Book Review of “Travels in Elysium”

A few weeks ago the publisher of “
Travels in Elysium“, a novel by William Azuski, asked me if I would do a book review.  They were particularly interested in my perspective as a magical realist author; this book making use of that literary device.  I enjoy reviewing books, and as a novelist myself I understand the importance of good, fair book reviews for an author’s literary future.  I don’t take writing reviews lightly.  So here goes…

The plot of the story starts with Nicholas Pedrosa, a young man from rural England, who is offered the job of a lifetime on a dig in Santorini, Greece.   Pedrosa of course jumps at the opportunity, but soon finds out that there is more going on that meets the eye; and that perhaps the dig leader is not looking for what he says he is.  It quickly devolves into a murder mystery meets metaphysical journey as Pedrosa tries desperately to understand what is turning his dream job and perfect adolescent adventure into a nightmare.  The novel meanders quite a bit until things finally come to a head when the team finds something under house 34, one of the ancient structures believed to be part of Atlantis – which contains a passage to the underworld.  Or does it?  

The conflict in the story essentially pits Mr. Pedrosa against the dig leader, archaeologist Marcus Huxley.  Huxley is simultaneously Mr. Pedrosa’s nemesis and his idol; and the emotions swing mercilessly (and suddenly) between hero worship and hatred (and fear) of this man.  The political backdrop of the story is the Greek dictatorship during the time when the government was run by a military junta.  There is a great deal of talk about “the Colonels” in Athens, and anybody who has lived under arbitrary authority understands the complications of working under those conditions – especially in something as sensitive as a nation’s cultural heritage (which dictatorships often use to bolster their support and legitimacy). 

I’ll be honest; I didn’t really quite know what to make of this novel.  Reading it was not easy.  It didn’t have a natural flow or logical progression, the beats seemed off and the emotions (of both Pedrosa and Huxley) were erratic.  The dialogue also did not ring true, with Pedrosa’s internal thoughts hating Huxley but his discussions with his mentor metaphysical and yearning.  The internal monologue was almost stream of consciousness, which is not my favorite type of literature.  It read like “Da Vinci Code” as it might have been written by Augusto Roa Bastos.  The magical realism was more metaphysical “new age” than the normal use of the device, which is usually to accentuate hard realities by juxtaposing them against something that is clearly out of place.  This is why books about vampires or ghosts aren’t technically magical realism.  They are fantasy.  

As I often do when I’m not sure what to make of a novel, I went to other book reviewers; which was also unhelpful.  Reviews either praised “Travels in Elysium” as genius while suggesting those who did not understand it are simple minded; to others with an almost violent rejection of the novel.  This book is definitely not for everybody. 

What I do recommend for the author would be to make use of a good content, copy and line editor to catch things which detract from the professionalism.  They could also tighten up the story to make it move more quickly in places.  I would also posit that the use a more traditional tense, like third person limited and a stricter adherence to some of the rules of literary fiction (such as the correct use of conflict, of doors, of beats and of climaxes) would make the book flow more easily for the reader and help what has the potential of being a page-turner meet its true potential. 

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist, author of “
The Lieutenant of San Porfirio“. 

About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright. His most recently released work is "Dreams of the Defeated: A Play in Two Acts" about a political prisoner in a dystopian regime. His novels include "I, Charles, From the Camps" about the life of a young man in the African camps and "Lords of Misrule" about the making and unmaking of a jihadist in the Sahara. "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio" are about the rise and fall of socialist Venezuela (with magic).
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4 Responses to Book Review of “Travels in Elysium”

  1. Ian Mathie says:

    Joel Hirst has obviously worked hard to read and understand this book and to make his comments objective. As a writer myself, I find this a helpful approach and one which inspires me to read the book and form my own opinion.
    If he’s interested in magic and realism, I wonder what he would make of my sorcerers. They were in every way real!


  2. Joel Hirst says:

    Ian – challenge accepted! Whats the name of your novel and I’ll include it on my list of books and do a review of it on this blog.


  3. Ian Mathie says:

    Hello Joel,The novel isn’t out yet. It should be out in about six or eight weeks and will be called Chinese Take-out.Te books that was released in January, and which has a fair bit about sorcery in it is Sorcerers and Orange Peel. This is the fifth volume in my African Memoir series, all of which are available in print and as e-books on Amazon.Cheers,Ian


  4. Joel Hirst says:

    I’ll check it out, thanks!


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