pinterest-7bf66.html Reviews by Peter: October 2018

About Me

My photo

I have been an avid reader from as early as I can remember. Since becoming a Christian in my early 20s, my passion for reading led to specifically Christian fiction and this has developed into reviewing them on this blog. I love reading debut author's novels or those author's who have not had many reviews thus providing them much needed encouragement 

Search This Blog

Thursday, 11 October 2018

The Awakened (The Lazarus Chronicles, Book 1) by Richard Spillman

The Awakened 

Two thousand years ago Jesus resurrected his friend, Lazarus and founded a secret organization: SOAR. Since then Jesus has added to the resurrected—The Awakened—to aid Lazarus in SOAR's battle against Satan's slaves, the UnVeilers. The threat is escalating. The UnVeilers have stepped up their attacks on mankind through a charming leader and a devastating series of bombings in Dubai and Tel Aviv. But the invasion doesn't stop with international terrorism. The UnVeilers are searching for a secret that Jesus embedded in Lazarus’ journal that not even Lazarus knows—and it will determine the fate of mankind. After a failed cyber-attack against SOAR's computers, Lazarus and his team of experts must find the secret before the UnVeilers do. What clue is he overlooking that could turn the tide of this ageless conflict?

The souls fighting with Lazarus are weary, but the war against evil is far from won. Can Lazarus and his team set aside their longing for heaven and put a stop to these satanic attacks before it's too late?

The Guru's Review: 

"What if.......?" "Yeah, what if what?" you may ask! Well, the "What if......" question and its variations are what makes fiction speculative and it is one of the exciting genres to read but is also one of the most misunderstood and sometimes controversial. When this speculative element is applied to Christian fiction, it makes for a wonderful story that allows an author to use poetic licence to fill in the gaps that exist in the source of their story. This can be especially true when applied to the Bible with its tenets, doctrines or supernatural events.

After reading this novel by Richard Spillman, I can say that he has applied the speculative element to create a wonderful story that is intriguing, engrossing, keeps you guessing. For a debut novelist, you would never know it! The speculative element he has used for the foundation of this novel is very clever. Those familiar with the Biblical account of Lazarus know that he was resurrected by Jesus (John 11:1-55). Here is where Spillman's speculative application comes into play. In the book of Hebrews 9:27 we learn that,
And just as it is appointed for people to die once—and after this, judgment. 
Spillman has expounded on this verse by proposing that because he had died (once) as this verse states, he could not die again. This would make him immortal. And Spillman has Jesus telling him so, 
"....He told me that it is appointed to man to die once and since I had already died, he brought me back in a body that will never die again." 
Then Jesus tells Lazarus that there will be more like him and that He has ordained this for a specific purpose. They then called themselves the Awakened.

From this plot arc and foundation, Spillman creates a multilayered world. 

Lazarus creates an organisation called SOAR to fulfil Jesus' specific purpose. The Awakened are to serve humanity by helping them soar, or bringing out the best in them. The name is an acronym for the Society of the Awakened and Restored. Humans can become Awakened but only by another Awakened who would pray over them once dead if they believed or felt this was God's will. 

Their other purpose is a supernatural one and that is to eliminate or "dust" the Undead, the UD, whose goal is to continue the work commenced by Satan in fostering rebellion against God and to take as many Naturals (humans who have not died) to hell as they can. These UDs are those humans who, upon death, are reanimated and demon possessed by other UD. These are Satan's army/slaves. "Dust"ing them means that they are turned to dust when an Awakened touches them and they are then returned to Hell. The Awakened call these the UnDead but they call themselves UnVeilers, UV, as they view their job as unveiling the evil within mankind. 

Herein lies another layer. The UD are involved in international terrorism in order to cause worldwide panic, chaos and then dominate the human population, the Naturals. They have leaders, other UD/UVs who are in charge of these activities and who are awaiting the arrival of The UD, their ultimate leader who can only be dusted by Jesus. Here, Spillman creates a military-style special ops and technological expertise arm of SOAR, that has Awakened operatives worldwide. SOAR also have a role with the NSA and all other government organisations worldwide. And it is here that we meet all of the other Awakened characters. All understand their Awakened status and role, all have a love for Jesus and support each other. They could be considered the ultimate special ops team on the physical, technological and supernatural levels. 

