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.
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.
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.