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‘Names’ fantasy finishes well

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"THE BOOK OF NAMES" by D. Barkley Briggs, NavPress, 397 pages, $12.99 (softbound)

It seems like most of the young adult books released of late are formulaic, following a similar path of an earlier, popular work. So when something new comes along, it's a breath of fresh air.

Unfortunately, "Book of Names," by D. Barkley Briggs, is stuck somewhere in the middle, mixing an interesting concept with a tried-and-true recipe.

After the death of their mother, the Barlow brothers, Hadyn, Ewan, Garret and Gabe, are struggling to adjust to the surroundings of their new home in rural Missouri.

While clearing the briar patch on their land, teenagers Hadyn and Ewan discover a Viking runestone. A series of inexplicable events find the two brothers transported to a world unlike anything they've ever seen.

This world, Karac Tor, is in great peril. A mysterious darkness is spreading and not only the names of the young, but the actual youths they belong to, are disappearing.

Hadyn and Ewan suddenly find themselves the targets of a mysterious evil force. Though desperate to return home, they are forced to chose a side and decide whether or not to become the "champions" people think them to be.

"Names," the first book in Briggs' fantasy series "Legends of Karac Tor," starts out well enough. Briggs' character development and descriptions are strong. And the reader makes a connection with the young Barlows, feeling their grief and inquisitiveness.

In contrast, when the brothers cross into Karac Tor, it feels like an entirely new book. It takes a couple of chapters before the flow picks back up. Perhaps this was a purposeful choice by Briggs, forcing the reader to feel lost and confused like Hadyn and Ewan. But the jump is jarring and might make some want to put the book down for good. That's too bad, because "Names" recovers in the final third, rewarding the reader for sticking with it.

"Names" feels familiar, with subliminal — but not overly overt — nods to J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis sprinkled throughout. If Briggs can continue to follow along that vein, the stage is set for what promises to be a stronger sequel.

E-mail: jharrison@desnews.com