One plot arc that I feel will appeal to most readers is Lazarus' journal. This acts to support, and develop the experiences of Lazarus since his Awakening (resurrection by Jesus) and show some of the battle histories between the UD and Awakened. It also reveals in a touching and empathetic way, the relationship he had with Jesus and his longing to be reunited with Him. I found Spillman's writing here captured Lazarus' feelings and what he went through to be very convincing. It reads as if it actually happened. It also endears the reader to Lazarus. We see him not only as the leader of SOAR, military and special ops commander but as a vulnerable but strong spiritual leader who has flaws. I was especially taken with Spillman's depiction of how Lazarus experienced Jesus. That really did tug at my heartstrings and desire to know Him better! I teared up on a few occasions when Lazarus described this to Ricki. Spillman has depicted Jesus very respectfully and as for who He is. This read in my mind as if it was a movie segment, so real and poignant it was. 

This shows some of Spillman's own relationship with God. I know that in crafting a novel, an author will inject some of themselves into the characters and other parts of the novel's construction and this definitely shows here in relation to Lazarus as well as in other parts of the novel. This definitely adds strength to the novel's overall impact on the reader. Novels can either be character driven or plot driven predominantly. To me, there is a healthy mixture of both in this novel. That just makes it all the more enjoyable. 

Another layer of Spillman's worldbuilding is a mystery, a secret. Embedded in this journal is a secret that Jesus had included. Both Lazarus and the UD seek to reveal this secret. In this novel, the first part of the secret is revealed and it lays the foundation for the remainder to be revealed in subsequent novels. It is in this plot arc that we are introduced to Ricki Spenser who becomes an integral part of SOAR and in Lazarus seeking to find the journal secret. Here Spillman introduces a touch of romance between these two that I presume will be further developed in the remaining two novels. 

It is through this plot arc relating to these two that Spillman introduces his spiritual theme of forgiveness, of ourselves for our sin but also from what others have done to us. This is explored and depicted well between Ricki and Lazarus and I found this to be tender and relational. In doing so, Ricki also finds peace, closure, her need for God and to become free from the abuse of her upbringing. I could so relate to this on a personal level as I see this in myself and in others on a day to day basis. I love Spillman's snippets of what forgiveness means as seen between Lazarus encouraging Ricki 
"Love abounds where forgiveness is practiced.  
It doesn't take strength (to forgive), it takes love. Love for yourself more than anything.Unforgiveness allows the sin of others to change us. We become defined by their transgressions. It leaves us stuck in a perpetual cycle of pain.
The enemy uses our unforgiveness to create confusion, hate, bitterness and defeat.  
We may rage against evil forged in the fire of injustice, but in the process, we are consumed by it as well.  
Either we begin to believe we're unworthy and deserve the pain, or we become embittered and closed off by the injustice.  
Sin wounds and heals. Forgiveness heals and restores. We are freed from our hurt." 
Another layer to Spillman's worldbuilding is a very clever feature called AIM, Awakened Incident Manual. Snippets of this manual head each chapter. These snippets add further information to the nature of the Awakened, the UD, the battle between them, how the Awakened are to act and other relevant info. This is effective as it does not interrupt the main plot arcs and pace, as they would if included therein, making these two elements disjointed and fragmented. Seeing this has become part of the structure of this novel, I pray Spillman continues this in the series. I have come to enjoy this feature. 

In many novels, names are either created to sound good, fit the character, place or event but have no meaning to these elements. Not so in this novel. Spillman has used names that are appropriate to the role of the character. What this does is add depth and purpose to these characters and strengthens the plot. An example here is the mysterious character, Renaud Christian Yount, 
Renaud was his current name, but his birth name was Melech Sroel Abraham...... he selected names that meant something special. His birth name, Melech, meant "king." His current name meant "counsel"....... Merikh means "death"
My only concern is in regard to a character, Damijana. She is extracted physically from the terrorist organisation she belongs to by Ariella (Awakened operative) and the reasons were given for this extraction but Spillman has not taken this to its implied conclusion. What becomes of her once she is now in the Awakened camp? The role of SOAR is to bring out the best in humanity, and this was their aim in extracting or kidnapping her from the terrorist group, but this subplot relating to this character is left unfinished. I can only hope that this is addressed in the next novel. I just feel that this derailed the plot somewhat.

