Book Review | An Echo in the Darkness

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SUMMARY

An Echo in the Darkness is the second book in Francine River’s Mark of the Lion historical fiction series.  In the first book  the reader is introduced to all the main characters: Hadassah, Marcus and Julia Valerian, Rizpah and Atretes.  In An Echo in the Darkness Hadassah, Marcus and Julia take over the narrative – Rizpah and Atretes take the narrative of As Sure as the Dawn, the third and final book in the series.

SPOILER ALERT, if you have not read the first book in the series I will give away some key details below by sharing the basis of An Echo in the Darkness.

When we meet Hadassah she is a Christian Jew taken from Jerusalem to Rome to become a slave in the Valerian household.  Marcus is the son of the prominent and abundantly wealthy Decimus Valerian.  Julia is the wholey self-absorbed, stubbornly independent daughter of Decimus.

We start An Echo in the Darkness with the broken-hearted and hungry Marcus.  He wanders about Ephesus and then Rome with a new pair of eyes that reveals the corrupt and broken nature of the two great cities.  Shortly thereafter, he resolves to seek God in order to curse him for taking Hadassah from him.  That is where his journey really begins.  His tale is full of wonderfully colorful characters and revelation.

We find Hadassah in a new role as an assistant to Alexander, a great physician.  Alexander saved Hadassah.  When she was still breathing after being brutally attacked by a lion, Alexander had compassion for her and instead of slicing her open for medical research he smuggled the dying Hadassah from the arena.  He was able to heal her, but at the expense of a terribly scarred face and a crippled leg.

The reader meets Julia in her fancy villa at the beginning of a treacherous illness and at the end of a long string of terrible decisions.

REVIEW

In contrast to the increasing hopelessness and turmoil in A Voice in the Wind, An Echo in the Darkness brought reward and hope to the tribulation of its predecessor.  What I loved most about this novel was the character molding, the hope of the redemption message and how I got to better understand the history of the Bible.

As the second book in the Mark of the Lion series An Echo in the Darkness carries on with character molding.  In A Voice in the Wind the reader follows Julia from a whimsical and carefree young woman to a sinister and self-indulgent wealthy aristocrat, Hadassah evolves from a destitute Jew to a shy slave girl to a bold woman of faith, and  the bull-headed and promiscuous Marcus becomes devoted in love to Hadassah and his financial desire slips away.  This is where we begin with our beloved characters in An Echo in the Darkness.  It is in this book I really fell in love with the characters and because of their stories I found myself feeling hopeful, challenged, and encouraged in my own relationship with Christ.  When Marcus chose the Lord and was baptized my heart rejoiced, almost as if for a real person.  I felt the same about Julia but almost ten-fold.  She was so stubborn and selfishly lost that for her to recover enough to recognize her own sin as sin and walk into the open arms of Christ was a miracle.  With these two redemption messages I found I was washed with a whole new wave of hope for my own journey in rescuing the souls I love.  It gave me the hope that, ultimately, God can reach the lost without my help but if does he call me it is an honor I’d better respond to.  When Hadassah grows in her newfound strength through Christ and becomes his vessel for as a healer and then as a caregiver I found myself challenged to allow God to take even more control in my life.  It was through Hadassah’s story that I realized I wasn’t as fully willing to do anything God wanted and felt so inspired to give way to my new-found barriers.  I was convicted to put all my faith in God even when circumstances seem impossible and that even the farthest from God can find Him if I can only deliver an abundance of love and prayer.  The lesson that particularly stuck out to me was from Hadassah’s story and the way she took care of Julia.  I hope and pray that I can have as much grace and patience when, one day, I find myself a caregiver.

Just as in A Voice in the Wind I loved the way the storytelling shed new light and meaning onto the history of the Bible.  An Echo in the Darkness takes place several years after Jesus’ death on the cross, shortly after the reign of Nero.  At this point the only apostle left living is John and the reader gets to encounter him within the story.  Because of the chosen time period Rivers was able to bring to life the context in the time Jesus was alive with stories from characters who met and followed him and brought even stronger context to the letters that follow the New Testament Gospel.   I would even go as far to say that I even better understood some aspects of the old testament because my perception of the New Testament was clarified. Because of this series I have found it is so educational to learn about the Bible through a story.  I love that now I can say I much better understand the New Testament letters because I have a good grasp on their historical context.

Any dislike for the book started and ended with the quality of writing.  In A Voice in the Wind I was frustrated with the lack of care in the writing but I found An Echo in the Darkness to be much better.  With the exception of still too much switching between points-of-view, long-winded Biblical excerpts within the story, and a sometimes choppy or unprofessional approach to writing, this second novel was, overall, much better in the quality of writing.

CONCLUSION

Just as with A Voice in the Wind, I strongly recommend this book to anyone but especially to seekers and believers.  It brought the Bible to life in ways I haven’t experienced before and helped me to understand my faith better because of it – that’s such a valuable experience to have.  Heck, I hope and plan to read them again, maybe even once a year.  The lessons I learned from the character molding are so valuable for the assertion of exhibiting a life resting on childlike faith – hoping on hope that ultimately God’s will prevails despite our shortcomings and sometimes because of our shortcomings.  I gave new meaning to the idea that “God works for the good of those who love him” and “He works all things for His greater good” – because of this story I was able to tangibly see how it’s sometimes the death and destruction of the world that can ultimately lead a soul to salvation.  But what I loved most about this book was that it called me out of myself.  I wasn’t even aware I had retreated into the recesses of me until I saw more tangible ways to be a servant and to be more self-sacrificing to others and to the Creator.  It challenged me to see the people God had surrounded me with as my personal call to love and serve.

