A Modern-Day Viking and Electrician Take on a Genetically Modified Dragon: My Review of James Byron Huggins’ Leviathan

About twenty years ago, while browsing through the fiction section of Reston Regional Library in Fairfax County, Virginia, I discovered James Byron Huggins. The book I picked up that day was Leviathan. It turned me into a Huggins fanboy. Since then, I’ve devoured just about every book Huggins has written, and wish the man would write more frequently! For whatever reason, my wish has not been granted. A couple weeks ago, I re-read Leviathan. It brought back a lot of memories, as I enjoyed the action-packed ride all over again.

Leviathan was Huggins’ third published work. His first, Wolf Story, was an allegorical novel featuring wolves in a titanic battle between good and evil. His second, The Reckoning, is an action-packed thriller that will resonate with fans of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. The difference is that Huggins is friendly to Christianity. Huggins made his name in Christian fiction. And, before becoming a bestselling author, Huggins spent years in Cold War Europe, operating often behind the Iron Curtain, to help people facing religious and political persecution. It was Huggins’ commitment to religious freedom that moved him to write Rora, one of the best works of historical fiction ever written.

Huggins places the story of Leviathan on a remote, frozen island within the Arctic Circle. Scientists and government contractors are engaged in top-secret work to create the ultimate fighting machine, a genetically mutated and refined dragon that echoes the creature “Leviathan” found in the biblical book of Job. It’s hopefully not too much of a spoiler or surprise to say that things go horribly wrong, and the facility’s inhabitants find themselves fighting for their lives against a virtually unstoppable killing machine.

Leviathan is Huggins’ first “man versus monster” book, and it’s a theme he returns to again with Cain, Nightbringer, Sorcerer, and Hunter. And it’s where he truly shines. Two of his monster thrillers, Hunter and Cain, have been optioned for film, but continue to languish in what Hollywood insiders call “Development Hell.”

Leviathan isn’t perfect. Huggins takes a while to roll out his main protagonist (which some book critics say is a no-no). With the exception of Thor (and, yes, the character pretty much resembles that Thor), most of his characters are thinly developed. There are long passages of dialogue and exposition. Some of the technical talk gets a little tedious. Of course, fans of Michael Crichton and Tom Clancy will probably like the techno-talk. Huggins’ virulent distrust of the US government is obvious and comes off as a little too heavy-handed. And…

Some readers have objected to the religious themes in Leviathan. Thor, one of the main supporting characters, is a Catholic priest in exile on the island. He’s also a scholar of languages and literature, and he gets a little preachy about God, Satan, the Bible, and…dragons. Huggins’ premise, voiced by Thor, is that many of the dragon stories found in ancient literature should be taken seriously.

Still…even with the above issues…Leviathan is an extremely entertaining ride. Huggins is an incredible wordsmith, especially when it comes to describing monsters and action sequences. Here’s just one passage from Huggins’ book:

“Leviathan began to awaken, rising. A thick tail uncoiled, whipping out suddenly to the rear, revealing the four long, thick-tendoned legs that ended in wicked feet, reptilian claws gleaming darkly to grapple stones softened by the unimaginable heat of its sleep. Then, from a protective position beside its chest, the long neck straightened as it stood, head rising, rising, lifting sixteen feet above the cavern floor on the armored neck, stretching. And then it lowered its head again as the malevolent green eyes opened, glowing eerily.”

Yeah, one of the sentences is kind of a run-on. But if you love monster thrillers, you have to appreciate the image spun up in your mind by Huggins’ prose. And it only gets better.

It is worth noting that the above scene takes place about 38% into the Kindle version of the book. Aside from a brief teaser at the beginning, the story takes a while to build up. But once it gets going…once Leviathan awakens in the scene described above…the book becomes a roller coaster thrill ride. The action at times is breathtaking. And just when you think it can’t get more intense, it does.

If you enjoy science fiction or monster thrillers, you need to pick up a copy of Leviathan. I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

Be Careful What You Wish For: A Short Story With a Moral Lesson

Antonio walked along the beach, scouring the sands and the pebbles for shells, washed up by the sea’s relentless, ever moving water.  He spotted one, half buried, and bent to pick it up, but it had been broken, shattered by some sea creature or smashed against a rock.  Looking ahead, he noticed the dull sun’s glare glinting off something dull and metallic a few yards down the beach.  He glanced back and forth.  Searchers with metal detectors had combed this area not long ago but they hadn’t found it.  Odd. He rose to his feet to investigate.

