Halloween Special: Can Christians Believe in Ghosts?

I almost didn’t write this post. It just seemed like too big a rock to lift. What we believe about our fate after death carries very real consequences both for our lives and our salvation, which makes this topic a far dicier one than aliens, magic or time travel.

Just a little bit of background how my views on this subject have developed. I personally have always believed that hauntings exist. For most of that time, I have held to the mainstream Evangelical Protestant explanation that they are demonic rather than “ghostly” phenomena – human souls do not linger, but go straight to Heaven or Hell. Adherents of this view (a detailed statement is on the Answers in Genesis website) can point to verses such as the following:

And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: (Hebrews 9:27)

And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. (Luke 16: 22-23)

Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead. (Luke 16: 27-31)

Some might stop right here and say the subject is now closed. Scripture completely rules out the possibility of disembodied human souls remaining behind after death – nothing more to see here. The only spiritual forces on earth are either angels or demons. But other Scriptural passages make things a bit more complicated. We read of at least one human spirit returning from beyond the grave in the Old Testament (I Samuel 28:7-21) and two in the New (Matthew 17:3). I’ll also add a bit of personal testimony – years ago, my parents and I were visiting an older member of our church who had been a widower for some time. During an after-dinner conversation, he told us about one night when he felt the presence of his deceased wife after praying at his bedside. The experience was brief and something along the lines of a spiritual vision – his wife didn’t speak, but silently let him know that she was happy and waiting to meet him again in Heaven.

I know what you’re probably thinking at this point – glorified saints are a completely different class of beings from ghostly apparitions. Granted. But I have one more true account to share. Years ago, I heard a minister relate the following story over the pulpit:

A young woman (now a member of our church) had a dream one night. She was walking alongside her deceased father, who had not been a Christian. They walked and talked for some time. Then they came to a massive gate that slowly opened to reveal a pathway leading downwards into complete darkness. She had an overwhelming sense of dread, as if the place it led to was utterly awful. Her father turned to her. “I have to go back to that horrible place. You still have a chance.” Then he went forward, leaving her to watch as the gate closed behind him. She woke up, confessed her sins, and repented that same night.

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I don’t know about you, but I find that to be one of the most powerful “ghost” stories I have ever heard. Some might say it contradicts the passages I’ve quoted above from Luke 16, but I would point out the following: this woman was hearkening to “Moses and the prophets.” She was already under conviction from Scripture, and her dream had come at the end of a long period wrestling with the sin that was in her life. Her heart had reached a place where seeing her father’s spirit would (and did) make a difference.

I would also point out that God still retains ultimate control over both Heaven and Hell (we think of it as Satan’s domain, but in many ways it’s actually his prison). It’s possible for Him to make its inhabitants fulfill his purposes. Spirits of the dead in the ancient world were almost always seen as portents of doom (those with a particularly strong scholarly interest can explore this topic at length in the Project Gutenberg ebook here). While this is primarily a Greco-Roman belief, there are hints of something similar among the Jews of Jesus’s time. Consider the disciples’ initial reaction to Jesus’s reappearance after his death:

But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit. And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet. And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said unto them, Have ye here any meat? And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And he took it, and did eat before them. (Luke 37-43)

The idea of the dead (both saints and damned) appearing on earth after death also has some precedent in medieval theology. This excerpt is from a treatise by Thomas Aquinas–straightforwardly titled, Whether the Souls who are in Heaven or Hell are Able to Go from Thence: 

…according to the disposition of Divine providence separated souls sometimes come forth from their abode and appear to men, as Augustine, in the book quoted above, relates of the martyr Felix who appeared visibly to the people of Nola when they were besieged by the barbarians. It is also credible that this may occur sometimes to the damned, and that for man’s instruction and intimidation they be permitted to appear to the living; or again in order to seek our suffrages, as to those who are detained in purgatory, as evidenced by many instances related in the fourth book of the Dialogues. There is, however, this difference between the saints and the damned, that the saints can appear when they will to the living, but not the damned; for even as the saints while living in the flesh are able by the gifts of gratuitous grace to heal and work wonders, which can only be done miraculously by the Divine power, and cannot be done by those who lack this gift, so it is not unfitting for the souls of the saints to be endowed with a power in virtue of their glory, so that they are able to appear wondrously to the living, when they will: while others are unable to do so unless they be sometimes permitted(Summa Theologica)

