Contemporary Historical Christian Novels to be Reviewed

As you know, Thompdjames and I are very enthusiastic about good contemporary Christian novelists, especially with the effusion of secular or even anti-religious works on the market.  So, I find myself very eager to read Star Readers from out of the East by D. A. Nygaard and Sword and Serpent by Taylor Marshall.  My father appraised me of the latter title.  As an Anglican priest who converted to Catholicism, Taylor might be the only Catholic priest in the United States with seven children.  (Certain married former Protestant ministers are allowed to join the Catholic clergy after conversion.)  Marshall also happens to be involved in apologetics, and one can find his blog here.

At any rate, Sword and Serpent is set during Diocletian’s persecutions and offers a retelling of the myth of St. George.  It focuses on two characters, a young man and a young woman, who set out “to battle an evil beyond imagining” (from the linked webpage above).   Reviewers agree that it tells a gripping story.  Of the 214 reviews on Amazon, only five give it three stars or less!  I shall soon get my hands on what is the best selling Christian action and adventure teen novel on Amazon.com and give you my opinion of the work.

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Concerning Nygaard’s Star Readers, the great pleasure of being a preferred or advance reader of the penultimate draft fell to me.  Since the errors in that draft have by now been expunged or diminished, I shall tell you what I found best in that work.  Nygaard wished to tell the story of the Three Wise Men, which led him to employ the very unique setting of the Parthian Empire and Palestine of the first year of Our Lord.  The novel’s world building reveals a deft hand.  One felt immersed in the setting, and the political struggles within and without the Parthian Empire were delineated brilliantly.  The most fleshed out of the characters captivated me, and the middle of the work was a real page turner.

The second time I have been so acknowledged.  I wish Nygaard's book much success!

The second time I have been so acknowledged. I wish Nygaard’s book much success!

I hope that the published work allows me to make an even more glowing recommendation for the novel.  Nygaard happens to also be a minister.  Would that all Christian priests and ministers had the same talent for fiction as the above two!  It might create a Christian revolution in the novel market!

Impression of the Dresden Files

While I was a member of the Science Fiction Book Club, I purchased an omnibus edition titled Wizard for Hire by Jim Butcher.  It includes the first three novels of the Dresden Files: Storm Front, Fool Moon, and Grave Peril.  I devoured these three novels in short time.  I’d say that it took reading all three novels in order to come to a general opinion of the series, which is now at sixteen books.  These books are exciting page turners, but they smack of being formulaic.  It’s a very good formula where the obstacles keep mounting for the hero, but I find myself leery of formulaic plots.  After all, can’t one keep changing the details and villains and continue to churn out thrillers?  One of the things I like about the classics is that the science of writing a story was not well known.  The plots might be slow or full of errors when looked upon from the science of novel writing, but they’re more interesting for all that.

Wizard for Hire

For all the sense that Butcher follows a kind of formula, the details and characters in each story are brilliant and lovable.  These areas of the novels and the prose itself contain his artistry and great sense of humor.  I might describe his hero as a Philip Marlowe with the physical features of Sherlock Holmes–sans the master detective’s athleticism.  But, Butcher adds the twists of Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden (what a name!) being a wizard and perfect gentleman.  Butcher also goes to great lengths to making Dresden seem more human and less hard-boiled than Marlowe.  Another recurring character is Karrin Murphy.  I find her too touchy and too much of a feminist.  It’s cool that she’s a Aikidoka (Though, her trophies prove that she’s numbers among the sport Aikidoka, whose art is less traditional), a sharpshooter, and a tough cop; but, she’s way too demanding.  (I was happy to see less of her in Grave Peril.)

I love opportunities to show O-Sensei.  Here Morihei Ueshiba sends a student flying.

I love opportunities to show O-Sensei. Here Morihei Ueshiba sends a student flying.

Besides Raymond Chandler’s detective novels, I’d say that he owes much to H. P. Lovecraft and Christian writers like Tolkien and C. S. Lewis.  Concerning the former, the vast array of supernatural villains and the idea that giving in to evil never pays are very Lovecraftian.  The ideas of sexual purity, the positive presentation of faith, and the constant battles between good and evil evince a Christian moral background.  Though Harry Dresden himself seems to be kind of pagan–he still believes in God, but is not sure whether God is caring, Butcher introduces a very Catholic character in the paladin Michael, the Fist of God.  Virtuous characters are often accused of being boring, but Michael, with his stoic insistence on morality, quiet faith, and a bastard sword named Amoracchius, stand as one of the series greatest characters.  Michael appears in Grave Peril, and the opportunity to read more of him and Dresden battling villains will likely convince me to pick up more novels.

