As I get older and read more books–and let’s face it, write them as well–I get more and more particular about the books I read, and what I like. I’ve got a Kindle reader full of books that I started and never finished, as well as a library at home with the same problem. But I do know what I like in a book. I like to be surprised. Robert McKee writes: “Give the reader what they want, but not in the way they expect it.”
And as I read J.R. Baude’s The Lazarus Chain, I see good things and things that I think need work, but more than anything, I see surprises. And for that I’m grateful.
Here’s the Amazon summary:
Hidden in plain sight, a new breed of humanity mingles among the masses of the ordinary. Unable to die, they live on vibrantly as their most perfect physical selves. Should death visit them, it is only of temporary effect. They resurrect whole in mere days. This new breed of “Eternals” stands to inherit the Earth when all mortal humans return to dust. Larger questions remain unanswered. What has brought about this change? What is the origin of the magic genetics that makes it all possible? And what lies in the heart of the man generously offering the cure for death, free of charge, to all who desire it? His name is James Carpenter, a man of extraordinary ability, charisma and influence. He appeared seemingly out of thin air, to ascend rapidly into a role of global prominence. A connection may lie in a clandestine research project begun in the 1980’s by pioneer geneticist Adeline Brandt in conjunction with the Vatican. Under the guise of authenticating archival relics, she discovered something among the treasure trove of religious artifacts belonging to two millennia. Something she has kept only to herself. Something only she would know how to bring to life. But, there are always the skeptical, those with a healthy curiosity for anything smacking of utopia. As the Eternals class begins to emerge and grow, these doubters privately discover disquieting knowledge that may challenge the apparent altruism of Carpenter and his expanding following. They suspect Carpenter’s motivations may lie in darker places, shrouded behind the apparent bliss of eternal, flawless life. But proof is elusive and time is running out. Included in the skeptics is one of Carpenter’s closest associates, Alex Traeger. The unassuming architect, surprisingly taken under Carpenter’s wing for reasons unrevealed, is torn as more disturbing signs are unveiled. He decides he must find a way to stop Carpenter’s plan. But, how does one undo eternity?
First the good. This is a masterful story, driven by a wonderful concept. As you read above, immortality is something that has a lot of spiritual implications and crosses the boundaries between science and religion. Baude is great at description, and gives us a highly complex story with intricacies that draw us into what’s going on in an ever-ascending spiral.
And then there are the twists, of course. I love twists. And there are several major ones that I didn’t see coming. Thanks for that.
Now, the challenges. The Lazarus Chain is a complex story that involves a LOT of characters, and I think it suffers for it. At first, one has a hard time keeping track of who’s who, and then later you feel like there isn’t enough time for the characters to develop enough to care about them. I just started feeling for two of the main characters toward the end of the story, but I felt like it would have been easier with half the characters. In addition, the story is told in present tense, which I’ve always struggled with in a full-length novel, and it seems a bit awkward at times.
But the story has heart, with spiritual questions that really should be asked, as well as science that is pretty cutting edge as well. I struggled with the complexity of the book for the first hundred pages, but then it really took off, and I enjoyed the ending immensely.
I give it four out of five stars.