One thing I want to make clear: I am not a Catholic, so I’m not about to make this argument based solely on the authority of a Catholic source. You don’t have to believe in things like purgatory to admit the possibility that at least some “hauntings” could be caused by the souls of the unredeemed dead (this article here makes an interesting case from a Methodist viewpoint). Many of the spirits in reported encounters appear miserable, confused, and incoherent–things by no means inconsistent with a being eternally separated from God.

While this may be a separate topic on its own, many passages in the New Testament point to different forms of punishment in Hell for different transgressions. Warner J. Wallace, author Cold Case Christianity, analyzes them in detail here . Could it be that for some, this punishment includes wandering the earth in hopelessness until the Day of Judgment? Or that the state of some unredeemed souls is characterized more by sadness than by pain? The following quote from Dante comes to mind:

For such defects, and not for other guilt,
Lost are we and are only so far punished,
That without hope we live on in desire. (Inferno, Canto IV)

But that brings us to perhaps the key reason many Christians are fearful to admit the possibility of ghosts. Some shallow-minded observers could look these concepts and conclude something like the following: “I can live a decent life apart from Christ, and I won’t have to worry about hellfire – I can just come back as a ghost when I die.” That’s most certainly not the case. First of all, God has a infinitely greater knowledge of our sins and their seriousness than we do–His judgment in the matter could very well be the exact opposite of what we expect. Second, the very fact that someone has enough knowledge to use such reasoning means they have enough knowledge to know better:

And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more. (Luke 12:47-48)

Let’s also revisit the parable of the rich man and Lazarus for a moment. Even admitting the possibility of souls (both redeemed and unredeemed) returning after death, I still believe Christ intended us to take this parable at face value: those who die without salvation have no remaining appeal or control over their own fate. The rich man in this story could not ask to be sent back himself or even to have anyone else sent back on his behalf. This could only happen if God Himself made the decision – which would be completely uninfluenced by the rich man’s desires. As we read elsewhere in Scripture, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:31)

ALTERNATIVE THEORIES

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With that being said, the theological framework above would apply to “intelligent” hauntings – that is, ones involving what we would consider a conscious, self-aware spirit. But not all (or even most) accounts of ghostly apparitions fall into this category. Many involve a limited, repetitive sequence of events around a certain time at a particular place – like a recording playing on an endless loop. An example would be the Roman “ghost legion” sighted in York, England.

For cases like these, there are a few other theories I find particularly compelling. Scripturally, we know that human beings are composed of a body as well as at least two immaterial components – a soul and a spirit. But what if there are some additional “lesser” parts of our immaterial nature? While the core consciousness (soul and/or spirit) departs immediately for Heaven or Hell after death, could a remnant of the thoughts, feelings, will, etc remain behind? Perhaps this could manifest as a “shade” or “shadow” of a person rather than the person itself. One analogy would be a robot with limited programming—lacking true consciousness and able to act, think and communicate only up to a certain point. I can see this being especially applicable to the case of people who died by violence or murder—perhaps part of their being was “shattered” or “fragmented” by having their life forcibly ended before its appointed time. It’s not a stretch to say the act of murder (being fundamentally opposed to the order of Creation) produces a reverberation or “disturbance” in the spiritual realm. In Genesis we see God tell Cain that “the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.” Could this mark the beginning of a semi-literal phenomenon that continues to this day?

