In Rowan’s (The Mooring, 2012) modern-day retelling of The Hobbit, a Seattle loner gets recruited by a band of quirky geekerati to help recover a technological treasure.
Bill Bowens just wants a quiet life at home with his books. But when an old friend of his father’s drops by—with some oddly assorted tech-whiz friends—he accepts their offer of an adventurous treasure hunt. They want to recover some intellectual property (considered stolen) they’d developed, now hidden beneath a layer of puzzles and riddles that Bill, they’re sure, is the right guy to solve. The riddles are simple and few, so it’s hard to see why the group needs a puzzle master. Regardless, their quest takes them around Seattle, where solving riddles at certain locations opens a series of back-door entrances leading to the treasure. All of this is overlaid with a thick crust of technospeak that the hero is the first to admit he doesn’t understand; despite endless explanations, readers may not either. Though never made explicit, it will be clear to readers familiar with The Hobbit that this is a retelling of that novel. Spotting the parallels is enjoyable; Bill for Bilbo, Dr. Agon for the dragon, a random-number generator gadget that, like Gollum’s ring, makes the user invisible (to computers, anyway). Rowan worked out the similarities very cleverly; however, a retelling must hold together on its own, and this story bogs down in confusing episodes thick with description but not with action. A simple trip to get coffee at the mall (based on the wargs episode in The Hobbit) goes on forever, with diatribes about yuppies, enormous SUVs and baby strollers, the evils of corporate coffee joints, and pages of explanation about random-number generation. Often, though, any sense of danger or excitement drains away in overwrought wordiness. As unwieldy as the book becomes, Rowan has some wonderful moments: “Woods are beautiful until you know what is in them,” his narrator notes. Still, for a man on a quest, Bill Bowens has a tough time keeping his eyes on the prize.
A clever modern-day quest with an unfortunate case of attention deficit disorder.