Born in a Treacherous Time: Book Review

As some of you know, I like torturing quizzing authors about their books before I spill my review. Jacqui Murray has been everywhere sharing her latest, Born in a Treacherous Time. To be honest, I wasn’t sure about paleo-fiction. Paleo fiction? Hmm. But, Jacqui is immensely talented, and I’ve enjoyed her other books, so I figured I’d give it a go.

Well, move over Jean Auel (Clan of the Cavebear), Jacqui Murray has written a mesmerizing book! And I have to rave a little.

Her world-building is fascinating, and one of the things that most impressed me was her full immersion into the prehistoric timeframe that shares so little with our current way of life. I didn’t sense, at any point, that modern sensibilities were leaking into the characters or action. The ancient humans were deftly integrated into the harsh landscape and its primordial life, perfectly balanced between primate and human. The meticulous care taken to create this reality was stunning. What I wanted to know was – how did Jacqui stay on track? How did she keep the characters so honest to the developmental time in history? Here’s her response:

Jacqui Murray

What a great question, Diana.

The short answer is, I spent a lot of time living in Lucy’s world (of Homo habilis). I started by reading everything I could get my hands on about life in that era (a lot of paleo topics like paleoclimate and paleogeology). But scientists have so few artifacts of those ancestors, I had to dig deeply into the worlds of the Great Apes (the animals that came immediately before upright man)—apes gorillas, orangutans. Through the sensibilities and work of women like Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas, I gained tremendous admiration for these predecessors who ultimately shaped man. In fact, now, when I look at one of these creatures, I no longer see an animal; I see a human. Primitive but with the seeds of who we are.  I am disgusted at the barbarian practice of using apes for drug testing as though they are less than human. They aren’t less than me, just different.

Once I grounded myself, I had to remember Lucy’s world had no fire, no clothing, no religion or art, no music, no spoken language, no symbolic names (their call signs were sounds). No cultural rules. Attachments revolved around survival not emotion. And her animal instinct was super-charged with her brilliant brain. As I wrote, I had to make sure I was true to those guidelines.

Here’s an example. I knew hunting (which to them was scavenging carcasses) involved long periods of waiting while the alpha predator finished its meal and other scavengers got first crack at the remains. Lucy would crouch in grass (early human bottoms didn’t allow them to sit yet), the humidity pressing in, the crawly creatures biting through her hair/fur, the sun beating down or maybe rain. I had to remember Lucy didn’t care about any of this and never relaxed while waiting. She was always busy smelling what was around her, smelling for those who hunted with her to know where they were, sniffing to find other scavengers who might try to take her food. She was weaker than every predator in her habitat with worse offensive and defensive capabilities (flat teeth, dull nails, thin skin). But she did have a brain that could plan, think, and problem-solve (in a primitive fashion).  Other animals could do that but their actions were based in instinct. Lucy’s was driven by her growing intellect.

Over all, I kept Lucy honest to her true self because I developed absolute respect for her, who she was, her primitive moral core, her ability to never feel sorry for herself. She’s who I would love to be in a sense but I’m simply not tough enough!

***

And now for my review:

Move over Jean Auel (Clan of the Cave Bear) for Jacqui Murray. I went to bed right after dinner last night because I had to finish this book and would have stayed up all night to do it. What a fabulous read.

Born in a Treacherous Time takes place at the very start of mankind’s development – we are inventive, communal, thoughtful, emotional beings, but still deeply rooted in our animal origins, fully integrated into the harsh volcanic landscape and with the creatures who share our world. Survival is an ongoing challenge and hunger a constant companion. Overlaying the struggles of daily life is the threat of man-who-preys, the next generation of mankind.

The story follows Lucy (Woo-See) through a period of years. She’s a strong character, a healer and a hunter who’s eager to learn new skills that not only make her an asset to her group but leave her an outsider. There are a number of compelling characters, fully developed and distinct, with a wide range of personalities.

No doubt, Murray did her research, but so little is truly known about this time, that I’m certain she had to employ her imagination as well. The world-building is meticulous. Murray deftly presents a world as seen through the eyes of those who inhabit it. She created words (and hand-signals) to describe the landscape based on the characters’ observations: “Night Sun” instead of moon, “Fire Mountain” instead of volcano. Her attention to creating a logical and detailed reality is stunning. I was honestly enthralled.

The world-building extends to characters as well, and I loved that none of them had “modern” sensibilities that would have tainted the believability of the story. No one is squeamish about raw food or bodily functions, and death is viewed as a natural occurrence. The characters have many of the natural abilities and acute senses of the animals living around them, yet unlike their animal cousins, their understanding of the world grows with each experience.