Furthermore, some reported apparitions have been of people who are still alive – sometimes appearing to those very people themselves (the phenomenon of “crisis apparitions” is studied in-depth here, though I don’t necessarily endorse the author’s worldview or conclusions). For me, these accounts bring to mind the following passage in Acts:

 And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a damsel came to hearken, named Rhoda. And when she knew Peter’s voice, she opened not the gate for gladness, but ran in, and told how Peter stood before the gate. And they said unto her, Thou art mad. But she constantly affirmed that it was even so. Then said they, It is his angel. (Acts 12: 13-15)

We also read this in Matthew:

 Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 18:10)

The implication seems to be a spiritual being that not only watches over each person but does things on their behalf. Do these beings in some sense assume the very identity of the persons God has assigned to them—acting as an extension of that person at times? In Acts, we also read of Paul seeing a vision of a “man of Macedonia” who asks him to help not “them” but “us.” (Acts 16:9)

The unseen realm is likely a more complex and multi-layered place than we can ever imagine. Does this mean ghosts exist? Possibly. Does this mean we should seek out and talk to them? Not so much. “Exploring” the spirit realm in the manner of the secular world’s “paranormal investigators” (and the more overt necromancers of the past) is inherently the equivalent of swimming through shark-infested waters. Demons still exist, even if we don’t ascribe every single “haunting” in the world to them. If we believe some books of the biblical apocrypha, idol-worship itself began with seemingly innocent veneration of the dead:

For a father afflicted with untimely mourning, when he hath made an image of his child soon taken away, now honoured him as a god, which was then a dead man, and delivered to those that were under him ceremonies and sacrifices.

Thus in process of time an ungodly custom grown strong was kept as a law, and graven images were worshipped by the commandments of kings. (Wisdom of Solomon 14:15-16)

THE ROLE OF MYSTERY

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Regarding topics like this, there is something to be said for embracing mystery. I myself keep coming back to this quote from Hamlet (itself, appropriately, one of the most enduring ghost stories of all time):

“There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, then are dreamt of in your philosophy.” (Hamlet, Act I, Scene IV)

Scripture itself tells us of God’s “mysterious ways” that are “past finding out.” Trying to explain absolutely everything can very well rob us of one of the most wondrous aspects of life and faith. God is not bound by our preconceptions or rigid categories—not everything we see or experience is going to have a rational, theologically precise explanation.

At a fundamental level, I’m approaching this topic as a fiction writer, so my final thoughts are for my fellow writers. I haven’t spent much time here on a “prescriptive” framework like some of my other work on fictional subjects. In a lot of ways, this particular topic defies it. If nothing else, I hope I’ve contributed some original thoughts in an ongoing conversation. I invite you all to join me again as we continue our journey through the Uncharted Corners of Heaven and Earth.

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Review: Of the Flesh

In a single day, the End has come. In a moment, the twinkling of an eye, the Elect are gone, the earth forsaken. In their place, the dead remain to hunt the living. 

As the world descends into chaos around them, a small group of survivors flee before the advancing hordes of the soulless. With the Light departed, what hope remains in the Darkness? This is their story…


What if you combined the premise of Left Behind with The Walking Dead? Stop laughing, it’s just been done–and it worked.

I cracked open Of the Flesh not only as someone with no particular love of the zombie genre but also a skeptic regarding “rapture” theology. This is the first and only time I’ve seen the two concepts combined, and was pleasantly surprised to find an original, well-written narrative that avoids both preachiness and absurdity. The “zombie” element is clearly poetic license, but its portrayal in the story is actually directly based on Scriptural passages (imaginatively interpreted, of course).

I particularly liked that the story is essential a tribute to the zombie genre that still subverts its common tropes. The “survivor” and “post-apocalypse” elements survive intact, but events are actually made more destructive by people mistakenly relying on their pop-culture conceptions of the “zombie apocalypse”—such as killing those they assume are “infected.”

The plot itself is exciting, fast-moving, and compelling, with minimalistic prose and exposition. It’s well-supported by a taut story structure covering events within a set time period. At just over 70 pages, the short length frees it of any extraneous elements that might have otherwise slowed the pace. Even without a glance at the author’s bio, I could have easily guessed this book is written by an engineer – the word choice and description is crisp, logical and realistic throughout. Each character narrates in first person for several chapters, which can cause some jarring shifts in places, but largely works well as an artistic approach to storytelling.

