In The Universe Builders Steve LeBel wants to take you to a world where characters are gods, and where the protagonist and his friends are able to build universes and in so doing achieve success and fame.
It’s a fantastic premise: what if you had the power to create an entire universe? The idea immediately gets the imagination working and makes you want to pick up the book. But how does LeBel develop on his premise?
He does so by having Bernie, a young man, starting out in his own business of universe building. But Bernie’s life has been far from simple—only child, abandoned by his father (who just so happens to be something of a celebrity and not an easy person to live up to)… and as though that’s not enough, Bernie has to endure the menace of his Cloud, an entity that takes his subconscious frustrations out on the world. Bernie now desire to prove himself and to make life easier for his mother.
But things aren’t easy. Bernie’s first universe is something of a catastrophe, and an old rival is sabotaging his work. I guess life isn’t easy even for a deity! Before long Bernie finds himself in a war between gods to destroy or save a planet.
You can probably tell that LeBel isn’t afraid to take on complex ideas. He’s got an excellent premise, high stakes, and the writing talent to make it work. His style is fluid and engaging. The book flows nicely and makes you turn the pages. Bernie makes for a fantastic protagonist, too; an underdog—and who doesn’t like an underdog? The supporting characters are all entertaining and do an excellent job of contrasting the main character.
One of the best parts of The Universe Builders (and there are many) is the plot. It’s fast, exciting, full of twists and turns… sort of like a roller coaster you want to stay on. The narrative jumps between character a lot, which is a difficult technique to pull of and requires a good deal of both talent and wisdom in the writer, but LeBel achieve it admirably. We jump from one character to the next but we maintain a sense of flow.
One minor problem with the book is that the final quarter of the story feels a little “rinse and repeat.” This is probably down to pacing. During the first three quarters everything always feels fresh; there are constantly new ideas, new perspectives, and new events keeping us turning the pages, but that fast flowing river of idea dries out in the final quarter.
Overall, there’s a heck of a lot to enjoy in The Universe Builders. Thanks to high stakes, entertaining characters, and a fantastic premise, The Universe Builders is a truly gripping read.