Title: Immanuel’s Veins
Author: Ted Dekker
Publisher/Copyright: Thomas Nelson, 2010
Ted Dekker is a master of his craft. No, I mean it. His Circle series (Black, Red, White and the yet-unread Green) is incredibly gripping, and Black still holds the prize for having the second-best cliffhanger ending I’ve ever read (First place goes to Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files novel, Changes. Haven’t read those yet? Go do it NOW!). THR3E was a good mystery/thriller, with an ending you’ll never see coming. Showdown equally compelling, and contains intriguing connections to the world Dekker created in his Circle. In fact, these days you might be harder pressed to find a Dekker book that ISN’T tied to the Circle, but that is by no means a bad thing. On the whole this has become a very interesting world. Immanuel’s Veins is no exception, but I’ll get to that.
It’s no secret that the literary ghetto known as “Christian Fiction” is not exactly known for producing high quality works across the board. There are exceptions, of course, but on the whole the quality of product is nowhere near what you would find in the wider literary world. Remember Left Behind? Yeah, I was caught up in it too, but looking back I can see that the quality of writing and strength of the characterization were not LaHaye & Jenkins’ strong suits. Say what you will about their theology (and I’ve heard it all), that was the draw. The genre of “Christian Fiction” is produced primarily for those people who prefer to not engage the mainstream of culture, those people who would be likely to give me a reprooving glance for reading a novel by Stephen King. This is by no means true across the board, but is a generalization that is not too far from the mark. There are, however, at least three authors usually consigned to this ghetto that I believe are actually GOOD, not just the best of a mediocre lot. (There are a couple more that I remember liking when younger, but I need to go back and see if they are actually that good or if I was just less picky back then…..) Those three are Frank Peretti, Ted Dekker, and Stephen Lawhead. These three, I feel, generally avoid one of the biggest problems with Christian Fiction–preaching to the choir. Seriously, these books are not produced with unbelievers as their primary audience. So why do so many of them fall into the trap of trying to sell salvation to the saved? Not Dekker. Not Peretti, and not Lawhead. These three manage to illustrate a point, raise a question or illuminate an issue without ever (or at least rarely) sounding “preachy.” Yes, there may be characters end up in the fold that started out lost, but their journey and conversion in no ways feels forced or takes you out of the story for a step-by-step plan of salvation. There is a time and a place for that; these authors realize that that place is not here.
However, even a master cannot hit the bullseye every time, and so it had been with my recent reading of Dekker. I had read his young-adult tie-in to the Circle, and found it decidedly lackluster (I need to try it again–I was missing a couple of other key tie-ins at the time). Then I read Sinner, his conclusion to the trilogy begun in Showdown, and was very disappointed for reasons I’ll not elaborate here. My opinion of Dekker’s abilities didn’t really fade, but I found myself less motivated to grab his newest books as opposed to other new releases I had been awaiting. So when Immanuel’s Veins came out I was excited, but not enough to buy it outright. Then came the morass of homework and issues getting it from the library, and it faded to the back of my mind. However, my lovely fiancee recently loaned me her copy, and I have to say this is one of the best works Dekker has ever put out in my humble opinion.
What we have here is the story of Toma Nicolescu, a Russian soldier-slash-bodyguard with no use for the religious nonsense of the Church for which he fights, sent by Empress Catherine The Great to safeguard the Cantemir family. Toma is strictly warned not to let his heart get away from him–he is being sent because he has proved reliable, and the Empress wants to secure the Cantemir’s loyalty and allegiance through arranging a marriage between some Russian royalty and one or both Cantemir daughters. Of course, this being the story that it is, Toma loses his heart in an instant–to his great bewilderment. Enter the new tenants of the nearby Castle Castile, a gathering of incredibly bohemian individuals ruled by the Russian Count Vlad Van Valerik. Toma senses something deeply wrong here, an insidious danger that has nothing to do with Valerik’s intentions to court Lucine Cantemir–or so he insists to himself. To further describe the plot would be to do a diservice to Mr. Dekker and to all those I hope to encourage to read this book. I will simply say that it is so much more complex than I had believed before reading it. A vampire story? Perhaps–but it is so much more. A romance? Yes, one of the grandest. An allegory? If you like. In Dekker’s mind any romance–especially one enacted so dramatically with rescue and redemption–serves as allegory for Christ and his bride the Church. Turned off by that idea? I challenge you to read it anyway, then tell me how you feel after. If you still insist I’ll point you to the book Wild At Heart by John Eldridge. But that’s another review…..
Intended audience: This is not a kids book. Teens might get it, but kids won’t. The themes are far above their heads. There is violence, no language I can recall–certainly no gratuitous language, although Dekker is not above using the occasional profanity to hammer home a point or achieve a goal–and no explicit sexual content. However, there are sections of the book that are very sensual. This is intentional–vampirism has always had an element of the sensual and seductive to it, long before even Bram Stoker penned his seminal work and defined the vampire genre a century past. I’m told Dekker’s Swedish publisher refused to release this book because they found it too sensual for them to publish (the epitome of why I deplore the “Christian” ghetto in anything, be it fiction or music–how are we to engage the world if we hide from every hint of it?), which I find outrageous, but nonetheless it is not for younger readers. It is intended for a Christian audience, albeit one a bit more willing to engage tough questions than most “Christian novelists” give their readers credit for. This does not in any way mean that a non-Christian wouldn’t enjoy this book, just that the underlying themes and assumptions may be something he has to consciously keep in mind at certain points. On the whole, I highly recommend this book.