In terms of content, the author takes special care to avoid outright profanity, and the violence is actually less graphic than is usual for the zombie genre. The story is instead made interesting through the use of well-crafted prose, artful characterization, and steady plot development, which I deeply appreciated.

All in all, I would recommend the book to readers who enjoy a biblical twist on a classic genre as well as anyone looking for a clean yet compelling read on Halloween night. It’s currently available for free on Amazon October 22-27. Click here to download your copy now!

 

Guest Post: Faithless Blog Tour

A People Fighting to Survive: Dragon World Building in Wartime

    In The Ironfire Legacy, the dragonshifters are a scattered race. Once united under a king and queen in the Scepter of Justice, Garishton (Ironfire) Razorclaw’s uprising left the royal family in shambles and the city-state ruined. Some of the dragons are loyal to Garishton, and helped him overthrow the old kingdom and replace it with the totalitarian Pinnacle. Others are loyal to the Lawless, the rebel organization committed to ending the war started by the Curious Intrigue, of which Garishton is a member.

After twenty years, many of the dragons loyal to Garishton weary of the endless conflict and bloodshed. The Lawless dragon council hoped that by finding the remaining living heir, Zephryn Nightstalker, they would be able to draw additional dragons to their cause. He is a symbol of the old kingdom, and the hope for what the Scepter of Justice will be when restored. The dragon council are less thrilled about Zephryn’s embermate, Kesia Ironfire. As the niece of Garishton, and the unwilling recipient of his experimentation as a child, Kesia is viewed with cautious kindness at best, and hostility at worst. The fact that, as his embermate, Kesia is the crown princess with as much authority as Zephryn, makes the dragon council even more wary.

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Zephryn Nightstalker is also concerned about the political status of the dragons. The dragon council currently wield much of the power between their four roles. However, in the past it was the dragon-human council, with a human chief of council, that ruled in conjunction with the king and queen. The presence of humans balanced out the often cold proceedings of dragons, who prefer to adhere to objective rules and rationality rather than bend to compassion or other types of reasoning. While Zephryn sometimes lacks empathy himself, seeing the plight of his embermate makes him more willing to see other perspectives.

Were the Scepter of Justice to be immediately restored, Zephryn and Kesia would function on the front lines. Similar to the idea of a king going first into battle, the ruling pair of dragons are expected to be the first to investigate injustices and wrongdoings among the Scepters. In the old days, they had special rights within each Scepter to execute justice—even to the point of literal execution. The elected dragon-human council, and the chief of council, held down the fort in the Scepter of Justice, and kept in touch with the dragon king and queen for major decisions. At specific times of year the king and queen would hold court in the Scepter of Justice, as well as attend celebrations featuring dragon culture’s distinctive mineral tonics.

Wartime has caused the dragons to set aside a number of their traditions, and with Zephryn and Kesia being held captive in the Pinnacle for over a decade, the dragon council are loath to give them the authority that they are due. But Zephryn is ready to step up to the plate with Kesia and show that they are worthy rulers. And he believes that Kesia is the key to stopping the dragon-human war. Even though she doesn’t.

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Review: Dragon’s Fire (Beating Back the Darkness, Book 1)

A Shadow has fallen upon the world of Aurion. Slayvin, the Black Dragon, has awakened. His armies now march unchecked across the Darnisi continent, destroying all in their path. The elven kingdom of Trellion, the human realms of Storm Vale and Nashia, the orc clans of the Agremnall Hills and the dwarven mountain of Dar Mar’kren all lay in ruins, their survivors fleeing for the stronghold of Tempour, defended of old by the Brotherhood of the Unveiled Eye. 

