I first read this novel in August 2015 but did not write a review because the author mentioned that he was updating it and it would be worth reading once this was completed. I am glad I reread the revised edition, not only for the improved cover but for the refinements that the author has included.
I enjoyed this better the second time round. I have a better appreciation of the plot, the fantasy, its dystopian world, the Christian themes and the characters. Now I am more of a fan of this series and appreciate Beckwith’s writing and imagination than previous.
Two elements that stand out for me are the author’s writing and his world building. Beckwith has a very competent command of the English language and its use, so he writes very well, and this adds to the cohesion of the plot, its flow, its pace, characterisation but especially the view of the main character using the first person narrative. On this point, this novel shines as Justin is transported to this alternative world where it is similar but then again not so and a novel of this type is best told through the person experiencing this experience. This places the reader as if they were there with Justin, experiencing it as he does and being another first person witness.
I have read other novels where the world building is superb and I must add Beckwith to this level. Not only does what I have described so far add to the reader being transported to another world but Beckwith’s world building forms a solid foundation for this. Authors of fantasy (and science fiction) need to create effective worlds to convince the reader that the world they have been transported to is convincing, credible, real and worth them getting involved. It needs depth and layers of diversity. Beckwith is very successful here. All those elements mentioned are present and it makes this novel a joy to read. So many times, I nearly overstayed my lunch break or missed my train destination as I was not aware of where I was or time seemed to stand still. It was very hard to come back to reality at these times.
In this novel, spirituality plays an important and prominent part of its fabric. This is not just a battle of good versus evil. This is a tale of faith, trust, redemption, sacrifice (hence the name) and a huge part of this is the exploration of how prepared are you to lay down your life for the one you love or the community you serve and for what reasons would you do so? Here, Beckwith weaves this theme around the good versus evil thread. Justin, “Martyr”, as he is known in this tale, develops from a disbelieving, mistaken identity person to reluctant hero to willing martyr and follower of Chaer-Ul (God, creator) by the end of the story, especially at the final conflict. Not only does Justin live up to and become this role, but he becomes a respected leader of the resistance. Underpinned by all this is an ancient prophecy and manuscript that foresees a man from another world who would be called Martyr and it is here that the community hail him as such when he arrives in this alternative world.
However, there are some good aspects and not so good aspects of how Beckwith has portrayed God in this novel. Known as Chaer-Ul, He has no qualms about meeting with those who follow Him and has provided two specific places where believers can meet Him (although not in a physical sense). While Justin does not know what to expect in this first meeting, Chaer-Ul seems to be a little impersonal or aloof, just directing Justin as to what He wants, albeit talking in riddles over who Justin is, why he has been transported to this alternative Earth and gives him some cryptic prophecy type messages that take the rest of the novel for him and his community to work out. I was disappointed in this aspect of the novel. However, Chaer-Ul seems to be more personal and more of the God of the Bible when Justin meets Him later in the story at yet another crucial plot development. At least Beckwith has shown that when they needed guidance and direction, they encouraged Justin to not act until he had met with Chaer-Ul for this counsel and what His will is for them in planning to fight Magus. We do see Chaer-Ul equip Justin and 6 other warriors in a supernatural way in this preparation to fight Magus and this was very well done.
The third and last time Justin meets with Chaer-Ul shows both Him and Justin being more open with each other especially from Chaer-Ul’s point of view and you can see how much Justin has grown in faith, respect for Him. It seems that Beckwith showed a progression of personality/character traits in this novel of who Chaer-Ul really is. Not sure why Beckwith did this, as I would have enjoyed and been blessed with Chaer-Ul as the God of the Bible if he has portrayed Him as He is as a more personal God rather than one aloof, mysterious Entity despite the fact that the characters in this story respected Him and knew He was Omnipotent.
I must make mention of Beckwith’s development of the various main characters. He has made them very three dimensional, very relational, and they all have depth and flaws. I felt for all of them as Beckwith showed their strengths, weaknesses, even disabilities as one of them had, and all this just endears you to them. It makes them into a very varied but cohesive group on every level. Even Korvus with all his aggression and arrogance, past abuse, physical injuries and mechanical parts, one feels for him and gains his respect. By the end of the novel, I really liked him and felt that he had more than one redeeming feature.
Then there is the developing relationship between Maya and Justin. This was well done and fitted in nicely in the story line without disconnecting these two from the main plot. It very well balanced this out and added a layer of intensity to the events leading up to the final conflict and became part of the sacrificial theme I mentioned previously.
I became confused from some of the events in the last chapter or so and this lead me to contact the author and discuss this. His answers cleared up most of my confusion but I don’t feel authors should leave readers confused. I love the final conflict but it was the events after this that left me frustrated but pleased at the end. I don’t like such dichotomy of emotions at the end of a novel. However, it seems to be from listening to Beckwith’s explanation that all be will be sorted out with the next novel. He has meant for the final events to be ambiguous and for us readers to tease it out where the answers are there if we know where to look. Not sure how I feel about this, my initial feeling is that all this is risky and will either pique the reader’s interest to find out all these answers in the next novel or frustrate them so much that they will not bother.
I will continue to the next novel having discussed this my confusion with the author.
Despite these shortcomings, this is one very well constructed novel and has a lot going for it, as described herein. I look forward to the next installments as I really do need to see where Beckwith is going with this and it looks more than promising. This author has quite the imagination and he needs to get what is in this imagination out there to bless Christian readers and not alike.
World Building 5/5
Spiritual Level 3/5
Enemy Spiritual Level 3/5
Average rating 4/5
Spiritually, based on my review and on the following reference book,
A Spiritual System for Rating Books written by David Bergsland,
I award N. P. Beckwith with
Congratulations, N. P. Beckwith!
Peter Younghusband has been an avid reader from as early as he can remember. Since becoming a Christian in his early 20s, his passion for reading led to specifically Christian fiction and this has developed into reviewing them on his blog. He loves reading new author’s novels or authors who have not had many reviews or exposure and giving them much needed encouragement where appropriate.