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Sunday, May 9, 2010

Book Review: The Golden Cockerel by Kenneth G. Allen, Jr.

It's hard to write, finish, and revise a book, and it takes courage and money to get it out there if the author wants to take the self-published route. Readers who are interested in self-published books but who don't want to waste their time on low-quality ones need a place to go for reviews. My goal is to post a review of a self-published book two or three times per month so that authors and readers can connect with each other. I'm also going to try and get author interviews so that readers can meet the people behind the books. At first, reviews and interviews will be posted separately due to time constraints. Oh, and I'm going to try and keep things fun, so be warned.

A disclaimer: I'm going to start with books by authors I know through real-life connections and through Twitter. If you're interested in getting your book reviewed and are willing to be interviewed by an otherworldly catfish, please email my assistant at bert{at}ceciliadominic.com or follow Bert on Twitter and message him there.

Title: The Golden Cockerel: A New Odyssey
Author: Kenneth G. Allen, Jr.
Genre: Historical Fiction with Paranormal Elements

The title of Kenneth G. Allen, Jr.'s novel The Golden Cockerel: A New Odyssey seems ambitious, but after reading this tale of adventure, lust, battles, and celestial influence, I believe it is warranted. Set in the Roman Empire of the first century A.D., The Golden Cockerel follows the adventures of landowner Gaius Petronicus and his fourteen-year-old slave Justinian as they cross the Mediterranean in search of Gaius' kidnapped daughter Portia.

Justinian, really Justa, disguised as a boy to increase her value, is a member of the new Christian religion and has the power to heal. Gaius still follows the Roman gods. In many books set in this or similar eras, the author's religious agenda shines through, but Allen does well in balancing the two, and he stays out of the way of the story, which is neither pro-Christian nor pro-Pagan. The characters' cleverness influence the storyline more than the gods' actions, which helps to avoid tiresome Deus ex Machina plot twists.

Allen's research pays off in a novel that comes across as authentic both with regard to setting and culture. No fear of Americans running around dressed as Romans in an earlier time! I caught myself being angry that Gaius and crew could kidnap a woman from a savage island with the plan of selling her into slavery in what seemed to be a callous manner, but that was my American principle of individual freedom clashing with the Roman mindset of "if you're not a Roman citizen, you're fair game." It helps that later on in the book, Gaius comes up against the same principle, but turned against him by a greedy politician.

I only have two complaints about The Golden Cockerel. First, the story starts a little slowly, but it picks up quickly as it allows us to know the characters. Second, speaking of characters, keeping track of the large cast can be difficult, especially of the ones who drop out for a bit and come back later. The book may have benefited from one less subplot, as well, but Allen does a good job of tying them all together in the end.

With regard to formatting and quality, my compliments go to Dog Ear Publishing. Allen speaks highly of them, and the book itself is a work of art with great cover design and line drawings at the beginning of each chapter. Allen also provides a list of Latin terms at the end, but most of them can be figured out from context.

The Golden Cockerel is a fun journey through ancient Rome with believable characters and a nice balance of Christan and Pagan influence. It's definitely worth the seventeen bucks and is available on Amazon.com.

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