‘Antiquitas Lost’ Review:

"This was the second illustration Geof drew, and he really wanted to capture the feel of the New Orleans Garden District, where chapter one takes place. He modeled the Antiquitas Lost mansion after an 1898 photo of an old New Orleans estate, and scouted the appearance of Garden District street corners by using images from Google Earth. As anyone familiar with New Orleans can see, he really captured its essence here. To the left, you can see the street sign for Pleasant Street, which was the New Orleans street where my wife and I were living when I began writing Antiquitas Lost."-Dr. Robert Lewis Smith

The ‘Last of the Shamalans’ is a fantasy novel written by cardiologist Dr. Robert Lewis Smith, with illustrations by Geof Isherwood. It is based between the two worlds of Earth; Pangrelor, the Old World, and Earth which is known as Gaia, which is the New World and our world.

The story follows Elliott, a fifteen year old boy with strange birthmarks on his hands and feet. Elliott and his mother had just moved to New Orleans, because Elliott’s mother is very sick and they are staying with her father to help care for her. During his stay he is beaten up, and becomes very lonely. His grandfather tells him stories of the strange man who built the house they live in to help cheer him up. Later, the grandfather tells Elliott that he didn’t finish something, and he thinks Elliott needs to finish it to save his mother. He tells him to go to the basement and study what he finds down there. In Pangrelor, the Princess Sarintha has been kidnapped, and her two Gimlet servants Marvus and Jingo are commanded to go back to the city and find help.

The worlds collide while Elliott investigates the basement, and discovers a portal that catapults him into the Old World. There, he stumbles upon Marvus and Jingo, who recognize his birthmarks, and from there is taken on a whirlwind adventure through the world of Pangrelor.

As with many fantasy novels, I found the beginning a little tedious. While it is all character development, and it is important to the story, I always feel that less is more when it comes to details, and this rings true with this novel. While the establishment that Elliott is a lonely fifteen year old boy is somewhat needed, I felt it almost to be overkill, especially when he gets randomly bullied before he even knows anyone. But, once you get past the character development, the story picks up the pace and is entertaining and engaging.

I felt that Elliott as a character was a little flat, but the author Dr. Robert Lewis Smith makes up for it with Marvus and Jingo, and their clashing but charming personalities. The creatures that Smith created resemble popular creatures from other novels, with the exception of the Salax. The Salax are horrifying and unique, and their existence can now plague my dreams!

"The character, Hooks, depicted here, was one of the earliest Antiquitas Lost characters conceived. He remains one of my favorite characters. This chapter illustration was the first one Geof completed, and was the first time I really got to see what Hooks looked like on paper. Both Geof and I found this to be a powerful illustration, and it really got us excited for the scope of the artistic journey ahead. Geof found inspiration for this drawing in the works of the great Bernie Wrightson."-Dr. Robert Lewis Smith

Accompanying this novel are illustrations by Marvel’s Geof Isherwood, who is known for illustrating Silver Surfer, Conan the Barbarian and Doctor Strange. The illustrations are a vivid black and white with amazing detail. My personal favorite character is Hooks, a Susquataian beast of the Old World, which Isherwood has beautifully depicted a scene in the beginning of the novel of. Hooks is a well developed character with an interesting history that gets more confusing with each turn of the page.  The illustrations are not on every page, but they are included with each chapter. They are something to look forward to, as they are quite beautiful. While I didn’t find the story to be the most original, it was compelling and energetic. You can tell Isherwood enjoyed illustrating it as well, with his detail and his character depictions.

Dr. Robert Lewis Smith wrote this in his spare time as a cardiologist and a father, and while that would usually makes for a rushed, flawed story, you can tell he took his time and crafted an alternate world that is breathtakingly beautiful in the imagination, along with the illustrations.

I did get to ask Dr. Smith a few questions in his spare time (He is a very busy man, as you can imagine a cardiologist would be). He was kind enough to let me ask him a little about the novel, what his inspirations were and a little about himself. Read below to get a feel for the background of this busy author.

Interview With Author Dr. Robert Lewis Smith

Jessica: How were you able to find time to write, with your career as a cardiologist?

