10/08/2005

A Voice in the Wind

This is the first novel I've read by Francine Rivers. She writes Christian historical fiction, and a friend lent it to me, along with the two sequels, saying she thought I would like it.

Unfortunately, I didn't.

Indeed, I nearly gave up after the first chapter. It takes place in Jersualem, during its destruction in the 1st century. A horrific background, and unfortunately the author decided to let us in on scenes of carnage and destruction, with gruesomely sickening detail.

I skimmed as much as I could, then found the second chapter every bit as bad: this time it focussed on a battle in Germany, with yet more gratuitous violence. I was, as they say in the USA, 'grossed out'.

My friend assured me the book got better, and I read many raving reviews at Amazon USA, so I kept going. And yes, it did get a bit less violent. At least there was some plot from the third chapter onwards. Hadassah, the Jewish Christian girl who loses her family in the fall of Jerusalem, is sold as a slave: she ends up as maid to the rich and pampered Lady Julia. Meanwhile Atretes, hero of the second chapter, becomes a gladiator.

To be fair to the author, the plot is a good idea. Hadassah is the one bright spark in a corrupt and greedy household. She manages to retain her purity despite plenty of temptation, she's loyal and faithful as a servant, and she longs to tell the family about Jesus. But being a Christian at this stage of the Roman Empire was punishable by death, so she lets people assume she's a Jew (considered bad enough, but an accident of birth rather than a choice).

But given the idea, the main plot is fairly predictable, and the sub-plots contain yet more appalling violence (with Atretes in the arena) as well as grotesque descriptions of the corruptions that Julia and her brother Marcus indulge in. I have no idea why the author felt the need to go into quite so much gory detail: we all know Ancient Rome was corrupt. I didn't need reminding every page how awful it was. Admittedly the sex scenes are not described in detail, but there's plenty of inference about perversions and adultery and worse.

On the plus side, Hadassah is a likeable heroine: not quite too good to be true, she has a definite appeal and in one or two places I was momentarily moved by her. Marcus and Julia's mother Phoebe is also quite pleasant - she's kind, if misguided, and cares for her husband and family. Unfortunately most of the rest of the characters are so corrupt and evil that they didn't seem believable. One power-crazy violent person with no redeeming features would have been acceptable, but the sheer number of entirely depraved people is beyond belief.

Perhaps I'm too much an idealist/romantic, but I really don't like reading a book where my mind is filled constantly with scenes of lust, anger, violence and corruption. The only way I could get to the end of the book was by serious skimming.

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