The town of Beckon is founded at the entrance to a series of caves, where a pre-Columbian tribe lives underground and undiscovered. The tribe lives extraordinarily long lives because of a special compound called perillium that is produced by a nest of freaky cave spiders. The tribe offers human sacrifice to the queen of the spiders, and in turn they get access to spider gunk that keeps them alive. The villain Vale found these caves in the 1800's and has a deal with the tribe to keep outsiders away in exchange for a fountain of youth.
The only problem - the people of Beckon will die a horrible death if they go a day without perillium. Vale uses this to control the people he's lured there, but he is a prisoner of the tribe himself.
This sets up an interesting moral dilemma for the characters. The book is broken into four acts, with the first three acts introducing someone who stumbles upon Beckon, and the final act is the resolution of all of their stories. The third story focused on George, a businessman in his 70's who would like to retire and enjoy his wealth. However, his barren wife Miriam has contracted Alzheimer's, and isn't really there anymore. When George is offered a chance to heal her in Beckon, he jumps at it.
Miriam's dementia is not only reversed, but she de-ages to her 20's. Old George can't keep up with his frisky young-again bride. However, when Miriam learns the cost of her treatment (they can't leave Beckon, and people are sacrificed), she denies further treatment. Her faith helps her not fear death, but George is pushed to the edge by Vale. A long-time member of Beckon, Amanda, has developed reservations about what they do. Her perillium is withheld by Vale as a warning to George. George can choose to save Amanda's life or keep Miriam healthy and alive, as there isn't enough room for both women. George allows Amanda to die for Miriam's sake.
Even though Beckon wasn't my favorite book, I enjoyed the crucible he puts George and Miriam in, and the thought of "what would YOU do for health or life" that is presented to the reader. Beckon isn't mindless entertainment, and I really like that (I think I would've liked Beckon a lot if it engaged me sooner). Pawlik sets up an intriguing choice in the town of Beckon, and I like how George isn't perfect. He is a good guy overall, but he can be pushed to a horrible choice when he lets Amanda die. It is a major test to sacrifice his wife for a stranger. The bold plot point and the implications it leaves for the reader is a major strong point for this book.
What do you think? How far should we go as a society for health and vitality?
There are other opinions of Beckon out in the rest of the CSFF Tour. Becky Miller keeps an updated list of tour posts here. Be sure to check them out as well.