*I received a free DRC of this book, with thanks to the author. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*
Blurb: A SPIRITUAL JOURNEY AND EPIC ADVENTURE INTO THE DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL
Book 1 of 12:
They call it the eternal reflection. And to decipher it is to unravel the universe’s spiritual and philosophical secrets.
Ni’vim, an unsure but pensive avian girl, grew up in a world of peace and has just reached adulthood. Her home brims with green skies, blue plants, mythical creatures, and dark elementals.
Now, vile demons from Sckogol, the infernal realm, stampede out of portals and burn her people and culture to ashes.
Time is irreversible, so she can never return to paradise.
But with the ominous return of Qeazor, a cosmic terror that promises bloodshed and the fall of her world, comes a flicker of hope—
If she can marry the inspirational teachings of a sacred book with the divine symbol’s wisdom, she may find courage in overcoming the world’s travails and pains.
Will she keep her promise to her father, defy all odds, and harness the symbol’s philosophical secrets to embody courage and overcome loss and death?
Or will she wilt like a fallen zelkova and descend into nothingness?
I want to start my review by just giving you a little more information on this book, as it is one of the most unusual books I have read.
The book was originally epically long and mainly consisted of philosophical and spiritual teachings, but the author took note of feedback from early readers and has now split that original novel into four separate volumes, each with their own interconnected story arcs, with more focus on plot and character than in the previous incarnation.
As a result, this book alternates quite dramatically in tone and content in places – at times, slow and contemplative, and at other times action-packed and quite brutally gory. That said, it does work. While unevenly paced, the action sequences break up the enlightened educational material and carry the reader from lesson to lesson along with Ni’vim, the central protaganist.
Ni’vim is a fascinating character. The book alternates mainly between chapters from her point of view and occasionally her father’s, with the very occasional section of third person narrative or from another character. But it is always clear that Ni’vim is our main character and this is her journey, and that of us, the reader.
I have never taken more notes for a fiction review! I have pages and pages of notes and Kindle highlights. The reason for this is that to get the best from this story’s philosophical and spiritual elements, the reader must deeply engage with the text and grapple with the concepts presented. For me, this meant long periods where I put the book down to make my own notes and get my head around what I was reading before continuing. So, it isn’t a quick, easy read; it is a complex exploration of some of the biggest questions in our experience. There are strong elements of Platonic or Socratic teaching in places, as Ni’vim struggles to understand how to find light and oneness in a world that is as dark and divided as our own.
The worldbuilding, too, is complex. The author helpfully includes a glossary, charts and detailed explanations of numbers, years, seasons and planetary movements at the end of the book, as there are a lot of new words to assimilate along with the ideas. I definitely agree with the decision to split the book into shorter tomes, as the challenging material and slower pace in the contemplative passages definitely benefit from a more measured approach, with regular pauses to reflect, and splitting the story makes this less intimidating.
I can see comparisons to books like Sophie’s World, Mitch Albom’s novels, Ted Dekker’s Circle Trilogy or The Shack, but this series is more high/epic fantasy in content and style than any of those mentioned, with the language quite archaic and ornate, and the magic system a mixture of innate spark, learned incantations, scrolls and artefacts, which I didn’t fully understand the mechanics of by the end of this book – I didn’t get a clear idea of Ni’vim’s magical capabilities for example, so never knew whether she was outmatched in a battle or not.
The story is peppered with symbols, parables, diagrams, quotations and illustrations – many taken from the fictional spiritual text Thus Spake Oneness. The author has drawn together a huge database of spiritual information from every source imaginable and condensed it for the reader into accessible and digestible chunks which Ni’vim reads and then relates to her own experiences. It was quite entertaining to see someone poring seriously over quotes from Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles alongside the great Eastern or classical philosophies, but as Ni’vim’s father points out, the source of wisdom is less important than what you learn by engaging with the ideas within it.
Between the peaceful scenes of learning and elucidation the battle/attack scenes are quite gruesome and visceral, with flesh ripped or melted from skeletons, and Ni’vim suffers some very traumatic losses through the course of the plot, so you shouldn’t just expect this to be a sedate philosophy lesson! Aquila Goh shows the reader, through Ni’vim, that spiritual enlightenment needs pain and suffering as well as reflective thought, as you cannot have the light without the dark to contrast with it. By the end of the story, Ni’vim is emotionally and physically depleted, but resolved to continue on her path and rise (like the zelkova) from her misfortunes. This decision then leads into the next volume in the series, The Ei’lari Legacy (review to follow in the new year!), where we can continue to follow Ni’vim’s progress in fighting monsters and finding inner peace.
In addition to all of the useful worldbuilding resource at the end of the book, the author offers some bonus material from Thus Spake Oneness that didn’t fit neatly into the plot, and summaries of the main plot points and philosophies presented in the book, which I found very useful to refresh my understanding of what I had read and how the ideas all fit together as a whole.
To summarise: I recommend this novel for anyone looking for a deep exploration of philosophical and spiritual ideas spanning from Eastern Taoist thought to modern pop culture exemplars, or to anyone looking for a thoughtful epic/high fantasy adventure that is on the dark and grisly side. If you want a light, easy read then this one isn’t for you!
‘Book 1’s fundamental moral lesson is to perceive life as a whole and never its parts. Although we may be bereft with many tribulations, the story would end if we glimpse only parts of it and forsake the rest. The value of a life must be fathomed as a whole, and we must never give up.’– Aquila Goh, Zelkova Rising
Purchase link: Zelkova Rising on Amazon
About the author
Experience is the essence of reality, not understanding. To grasp the beauty of life, one must become one with it and the cosmos.
Aquila, the mystic author of The Eternal Reflection novels, knows this and thus sees more to life than materialism.
Thus, he hopes to help humanity by imparting his spiritual philosophy through his novels.
He has an M.A. in Existential Sociology. A spiritualist, he explores many philosophies, religions, and meditation to explore mysticism, spirituality, and creative states.
When he is free, he plays video games, watches documentaries, reads, and streams Tetris.
He lives in Singapore, is single, and is in his 30s.
He can be contacted at: email@example.com
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