I also recommend downloading the short story on Spillman's website called, "Dusted" that gives a more detailed account of how the Awakened eliminate the UnDead.

The Discussion Questions at the end of the novel are worth investigating and reflecting upon if only for your own sake.

The Sneak Peak at Ascension, Book Two whets the appetite for this series continuation. We will have to wait until August 2019 for this one. 

All in all, I am very impressed with this novel. Spillman has crafted a strong base with excellent worldbuilding, characters who are relational and endearing, intriguing speculative elements and one spiritually uplifting and entertaining ride. 

Highly Recommended.

The three ratings below are based on my discernment: 

World Building 5/5

Characters 5/5

Story 5/5

The two classifications below are based on the booklet, A Spiritual System for Rating Books by David Bergsland: 

Spiritual Level 4/5

Enemy Spiritual Level 4/5

Overall Rating: 4.6/5

To buy or preview this novel, click on the BUY/PREVIEW icon below: 

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Guest Blogger: David Bergsland: Yes, Powerful Christian Writing Requires Anointing.

When I started reading Christian fiction in 1995, I just wanted to be entertained. This was a carryover from reading secular fiction to which I had become very disillusioned. Even my favourite author, Clive Cussler was not cutting it with me any more. 

One of the first Christian fiction novels and the first edgy, speculative Christian fiction novels I read was Dwellers by Roger Elwood. I was taken by the question posed by the author concerning the possibility of redemption for the Nephilim described in Gen 6:1-4. Not only was I entertained but my faith was strengthened, I was spiritually uplifted and an interest in apologetics was born. I was impressed by Elwood's use of biblical theology and doctrine to answer this question concerning the Nephilim.

What Elwood achieved in this novel showed me that God uses the Christian author's talent, creativity and imagination to not just entertain, but educate, uplift and show how biblical theology, doctrine and principles can be applied to answer issues of this fallen world and much more. I have read more than enough Christian fiction across its diverse genres to see how God has used Christian authors to show: 

  • who He is, 
  • the many aspects of His character, 
  • His plan of salvation and redemption for mankind, 
  • angelology and demonology, 
  • relying on God through difficult and trying circumstances, 
  • how to develop faith and trust in God, 
  • encouraging others, 
  • spiritual warfare, 
  • being true to yourself, 
  • standing up for what is right, 
  • Godly romance, 
  • sex and sexuality.
  • controversial issues

The power of story. Jesus used story-telling in the form of parables to show us how to live as He originally planned for us.

From my diverse reading, I have experienced the following benefits from Christian fiction and its authors and it is what I pray I continue to experience: 
  • it has entertained me immensely, 
  • it has encouraged my walk with God, 
  • it has not deviated from biblical doctrine, and it will not, I discern, lead a non-believer astray or promote false doctrine, 
  • it honours God, 
  • it has educated me on a particular issue and has challenged my thinking on it and encourages me to seek God further regarding this issue
  • it does not encourage worship of the created (eg angels) instead of the Creator (God).

However, for an author achieve the above, it appears to me that the Christian author would need to be writing for God, under His guidance, and be a willing conduit for Him to deliver His message in their writing. 

My experience is also shared by author David Bergsland. He discusses this further in the following blog post. I post it here as encouragement to other authors and to readers. It is posted here with David's permission. It post can also be found on his website, Reality Calling.

Thanks for continuing to help us spread the word about all the incredible Christian authors of the 21st century. These are holy warriors in the final harvest. Click here to enlist: YeeHaw!
The not-often discussed truth that powerful Christian writing requires anointing reveals your path as a writer for the Lord. Jesus was not kidding when He said, “…without Me you can do nothing.” I don’t care how facile you are with words and turns of phrase. Your wit will not change lives. At best, it will convince readers that you are wonderful. At worst, it will distract readers from repentance.

