Two plots drawn together into one theme, with the nagging question of who's really making the decisions.
A choose-your-own-path (CYOP) novel that follows the seemingly disparate dual plots of a scientific study and a murder trial, The Friar’s Lantern by Greg Hickey is an engaging, entertaining examination of free will and biological determinism. Although the two storylines may at first seem distinct, they intertwine in both thematic and concrete ways to form a single experience pervaded with the question of whether our conscious individual choices really are as willful and clear-cut as we assume.
However, the novel’s depth does not mean it is inaccessible as entertainment. While the initial branches differed on binary lines, with little divergence, they eventually weave into completely different events before returning to (and then turning away from) essential shared moments. At the same time, despite their interacting with reader caprice, the characters develop consistent identities through the scenes. I assume all of this is to be expected from the genre, but it was nonetheless gratifying to find upon going back after my first finish. However, I would have nonetheless liked more interactions with and background of the characters separate from the philosophical questions at the book's core.
The book does have its flaws. One aspect of the book that jarred me from the first page is the amount of physical description in the scene-setting. I usually dislike so much description, but I assume this is a trope of the genre, where the narrator must lead the reader through what they are seeing in order to make their choices. Still, the descriptions can interrupt and run long, with some analogies being pulpy and abruptly hyperbolic, and at times a bit dated (the book explicitly takes place in 2012, of which one is reminded by comparisons and remarks relevant to that and the previous year). However, these detractions are minor, and others may overlook them more easily than I.
I enjoyed this read, especially after I let my choices guide my experience. The fact that the topics discussed are, through the course of the novel, cited in psychological studies, which Hickey names and incorporates for dramatic potential into the book, was fascinating, and it marks the book as an excellent example of literature's ability to concretize and work out the implications of scientific peer review for a great reader experience. Although I give the book four stars due to the few stylistic noted above, the book was a great read, and, if indicative of the genre as a whole, not my last CYOP novel.
Review adapted from one originally posted on Goodreads.com.
Hi! I am a writing professor, tutor, ESL instructor, regular columnist for a UK magazine, & soon-to-be novelist, and I specialize in Shakespeare, 19th century lit, and philosophy. Between work, writing projects, and family, I try to maintain a regular reading & reviewing schedule. Open to requests!
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