Birthright by B.J. Keeton (Book One of the Technomage Archive), self-published in 2013, Free in Amazon ebook formats, £9.80 in paperback, Website
Reviewed by Alex S. Bradshaw
Birthright is a space opera with healthy doses of fantasy mixed in. The main premise is that thousands of years ago Charons, or technomages, created vast, wondrous cities and wielded technologies so powerful that they bordered on the magical and were considered by some to be gods but they have since disappeared and faded into myth. As we meet our protagonist, Ceril Bain, he unearths a Charonic weapon which sparks his adventure into the mysterious and hidden world of the Charons.
At the beginning of the story Ceril returns to his school where is about to embark on the next phase of his education and to specialise in a career. But, due to his fortune – or misfortune – at finding the Charonic artefact before returning he is whisked away from everything he knows and begins tutelage with the Charons.
Of course things go downhill from there and I won’t delve too far into the story for fear of spoiling anything.
One of the legacies that the Charons have left this world is Instances. Keeton on Birthright’s Amazon page that the technology was inspired by the workings of the Massive Multiplayer Online games (such as World of Warcraft, although Keeton doesn’t mention any specific games) and that was one of the most fascinating parts of the story. The Instances are, essentially, pocket universes that exist alongside the universe and are only accessible through portals where they intersect. At first I thought this was a nice idea to create a few neat ‘it’s bigger on the inside’ moments but as the story progresses the idea really develops and becomes exponentially more interesting. Instances are capable of being far more than just a way to get more office space: they can be entire worlds interconnected to one another and as the story develops and we see one of these instances more deeply Keeton shows that there is much more scope for these to be explored.
The other major technology that the Charons use is nanites: microscopic robots that seem to respond to the telepathic commands of their wielder. Here is where Keeton blurs the line between magic and technology and the nanites give the Charons the ability to do some truly interesting things. However I felt that he could have explained the limitations of them more obviously as microscopic robots that can control things down to a molecular level would surely have gotten the characters out of some of their scrapes easily enough.
Beyond the protagonist I didn’t feel that the author developed the characters as much as he could have: each one seemed to play their role within the plot but was not explored too deeply beyond that. I am hoping that with the next books that we get to learn more about what makes each of the characters tick. But the author certainly did toy with my expectations for one particular character. I was initially sceptical of the dissonance between how the character had primarily been presented to how quickly they changed although I was on board with it at the end I did wonder if perhaps the change could have been more subtle and staggered throughout the story.
The book felt a little slow in places, more so in the first half of the book but the second was not without its pauses. This mainly seemed to be due to the explanation required of a story set in a secondary world as the technology and the setting required explanation for the reader to follow anything.
Keeton neatly skips certain points in the story to keep the events that the reader follows directly along with to only what is necessary. I didn’t feel that any of the scenes were superfluous within the book and was pleased that the narrative skipped several years whilst the protagonist was doing his training to avoid any clumsy training montage chapters.
Keeton’s style leans towards prose that keeps its reader focused on what is happening without distracting them with purple prose or overly descriptive sentences. He does this well, although there were moments throughout the book where the story seemed to be paused as some piece of technology was explained to the reader and at times this felt misplaced and slowed the pace of the scene.
All in all Birthright was a solid book: Its ideas and its world were very interesting and the author dealt with them well whilst still leaving enough mystery that there are questions left to be answered in the next two books. The writing was also decent, with nothing besides the occasional awkwardly placed exposition to distract from the story. I am looking forward to seeing how the major ideas and technologies in the story develop in the next book.