The iPod changed music. The iPhone changed chatting. Billy: Messenger of Powers hopes to change the way people listen to books. And it seems to be working: since its launch only a few months ago, the book's home website, has garnered over 90,000 hits from all over the world, from the U.S. to Israel to Australia and beyond. It has garnered favorable reviews from critics and is scheduled to be the subject of an essay published by an internationally-renowned expert on the subject of sci-fi/fantasy.
However, unlike traditional publishing, Billy: Messenger of Powers is offered only as an audiobook, which can be either downloaded in a variety of formats or listened to streaming over the website.
But perhaps the oddest thing about the way the book is offered is its price: free. Downloaders listen to the book, then are invited to pay what they think it is worth, be it "$1 or $1000."
Billy is the story of a high school freshman – the kind of kid the nerds like to beat up on – who suddenly finds that Powers (you or I would call them wizards) live and move unseen among us. Not only that, but Billy blunders into the middle of a war between two factions of these Powers: one side dedicated to preserving "normal" humanity, the other side to enslaving it. And (of course) Billy may well be the key to victory for one side or another
Without revealing too much, suffice to say there are the usual staples of YA (young adult) fantasy in Billy: Messenger of Powers, but each comes with a twist: a mermaid made of coral, for example, or a dragon who breathes not fire, but lightning.
The book is rife with humor, particularly as Billy – something of an anti-hero whose panicked inner monologues offer up some of the book's wittiest moments – goes from disaster to disaster without benefit of any Powers of his own… or even the foggiest idea how he got into this mess.
Detractors may say that the book's availability solely in audio format prevents readers from curling up with it in bed or in a comfy armchair.
But then, having it on your iPod makes it much safer to read – er, listen to – in your car. And certainly, no matter what the listener finally decides about the book, the price will be right… because the listener will decide what that price will be.
As for this reviewer, the 90K+ hit count in such a short time and the huge list of countries that seem to be following Billy's adventures seems to indicate that "The Billy Jones Team" as they call themselves – and yes, if you send an email, you will get a response from them – must be doing something right. And for this reviewer the story itself – from its humorous insights into the world of high school; to the creation of an entirely new world that is set, not outside our own but uniquely beside it; to the interesting and entirely adult themes of power, its uses and abuses – shows that "the Team" is in fact doing very little wrong.
In sum, Billy: Messenger of Powers, is a wild ride. Fun. At times thoughtful.
And certainly worth the price.