Before you write me off as totally insane by posting a bad review of my own book on my own blog, hear (read) me out. When "Act of Redemption" came out in 2009, I couldn't wait for reviews; I really wanted to know if I'm a writer or not, at least. I hired a publicist that didn't read my 45K word novella (like that takes a lot of time? Anyway, I was informed reading was not required).
As you read this, note I left the reviewer's (and website's) name out, because only in hindsight, I understand where's he's coming from...the publicist sent my book, suggesting it' was written for a young, grade school, faith-based audience. My publicist was replaced afterward.
Book Review: "Act of Redemption"
Act of Redemption by C. C. Cole
(Author House, Bloomington, IN: 2009)
Reviewed by XXXXXX
Summer’s over, the work of education has begun again, and many parents are looking for books for their children to read.
It’s not as easy as it sounds, especially for Christian parents who are homeschooling. Most of them removed their children from the public schools for two reasons: to give them a real and Christian education, and to rescue them from the shambles of public “education.” Those parents wish to instill in their children a love of reading. They’ll want books that challenge young readers and excite their imaginations.
That’s not enough. If it were, the Harry Potter books would fill the bill. Millions of young readers flipped over them. But Christian parents trying to raise Christian children will want something more—books that are God-honoring, faith-building, truth-telling, and above all, compatible with everything else they’re trying to teach their children.
Idle or Evil
Act of Redemption might look like a good item to put on a young Christian’s reading menu. It’s about “redemption”—we suppose—and Christians are interested in redemption. But as the saying goes, don’t judge a book by its cover.
This is a fantasy novel. Some Christians shy away from fantasy altogether. Others think it can be put to use in God’s service, and point to C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia as an excellent example.
We have to deal with fantasy because today’s young readers’ market is chock-full of it. Thanks to the success of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels, the market is awash in fantasy. Young readers can’t seem to get enough of it.
A great deal of this fantasy is idle at best and evil at worst. Far too many of these books offer a seductive vision of teenage empowerment via magic, sorcery, becoming a vampire and being cool and sexy forever, etc. The readers are old enough to crave power, but too young to appreciate the responsibilities that go with it.
This vision of power is satanic: “Ye shall be as gods” (Genesis 3:5). Unlike adult human beings in the real world, from parents to presidents, gods are not accountable to anyone. They don’t have to work or pay bills, or worry about losing a job because they didn’t do it properly. Miniature gods just wield their power any way they please, and enjoy it.
Christian parents will not want to hand their children books that offer such a vision.
Act of Redemption is about a struggling, post-apocalyptic human race being preyed on by demons who are trying to wipe them out and turn the earth into an extension of Hell. The demons can’t seal the deal because of an immortal, invulnerable teenage superhero, an undersized girl named Shevata who makes the Terminator look like R2D2. She’s more than a match for all the demons put together.
This is the first of a series of four novels “spanning Shevata’s long journey from war-weathered child with a horrific curse to life as a human,” according to the cover blurb. I regret to say that the prose of that sentence is representative of the book as a whole.
The story reads like a video game or a Dungeons & Dragons game written up as a novel. The “demons” are described as legions of hideous scary monsters—but these demons can be killed, physically. In fact, they’re always getting killed, in chapter after chapter.
Real demons are spirits. They cannot be hacked to death with swords. But the book’s theology only gets worse from there.
There is no presence of Christ in this story, under any name; nor is there any sign of God the Father, under any name. Here and there Ms. Cole mentions various “gods,” but they don’t seem to have any power or influence anywhere. Shevata seems to have acquired her special powers through a combination of selective breeding, intensive martial arts training, and a long apprenticeship in Hell.
Where is the “redemption” touted in the title? Apparently the author is thinking of Shevata’s personal redemption. We may infer from the text that this is to be accomplished not by God’s grace, but by works of the flesh: demon-smiting, making human friends, maybe even falling in love somewhere along the way. But as Christians we must not suggest to our children that this is how redemption is achieved! Indeed, it is not “achieved” by us at all: Jesus Christ Himself is our redemption, by the sovereign act of God (1 Corinthians 1:30).
Not One of Our Favorite Books
As literature, Act of Redemption is not the worst fantasy ever written—and bad fantasy is even more revolting than bad science fiction—but it doesn’t even measure up to the rather low bar set by the Harry Potter series. The book stands in need of serious editing, but apparently that’s not available at Author House.
The dialogue, from cover to cover, is a sort of American televisionese, just short of unbearable. We’ve read worse, but that’s not saying much. Given that children learn how to write by reading, and imitating what they read, this book has nothing to offer along those lines.
With the sole exception of Shevata, the protagonist, all of the characters herein are nothing more than names on paper. A good editor might have showed the author how to fix that, but there doesn’t seem to have been one on hand.
Instead of making her characters come alive, Ms. Cole is always telling us what they’re wearing. I do wish she wouldn’t do that, and I can’t imagine why she does.
If this review seems unnecessarily harsh, it’s only because we have made a point of judging the book solely on the text as published. We are not judging the author. The text is all the reader is going to see or know about. We have resisted the temptation to bring in other considerations urged on us by the book’s publicist.
Is ‘Christian Fantasy’ Possible?
In short, Act of Redemption is not likely to contribute anything to the education of young Christian readers.
We will continue to search for fantasy novels that do have something to contribute. There has to be something better than black magic, white magic, broomstick-riding, and vampirism. In our mission to reclaim the culture for Christ, we must not concede even this little square foot of ground to the ungodly.
Why should it not be possible to write fantasy that serves and honors God, and helps readers to know Him better? Certainly that was C. S. Lewis’ objective in writing the Narnia books, and we can see it in J. R. R. Tolkien’s fantasies, too. God has given us the power to write about imaginary worlds. We must not abuse it.
Meanwhile, parents would do well to read a novel themselves before presenting it to their children. There’s an awful lot of dreck and sleaze out there. Young people need to read, and with encouragement, they will learn to love to read.
Fantasy, which speaks directly to the reader’s imagination—much as poetry does—is powerful. Parents must choose books whose power is harnessed to God’s service.
Despite the scathing review, at least the reviewer read the book (not finishing the book, the biggest irk of bad reviews to me). But what really happened here, is that my book was sent to a reviewer that is not the audience. However I did like the comparison of "Terminator goes R2D2."
I'm not going to blast him over the religious issues because this has happened to me since and I think is part of being a dark fantasy writer. Regarding the parents' concern over what children read, the reviewer pointed out for the parents to take responsibility. He also pointed out that he blasted my book, not my personal integrity. Regarding his remark about editing, as I've written before, it seems every editor says every book needs a editor.
To make lemonade out of lemons, I telephoned the editor (not the reviewer) of the website, as I was very upset over this review. (BTW, I that's the 1st/last time I've tracked down a reviewer over a review). He made 2 points that stayed with me:
1) He agreed the review was of a non-audience book.
2) He said "I know you'll be really angry for several days. Promise yourself this: Never, ever stop writing."
I thank him for the last point every day.