But the walls of their refuge cannot keep the dragon’s power at bay forever. The only hope now lies in an ancient prophecy and a promised Champion from on high…


I received a free copy of Dragon’s Fire in exchange for a review. I would describe this book as a Christian allegory within an epic fantasy setting. But it’s much more than Pilgrim’s Progress meets Lord of the Rings. The imagined world and its characters are all self-contained, with their own backstory of Creation, Fall, and Redemption in the manner of Tolkien’s legendarium. Many pieces of biblical imagery (Dragons, Baalim, Magi, etc) are artfully repurposed and literalized within this context – I found the dragon antagonist and his false religious system particularly compelling. The background mythology of the dragon species itself was also fascinating, particularly how they essentially fill the role of demons/fallen angels within this universe. I also liked the fact that the book included some scenes from the point-of-view of the villain and his minions. I have read books where this is entirely absent and results in far less well-drawn characters.

The story world itself contains clear influences from both Tolkien and Lewis, with humans existing along fantasy races such as elves, dwarves, orcs, goblins, gryphons, centaurs, etc. There are however, some highly original inversions to the mythology. Orcs, for example, are portrayed as a heroic people allied on the side of light – their more familiar role being filled by “Baalim” Minotaurs in the Dragon’s army. A key character in the story is a wise orcish chieftain who at one point even upbraids his warriors about the dangers of fleshly temptation. Interestingly, the villains even take advantage of the orcs’ negative reputation in order to control their human subjects through fear.

The world-building is richly imaginative and features a wealth of detail. The narrative itself is presented in places as a fragmentary chronicle of past events within the fictional universe. This is both a strength and a weakness, with appropriate exposition sometimes giving way to over-explanation. I also noticed a lot of paragraphs that contained belabored repetition, with a thought from one sentence being restated in the very next one. Some words seemed unnecessary (“though” kept cropping up at the end of a lot of sentences, for example), and there were a few instances of passive voice.

The widespread, epic scope of this narrative means that it embraces from multiple points of view and subplots. This is in keeping with an honored tradition of the fantasy genre and will doubtless appeal to its target audience. The major pitfall is that the book lacked an identifiable main character, which made the narrative feel less cohesive and led to a constantly shifting point-of-view.

The narrative is fast-paced, written in a highly cinematic style with lots of action, and takes place within short chapters. This makes for a quick, engaging reading experience, though sometimes it feels like things are moving too fast. The beginning of the book starts off the conflict immediately, which results in a reduced sense of the status quo ante – there’s little time to gain an attachment to the world and people that are now caught up in the destruction. On the other hand starting the action immediately inserts the reader directly into the story.

Well-written fantasy usually balances out the drama with a degree of humor and irony, and that was definitely present here.  Sometimes, though, it seemed like a bit much, with characters cracking jokes at random moments or during objectively serious serious points in the story. It also felt like the dialogue didn’t always match the setting: casual terms like “OK”, “guys,” etc seem more appropriate to a story set on 21st century earth. A more “elevated” and serious tone might have been more consistent with the quasi-medieval feel of the story.

These criticisms aside, the story is centered around a singularly impressive theme. In keeping with the allegorical tone, there is a clear Christological parallel that is nevertheless fully adapted to its imagined world. Elements of the biblical Messianic prophecies are artfully reordered, literalized, and combined to produce an original character. It reminded me in a lot of ways of how Second Temple Jews pictured the coming of the Messiah – though enough New Testament elements are retained to preserve its essentially Christian character without woodenly transcribing the biblical account.

A final caveat is the presence of light profanity, which occurs only briefly. I mention this just to make more sensitive readers aware. Beyond that, the book contains no other potentially objectionable content beyond some realistic descriptions of war and violence.

All in all, I would recommend Dragon’s Fire to fans of both epic fantasy and Christian allegory – an action-packed take of dragons, dwarves, elves and knights with a biblical message at the core. If you would like to see more of the world of Aurion, be sure to check out the sequel: The Halls of the Fallen King!

 

Review: Dragons and Romans

It is the closing chapter of the final Punic War. The Roman army stands at the gates of Carthage. The city’s days are numbered. 