Dr. Smith: It wasn’t easy! From a very young age, I have been interested in speculative fiction and creative writing, and I always aspired to write a novel.  In 2003, I was a cardiology fellow at Tulane University in New Orleans, and decided that the opportunity to write a novel would pass me by or be forgotten altogether if I didn’t get busy and start doing it. I began to work on a skeleton plot outline and sometime soon after I wrote the first chapter.  I found the process quite difficult at first, and must have rewritten that first chapter 20 times.  Of course, my profession is demanding, and I was only able to write late at night.  I went about the process in a very workmanlike fashion, and spent 2-3 hours per evening writing.  I have always been a fairly disciplined studier, and I approached writing the same way I used to approach schoolwork: a few hours per night, typically after my wife and children were in bed.  Over time, writing became a kind of escape from the daily stresses of medicine, and I found myself staying up later and later working on the book, often drinking way too much coffee or other caffeinated beverages.  It took several years to complete the manuscript, as things moved very slowly at first. There were also several interruptions that took me away from writing for months at a time: the births of my son and daughter, board exams that required extensive study time, and that sort of thing.  But I always came back to Antiquitas Lost, and over time things came easier.  My writing skills progressed, and I later rewrote much of the first third of the book. In the end, I think it’s not such a hard thing to understand how the work got done.  Most nights I had a few hours of down time to unwind, and rather than watching television, surfing the internet, or reading for enjoyment, I spent many of those hours doing something that was extremely enjoyable: working on Antiquitas Lost.

Jessica: What were your inspirations for the novel?

Dr. Smith: I remember reading the Narnia books while I was still in grade school, and Lord of the Rings just a few years later.  Both of these series were magical, and I aspired to write something that might provide the same type of escapism that I found when reading those stories as a child.  Of course, the first Harry Potter book and Eragon by Christopher Paolini were both in the mainstream at the time I started writing Antiquitas Lost, and these books influenced me as well. I also happen to be a bona fide member of the Star Wars generation, and I continue to be amazed by the power of George Lucas’s vision in those first movies. That said, I really wanted to do something different when writing Antiquitas Lost, and worked hard to create a world that readers might find unique.

"In this illustration, Elliott has just arrived in Pangrelor and met Marvus and Jingo, with whom he will form a close bond. Marvus and Jingo belong to a diminutive race of primitive hominids called gimlets, and Geof and I had many discussions regarding how they should look. For example, we had a lengthy back-and-forth regarding the appearance of their ears, and eventually settled on the shape you see here. Geof also fleshed out their garments and boots, which they have shared with Elliott in this scene. To the right, Geof improvised the six-legged lemur to add to the sense of otherworldliness."-Dr. Robert Lewis Smith

Jessica: Who were your inspirations for the main character, Elliott? 

Dr. Smith: I didn’t have any particular person in mind when writing Elliott, but I envisioned him as that withdrawn, unpopular (and often underestimated) kid that we all went to school with.  It was also important to me that he be real, and I wanted his actions in Pangrelor to jibe with the fact that he spent most of his life as an unnoticed, and unexceptional American boy.  As the story progresses, Elliott shows great resolve, but unlike many fantasy protagonists, he doesn’t seem to have been born with an uncanny (and unexplained) skill for swordsmanship, and he remains shy and somewhat withdrawn around the beautiful Princess Sarintha, who happens to be close to his own age.  So I suppose he matures in a fashion that is different than many fantasy heroes, but in a way that to me is more realistic.  It is his resolve, determination, and inner strength that define his performance in Pangrelor, not his physical prowess.  To me, this makes him all the more compelling.

Jessica: Did you use any specific inspirations for the creatures Elliott encounters in the novel?

Dr. Smith: The reader soon learns that Pangrelor has many connections to our world, and I was intrigued by the idea that one world had been seeded by the other (Pangrelor, as it turns out, is the older of the two worlds).  I also thought there would be some crossover in terms of the two world’s ancient mythologies. This meant that any creatures found in Earths archaeological records or ancient myth were fair game in Pangrelor, though variations between the two environments might have resulted in Pangrelorian creatures that are a bit different than their counterparts on Earth. Broadly speaking, Pangrelor is envisioned as a version of Earth’s Pleistocene period, with multiple surviving species of hominids (serpans, gimlets, and humans), flora and fauna reminiscent of that era, and with several cryptozoological species to boot (Grayfarers, Susquatanians, Shamalans, and Parados, for example). We also meet a few Pangrelorian creatures that are unrelated to anything we have ever seen.  One example is the salax.  When I wrote the scenes containing the salax, I hoped to create a new type of monster – something viscerally terrifying and unlike anything the reader has encountered before.

Jessica: Growing up, did you read a lot of fantasy novels? Do your children read them now?

