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Review: “The Blood Of Titans” by C. Michael Forsyth

Title: The Blood Of Titans
Author: C. Michael Forsyth
Rating: ***
Publisher/Copyright: Freedom’s Hammer, 2013

Meh. I’ve commented before that sometimes these Goodreads giveaways sneak up on you–there have been quite a few where I have to scratch my head and wonder why I ever entered the giveaway for that particular title. There’s even been a couple where I’ve been notified that I won, but have no memory of signing up! Clearly I need to be more careful, and have been putting an effort into doing so. At least in this case I do remember clicking that fateful link, though I can’t recall why. This isn’t my usual fare. As such, my opinion of it was perhaps lower than many others would be. It wasn’t that it was bad, per se, and in fact when I would pick it up the pages flew by fairly quickly. The problem was simply that I had no motivation to pick it up. It would lay there by my bed, untouched for a week or longer before I picked it up once more. It wasn’t bad, it just didn’t really engage my interest. I’ll also admit to having a “bad taste in my mouth” (if you’ll pardon the expression) towards the book from the get-go. You see, when I received the book in the mail, it came with the following letter:

I hope you enjoy the novel. If you do, please take the time to post an Amazon Review and paste it on Goodreads as well – but only if you rank it 4 or 5 stars. And let your friends know about it on Facebook and Twitter.
If you don’t like it, well please be courteous and don’t post a review–simply pass it on to a friend!
Best wishes,
Mike

I’m sorry, but that’s not the deal. The whole point of the FirstReads program is to generate honest reviews for the books being publicized. To ask me to refrain from reviewing if I didn’t like the book? That’s just manipulative, and subverts the whole program. Not to mention that you only seem to “win” more giveaways after finishing and reviewing the ones you’ve already got, so….yeah, not going to be following those instructions. Not an option.

Our tale is set in ancient Africa, in a time of glorious kingdoms and stunning betrayals. The coastal kingdom of Kali has long thrived under the rule of it’s king, Babatunde The Good, but now their ancient enemy, the Zimbai people of the plains, stand ready to finally destroy them. Each of the king’s seven sons have fallen in battle, and now he is left with only is daughter Halima. With little choice in the matter, Babatunde has betrothed Halima to Olugbodi, the young king of the Snake People, formidable warriors in their own right, to cement an alliance against the Zimbai. But all is not as it seems….what follows is an adventure full of intrigue, romance, peril and betrayal.

Like I said, the book wasn’t bad. It flowed easily, was remarkably well constructed for what I believe is a self-published work, and (when I got around to picking it up) was a moderately-enjoyable tale. Others would probably rate it higher. It just wasn’t for me. Not being an expert on ancient Africa, I can’t speak to the accuracy of Mr. Forsyth’s research, but I will say that it certainly seemed plausible. By and large the characters were well-rounded, or at least showed hints of being even if the plot didn’t always allow them to display their different facets. Even the villain(s) were more subtle than the simple black hats that so many of us want to write, and for that I give Mr. Forsyth credit.

I did have a couple issues, of course, which I shall discuss below. Minor spoilers may occur, read at your own risk. Longtime readers know that I routinely do this even when I’ve otherwise given nothing but praise to a book, so please understand that there’s no ill will here. Had I gone hunting, I might have come up with more, but these are the ones that are still bugging me.

  • The character of Rashida seemed….inconsistent. Maybe even bipolar. When the plot demands that she hate Halima, she does. When it requires she defend Halima, she does. There is some justification for her behavior (jealousy, grief, or gratitude, depending on the scene), but on the whole I had trouble buying into the extremes of her behavior.
  • The alliance between Kali and the Snake People is explained and makes sense. The inclusion of Zimbai in their attack on the Abaka is not–it is randomly mentioned in passing, then never becomes relevant again and is never explained. Were Zimbai and the Snake People in cahoots the entire time? Did Olugbodi conquer the Zimbai completely in the short time Halima is away? We don’t know. And it doesn’t really matter, I suppose, but little things like that bug me.

CONTENT: No profanity that I can recall. Some violence, occasionally a bit gruesome. Some unexpectedly explicit sexual content.

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Review: “Immanuel’s Veins” by Ted Dekker

CoverTitle: Immanuel’s Veins
Author: Ted Dekker
Rating: ****
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.

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