Posted on September 28, 2009 by Steven Dawes
Back on August 14th, a two chapter preview of Personal Effects: Dark Art was posted here on “Da Flames” (Click here to read preview). Included in this preview were notes about this book being a “multi-media novel” or a “trans-media” thriller that makes it a unique experience. By the time I reached the end of the preview, it was an appetizer that made me want to sink my rotting teeth into the rest of the book. Actually, calling it an “experience” as opposed to simply a “book” would be a better description. What do I mean by that? Well folks, grab a fork and a knife and sample this delight with me.
To best review P.E.D.A., I’m going to split “the experience” into two halves. Starting with the book portion (which was author J.C. Hutchins contribution to the experience), our protagonist is mild-mannered art therapist Zachary Taylor. Taylor is a green horn in his field, having only seen three months worth of psychological warfare within the battlefield known as The Brinkvale Psychiatric Hospital. And yet, he seems to have made an impression on the administration after a breakthrough with one of his patients the previous week (more on that later).
His supervisor, Dr. Peterson is so impressed with Zack’s level of empathy and dedication to helping his patients that he has awarded Zach with a new assignment. This new case is high profile, takes top priority and involves deducing if a serial killer suspect is psychologically fit for trial… and Zach only has a week to work with him. His patient, by name of Martin Grace, has been drawn up to be an extremely vile and evil human being who’s accused of not only murdering a dozen people, but murdering them in extremely gruesome ways. However, Martin claims he’s not the one killing these people, its the work something he calls “The Dark Man”, a demonic horror that haunts and torments him. As if all this wasn’t challenging enough for the rookie art therapist to work with, his patient happens to be a blind man.
Zach’s sessions with Martin leads him into digging up his patients past, but in doing so he finds more than he bargained for and sets the stage for an adventure he never saw coming. Zach will revisit events from his past, discover secrets & conspiracies, continually confronting his fear of the dark, witness lots of creepy psychological thrills & chills and possibly even supernatural terror!
The characters involved in the story are pretty well flesh out considering the quick pace of the 320 page novel. The characters keep an archetype familiarity and yet become their own peeps along the way, drudging up a surprising level of empathy and concern out of yours truly. One character worth noting here is Rachael, Zach’s girlfriend; a fact finding guru with an extreme talent for video games and a love for magenta hair and tattoos… ooh-la-la! (Rachael… if you’re reading this, pack up your X-Box and call me!) Zack’s kid brother Lucas even managed to stay in my good graces, which is saying something as slang slingers of his like usually annoy me in a hurry (another credit to J.C. for pulling off that trick so well.) In the end, J.C. Hutchins has written a great page turner that’s worth reading on its own merits.
And yet, as engrossing as the book itself was, the other half of “the experience” is the trans-media portion mentioned earlier. Included with the book are several physical documents and various artifacts that are directly tied into the story. This is Jordan Weisman’s contribution, and they do indeed make for a unique experience as promised. Throughout the book, there will be phone numbers to call (and messages to check when you discover the passcodes), websites to look up and explore (and research), and even the artifacts themselves offer up more than what’s discovered in the book.
The experience this creates goes beyond the mere escapism that any good tale like P.E.D.A. is created for. If you take the time to research the websites, read the documentation and follow the clues, you begin to realize that there is more to the story than was written in the book! You will literally discover more about the central characters (and the events surrounding them) than Zach does during his own journey!
To me, the idea of the trans-media experience is a good one. I see nothing but potential here and I really hope J.C. & Jordon continue to create more trans-media adventures. Hell, I hope other authors & publishers pick up on the idea and start creating their own experiences. I could see one future potential example where the artifacts and websites found in previous books might offer info that wasn’t relevant during those stories, but become an important clue in a later book. This could even herald a return or an evolution of those “chose your own adventure” styled books and stories I loved as a wee lad.
I do understand and realize that the trans-media experience might not be for everyone. At first, looking through the physical documents won’t make any sense until you’ve gotten to the point in the story they’d come up. For me, when they were mentioned in the book, I’d dig up the artifact or website mentioned and fully research what I could before continuing. While I found this to be fun and interesting, I can imagine some people will feel like its distracting them from reading the book itself or worse, the artifacts may confuse them and take them out of the story all together.
None of the materials ever felt cheesy or seemed like gimmicks or props to me. In fact I thought they were designed very well and looked like genuine articles. This is a credit to Weisman who’s has experience in the realm of ARG (Alternative Reality Games) before and it certainly shows here. Doing the legwork and going through the websites will tack hours onto your involvement with the book, but I was fine with this as the sensation of the “outside the book” narrative was a treat.
For those still nervous to give it a go, my advice is this. When you get to a part in the book that mentions a phone #, website, artifact, etc… I encourage you to read on till the end of the paragraph before you pursue it. If you’re worried about being taken out of the story you could try reading till the end of the chapter before researching. As a reminder, this experience is all about drawing you further into the story (if not outright becoming a part of it), and therefore once you’ve exhausted your research, simply return to where you left off. As you progress you’ll be rewarded with your own insight and experiences along with Zach’s.
Note: For those interested but not yet convinced, I encourage you to try another free sample of “the experience”. J.C. was good enough to create a pod cast prequel novella titled Sword of Blood. Presented over seven pod episodes, Sword of Blood goes into Zach’s working with one of his patients and takes place a week before P.E.D.A. Along the way you’ll discover more details about Zach, his family & friends and the odd but interesting hospital he works at. Oh yeah… true to fashion, J.C. also proves a 24 page PDF file of “The Grand Design of Nine”, the personal effects Zach will research during this novella. It’s a good listen (and sounds really clear for a podcast) and will help you get into the proper spirit to enjoy Dark Art. (Click here to visit the site).
Personal Effects: Dark Art is a compelling read that holds its own without needing the additional materials offered. However, the trans-media materials offer a lot more information and insights into the story and may even change your perception of the story and its characters involved (as it did for me.) I encourage everyone to give this unique experience a try. It’s truly something different from the norm… and an experience that’s well worth it.
Review by Steven Dawes