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Bane of Kings reviews the self-published Keystones: Altered Destinies, by Alexander McKinney.
“A fun, enjoyable read. Certainly worth checking out if you have access to Amazon ebooks.” ~The Founding Fields
It’s been a while since I read a self-published novel, so I was a bit unsure as to what to expect, especially when it was requested that I delay my reading of review in favour of reading an edited copy at a later date. However, my fears were quickly washed aside within the first few pages – Altered Destinies turned out to be a very enjoyable read. There’s a lot of things that are strong about this book, and the editing has really benefited it – I didn’t get a chance to read it beforehand so cannot work out the exact differences, but was still pretty impressed by this book, and Alexander McKinney has now got me interested in checking out any future novels by him.
2159 A.D. Humanity is forever changed by an event known as “The Sweep.” People wake to a new world. A new world where once-rare Keystones number in the millions. A new world where man is no longer at the top of the food chain. A new world with new rules.
Immediate beneficiaries of these new rules include Deklan, who wakes inside a drawer at the morgue, sees his own autopsy photos, and tries to hide the evidence; Jonny, who is capable of spraying an unknown liquid from his hands, thereby saving him from a careless mistake while he is on safari; and Sebastian, who instantly grows wings after being pushed off a building.
Cay and Calm were among the rare few who had superpowers even before The Sweep took place. Cay is a juvenile delinquent capable of unlocking any item. Calm, the most famous man alive, can negate all forces for seven meters around him. Together, in the far reaches of the solar system, they unlock an alien artifact, with catastrophic consequences. This massive event is The Sweep.
Back on Earth, Deklan tries to resume his normal life, but an epiphany about the ramifications of super-powered animals on civilization sends him to Boa Vista, Brazil, in a race against time.
In Brazil, as his life is repeatedly placed at risk, Deklan learns the true level of antipathy that his fellow Keystones can have toward others. With the knowledge that there is no going home, Deklan pushes onward, seeking help from new allies and trusting to luck and daring.
As the stakes are raised higher on Deklan’s journey, he finds himself paying the price, measured in pain, suffering and anguish. To succeed, he needs to dig deep within and embrace his unproven Keystone nature.
If you’re tired of all the epic fantasy novels that are hitting shelves lately, then Altered Destinies is the novel for you. It comes in at 343 pages, which is your average, medium sized book. Not a 1,000-page doorstop like George RR Martin’s works, and as a result, the pace is quick, fun – and easy to read. The various characters are interesting as we find an interesting science fiction backdrop, but one that isn’t massively so high-tech that it could be labelled as hard sci-fi. Whilst McKenney manages to cram a lot of characters in, he gives them enough time so that they don’t feel like they’re a waste of space – Deklan, Cay, Calm et al, are all interesting in their own right and they never feel boring when you’re reading chapters from their perspectives.
The book takes cue from creations like the X-Men, and Heroes, the only difference here being that animals were affected with “The Sweep” as well as humans, allowing for some interesting story potential. However, the difference is here that rather than be part of the minority, as is in the case of the X-Men, the Keystones are actually expanded, there are millions of them. I love the whole angle of ‘characters with powers’, and if I see a story like this that’s a got sci-fi/fantasy/urban fantasy backdrop and is not erotica or paranormal romance, then I’ll read and most likely enjoy it. Altered Destinies was a book that I should have enjoyed right from the get go, and it’s one that I did – I couldn’t put it down. The book itself is helped from some great humour, for example – there’s a character whose Keystone power is to produce Twix Bars at will. This allows for some great comedic moments, and said character doesn’t come off as a comedy relief character either, with plenty of depth, much like Deklan and Sebastian, who get plenty of page time, probably more so than the aforementioned character in question.
However, not all of the characters with Keystones come across as that original – for there are several that seem very similar to already established superheroes from the likes of DC and Marvel comics – Slate, a vigilante – can be comparable to Rorschach, of Alan Moore’s Watchmen for example, and Sebastian can be compared with Angel from X-Men as they both share similar superpowers. However, McKenney manages to create a fun take on this angle and the characters don’t really feel like weaker versions of ones that have had more time to be established.
The book itself benefits from a strong writing style, with plenty of action, and you can tell when an author has put plenty of research into a book because it comes off well with Altered Destinies, as this allows the reader to be drawn into an imaginative page-turner of a book – whilst there are a few questions left unanswered, Altered Destinies looks set to be the first of a series, unless of course I missed the answers in question in the book. However, you can count me on board for a sequel if there is one – I’m looking forward to returning to the year 2159. Awesome stuff. If you have a Kindle, you’ll want to download this book when you can – it packs a few surprises to throw at you.