Beyond the Fields We Know was the title of a story collection by the Irish fantasy master Lord Dunsany, and it's become a well-known phrase in the mythic arts field ever since, used to describe those times when we move past the comfortably familiar to venture into the great unknown. For all too many readers, set in their reading habits, simply trying out fiction by a brand new author is uncomfortably risky; they prefer to stay within their literary comfort zones. Thus a handful of familiar authors sell over and over, dominating the bookstore shelves and bestsellers' lists, while new writers find it harder and harder to get published at all these days.
If we don't -- each of us -- make a concerted, regular effort to travel "beyond the fields we know" by trying the work of first-time authors, publishers will simply not publish them; and self-publication isn't the answer to the problem if such books simply don't get read. Without the support of risk-taking readers, too many of the most interesting new writers (the quirky writers, the ground-breaking writers, the uncategorizable writers) will be stocking the shelves at Walmart and serving coffee at Starbucks, not writing, (the bills have to be paid, after all), and risk-taking, boundary-busting first novels will disappear ... instead of leading on to the second, third, fourth, and fifth novels that might become the bestsellers and prize-winners of the future.
A Certain Prophesy is a highly unusual, compelling read by an author who falls in the interstices between all the usual literary genres: the book is part bildungsroman, part supernatural thriller, part psychological exploration of grief and its aftermath, and part philophical inquiry into some of the thornier aspects of ethics, art, science and religion. By this description alone, you can see why the novel doesn't fit squarely into any one section of the bookstore, and that's precisely what makes A Certain Prophesy unique, challenging, and fascinating.
Set in modern-day England (in the city of Exeter, just up the road from here), A Certain Prophesy is, primarily, the psychological coming-of-age story of Immanuel ("Mani") Dunn -- a young artist whose success in the professional world has not been matched by the maturation of his spirit and soul, both of which were badly scarred by the trauma of his mother's early death. Damien's particular skill as a writer is in exploring the inner workings of the young man's mind as he tries to find his way not only through a plot delicately laced with supernatural elements, but also through the dark places of Mani's life as he seeks to find himself as a man, and as a hero, in the moral muddle of the modern world. Along the way, he's surrounded by a wide and vivid cast of characters, whose own journeys (and distinct world views) intersect with Mani's for good and for ill.
Does that sound challenging? It is, but the novel is also a page turner, particularly for those readers of a philosophical bent of mind. (I know that "suspenseful" and "philosophical" sound like contradictory modes, but somehow they aren't here.) I don't know any other book quite like A Certain Prophesy. Nor do I know many novelists so willing to tackle what it means to be a "good man" in the Western world in quite so straight-forward a way. Cool detachment and distancing irony being almost de riguer among many of our younger writers today, this is a brave book for looking asking hard questions...and doing so with an entirely open heart.
Please do give it a try. And this is the time to do it, because for this weekend only, through Monday August 19th, it available entirely for free to Kindle readers. Go here if you're in Europe; and here for American readers.
And to read about Damien's next writing project (involving fairies!) go here.