First, how do we recognize powerful Christian writing — non-fiction or fiction?

Easily. Excellent and powerful Christian writing transforms lives, brings repentance, offers comfort, edifies the reader, and/or offers the Baptism of the Spirit to broken and needy people. Backsliders reexamine themselves. The heathen is convicted of sin. Readers’ hearts are opened to the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
The difficulty, of course, comes with finding testimonies. They come from reviewers, commenters, and readers. However, simply asking the Holy Spirit to show you solves that problem quickly. In fact, the Holy Spirit is the core of the whole process.

So, how do you get the Holy Spirit to produce powerful Christian writing through you?

“You ask for it. You ask sincerely, humbly, and fervently before you write—every time you write—that the Holy Spirit will take your thoughts and words and make them into rhema for your readers. You pray that your flesh and old self will be kept out of the way and that you can be a channel for the Holy Spirit now. You pray you can be given the ability to convey truth which will not mislead. When you have prayed for wisdom and anointing, then you can write freely, trusting He will do what He promised. Without this power applied to your writing, it is just a career choice. If writing is your calling and your ministry, it will be worthless without the power of the Holy Spirit transforming your work. This anointing is essential.” Bergsland, Writing In Holiness: While Keeping It Real (pp. 13-14). Radiqx Press. Kindle Edition.

The Holy Spirit anoints if you ask — BUT…

You must allow it. This is not automatic writing where a spirit takes over and controls your flesh. You ask Him to use you, listen carefully, and write with an attitude of awe and wonder. Even then, you may not recognize the anointing upon your writing. It’s not for you, but others. Sometimes I am aware I wrote something beyond my ability. But, often I have no idea until I hear testimonies.
I’m grateful for that. I don’t need the swollen head, for I did little except to try to allow the Spirit to convert my writing to rhema. He gets the glory for the power comes from him. But, there’s a lot more to it than you being anointed.

It’s not about you

Who do you work for? Who called you to be a writer? For some of you, the answers are: you work for yourself and your decision to be a writer was a personal one. If so, I’m not talking about you or to you. I’ve written extensively about the various spiritual levels of Christian fiction in my foundational book, A Spiritual System for Rating Books
As I wrote there, transformational power is generally not available in any book offering less than Redemptive or Spirit-filled stories. But for this article specifically and this Website generally, I am speaking to authors who believe God has called them to write.
…my vision is to help you understand that your call to write is very important. It is part of the effort He is putting out to save everyone possible before it is too late. My vision is to encourage you in that, and to provide you with the knowledge necessary to communicate clearly with your writing. Typography, page layout and book design are the tools of your trade just as much as excellent dialog, compelling characters, immersive worlds, and carefully crafted stories.
I am not called to talk you into feeling guilty if your books are not forceful sermons—dragging your readers kicking and screaming from Hell into Heaven. Preaching doesn’t work in books. Manipulation by guilt is fleshly at best and often sin. Quoting scripture is only appropriate in scenarios where you would naturally do so in real life with your friends and acquaintances. Just like friendship evangelism, you learn what your reader needs and fulfill it. You listen to them, come to understand them, answer their questions, and gently lead them to the Truth. Only the Holy Spirit can enable them to act upon that Truth. All you can do is provide access to it. We are teacher/storytellers not master/slave drivers. We lead by example and the clear statement of reality toward Truth and the acceptance of that reality. Bergsland, David. Writing In Holiness: While Keeping It Real (pp. 14-15). Radiqx Press. Kindle Edition.
Powerful Christian writing has a definite place helping prepare for the soon-coming return of our King and Messiah—commonly known as Jesus of Nazareth, in English. God has strongly called several, even many, authors to bring the Gospel to hard-to-reach readers of speculative fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, and action-adventure.
In this reality, our question becomes simple: what do you want me to do, Lord? If we are called by Him to write, we must follow His lead in accomplishing this. It’s not about you, but about the Lord—and those sheep to whom He wants you to speak. You get to experience His power to make your book better, more realistic, and powerful. It’s a real rush.
But never forget: you work for Jesus to serve His people, those readers He has given you to be shown the Truth of the Gospel in your books.