less than ideal for me. Nonetheless, Sussman strikes a very satisfying balance between action, character, and theme in this fast-paced, enjoyable YA novel of vision and verve.

Details:
Crashing Eden, by Michael Sussman
Solstice Publishing, 2012
Paperback, 215 pages
Buy at Amazon

Book review: The Prince of Soul and the Lighthouse

Metaphysical twist broadens appeal of clever YA thrillerPrince of Soul and Lighthouse Fredrik Brouneus spiritual novel metaphysical fiction

Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars

Fredrik Brouneus’ new young adult novel is short on preaching and long on sassy dialog and rollicking action.  Built on a framework of Buddhist reincarnation principles, the book is both simple and profound. Throw in zombies, romance,  and a smart-mouth hero with a wicked wit, and you’ve got a metaphysical thriller that both delights and inspires.

Story: What happens when we die? I know what happens. Believe me, I’d rather not. But I do. There is a lighthouse, and it guides our souls along the narrow path to being reborn as humans. It’s the light at the end of the tunnel. Unfortunately, as my undead granddad and the Tibetan special mission monk in my kitchen have kindly told me, there’s a problem with the lighthouse. And if the world is to be saved, someone needs to fix it. Which is where I come in: George Larson, eighteen years old. Who could possibly be better suited to save the world? (Condensed from book jacket.)

Spiritual/metaphysical content: Medium. In New Zealand, 18-year-old George meets a Tibetan monk named Tenzin who helps him “stretch his brain” to contain the spiritual truths he must rediscover in order to succeed at his mission. Brouneus employs concrete, accessible metaphors to clarify complex concepts such as reincarnation, suffering, and impermanence: Existence is a long, bumpy road trip in which your soul drives its car into the ground and then moves to the next, aeon after aeon.  Death is merely a pit-stop to refuel and switch cars before hitting the road again. When we die,  “we will be recycled as atoms and molecules — immortal parts of the big LEGO box Mother Nature has to play with.” The concepts are basic, but the metaphors are a perfect introduction to metaphysics for the  novice seeker or zombie-obsessed teenager.

My take: Nonstop action drives The Prince of Soul and the Lighthouse. However, George’s guide, Tenzin, provides welcome pacing and colorful characterization as he teaches George how to make decisions based on spiritual principles.  Some plot twists may ask readers to stretch their brains a synapse too far, such as connecting jingoism, prayer and the Internet. But the way Brouneus weaves character and action into a cohesive story that spans centuries makes such missteps merely a pothole that you speed past. Zombies, romance, hilarious asides, a little bloodlust, and plenty of relevant cultural references appeal to younger readers, while the spiritual and metaphysical theme satisfies those seeking a more profound experience. Read it as a YA thriller or a short spiritual novel; either way, you’ll be glad you did.

Details:
The Prince of Soul and the Lighthouse, by Fredrik Brouneus
Published by Steampress, 2012
Paperback, 292 pages
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Book review: Reincarnation

Familiar story, but executed with skillReincarnation new age fiction novel by Suzanne Weyn metaphysical fiction spiritual

Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars
By Suzanne Weyn, a well-known Young Adult author, Reincarnation follows a pair of soul mates from the stone age to modern times. Weyn does a very good job of developing the complexities of reincarnation as the book progresses so that with each chapter, the reader gains more insight into the wheel of rebirth, as she terms it. One of the book’s more intriguing insights is a brief glimpse into the life of the soul between incarnations.

Story: From prehistory to the present, theirs was a love for the ages. It starts with a fight in a cave over an elusive green jewel . . . and then travels over time and lives to include Egyptian slaves, Greek temples, Massachusetts witch trials, Civil War battlefields, Paris on the eve of World War II, America in the 1960s . . . and a pair of modern-day teenagers. For readers who believe that love is stronger than time or death. (From Amazon.com)

Spiritual/metaphysical content: Very high. The book walks through the multiple phases of reincarnation as it follows a boy and a girl who first meet in prehistoric times. It draws consistent themes throughout the various lives, including demonstrating how not only soul mates tend to incarnate together but also family and friends who help them learn and grow over time. The plot employs enough variety to make the reincarnation theme plausible, such as shifting genders and occasionally misaligning time frames. In addition, the story demonstrates how certain weaknesses and talents also carry across multiple lifetimes. As the pair experience more lifetimes and become more spiritually and socially sophisticated, the book introduces more metaphysical themes. As each incarnation progresses, the couple learn to conquer their fears and recognize their love more readily. The reader gradually gleans more information about life between lives as well.

My take: I liked this book very much. Weyn does an excellent job of developing the complexities of reincarnation as the book progresses so that with each chapter, the reader gains more insight into the wheel of rebirth, as she terms it. Of course, it’s difficult for the story to be other than predictable, but Weyn is able to capture the lovers’ emotions across time so that the reader is drawn into the story. Her insight into various time periods, from Greek civilization to the Salem witch trials, also gives the book variety and spice. Several of the twentieth-century stories seemed particularly vibrant, including the tale of a young singer in Paris that echoes the Josephine Baker story and the challenges of racial integration in the mid-1960s. As new age fiction, this is one of the better contemporary novels I have come across, with a compelling story line and a strong grounding in metaphysics.

Details:
Reincarnation, by Suzanne Weyn
Published by Scholastic Press, 2008
Paperback, 293 pages
Buy at Amazon