HBCD

So, I have a rather positive impression of the Dresden Files.  Though the plot for his modern fantasy thrillers reveal a formula, the writing, characters, and other details he adds are very interesting.  They feature suspenseful and action-packed battles between good and evil.  So, these novels are great fun and I recommend that you read a few of them.  Fool Moon, which dealt with werewolves running rampant in Chicago, stood as my favorite of the three.

#9 Andrew Klavan

Here is an author that has every chance to move up the list, since he is still alive, writing, and producing novels like ‘A Killer in the Wind’ and ‘Agnes Mallory’ as well as his past contributions to the true crime genre such as ‘The Scarred Man’ and his excellent thriller-type novels Dynamite Road, Shotgun Alley and Damnation Street . These novels fit very well into my criteria for good and great novels. The language flows, he doesn’t write down to the reader. The plots are powerful. I think good book plots should be like a feast of steak and garlic and olives, maybe some cumin: strong flavors and bright colors. Leave out the drab everydayness of most authors.

All the ingredients of a good novel (From Wiki Commons)

All the ingredients of a good novel (From Wiki Commons)

Now, Kipling, the other #9 in discussion and much praised by Medieval Otaku, is certainly an author of note. As you read that post, keep in mind that the author, praising Kipling so much, has not even touched a book by Klavan. Now I grant that the two story Barns and Noble is impressive, but the fact that they are missing Klavan is not.  There is a reason that big bookstore chains are going out of business… They only provide bad copies of old authors and massive numbers of copies of the standard pulp writers that they feel safe with. Klavan is a controversial author to most publishers and booksellers (and libraries) because he is unabashedly conservative and Christian (and almost entirely politically incorrect. Before I move on and briefly mention two books by Klavan that I thought were great, I do want to mention that of the two of us, Medieval Otaku and I, I am the only one who has read both Kipling and Klavan. Kipling is often a lot like oatmeal, healthy, strong and filling, but bland. Try to read any of his little known stories like ‘The Light that Failed’ and you will see why Kipling does not rank on my list. His only really common story that people know is The Jungle Book, and they know a mutilated Disney version… Klavan, on the other hand, generally serves powerfully flavored foods that are also healthy. Some of his books are certainly dessert, but none are gruel.

There are two novels that stand out in my mind, the first partly because it was the first book by Klavan I ever read (The Uncanny) and the second he mentioned as one of his favorites. Despite the fact that most authors are really crappy about picking their best works, Agnes Mallory definitely is one of his best. I won’t say the best, because I always hope for better. I want to move him up the list sometime.

The Uncanny: Other than being a wild and uncanny ride, it is difficult to write something engrossing and valuable at the same time, and yet, in this novel Klavan succeeds. (He does it in Agnes Mallory as well.) I will copy something I wrote for The Dusty Thanes about the Uncanny. One of the characters has a medieval document who’s author writes about damnation and salvation.

This character [the author from above] writes … very poignantly about damnation. In his writing, essentially his last words, he reveals his knowledge that he is damned, and also his knowledge that with repentance, Christ’s sacrifice and love would redeem him despite his horrible crimes (and believe me, they are vile) and he rejects salvation through pride and fear and loathing of God, and willfully chooses damnation. This scene shakes the reader, makes the reader tremble with the awfulness of damnation, and effortlessly shows the orthodox Christian understanding that humans damn themselves.

Agnes Mallory: The only story that dealt with madness anywhere nearly as well was Stephen Kings ‘N’. However, Agnes Mallory has a serious advantage. One of Andrew Klavan’s consistent themes is the importance of people’s past, and culture’s past, to their present and their futures.  King’s constant theme is the futility of human action, and the difference is clear.

The last point I would like to make for Klavan is that he is one of the few good Christian novelists currently working. Klavan is fighting the cultural fight that so desperately needs fought. A common mistake that Christians make is to excuse their lack of excellence in something by saying ‘well, its for God, so the heart is what matters.’ This is absolutely not the case with Klavan, perhaps because he was an author before he was a Christian: and that is a sad assessment of the state of Christian authorship.

In any case, I am greatly looking forward to ‘Nightmare City’ out soon…