Best of all, as a reader I became quite attached to these primitive humans, empathizing with their struggles, losses, and choices. There is a depth of emotion, spirit of community, and generous nobility that stretches through the hundreds of thousands of years to our current lives. A captivating book that I recommend to any reader who enjoys adventures, exquisite world-building, or works of historical fiction and prehistory.

Want a book that will keep you up all night?

Here’s a global Amazon link: Born in a Treacherous Time.

Check out Jacqui’s blog too: Word Dreams

 

 

Covers Revealed!

I love book covers, and I’ll admit that a good cover can reel me in like a hungry fish. Working on covers with a designer is always a time of nervous excitement. For me, it means the books are close to finished, and the story inside my head is finally transforming into something visual that I can share with others… So, without further ado:

Soul Swallowers and Legacy of Souls have covers!

Soul Swallowers

Some souls gift insights, wisdom, a path to understanding. Others unleash power, proficiency with a sword, and indifference to death. One soul assimilates with ease. Swallow a host of the dead and risk a descent into madness.

Estranged from his family over the murder of his wife, young Raze Anvrell wields his fists to vent his rage. Then a chance at a new life beckons, and he retreats to the Ravenwood, the haunt of unbound ghosts. He and his mentor build a freehold and raise horses—until the old man dies and Raze swallows his first soul.

When his brother reaches out, open wounds begin to scar. But the tenuous peace won’t last. While those who rule yield to the lure of their ambitions, slavers roam the countryside. One man manipulates the law; another heeds the souls of violence howling in his head.

Raze too listens to his soul’s whispers, and as danger intrudes on his quiet life, he has no choice but to return to his father’s world and take up the fight.

(Soul Swallowers is currently available for preorder: Global Amazon Link.)

***

 

Legacy of Souls

Peace descends on the Ravenwood, and Raze Anvrell trusts that as love lays open his life, the turmoil of his past will loosen its grip. But in the halls of Avanoe and catacombs of Ezar, political intrigues thicken. Deflection and secrets manipulate the truth and more than one ruler stakes a claim in the quest for power.

A swallower of multiple souls, Sajem files his teeth and inks his eyes. Tentacles of madness slither deeper into the slaver’s afflicted mind. His raids grow brazen, tactics harsh, and conscience stripped bare. Alliances shift, fracture, and form, and no one is too old or young, too wealthy or beautiful to spare.

When death strikes, Raze must battle for those he loves, the principles he holds dear, and the world he desires. While heirs compete for the Ezari throne, slavers plot each other’s demise. If Raze wishes to save his family, his freehold, his chance at love, and his life, he must swallow one more soul.

***

Covers designed by the talented Deranged Doctor Designers.
They specialize in romance and all forms of speculative fiction.

Twenty-four Days – Blog Hop

Jacqui Murray has a new book out and I had the privilege of a sneak peek. I read her first book, To Hunt a Sub, and this sequel does not disappoint! It’s a torpedo-paced military thriller that I happily review below. 

But first things first.

Twenty-four Days

An unlikely team is America’s only chance

World-renowned paleoanthropologist, Dr. Zeke Rowe is surprised when a friend from his SEAL past shows up in his Columbia lab and asks for help: Two submarines have been hijacked and Rowe might be the only man who can find them.

At first he refuses, fearing a return to his former life will end a sputtering romance with fellow scientist and love of his life, Kali Delamagente, but when one of his closest friends is killed by the hijackers, he changes his mind. He asks Delamagente for the use of her one-of-a-kind AI Otto who possesses the unique skill of being able to follow anything with a digital trail.

In a matter of hours, Otto finds one of the subs and it is neutralized.

But the second, Otto can’t locate.

Piece by piece, Rowe uncovers a bizarre nexus between Salah Al-Zahrawi–the world’s most dangerous terrorist and a man Rowe thought he had killed a year ago, a North Korean communications satellite America believes is a nuclear-tipped weapon, an ideologue that cares only about revenge, and the USS Bunker Hill (a Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser) tasked with supervising the satellite launch.

And a deadline that expires in twenty-four days.

As America teeters on the brink of destruction, Zeke finally realizes that Al-Zahrawi’s goal isn’t nuclear war, but payback against the country that cost him so much.

***

Jacqui’s research and technical knowledge is outstanding and adds immensely to the believability and enjoyment of the read. Here’s a tidbit:

Can today’s science make a warship invisible?

