Today's is one of them. On a level with the day I first posted about Lord or the Rings, or the day when I could spout off about the Silmarillion, or the day when I answered my first blog tag. Because today I get to review Cloak of the Light, by Chuck Black.
One frosty night the Friday after Christmas, it arrived on our doorstep: my very first book with "Advance Reader Copy" stamped all over it. I was geeked. That's the only word to perfectly express my feelings. Chuck Black, the author of the Kingdom series and Knights of Arrethtrae, has returned to the literary world with his first installment in a new series, Wars of the Realm. This book is like nothing he's ever written before. It's grittier. The action's even better. The themes are deeper. And I think it has even more practical application in the life of a Christian. It caused me to view spiritual warfare in a whole new way.
It releases on March 18th, just a few weeks away, and I highly recommend purchasing it.
Drew Carter hasn't had it easy. His father, a military man, died when he was only twelve, and he and his mom have moved about ever since while she tries to keep work that will support them. The only good things Drew has going for him is his talent for football and his dad's Special Forces friend Jake. But Jake can't be around all the time, and Drew had to stop playing for his favorite football team when his mom transferred to a new job. The tough crowd of boys at the new school he's attending really don't want anything to do with him.
Drew manages to carve out a life for himself in spite of his difficulties. He gets a good place on the football team, which erupts the school food chain, and sticks up for a geeky nerd named Benjamin Berg, who turns into a pretty good friend--even if he does believe in aliens. Everything's poised for success until a tragic accident occurs, and Drew's life falls apart yet again.
But he keeps going and keeps pushing, partly through Benjamin's help and partly from 30 second dates with a nice girl named Sidney Carlyle. Drew makes it all the way to college, in fact, and is just pulling himself out of his difficulties again when Ben asks for his help with a strange experiment his professor's conducting that supposedly broke through to a new dimension.
Ben pulls the levers and Drew looks through the lens. But just as he sees what he's supposed to see, the machine explodes, and he gets a face-full of burning hot plasma that turns him blind.
And then Benjamin Berg disappears.
Fortunately for Drew, his sight gradually comes back. Gradually, he finds that he has the power to see not only the regular world, but also the shadowy images that he saw through the light-accelerator machine. What he sees puts him in danger. And not only him--but also the entire, unsuspecting world.
I had a bunch of conflicting emotions when I picked up this book. Excitement that it was in my queue of books to select at Waterbrook Multnomah was a very strong one. :) Chuck Black is a dad who likes to write good, biblical stories without some of the more questionable elements often included in fiction, so I was sure I could trust him. But 'other dimensions' sounded a little weird, and an atheist main character and the ever-present beer party gone wrong almost turned me off before I began. I'd read enough of that in pop Christian teen fiction, and I really didn't want Black to follow in those footsteps. First impressions and I have never been reliable friends, however, so I gave it a good chance, and gradually my misgivings melted away to great excitement at the spiritual teaching Black achieved, simply by telling a good story. This book--this is Christian storytelling as it should be.
When the light-accelerated dimension showed up, I was impressed. This is no pop culture teen story. It's relevant to modern teens, yes, and includes many of the elements that would attract them. But it's a grand allegory of spiritual warfare, set in our times, and it brings 'we war not against flesh and blood' to a whole new level of understanding.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. ~Ephesians 6:12.
Drew Carter can see the world of angel and demon warfare, and Chuck captures the imagery of angels and demons fighting in a crisp, clean, modern way. The fighting isn't just there for pop and flash effects--it drives home to the reader that we are in a spiritual war, and our war expands beyond the dimension we can see to a dimension we cannot see. Intellectually, I've always known this, but Chuck's book put flesh to the theory, and now, through his story, spiritual warfare came alive to me.
Sometimes it came alive a little too well, in fact. This is a mature story that I would recommend for ages 15 up. There aren't inappropriate details, but the spiritual warfare is quite heavy, and during a school shooting, I was so absorbed, and even afraid, that I wish Black had toned it down a bit. I'm used to exciting things and tense scenes--he just hit his theme of angels and demons warring against each other so well, that I almost wasn't sure if I could handle the rest of the book.
I did, though, and I'm very glad I didn't stop.
Black's writing has improved greatly since his first books. His characterizations are life-like, the little details he adds in enhance the story greatly, and he's incorporating a variety of characters--those who make good choices, and those who make bad ones, and where that takes them. Black is honest with the religious beliefs of different characters, which I also liked. The goal of Christian fiction should be to preach a Christian message, but in an engaging way, and he does so. In fact, one sign he did well was that I liked a story when the main character was so unrelatable to me--there's not much more of a polar opposite than a public school football player and a homeschool bibliophile. But I was riveted to Drew's perspective, his problems, and his adventures, hoping that he would come to see the truth, and genuinely concerned for his spiritual well-being.
For those who have already read Chuck Black, Cloak of the Light is not set in Arrethtrae or connected with his other books in any way. It's a completely new story, set in modern times and the real world. Black's gritty action, faithful storytelling, and sound biblical parallels were very enjoyable, and I give Cloak of the Light five stars.
I hope Book 2 releases very soon. :)
Check it out, folks! March 18th is the release date. If you've heard of Chuck Black before this, you can count on another good story, and if you haven't, this is a good book to try out for a first acquaintance with his teen fiction.
I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review. All opinions are my own, and are honestly given.
P.S. Check out Chuck Black's website, more about Cloak of the Light, and his author bio with the handy links Waterbrook Multnomah provided!