Offspring by Liam Jackson (book review).

December 19, 2019 | By | Reply More

‘Offspring’ by Liam Jackson is a fantasy based on Judeo-Christian myth and is also Liam Jackson’s first novel. While he had no previous experience as a writer, his bio does include lots of experience in the US justice system including as a Chief of Police and with counter-terrorism experience. It is therefore quite interesting to see what such an author will produce as a fiction.

The ideas that Jackson presents are hardly new. Judeo-Christian myth has been visited before in prospective fiction. The DC Comics line ‘Lucifer’ as created by Neil Gaiman springs to mind as does his collaboration with Terry Pratchett with ‘Good Omens’. However, Jackson’s book is a much more American approach than the above English writings and maybe feels a bit more like the ‘In Nominee’ line of RPGs form Steve Jackson’s games.

Of course, most fantasies tend to draw inspiration from these myths (Narnia anyone?) but novels focussing on biblical matters and how they can directly be used in a modern setting are a little rarer and so writings on this topic are not unappealing.

The book concerns a number of human characters who are initially unaware that they are the last in a line of offspring from angelic beings. Now that a fallen angel named Axthiel has hatched a plan to take over the Earth and the various offspring start to have odd visions drawing them into the fight to defend humanity.

First, we are introduced to the teenager Sam Conner who seems to have always known he is out of the ordinary. In the first chapter, we find out he can smell evil and is constantly pursued by a sinister supernatural car. Sam finds himself drawn to a small town named Abbotsville in Tennessee and so decides to run away from home to both take the danger away from his family and to follow the strange urges.

The second offspring is Paul Young, who is a family man who fears he is going insane. He keeps getting nightmares about Hell that seems so real that he feels he might actually be witnessing Hell. Soon, he, too, is drawn to Abbotsville and, after his family leaves, due to his erratic behaviour, he digs out his old motorcycle and heads on out.

At the same time, career policeman Michael Collier is also having terrible nightmares and finds this interferes with his job. As soon as he is placed on medical leave, he, too, follows the strange compulsion to head to Abbotsville. Clearly, all three are headed to the same place and are in some way going to be related in the plot and this is where the book starts to fall into trouble. It takes at least half the book before they even meet each other.

Along the way, they all have some fairly near escapes with various nefarious forces of evil and, in one notable case, one of them is saved from death and helped out by some of the resolutely good angelic beings. This does help give the book more dimensions but some of these elements are underused and feel like they are being stored up for any sequels.

There are one or two female characters who pop up every now and again, like Sam’s sister, who also seems to have unexplained powers. She is also underused and also feels like she is being saved for the next book. The only major female character is the reporter Janet who is investigating disappearances. Her trail leads to a motel where Paul Young happens to be attacked by the forces of evil. After this, she helps out for a while before being dismissed as the danger in Abbotsville is too great for a non-offspring to face. Somehow, it feels like the female characters get short shrift in this volume.

Jackson has on odd writing style in that the chapters are numerous are short. Many of them are only two pages long and this tends to clash with the very separate adventures the main characters are on. Two pages about one character, two pages on the next, on to the third then maybe back to the first if the bad guys have nothing to do. Often we get all this in ten pages and all seemingly following completely separate stories. After 50 pages of this, it can become quite confusing as to what has happened to whom. Of course, this all settles down when the characters all meet up but it does seem clumsy at the start. Maybe we can chalk this up to Jackson’s lack of writing experience but his editor might have done something to mitigate this.

Jackson does give the action a certain zing, especially when the supernatural is involved. The various angelic powers put on a good show and the evil ones certainly live up to their reputations with some rather icky ends for bystanders. One of the first scenes for the reporter Janet involves a homicide where the victim apparently had his head twisted off and his body spread around a room from the inside out. Even the CSI folk get rather pale checking the crime scene out. Gore like this is few and far between in the book so acts more as a spice than a main flavour. As such, this book does not really belong in the horror camp and so sits fairly into the Judeo-Christian sub genre of fantasy.

Certainly, this kind of modern biblical stuff has its fans. The recent television adaptation of ‘Good Omens’ shows there is certainly an audience. I think Jackson does have some skill as some of the writing is flavoursome and evocative but, at the same time, he does make mistakes that a more experienced writer would not have fallen for. I am not aware if he has written many short stories but I cannot easily find reference to them on-line. I also notice that while this book is clearly set up for sequels, so far only one has materialised. This is ‘The Keys Of Solomon’ published in 2014. That is a gap of six years between the first and second books which seems a long time.

If the prospective reader is interested in modern biblical fantasy, then this is worth a look but be aware that this book comes with a caveat. An inexperienced writer like this offers a certain degree of freshness but also a number of elementary mistakes. Approach this book in that light and I believe you will find much to enjoy. Be aware that it is clearly the first chapter in a larger series and that so far Jackson has presumably not completed it. Maybe his writing gains more professionalism in the second volume. If only he can get and write some believable female characters.

David Corby

December 2019

(pub: Thomas Dunn/St.Martin’s Press, 2008. 290 page hardback. Price: $24.95 (US), $33.95 (CAN). ISBN: 0-312-35570-X)

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