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Born Burning

Novel by Thomas Sullivan (USA) 1989.

This is one of the most annoying books I have come across. The central character is a chair, carved from an ancient teak tree to become the throne of a 17th century Chinese tyrant, Khi-tan Zor. Brought into the Whitehall family, it is instituted as a family tradition and legend. Each firstborn son is sat in the chair on his seventh birthday. Tragedy then follows tragedy for over a hundred years, until young Joey becomes the latest candidate. But even as a baby, he becomes scared witless if he sits in the chair. He can sense a power within it and it holds his destiny in its grasp.

On the plus side, Thomas Sullivan's second novel starts with great promise in a very poetic style. His use of words is often superb. He can build a character too, as Uncle Lucien is superbly crafted: he is a classic enigma. But the ending is only two pages long! It is sprung upon us suddenly and reveals nothing. We do not discover what gave the chair its power or how, we don't understand exactly what this power is, and we are not informed why the chair picks Joey or how he can understand it. To be fair, we need some mystery, but we also need some explanation, and an ending longer than two pages would supply much. An extra twenty or thirty pages of coherent finale could make a promising book worthwhile and add three or four points to its rating. For an evil chair novel that has an ending, try Graham Masterton's The Heirloom.


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