Friday, November 25, 2011

Jack Ranis and the Book of the Labi, by Ryan Collings

For a debut novel, Jack Ranis is well put together. I have to admit right up front that fantasy is not my cup of tea. Well, not usually. Unless of course it’s Tolkein or Lewis. And yes of course I see the irony (or fatuousness) of a man saying he’s not into fantasy when that same man writes the stuff (cf. the Airel saga). But mercifully this ain’t about me, it’s about Mr. Collings. And he’s got a good book on his hands.

In the interest of full disclosure, I first came across Jack Ranis in the course of my duties as the StoneHouse Ink Acquisitions Editor. I have two rules: 

1. No wizards
2. No unicorns

It’s pretty simple; I just don’t like fantasy in general. There’s just too much completely made up stuff: gobbledygook place names, character names that could just as well come from some back forty sweat shop selling ad slogans, and lots of impossible stuff in the plot as well. In that sense, most fantasy genre novels are no different than most attempts at sci fi. There are a few really great ones. Most of the rest are… well… someone should have said something. You know? It’s like being a Steelers fan. You know? Somebody should have said something.

My approach to finding good material weeds out the amateurs, let me tell you. I have this closely held conviction that fantasy was created by Tolkein and that it mostly died with him. He simply did it so well. His place names and character names were not arbitrary and senseless phonetic constructions. He built entire languages, civilizations, mythologies, and then wrote a story for the ages on the strength of all of that. I think that anyone who steps up to the Tolkein and Lewis bar is asking for heaps and bags of criticism that they might not get if they had simply chosen to write a good and simple story.

All of this brings us to the main event. Collings has written a good and simple story. I, the jaded and prejudiced hater of fantasy, found myself pleasantly surprised by him. Jack Ranis is a lot like an old book I found on the dusty back shelves of the second story of an out-of-the-way Oregon used book shop not too long ago—The Burnished Blade, by George Schoonover. Jack Ranis is high adventure, in other words.

It starts off at a snowed-in orphanage in Stallshire, with our boy hero Jack. He’s a little stubborn, like me. Perhaps that’s one reason I find him endearing. Sometimes stubbornness can be confused, by user and observer alike, for courage. It’s not long until Jack finds himself in over his head, quite literally, and in need of rescue from beneath the ice in the freezing waters of the lake in the woods. Old Mr. Gudder—the local hermit, of whom all the children are much afraid, rescues him. And that’s when everything takes on all kinds of new meaning.

It’s not long until Jack learns quite a lot of mysterious detail about how he came to be orphaned, who he really is, and where he’s headed. I don’t want to spoil anything for you. This book is every bit worth the time you’ll take to read it, so I want to be sure to give you just a taste. Port Darling, the land of Brighton, await you. Get ready for an adventure.

Jack Ranis is a fifteen year old orphan who feels out of place in the only home he has ever known. When an accident nearly takes his life, he discovers a stranger from his past that takes him into a world he never imagined, a world where a magical land holds all the answers to his life story and reveals his true destiny.

After many years of war, the land of Brighton is finally at peace, but it is a peace that was never meant to last. Following in the footsteps of his father, Jack, with the aid of his friends, will risk everything to destroy the Book of the Labi and save the lives of all those he holds dear.

Visit for more information on Ryan Collings and his creations.

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