He drove his fingertips into the wet sand, scratching against the surface of the rounded object, until he found a handle. He tugged.  Not quite enough.  He dug some more until at last the shape was revealed.  It was a lamp.  An old lamp, of the style a genie came out of in all the stories.  Antonio laughed.  It was almost too bizarre to be real.  He opened the lid of the lamp.  Full of sand.  He carefully poured the sand onto the beach and stared at the thing. What did all the movies say?  Try to clean it?  He rubbed the lamp against the bottom of his t-shirt, only a tiny part of his mind daring to hope a genie would pop out. Nothing happened, of course.

“A thousand pardons young sir, but I believe that is mine.” Antonio turned to see a tall, dark haired man.  Dressed all in white, with sandals and a perfectly trimmed black beard, he looked like many of the rich tourists the boy had seen that day. The boy laughed.

“So, you’re a genie?” He joked.  “And you grant three wishes?”  The man eyed him gravely, his lips pursed in a frown, his eyes hidden behind expensive black sunglasses.   Before Antonio could move, the man made a subtle motion with his fingers. A whirlwind, appearing out of thin air, whipped across the beach. It picked up sand and shells and threw them about, scattering beach goers before it dipped out to sea and disappeared.

“No, and no.” The tall man responded shortly. “Do not mock the Jinn, boy.”  Antonio clutched the lamp, suddenly afraid.  The man’s lips softened a little. “I do not grant wishes,” he smiled. “But I can make you a bargain.”  He pointed to the lamp in the boy’s hands. “I will grant you three requests, for the lamp.”

Antonio nodded. This was more like what he had expected. He tried to think of all the things he could wish for.  The most logical thing seemed to be money. But then he thought of the house his family lived in.  His parents were always complaining about how run down it was, and how it could use repairs.  He could get a new mansion for them to live in!

“I request a mansion, a beautiful mansion for my family to live in.  With a hundred rooms.”  He thought frantically. “And a pool.”  The man nodded with a small smile on his face.

“Done.”

Excited, Antonio raced home. But when he got there, he found it surrounded with police cars, their sirens had been turned off but their lights were flashing.  His mother and father were safe, but the neighbors were in the front yard, screaming at them. His father was trying to placate the woman, trying to explain that he didn’t know how a pool had appeared in her living room, but that he was certain it was all a mistake. Antonio stared at the mansion.

It was bigger than he had expected, filling not only the space where his home had once stood, but also the entire yard as well as the neighbors’ yards on all sides! One by one, they had come home, seen what had happened and called the police — or started to fight.  Antonio’s heart sank.

“This appears less than ideal.” The Jinn’s voice came from behind Antonio.  He whirled to see the white clothed man standing there. A small smile was toying about the edges of his dark beard.

“You did that on purpose!” The boy pointed a finger at the man and shouted.

The Jinn shrugged. “I merely granted your request.” He spoke innocently. “The consequences are your own.” Antonio had a thought come to him.

“I wish…” The Jinn frowned and the boy changed his phrasing. “I request that the mansion be tall instead of wide.” The Jinn pointed a long dark finger, and Antonio quickly added “And all the neighbor’s houses be fixed.”

Before his very eyes, like Legos reassembling, pieces of the mansion moved and changed and set one on top of the other until it became a large building ten stories high. The neighbors, who were still shouting at his parents, watched in awe as their own houses were restored to their previous shapes and sizes. They stopped shouting and meekly returned to their homes.  The police officers, shook their heads, and walked back to their cars, relieved that the shouting was over.

Antonio smiled at the Jinn, who merely nodded in response. The boy started towards his parents, ready to explain to them what had happened, when a long-sleek black car pulled up next to the driveway. A blonde woman with short tightly wound hair stepped out, dressed in a crisp suit, and dark sun glasses.

She called out to Antonio’s parents. “It has come to the attention of the Internal Revenue Service that you have come into the possession of a mansion worth 2.4 million dollars, and yet we have no record of you earning any such money. The IRS and the FBI are both launching investigations.”

The boy’s parents stammered and tried to explain that they had no idea where the mansion came from, but the woman merely held up her hand. “You realize that attempting to defraud the government is a felony, punishable by up to twenty years in prison correct?”

His parents tried to explain that they didn’t know where the mansion had come from, and they hadn’t defrauded anyone but the woman only nodded and demanded to be shown their receipts.  Antonio’s father led the way into the mansion.  The boy turned to the Jinn, sadly. He knew what he had to do.

“You can put everything back the way it was right?” The dark man merely looked at him behind his sunglasses.  His face expressionless as he nodded.