Dr. Smith: From a young age, I was an avid reader, and would read just about anything.  As mentioned earlier, I devoured the fantasy classics when I was still pretty young. I have also always loved Stephen King.  As an adult, I loved the Harry Potter books (guilty distractions from my writing!) and Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. My children are very young, and not yet of reading age, though they love the old Marvel comics, which can be downloaded to the iPad.  In recent months, their bedtime stories have consisted of the first 25 Amazing Spider-Man comics from the 1960’s, several original Hulk comics, and the old Captain America comics from the 1930’s. I have had a blast reading these as well.

Jessica: How were you introduced to Geof Isherwood? How did you feel about him illustrating your work?

Dr. Smith: I contacted Geof online in early 2010 and asked him if he would be willing to do some commissioned character sketches for me.  Prior to contacting him, I researched perhaps hundreds of different illustrators online and always kept returning to his work.  I was very nervous when I sent that first email, and I suspect he thought I was some type of crackpot. Little did he know I had been stalking him online for a year or more!  With very little initial enthusiasm, he eventually agreed to do six character sketches for me, and in order to do this, we both agreed, he would have to read the manuscript for Antiquitas Lost.  To my great delight, he loved the book, and the relationship took off from there.  In the 18 months since that first email, we have developed a great friendship and working relationship.  At this point, he is every bit as excited about Antiquitas Lost as I am. He has told me that the collection of illustrations for Antiquitas Lost are the finest work he’s done to date. And this is a guy who used to draw Spider-Man for Marvel!

Jessica: If you were to recommend a graphic novel, what would you choose?

Dr. Smith: I am not a huge consumer of graphic novels, but have read and appreciated several over the years.  My favorite would have to be Watchmen.  For anyone who hasn’t read it, it is perhaps the finest in the genre.

Jessica: In the novel, Marvus and Jingo pretty much save Elliott throughout. Were they characters inspired by someone or something? 

"In this scene, Princess Sarintha plunges a dagger into the belly of her serpan tormentor. The serpans are envisioned as massive hominids from Pangrelor’s icy northern continent of Vengala. The serpans are loosely based on Neanderthal men, though it was my intention that selective pressures on Pangrelor resulted in a much different appearance for these creatures when compared to the Neanderthals of earth. Inspiration for the serpan’s eventual appearance was broad, and came from many different archaeological sources, as well as artistic interpretations of the monster in Beowulf (some speculate that the monster described in Beowulf was a surviving Neanderthal), as well as Geof’s own imagination. Serpan culture is remorselessly violent. In the background, we see serpan warriors laughing as Princess Sarintha thrusts her dagger into their comrade’s belly."-Dr. Robert Lewis Smith

Dr. Smith: Like Elliott, I didn’t have anyone in particular in mind when creating Marvus and Jingo.  They are gimlets (small, primitive hominids with keen intelligence), and as such, they are little fellows.  My initial idea was that they would be there for comic relief amid the greater, more serious plot elements.  Marvus was to be an older, disciplined character, and Jingo was meant to be young and rash. But early on, these characters took on a life of their own, and became much more important than I initially envisioned. They are Elliott’s primary connection to the world of Pangrelor, and serve as his guides, principal advisers, and saviors on more than one occasion.  By the final draft, Marvus had evolved into a sober, wise, elder statesman of the Pangrelorian cast, and Jingo, while maintaining some of the impulsiveness of the initial character sketch, ended up being a much stronger and more varied character than I ever would have imagined. I think the reader will be quite fond of both of them.

Jessica: What are some of your favorite books and movies? 

Dr. Smith: This is tough, as there are so many movies and books that I love.  My tastes are also wildly varied.  For movies, I will choose the first 3 star wars films, The Godfather (I and II), Shawshank Redemption, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I also loved Pan’s Labyrinthe and Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies (though these are an afterthought when compared to the novels). For books, I suppose my favorite would be Stephen King’s The Stand (I also love The Shining, Salem’s Lot, and Pet Sematary). Favorite classics include Lord of the Flies, Catcher in the Rye, Les Miserables, and Great Expectations.  I loved most of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, and of course, the Narnia and Tolkien books.  I would be remiss here if I didn’t also mention all of the Harry Potter books.

Jessica: We were left on a cliffhanger with Antiquitas Lost: The Last of the Shamalans. When can we see Elliott’s adventure continue?

Dr. Smith: With Last of the Shamalans, I aspired to wrap things up in a satisfying fashion. That said, we are left with the possibility of future adventures in Pangrelor, and I am well into writing the second novel.  If this is a story that resonates with readers, there is sure to be much, much more.

‘Antiquitas Lost: The Last of the Shamalans’ will be launched at New York Comic Con, October 13-16th, and will be available in wide release December 1, 2011. Keep your eye out for this novel, it will be one you don’t want to miss!