But victory will not come so easily to the conquerors. A dark ritual has commenced deep within the city walls, the final, mad contingency of the High Priest of Baal. A beastly power rises from the depths of hell and the ancient mists of time. 

Now, a Roman general finds himself in battle against a force beyond anything he has ever known. And the only hope may lie in the power of an Unknown God…

Dragons and Romans starts from a unique premise: what if you took what is effectively a Christian spiritual warfare novel and set it during the Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage? The book as a whole is based on true history but not bound by it, with shades of both fantasy and alternate history. Its highly stylized portrayal reminds me of the way 300 represents the Battle of Thermopylae. Some may criticize this approach from the standpoint of historical accuracy, but poetic embellishment is an art form in its own right. Immediate parallels come to mind in the works of Tennyson, Shakespeare and other classic dramatists..

I’ll add that this approach gives the author a great deal of freedom to play with different dramatic themes. The most prevalent in Dragons and Romans is a motif of good vs. evil symbolized by Carthaginian child sacrifice. This is operatically accentuated compared to the real-world Punic War (especially given the incorporation of the story’s spiritual elements) but leaves little doubt that the moral high ground belonged to the Romans.

I also found it particularly compelling to see Roman characters being shown the power of the True God by Jewish ones – this also plays into a love story whose time period and circumstances make it more interesting than the stand “Prince and Princess” romance. While we don’t know if any Jews participated in the Punic War, it’s fascinating to think about – the Carthaginians were literally Baal worshippers. Any Jewish soldiers in the Roman army would have been fighting their own ancient and hereditary enemy.

The story portrays the “mechanics” of the spirit world in a way that raises some fascinating (if somewhat disturbing) questions. Apparently, ancient human sacrifice was (is?) a very real path to power in the demonic realm. At one point, the book refers to a passage in 2 Kings where the king of Moab repels an Israelite army by sacrificing his son. I had virtually forgotten about this passage up to this point and never looked at it in that way before. Seen through this lens, it suggests some fairly chilling implications…

The narrative features vivid imagery, interesting characters, and a wealth of detail regarding both real and imagined Roman military technologies. By and large, this adds value to the story, but it does result in many instances of over-explanation (some of it repeated multiple times) and telling vs. showing. Aside from this pitfall, there is a mild level of profanity, which some more sensitive readers may dislike. That being said, I would recommend the book for readers about age 13 and upward. This was a fun, engaging read that should appeal to anyone with an interest in both ancient history and the Christian fantasy genre.

Review: Bid the Gods Arise

 

Duty-bound as son of the High Priest of Baelon, Maurin has resigned himself to an arranged marriage for the sake of his people. His cousin Aric yearns only for freedom and an escape from the visionary dreams that plague him. A single day of terror changes their lives forever. Now, slaves on a world they never dreamed existed, they find themselves caught up in a quest for freedom and the struggle against a tyrant’s throne.

They call her champion. Blood Goddess. Dania knows she is but a slave. Until the night she claims her freedom in blood. She will never submit to chains again, even if it means her own life…

Valasand Del Sirine is a Warden of the Gates, sent to Argoth on a secret mission. Her goal has been to find and eradicate the man responsible for defiling the Temple’s old colony with the scourge of a vile traffic. But there are whispers of an even greater darkness, gathering strength in the Gray Lands to the north…

Your dead shall rise against you…

All four find themselves linked in a common web of destiny, facing an evil beyond reckoning. Their only hope may lie in ancient prophecy – and in Valasand’s mysterious god…


I received an advance copy of Bid the Gods Arise in exchange for a review. As such, I had the unique opportunity to read this book without ever seeing a synopsis. I almost hesitate to write anything further as it would deprive potential readers here of the same experience. For those who wish for it, you can stop reading. For all others – read on.

