4 out of 4 stars
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If you love Avengers, X-men, Justice League and the likes, welcome aboard! I can definitely see Altered Reality by Joel Knox evolving into a blockbuster motion picture. The book is classified under the CTMH genre with elements of urban fantasy. Despite being a sequel to “The Alter” in the Alter series, Altered Reality can be read as a stand-alone comfortably. In my case, it has made me curious to meet the Alter at the same time its body companion did in the first book.
The story starts with the air heavy, danger brewing close by. The keen observer scans the area, calculating his precise steps. I feel my heartbeat increase as he approaches his target. The man is James Hyde, possessing an uncanny “creature” inside of him. It is addressed as “The Alter or Rakshasa.” In looks, The Alter brings to mind the picture of “The Incredible Hulk” and “The Thing” in the movies Avengers and Fantastic Four respectively. Perhaps due to the protagonist’s name, I couldn’t help remembering the old story, "Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde," wherein James is the good guy while his Alter is bloodthirsty. The difference is that the latter pair worked together, relinquishing body control at appropriate times, while the former did not. This made “them” really grow on me.
The temple in Hong Kong is the home to all alters- people born with supernatural abilities. The key players include but are not limited to: James Hyde a.k.a The Alter, the most physically dominating of all; Marcos Mansilla, who can pass through any surface; Sergei, whose body could metamorphose into rocks of any shape or size and Cora, who controlled electricity in the atmosphere. Life isn’t all cupcakes and chocolate at the temple though; a storm is brewing, bringing with it divisive factions. James, at the opening scene, is on a mission to gather information about fellow alters and the covert collaborations certain private organizations were making with government officials to their detriment. This is when we first get a glimpse of his unusual abilities, brought to life by his personal rakshasa.
Maurice Street is a top government official working with the CIA who happens to know Hyde and his alter after personal encounters with “them.” Maurice shows up at a crime scene a few minutes after James did. There has been a massacre at St. Martins Detention Center, carried out by an assault team with a sole purpose: abducting Samuel Barkley. Samuel is a fifteen-year-old boy who uses his powers to bully the boys at the detention center. But as the story unfolds, he is much more capable of bigger feats. Yod, the spiritual leader at the temple, had a vision regarding Samuel standing “upon a pile…of bodies. A mountain of bodies.” James is entrusted with the responsibility of finding Samuel and helping him harness his power for use in the appropriate way. But the teenager has different ideas, being particularly averse to receiving instructions.
The antagonist, known simply as “The Man,” is a rich and powerful entrepreneur who has his own concept of “the nation’s best interests.” He aims to capture alters and use them as lab rats to achieve his ultimate goal. Will James be able to convince Samuel to join them before The Man gets him all twisted up? Can the temple survive its internal storm? Does Yod’s prophesy concerning Samuel come true? Will The Man accomplish his terrible objectives? What about Samuel’s father, who gave his son up to life at varying detention centers after tragedy struck his home? Who is Mei Ling and how does her power come into play? All these questions and a whole lot more are answered in this fast-paced thriller.
Racing through Asia and America, the characters are always on the move, especially James, Maurice and Samuel. The major themes are of greed, exploitation and self- sacrifice. Sam’s greed for power and absolute control leads him to exploit people by means of his abilities, bending their minds against their will. James’ self sacrifice shines through when he refuses to allow Ivan and Cora accompany him in his fight for Hope. Noy and Phillippe stand at the front line of the temple battle to help the others make a clean break for their lives.
I can’t complain about this work. Altered Reality is full of unexpected twists. Although the “whodunnit” characters and those having friction are revealed halfway through the story, there are several other small connections gradually being pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle as the plot speeds along. The writing style is simple yet rich, doused with occasional humorous descriptions. Most of these are of individual character reactions to seeing the alter at work during a power tussle. The introduction of new characters is done in a clear manner such that there are no mix-ups or complications. Aside from a few insignificant errors involving singular and plurals, wrong or omitted words and one omitted scene break, the book is professionally edited. My only issue with Altered Reality is the author’s penchant for violence. Knox seems to relish the gory details, dishing them out in varying styles ranging from severe gunshot mutilation, sword/knife fights and body dismemberment by the alters when in battle. Any who is perturbed by such vividly-described sensitive material should head in the opposite direction or, at the very least, be prepared to skip a lot of pages.
On this final note, I rate Altered Reality 4 out of 4 stars.
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