Maybe it's just fatigue from reading too many dense works of fiction and weighty analyses of the major political and economic issues of the day, but while waiting for the President's State of the Union speech to start Tuesday night, I began reading the opening chapter of Vicki Burgess's new adventure book, "The Mapmaker's Sons." I figured this would be a quick flip through the first 20 pages or so to get a feel for her writing style and the start of the story. The main character, 13 year-old Tom Hawkins, is about to scale up to the roof of the private academy he's attended for the past eight years and jam the works of school's bell. I was hooked.
What 13-year-old hasn't thought some prank like that would be a fun trick to play on the stuffy adults who run the place? It gets better. Tom has an unexpected encounter with a trio of mysterious characters up on the roof top, just as his goal is within his grasp. And the story is off.
Suddenly I look up. President Obama is already into his speech. Too bad. Just as things were getting interesting. I sneak furtive glances at the book as my interest in Obama's hour long speech waxes and wanes.
OK. It is an adventure story intended for a younger demographic market, but Mrs. Burgess - a local resident from East Dorset - is one talented writer. What's more remarkable is that her previous six books hail from a totally different genre - 19th century historical romance novels. Her first one came out in 1992. Good training, apparently, for writing adventure stories.
Burgess said she thought this was a good time to try her hand at an adventure story for the more challenging market for books for younger boys, a somewhat more difficult group to attract to reading.
"Boys are a little harder to reach - it's a need that hasn't been answered," she said over coffee at The Spiral Press earlier this week. "(This story) is about a 13 year-old boy who discovers he has the ability to have ancient maps come alive. He's an ordinary kid who doesn't have any special powers - what I'd call a 'reluctant hero' - an ordinary person thrown into extraordinary circumstances and they have to figure out their way out of them." Those "extraordinary circumstances" later on in the book include sword fights, a pack of vicious swamp dogs, tribal warriors and two dragons, she said in an earlier interview.
Wow - sounds a lot like Washington D.C. in recent months. No wonder it fit so neatly with the State of the Union speech. The tale resonates easily with someone who put adolescence in the rear-view mirror more than a couple of decades ago.
Local readers may draw additional interest from the fact that there's some familiar sounding names and places sprinkled through the tale. The bell tower in the opening scene was inspired by the Dorset Congregational Church, for example, and there's a reference to a town named Rupert and a medieval-style 'Bromley Market' as well.
Burgess will be appearing at the Northshire Bookstore Saturday, Feb. 16 at 11 a.m. to give a talk about her book, read excerpts from it, sign copies and answer questions.
I couldn't help it and took a sneak peak at the ending as the President was leaving the House Chamber. It's good. Burgess has a vivid, very visual and descriptive writing style. You can picture the events in your head. If you have a young boy (or a girl - young ladies may find this one a good read as well) get them a copy, then steal it and read it first. The other heavy adult stuff will still be there when you finish it.
For more information, call the bookstore at 802-362-2200 or 1-800-437-3700, or visit the Northshire Bookstore website at www.northshire.com.