The book starts as what appears to be a well-conceived work of “sword and sorcery”-style high fantasy. This on its own was enough to hold my interest as someone who had read and enjoyed other works in this genre. Then the narrative seamlessly transitions into a “Dune”-style space opera. I’ll point out here that these two terms are vastly over-simplified – author Robert Mullin has not just bridged these two genres but transcended them. Bid the Gods arise introduces us to a richly detailed universe – The Wells of the Worlds – that equally incorporates technological and “magical” elements. This world is more advanced than ours in a few, significant respects while behind in some and taking a completely different path in others. I personally would love to see the “tech bible” for his series.

Most contemporary high fantasy suffers from being pure derivations from Lord of the Rings. To a lesser extent, much can be said about the influence of Star Wars and Star Trek on the space opera genre. Mullin’s universe, however, emulates Tolkien’s project while utilizing entirely different source materials. In place of Norse and Finnish mythology, Mullin repurposes UFO and ancient astronaut theories as the basis of his secondary world. The story of Bid the Gods Arise takes place in just one corner of a vastly larger universe still waiting to be explored.

With a few exceptions, the book’s world-building is done organically. There is some exposition, but mostly at appropriate points in the narrative. A constant note of suspense and mystery balanced out the slower-paced passages. I also immensely enjoyed the characterization and chemistry of the two main characters: one is a “rule follower” with fairly rigid habits and beliefs while the other is a restless “maverick” who chafes at restrictions. Each supply something that’s lacking in the other, and their unique relationship drives much of the story.

I was particularly drawn to Maurin’s character arc. His struggle between attachment to his old life and beliefs (mainly an arranged, incomplete marriage vow on his old world) and embracing a new future (mainly a new love interest on his new world) is artfully tied into another central theme of the story: coming out from an old life serving old gods and a new life in service to the True God. I’ve rarely come across a “traditionalist” main character who is struggling with fear of risks and adapting to new circumstances. Most “action heroes” have authority issues and play loosely with the rules. As someone with the former personality type, this was refreshing to see – most authors seemingly regard it as too “boring” to explore in fiction.

Aric’s dream visions were another particularly fascinating part of the book. They were an essential story hook from the very beginning and contributed much of the suspenseful atmosphere. They were poetically mystical in a way that reminded me of Charles William’s War in Heaven (another book I highly recommend by the way). It’s awesome to come across a contemporary writer with a similar style.

There are many themes interwoven throughout the narrative. One central motif is tyranny vs freedom (both physical and spiritual). Parallel to it is the idea of being consumed by desires that grow beyond their proper boundaries: power, self-will, pleasure, immortality, etc. Many are inherent in the structure of the imagined world itself, which is clearly shaped by Judeo-Christian theology. Unlike much “Christian fantasy”, however, it is not a straight series of renamed biblical parallels. It incorporates many thought-provoking concepts that, strictly speaking, would not apply in the “primary world.” This was particularly interesting to me as a Christian author who writes for the general market. It makes the book more than a work of purely “Christian” fiction and gives it a larger target audience.

There are a few big caveats for the sensitive reader. This book contains some infrequent uses of profanity as well as an unvarnished look at the horrors inherent in human slavery. The central antagonist is a murderous psychopath who derives pleasure from raping, torturing and killing his slaves. There’s one scene where a slave, in turn, exacts a particularly brutal revenge against her master. There are also two subplots involving sexual affairs, though these are not portrayed as positive things: in one case, a participant becomes disgusted that they are simply “using” each other; the second leads one of the characters to an extremely unwise but irreversible decision. I’ll also say that these parts of the narrative are non-graphic and tastefully crafted to portray the feelings of the characters without necessarily evoking them in the reader, which is my primary concern. I would, of course, advise strong caution for certain age groups and some will want to avoid these passages regardless.

All this considered, I give the book a solid five stars. An awesome debut from a master storyteller! I look forward to exploring more of the Wells of the Worlds.

 

H. Halverstadt Books

H. Halverstadt Books, where my friend Heather Halverstadt and I contribute monthly, has officially rolled out their new website, complete with reviews, articles and resource pages. Check it below! Featured review is of Severed Signals by Steve Rzasa.

H. Halverstadt Books

Severed Signals

 

 

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