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Cook: Fantasy familiar, but still enjoyable
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By: Ted Dekker
Price: $15.99
Rating: Three bookmarks out of five

Ted Dekker is best known for his best-selling Christian fiction series, The Circle Trilogy, following the adventures of a man from our world who dreams of adventures in an alternate world of magical forests, terrifying demons, and ancient mysteries - or does he truly exist in this "Other World," and only dreams of our world?

This premise sounded promising, so I began the journey into Dekker's world of fantasy through his young-adult series that branches from his famous trilogy, The Lost Books.

The Lost Books, beginning with the novel "Chosen," explores 15 missing years in Ted Dekker's "Circle" trilogy, between the novels "Black" and "Red." One does not have to read The Circle Trilogy before the Lost Books in order to understand the plot, as both series can stand on their own, but it all connects to give a full understanding of the events that happen in Dekker's Other World.

I was tempted to give "Chosen" a try because it looked like it would give me just enough of a taste of Dekker's writing to tell if I would enjoy the series.

It is a quick read and does not include any references too esoteric that required me to read any of Dekker's other novels first. I did have a moment's hesitation upon reading the very first line of the novel: "Our story begins in a world totally like our own, yet completely different." With an opening line that bland, I feared a plot of nothing but fantasy clichés was on its way.

Fortunately, while "Chosen" offers a story that isn't terribly original, it does have captivating characters, unexpected turns and a couple of adorable white-furred talking bats.

The tale begins with Johnis, a young Forest-Dweller whose people battle against the evil Horde - diseased outsiders who live in the nearby desert.

Johnis has a mark on him that designates him as the "chosen one" (thus the title of the book). It is believed that the chosen one will save the forest people from the Dark One named Teeleh, the most evil of all creatures who leads a brigade of black bats known as the Shataiki.

There is also a group of good-hearted white bats, the Roush, who inform Johnis that he needs to recover the Lost Books of History, which have an incredible unknown power that could either be used to wipe out the Shataiki, or in the hands of Teeleh could destroy all that is good. So Johnis, along with three newly recruited members of the Forest Guard, is thrust into an adventure to find the Lost Books, while facing the Horde, the Shataiki and the wicked Teeleh himself.

A few things seemed to be borrowed from other fantasy series, particularly several scenarios and concepts that reminded me heavily of Lord of the Rings, and I feel that the device of a prophesied "chosen one" is used far too much in fantasy stories.

But for the most part, "Chosen" was enjoyable, and I appreciated that the author focuses more on telling a good story than hitting the reader over the head with obvious religious metaphors (there are some clear symbols, especially water, as the forest dwellers "baptize" themselves in it daily to ward off the evil disease that infects the water-fearing Horde).

Mostly, I ended up liking all the characters, who all had very distinct personalities and traits. In particular, I couldn't help but smile at the pair of loveable, feisty white bats Michal and Gabil (named after biblical arch-angels Michael and Gabriel, I presume), which was fun enough for me to recommend "Chosen" to anyone looking for an easy to read, fun fantasy adventure.

Alison Reeger Cook is a Gainesville resident whose Off the Shelves book review runs every other week in Sunday Life. Know of a good book to review? E-mail her to tell her about it