If not today, in the very near future. DARPA and other scientific arms of the US Military are experimenting with approaches such as the use of metamaterials (the device used in Twenty-four Days) To hide military equipment from all sorts of waves—like sound waves and light waves. In a nutshell, here’s how they work: Rather than the sound or light waves hitting the object, they are deflected around the object and they land on what’s behind it. That means, the viewer (or in the book’s case, sonar) see what’s behind the object rather than the object. This is already effective for small objects, but is experimental for large ones like tanks and subs, and planning stages for sonar.

Pretty cool.

My Review:

I was an avid fan of Murray’s military thriller To Hunt a Sub, and her second book, Twenty-four Days, somehow managed to top the first. Though it isn’t necessary to have read the first book before diving into Twenty-four Days, I do recommend it. Murray mentions backstory but doesn’t spend a lot of time on it, so I liked having a solid grasp of the network of main characters prior to jumping into the new novel. It increased my enjoyment of this torpedo-paced book.

Torpedo-paced is an accurate description. This book starts off full speed ahead and keeps it up to the last page. For readers who love thrillers with twisting plots, plenty of intrigue, and a race against time to uncover and stop a multi-pronged terrorist attack, Twenty-four Days hits the mark. Not until the very end is the master plan understood, and foiling the plot takes right up to the last page. I’m a slow reader, and I whizzed through this book.

One thing I enjoyed about To Hunt a Sub was the technical reality Murray created for both the scientific and military elements of the book. I completely believed the naval and investigatory hierarchy and protocols, as well as the operation inside the sub. This book is just as convincing as the first but with the addition of a battleship. The operation, acronyms, and lingo were technical, realistic, and occasionally over my head, but never to the degree that I was lost. Rather, I was thoroughly convinced that Murry is a submariner! 

The science behind both reads is well researched and felt completely authentic, from cutting-edge military science and technology to the capabilities of artificial intelligence. The first book introduces the reader to Otto, a computer-housed AI. He was effective and fascinating but not terribly engaging. In Twenty-four Days, Otto gets a mobile body and the algorithms necessary to acquire a personality. He becomes a captivating character in the story and was one of my favorites as he participates in problem-solving and saving the world from war. The whole cast of characters is well drawn, their personalities, emotions, and relationships believable. There isn’t a lot of downtime to get to know them deeply though – the main reason to start with the first book.

All in all, a thrill of a read – 5 stars and highly recommended. I’m already looking forward to the next one!

Twenty-four Days:      

Kindle US,    Kindle UK,    Canada

Author bio:

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, and the thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and  Twenty-four DaysShe is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

Quote from author:

What sets this series apart from other thrillers is the edgy science used to build the drama, the creative thinking that unravels the deadly plot, and the Naval battle that relies on not just fire power but problem solving to outwit the enemy.

Social Media contacts:

http://twitter.com/worddreams

http://facebook.com/kali.delamagente

http://pinterest.com/askatechteacher

http://linkedin.com/in/jacquimurray

https://plus.google.com/u/0/102387213454808379775/posts

Sorcerer’s Garden

 

images (13)I’m about halfway finished with the first draft of a new book that for a long time I called the Coma Book. It has little to do with comas, but that’s beside the point. It lacked a name, and as I mulled over characters and outlined the story, I had to call it something.

Most of the time, I know the title of a book right out of the chute, as if there’s no question or choice in the decision. Other times, a name prefers a game of hide-and-seek, making me wait for the big AHA moment. “So there you are,” I might say with delight, as if discovering a long lost sock behind the dryer or a two-year-old under the sink.

The erstwhile named Coma Book is about dreams, stories, and fantasies overlapping with ordinary life. The shifting border becomes increasingly permeable, with confusing and frightening results. One character, an old sorceress, traverses the multiple layers of existence with graceful clarity by touching her crystal ball.

Well, ugh. I hate crystal balls in general. Hokey, low-budget props for the unimaginative.

But…not long ago, at a friend’s house, I encountered a particular chunk of quartz. Avid rock-collectors, she and her husband have hundreds from all over the world. Their house looks like a quarry. Anyway, the rock of interest was a clear crystal with bronze, gold, and smoke-colored inclusions. When sunlight hit the inclusions, the rock seemed to burn on the inside. As it turned, it mutated, changing its internal scenery. I saw alien galaxies, rotating nebulae of firelit stars and spinning planets.

“What is this?” I asked, mouth agape.

“Some call it a dream crystal,” my friend replied. “I’ve also heard it called a sorcerer’s garden.”

AHA!