Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Review of The Great and the Terrible: The Second Sun, by Chris Stewart

My review of The Great and the Terrible: The Second Sun for my Summer Book Trek 2008 reading challenge:

From the back cover of The Great and the Terrible: The Second Sun:

A world poised at the brink of a disastrous war is unaware of the evil forces that will stop at nothing to achieve their aims. But in the midst of turmoil and impending doom, some of the Father's most valiant servants are in place--sons and daughters who may have the power to change the course of history. The third volume in The Great and Terrible series, The Second Sun, is a fast-paced, thrilling, action-packed story of war and intrigue by nationally bestselling author Chris Stewart.

For those who are unacquainted with The Great and the Terrible series, Chris Stewart has written a sort of Left Behind series with an LDS slant for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The subtitle, The Second Sun, is the third volume in what, so far, is a five volume yet-to-be-finished saga.

The first volume in the series, The Brothers, had a particularly unique twist in that the entire story (or prologue) was set in the Pre-Earth life. Whether or not you agreed with Stewart’s version of a period of our existence which none of us can remember, he certainly deserved credit for courage and imagination in sharing with his readers a fascinating vision of what it might have been like for us there. The novelty of the premise offset a slight bit of annoyance and confusion caused by what felt like indiscriminate head-hopping between the characters. However, since my Trek “assignment” is not to review the first book in the series, all I can say is, go find yourself a copy and read it for yourself, if you want to know more!

I had some difficulty with the second volume in the series, When Angels Fall, mostly because I personally found it quite jarring to go from the first book where the characters all formed one “family”, to the second book where the family, having received their mortal bodies and assignments on earth, became split up, along with a number of new characters I was suddenly expected to “bond with” (whether for good or bad), not knowing what role anyone was yet meant to play in this volume. Combined with the continued head-hopping, sticking with the second volume became a bit of a challenge for me. However, my Trek “assignment” is not to review the second book, either, so after you read The Brothers, check out When Angels Fall to see whether you have the same reaction as I, or if I was the only one who stumbled with it.

Now, my Trek “assignment” is to review the third book in the series, The Second Sun, which I just finished reading a few nights ago. This book ran much smoother for me, since I now had all the characters in place from the second book, and thankfully, Stewart considerably reined in his head-hopping style to allow the reader more time in one character’s head at a time. I have no objection to using multiple viewpoints in a book—I do it myself— but the more time I can spend in a single character’s head (for a chapter, or at least an entire scene), the more deeply I begin to identify with him/her, and the deeper I fall into the story.

Stewart’s “last days” take is certainly an intriguing one, though however “possible”, or even occasionally “plausible” certain plot points may be, I believe it’s important to remember that this series is, after all, a work of fiction and not a “prophecy” for the future. (Note to those who like to “preach” from this series over the pulpit sometimes on Sundays.)

Stewart clearly has a firm grasp of military lingo (having served as an Air Force pilot), and whenever he uses a military acronym, he always follows up by spelling out what the acronym stands for and what it actually means. (With memories of the undefined Italian of Dante’s Daughter still haunting me, all I can say is, “Thank you, Chris!”)

And speaking of “haunting”, some of the scenes I most enjoyed in The Second Sun were the ones of Lucifer and Balaam, particularly when they are whispering in people’s ears. Not that I mean to imply that I actually like Lucifer or Balaam. Only that something I’ve always “known” (i.e., that Lucifer/Satan and his angels are real and tempt us every day) has taken on a more “immediate” aspect by seeing the way Stewart actively portrays them in his series. It is as though Stewart has stripped away their masks and laid them open to the daylight for all around to see, if we will only open our eyes to do so.

Occasionally Stewart does have a tendency to “tell” or “explain” things to the reader, which stops the story in its tracks. And (warning: spoiler alert here!), I had a little difficulty accepting the part about the United Nations throwing the United States off the Security Council, without the U.S. being able to do anything about it. Considering that the U.N. has its headquarters in New York City, I can’t imagine that there wouldn’t have been a hue and cry to “throw the bums out!” of the U.S., in return. (At least, I know that’s what I would have been screaming. But maybe that’s just me?)

All in all, Stewart is weaving a very interesting last days “scenario”. Now I’m off to the fourth book in the series, Fury and Light, which I may or may not review for the book trek. (Since I also committed to review three non-fiction books for an upcoming virtual book tour, I may not finish book four of The Great and the Terrible by the end of the Summer Book Trek, so all things considered, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for a review.

No comments: