An Echo in the Darkness
Somebody asked me recently why I enjoy inspirational fiction so much as I am not religious myself. Any writer who lives in a modern secular society such as Britain often produces historical fiction that is riddled with anachronism, as all aspects of life in the past were woven through with religious belief. If you do not understand this, then the work will suffer. Francine Rivers doesn’t have a time machine, I am sure, but reading her books one might wonder if she does. She brings the ancient world of Rome, Israel, Ephesus and Germany to noisy, bustling and vibrant life, presenting us with people who are wonderfully three-dimensional. Unusually, Rivers wisely focuses on different characters in each volume, which gives the series more the feeling of three novels than one long story, although they are all linked.
What is it about? Set in the 1st century, in the first volume Hadasseh is captured and sold as a slave to the Valerian family in Rome, one of the children of which (Marcus, at first so dissolute) continues the story in the second volume as he searches for meaning in his life. Atretes the German was sold as a gladiator, and his story is taken up in the last volume as he searches for his missing son and finds the woman who adopted him won’t give him up. Put like this it all sounds rather bald, but this is such an epic tale with plenty of twists and turns that saying too much might spoil it.
Of course it isn’t perfect; the first book was my favorite, as the portrayal of Rome was so well realized, and by the end the story is running out of steam a little and gets a bit repetitive and wordy. Various modern issues that seem suspect for the times have been woven in, such as the “coming out” of homosexuals (which strikes a jarring note), but this is a Biblical novel from somebody who really knows her Bible and brings it all to vibrant life. There is a lot of romance in here as well, but for me the star of the show is the superb description of the ancient world. I recommend this trilogy to anybody with an interest in the period.