In this debut fantasy, an Arizona geologist inadvertently finds a strange realm, where he must defeat powerful creatures and break seven seals in order to escape.
Jerry Humphreys’ fiancee, Mandy Miller, is understandably worried about his plan to investigate a “mysterious place” in the Chiricahua Mountains. It’s the source of recent unexplained events, including missing hikers. But Jerry heads to the remote location, hoping a significant discovery will free him of debt. There, he stumbles on “unusual stones,” experiences the rumored seismic activity, and witnesses a cave materialize from nowhere. Jerry explores the cave, but a closing doorway traps him inside. He soon encounters a hooded figure, Julean, who tells Jerry he helps “travelers” complete transcendence so they can reach the planet Enif. Jerry must find seven chambers and break their seals. Though he’s not entirely clear on the particulars, Jerry surmises that rupturing the seals is the only way he’ll get home. He faces various mythical creatures, such as a griffin, while progressively acquiring new abilities (including telepathy). Sadly, his memories of Mandy slowly fade, and he falls for Andromeda, the overseer of illusions. It seems Enif may become Jerry’s new home if he manages to survive his increasingly precarious journey. As this appears to be a series opener, Berg’s novel is vague on certain details. Julean and Andromeda, for one, say very little about Enif. But the author packs the story with action, as Jerry confronts exceedingly deadly foes, like a giant scorpion, and utilizes occasional gifts, such as a powder that stops time. Berg develops a sympathetic protagonist, deftly showing his isolation because, despite having allies, he’s typically alone. For example, Jerry speaks to Mr. G, a geode (rock) attached to his enchanted staff, moments that are amusing even when danger lurks: “Mr. G, this is our chance. Make me proud.” The prose is smart but playful, though Jerry’s witty, oft-uttered metaphors (“walking on a jiggling bowl of Jell-O”) are offset by repetitiveness, as he prefaces many with “I feel like.”
Persistent action and humor brighten this otherworldly tale.