King, by R.J. Larson
[Note: This book was received for free from Bethany House in exchange for an honest review.]
Having not read the first two books of this trilogy (Prophet and Judge) which apparently deal with many of the same characters as one finds in this novel, I cannot judge this novel in the context of its overall story arc but must be content to judge it as a standalone work given the information about its fictional world as it provides. This is not too much of a liability, as this book is of sufficient skill and interest to succeed as a standalone volume of historical and biblical fantasy even without the larger context of previous volumes.
Readers of this book who are familiar with the historical books of the Bible will find a lot of parallels (mostly intentional, I would suspect) between the events of this particular story and biblical history. King Akabe, the main character of this particular novel, has a story that reminds one of David in some respects, and his desire to rebuild the temple (and his success at doing so) also have some parallels with Solomon (including the marriage with a heathen queen but minus the polygamy). Some of the events in the lives of those around him remind one of incidents from the life of Elisha, and even Moses. Though there are clear parallels with the Bible, this is not a strict allegory but is a work of its own imagination and skill.
Nevertheless, it is to be expected that most of those who read this novel and are most fond of it are believers in the Bible. Though the author does make some doctrinal stances (including on the immortal soul) that are not supported by scripture, on a whole the novel does present the lovingkindness and mercy of the OT God in a way that is often not sufficiently appreciated among Christians, who often follow Marcionite tendencies of condemning the God of the OT as cruel and harsh and unloving and contrasting him with the loving and merciful Christ. Nonetheless, this book does show the power of God (called “The Infinite” here) as opposed to the machinations and self-deification of false religions. Those who are in sympathy with biblical standards and ideals should be in general sympathy with the author’s presentation and worldview.
The plot of this novel is rather action-packed, full of fighting, miracles, political machinations, metaphysical musings, and the struggle of believers to discern and follow God’s ways and seek His mercy when they inevitably stumble, and to evangelize to believers of other faiths, whether in their family, or even one’s enemies. Questions of loyalty and trust and faithfulness abound, as the king is disappointed in his efforts to marry a lovely prophetess who happens to be in love with someone else, and rather than taking vengeance on his trusted friend (whom she loves) he ends up in a political marriage with a shy abused heathen noblewoman all the while dodging numerous assassination attempts and dealing with the aftermath of civil war within his own fictional land of Siphra (a stand-in, it would appear, for biblical Israel). Though there is a great deal of peril and loss here, ultimately the book is optimistic and full of the workings of divine providence and outright miraculous intervention. The characters are imperfect and flawed, but the good characters are broadly sympathetic and their struggles to live the ideals of their faith in an imperfect world out to resonate with readers looking for fictional action that does not insult faith. In short, it’s an enjoyable and competent work.