Already an innovative and respected story-teller in the shorter format, Nathan Burrage has now crossed the often-unattainable threshold of publishing his first novel FIVEFOLD. A work of art the author (from what of I've garnered), has been tinkering away on for some time. Upon arrival at my doorstep and a quick perusal through, you get the feeling the toying with this tome has been well worth the wait: holding its weight, you feel the books editorial prowess: nicely condensed in mass and word-count.
Nathan's prologue appears on his site, and some of you might be familiar with it. A common approach used in many novels, we begin our adventure with a bygone-era setting in the Yorkshire Dales. Rudiments dominating this period are, of course, priests and secular societies; Nathan springs the foundation of the book with secrets being consumed by the eternal thing that is such a pertinent component in any mystery: fire. This sacrifice guarantees the classified secret will remain dormant for generations to come - until the curtain is raised again and another cast of actors take to the stage.
One such character is James Steepleton, a British twenty-something almost any young man can relate to: James is in trouble after running afoul of the law in a drunk-driving accident and it suddenly falls to his friends to provide the necessary support - financial and emotional - so James doesn't have to do a stint behind bars and ruin his burgeoning acting career. I don't think I'm giving away any secret when stating his friends (from the heady days of University) are the FIVEFOLD. A cabal of individuals blessed with untapped powers resembling manifestations of the Mysteries: psychic, extrasensory and mystic abilities that are the benchmark of the supernatural genre. And FIVEFOLD lies within a genre not easily defined; although anybody who has taken the journey The Crooked Letter by Sean Williams will be familiar with the territory. Elements of religious and mythic structures compounded in folk-lore: Kether, Binah, Chokmah ... and states of being or deities of the underworld or higher realms.
With chapters heralded by one of the FIVEFOLD, Nathan shifts gear slowly depicting each individuals quirks and faults. A small task is keeping up with the names - you might find yourself backtracking to keep up with whom is pertinent to whom. That said, the sentences are clean-cut and refreshing; rarely does he begin a paragraph with the old tropes. Also, it's pleasing and often downright funny to hear the English language communicated without the American panache. Here, Cell phones are Mobiles. And you'll feel as though you're treading familiar ground with the English locale.
It takes a re-awakening in an ancient clearing to give the five just a snippet of what they can accomplish together. And, with any cabal, opposing forces are hot on their tail. Some of novel resonates with an early Clive Barker feel; feints and charms are used; possession is a factor. Also, there are philosophical undertones on the nature of pain and pleasure - and whether eternal ecstasy and agony are fundamentally one and the same. James is tempted by the seduction of the opposing forces, but Nathan doesn't do anything run-of-the-mill here. You'll be surprised, on numerous occasions, the direction and severe turns the novel takes.
Above all, FIVEFOLD is just plain entertaining. With synaptic sparring, mental warring, and clandestine cabals, this is an absolute impressive debut and a novel that could perhaps teach even veterans a thing or two about the game. There are many layers to the plot (an older generational cabal called The Brightening Dawn take James's league, the new torch-bearers of the mysteries into their counsel, is just one); but to reveal more be like displaying used storyboards before sitting down to a celluloid epic.
Technically published in 2008, the majority of this story was read in 2007. Without question, FIVEFOLD went straight to the top of the list as one of the better novels I had read during the year.