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Book Review: A Voice in the Wind

Josh has been gone for almost a week and a half so that means I’ve finished a 496 page novel and already started the next on in the series 🙂

Ordinarily I succumb to watching Disney movies, or at least having them on for the vocal company, but for this spread of alone time I resolved to commit to keeping the TV off and picking up a book instead.  I had barely started A Voice in the Wind before Josh left and I finished it at 2:30am Saturday night.

If you are like me and prefer to know as little about a story as possible before diving in, I simply tell you this tale is about a young Jewess facing the calamity and debauchery of a post Nero Roman civilization.  So, count this your SPOILER ALERT and skip the Summary but the rest of the content is safe for you.  However, I do reveal very little in the Summary.

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SUMMARY

A Voice in the Wind is the first installment of a three book series by Francine Rivers called Mark of the Lion.  The story is split from multiple perspectives with a main character a couple secondary characters and a couple more tertiary characters.

The predominant main character is a teenage Judean slave girl named Hadassah.  She is a soft-spoken, humble, and compassionate Christian.  The reader begins with her in a rotting Jerusalem with her dying family.

Our secondary characters, Atretes, Marcus, and Julia, narrate the story intermittently as well.

Atretes has the second most noticeably dominant voice.  He is a barbaric and to-the-core macho, yet beautiful and soulful Germainian clan chieftain’s son. The reader starts a journey with him in the middle of a thick forest in Germania at war with the Romans.

Marcus is a handsome and cunning wealthy Roman aristocrat.  He is the very image of corrupt Rome and gives voice to Rome’s debauchery and vile desires.

Julia captivates the reader briefly at the beginning of the story as the innocent and beautiful little sister of Marcus but her brightness rapidly dissolves rendering her an utterly selfish and loathsome character.  Not too far into the novel she is presented with Hadassah as her personal slave and the story unfolds deeply from there.

Tertiary voices include Marcus and Julia’s parents Phoebe and Decimus, the dark Calabah, and a generous sprinkling of other characters.

REVIEW

To be honest, I avoided this book for years.  Josh and several other friends highly recommended the book to me but, as a writer, I struggled to bring myself to start because of my experience with River’s Redeeming Love several years back.  In Redeeming Love I found that I loved the story but the overbearing amount of sappy loving and the undesirable, and sometimes unprofessional, writing style almost had me setting the book aside.  River’s is a brilliant story weaver but sometimes emotions run rampant and the Christian aspect gets in the way of the storytelling.  That being said, I am a strong advocate for Christian fiction because I love learning Biblical messages in a creative way but it irks me when it’s an excuse for bad story structure and evangelical interruptions.  I am a firm believer in practicing love and life to emit Christ rather than always confront non believers over the head with Bible thumping and I find too often that Christian fiction falls in the latter category.

Anyway, I committed to reading it and fell in love with learning about Biblical and Roman history in such an entertaining way and, in the end, I found myself convicted by the character lessons within the story.

A Voice in the Wind gave vivid picture and detail to the history of Rome and Ephesus as it coincides with Biblical history.  I cherished learning about historical Rome at the collapse of Judea, post Nero, and in the midst of gladiators.  One of my all time favorite movies is Gladiator so naturally that was an easy point of connection and intrigue but I also love learning about world history, especially as it pertains to the Bible.  I found River’s depiction of Rome visually and socially very enlightening and infinitely interesting.

The other aspects of the novel that struck me were the lessons I was left with to ponder when I turned the last page of the book.  I won’t divulge too much of what happened because I truly hope you will commit to reading the book yourself but I found myself left with convictions to boldly speak up, stand up firmly in my faith, and persevere down God’s path even if death looks me in the face.  I have a new and profound respect for Christians that lived, loved, and died during that time period and feel so blessed with the religious freedom I possess.

My grievances with the novel were in the characters, the plot and the structure.

The most believable character, and, thus, my favorite character, was Atretes. But I struggled with the other main characters.  I found Hadassah unrealistically and irritatingly long-winded in her evangelical exploits and her personality somewhat inconsistent.   I loved her gentle and compassionate spirit but I never fully loved this character that the reader is supposed to adore because she sometimes spends pages reiterating Biblical passages, she rarely spoke a word that was her own and not recited from the Bible, and she had bursts of boldness that were uncharacteristic of everything I’d learned of her personality.

As far as the plot is concerned, I found most of it more than satisfactory.  Overall it was continuously engaging while remaining believable.  However, at the introduction of Hadassah to other Roman and, later, Ephesian Christians I was occasionally subjected to lengthy Biblical banter consisting of scriptural recitation and rigid religious conversation.  Plot interruptions by Hadassah’s occasional Biblical rants were also unnecessary and unwelcome.  I liked River’s intention of driving a message home but I just wish she would have done so with more brevity and cleverness.

The structure of everyone contributing their perspective in the story is interesting but somewhat immature.  I believe a good writer should be able to give a well-rounded view of their characters, story, and the setting without having to succumb to grappling for every character’s perspective.  I can appreciate a good novel with a few narrators but not everyone should get their voice in the story.

CONCLUSION

Despite my qualms with the novel I do highly recommend it.  The reward of learning more about the history surrounding the Biblical letters and the personal Biblical conviction delivered is well worth trudging through moments of religious rants and disagreeable characters.  Not to mention, the story is captivating.

My highest recommendation in reading this book is reading it along side Romans.  I so happened to accidentally stumble on this excellent pairing.  When I started Voice in the Wind I simultaneously and coincidentally started Romans for my daily devotions.  I loved the picture painting of the novel paired with the Biblical history and telling of Roman civilization.