I have written before on my trip to Athanatos Christian Ministries Arts Festival. In the following paragraphs, I would like to write a little about two works written by award winners in ACM’s novel contests. Joseph Courtemanche’s Assault on Saint Agnes is the first reviewed, and my thoughts on Robert W. Cely’s Beyond the Steel follow. Both are excellent works offering a Christian ethos behind the action. They avoid the extremes of preachiness and amorality–similar to Andrew Klavan’s work. One wishes that more Christians would write like them. (Speaking of Christian fiction, I hope to finish Taylor Marshall’s Sword and Serpent and Paul J. Bennett’s (another contest winner) A Fall of Sparrows in the near future.) The first is an anti-terrorism thriller, and the latter is an allegorical fantasy. May our dear readers pick up the work which best suits their taste!
Assault on Saint Agnes benefits from the writer having intimate experience with the worlds of intelligence gathering and police work. This gives the thriller a sense of realism comparable to a Tom Clancy novel. However, this novel takes place not on the world stage but in the American Midwest. A retired Arab linguist foils a terrorist attack on a Catholic church in Minnesota, which attracts the unwanted attention of both local and federal authorities. The latter decides to enlist his aid in stopping the worst terrorist attack plotted since 9/11.
This book is a real page turner. I have had the experience of both the audiobook and the paperback. Courtemanche reads his own book, and his skill as a voice over actor gives the reader an excellent performance. The one drawback of this novel is that the personalities of the hero, Bobby Kurtz, and the villain, Hassan, dwarf all the other characters with the exception of Omar–the fiend behind all the planned terror attacks in the region. (In general, I found the terrorists more interesting to read about than the good guys.) Many readers want characters larger than life in addition to being realistic. Only the above three meet that ideal. But, this novel is a must read for fans of police or espionage fiction. And, IT IS JUST HIS FIRST NOVEL!!! We can only expect better from here.
Robert Cely’s Beyond the Steel Wall strikes one as in the tradition of George MacDonald’s Lilith or C. S. Lewis’s Pilgrim’s Regress. Cely seamlessly weaves historical and philosophical details within this allegory. At the same time, the characters come off as more than mere allegories–even though Alistair and Railing may be referred to as the Poet and the Hunter or the Contemplative and the Active. The novel is saturated with both meaning and adventure.
The plot runs thus: Alistair is stuck behind the steel walls of a city in which all is provided for him. The women are beautiful and available, he has a simple and steady job, and no lack of comfort and pleasure. However, Alistair wants more than that, and sets his heart on going beyond the steel wall. Eventually, he befriends a guard, Railing, and convinces him to stray outside the limits imposed by the city. Finding themselves locked out, the two become embroiled in an adventure to defeat a vicious tyrant, conquer monsters fell and alluring, and find true love and their true selves. The novel asks at the end what we can do for those both beyond the steel wall and within it?
Which of these two novels sounds most appealing to my dear readers?