“Beyond The Vale” is the tale of Logan Leonard’s afterlife. Yup, our main character is dead, though he doesn’t remember how, or why, or much else really. All he knows is that in order to “earn his passage”—aka, get out of this in-between place—he needs to remember what happened, what led him to this place, and find a way to bring salvation to the other tortured souls in this land. If Logan fails, then everyone fails, everyone goes to Hell. So, you know, no pressure. This book reminded me a lot of “What Dreams May Come” mixed with “A Christmas Carrol” (tis the season after all), with a few animal guides for good measure. It was a fun ride, with a really powerful message that caught me completely off guard!
Why this book reminds me of “What dreams May Come” and “Christmas Carrol” should be pretty obvious: guy dies, he has to relive moments of his past to recover who he was in order to move on to “the next level” in this case, heaven. But he is guided by animal spirit guides and spunky women who make him see the places in his life where he “went wrong” in a very Scrooge kind of way, where the question becomes: is there a way to make up for these misdeeds? Or, as Logan is dead, is it too late? None of this, by the way, is a bad thing! But because this book deals with the afterlife, it is going to talk about some heavier topics about death that come in full force around 60% in, so know that going in. These topics surprised me, and while I enjoyed the discourse surrounding them, I can see why it may be unsettling for some readers.
Let’s talk about that for a second. I liked the book best when it was looking back on Logan’s life and giving a hard look at the events and choices that shaped him. These are the powerful moments of the book, watching lives spiral in very real, and tragic ways, was the most interesting—and best written—portions of the book. I can’t go into more detail because more would be a spoiler, but I will say that Denney writes a very poignant perspective of God, free will, and who our souls belong to. Really, I cannot rave enough about those sections, it’s very well written and very visceral in a lot of the descriptions, so bravo, Mr. Denney!
So why isn’t this a 5 star review from me? Mostly because of Logan’s time in the afterlife. Everything comes together at the end very nicely, but the journey getting there was sometimes confusing. To me this is best embodied in the main antagonist and the “woman of Logan’s dreams”. As soon as Logan meets the villain, he is immediately distrustful, immediately convinced that this person is evil, but has no evidence of that, or any real reason to think that, so his feelings and drive to save the people he encounters felt forced. And while a lot of characters felt and sounded very similar to Logan—I’m looking at you, Bob, Kelly, and Ashley—some of them didn’t seem to hold much of a purpose, which made me wonder why they were included to begin with as their connection to Logan, and his connection to them, was never properly explained to the reader. This is particularly striking with the woman Logan sees and decides is the woman he’s been chasing all his life. Why does he need to find her? Who is she? Who was she to Logan in the living world? No clue… Which was disappointing, because that could have been more interesting if it had been explored in more depth.
The afterlife realm, split as it was between a bizarre island nation and the picture portal room where Logan regains his memories, didn’t feel as connected as I would have liked. The villagers plight felt so separate from what Logan needed to learn and discover that I struggled to understand how they connected to the memories Logan needed to recover. The only connection there seemed to be was that they needed help, and only Logan could help them earn their passage to the place they were meant to go. A sweet and harrowing journey to be sure, but had it been tied more purposely, in my opinion, to the things Logan needed to uncover, then this would have been a much more powerful story. As it is, I’m still not sure what the happy island villagers were supposed to represent to Logan, same with most of the characters actually, outside of Bob, Jessica, and Kelly (kind of) to be honest.
But it was a fun read, and I so enjoyed the sections where Logan has to really look at his life, that, come the end of the book, and with how nicely everything fell together, I am forgiving most of the other minor issues I have. Just because of the subject matter and the cursing that Logan tends to do, I don’t think this would be great for young readers, but the spiritual sections on God, heaven, and hell are so good, I think anyone interested in a more spiritual fantasy read will really enjoy this, which is why I am giving it a solid 4 stars! And thank you to the author for providing me with a copy to review!
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