“Okay, I request you put everything back the way it was.” The dark bearded man smiled and nodded once. By the time Antonio turned around his old home was back and the woman from the IRS had disappeared. The lamp had disappeared from the boy’s clutched finger tips and the Jinn now held it in his hands, but Antonio didn’t care about that.

He ran into the house, happy to be home. His home.

****

The moral of this story is as simple as it is obvious. Everything is connected in life. We may think we want something – be it lots of money or a big mansion. But these things can’t just be handed to us by a genie. And even if they could, there would be consequences. You cannot escape the Law of Cause and Effect. Nor can you approach life only thinking of yourself. You must consider how your choices and actions will affect others. 

The dreams you cultivate and the goals you set must be done with awareness, wisdom, sensitivity to others, and a commitment to self-discipline. Otherwise…

Be careful what you wish for. 

*****

For my Christian readers who may object to a story about a genie, please read…

“Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Christianity: Is it Wrong to Read Fantasy Books and Stories?”

Prince of Mangar: An Action-Packed Fantasy Serial (My First Fiction Serial on Wattpad)

Nathan Ransford’s eyes burned with sweat. Real warriors don’t sweat this much, do they? Yet here he was, decked out in full armor, sitting atop a white stallion….and sweating profusely.

The youngest son of the king, Nathan was about to take part in his first battle. Shifting uncomfortably in the saddle, Nathan looked over at his older brother, Philip Ransford, Crown Prince of the Mangarian Federation. Approaching his thirtieth year, Nathan’s oldest brother was both regal and relaxed on his war mount. Strong as an ox, and devilishly handsome, Philip was an objec23t of desire for women and a source of envy for men.

Why Philip wasn’t sweating was something Nathan couldn’t explain. Nathan’s sweat was driving him crazy. Sure, his helmet was open-faced, as were all Mangarian helmets. But he would still have to remove it to get to his forehead. And then there was the matter of his gauntlets. Running a metal glove over his head wouldn’t do much good. And the idea of half-undressing on the battlefield to deal with his perspiration didn’t seem too gallant or heroic. Basically, he’d have to deal with it.

Trying to take his mind off his discomfort, Nathan allowed his gaze to follow a scavenger gliding effortlessly through the cloudless sky. It was as if it anticipated the carnage about to be unleashed below. As if it knew there would be plenty to flesh upon which to feed.

Nathan and Philip, mounted on horseback and resplendent in their silver armor and crimson capes, sat on a hill overlooking the spirited rebel army beneath them. Nathan detected only a slight movement of Philip’s head as the Crown Prince surveyed the field below. Behind them were 1,500 Mangarian footmen, formed precisely in three lines. The Mangarian infantry were bolstered by approximately 300 archers and 500 cavalry. Red Eagle banners flew proudly above them.

Forming up on the lush plain below were bands of Falendor warriors, attired in padded leather shirts, a smattering of kilts or leggings, and the occasional helmet or shield. Their faces painted for war, they raised their swords and pikes in defiance of the army on the hillside overlooking them. They chanted, banging their shields and stomping their feet. Nathan watched as Falendor warlords circulated among them, barking for their warriors to adjust their lines.

“Numbers?” asked Philip.

“Our scouts count nearly 3000 rebels, your highness,” replied the cavalry commander, General Lochlan.

Philip turned to Nathan, said, “Brother, attend to your archers.”

Nathan nodded tightly, betraying his nervousness. He blinked his eyes several times, trying to clear his vision from the stinging sweat.

“Easy, my brother,” Philip said, placing his arm on his younger brother’s shoulder. “Glory and honor.”

Nathan looked on in glowing admiration as his brother cantered forward, whipping his sword from its scabbard in one graceful sweep. He then spun his horse around to face his army.

“Brothers in arms!” bellowed the crown prince. “Today, we restore justice in this province and bring honor to our Federation!”

Cheers echoed from the ranks. Nathan’s heart swelled.

“Places!” shouted Philip. Officers spread out to their respective positions. The army began to ripple with activity, making its pre-battle adjustments.

You can continue reading Prince of Mangar for FREE at Wattpad. 

Is Truth Dead? How Postmodernism is Reshaping Our Society (and Not for the Better)

Is Truth dead?

That was the question asked by TIME magazine in their March 2017 cover story. Their cover mirrored one of their most famous from 50 years ago, in which they famously asked the question: Is God dead?

The answer to the question about whether Truth is dead seems to be…

YES

And it goes much deeper than Donald Trump or any of our politicians.

The reality is that, when it comes to politics, entertainment, sexuality, gender, education, and religion, the entire concept of “truth” has been reduced to little more than individual opinion and/or societal consensus. While there may be a few hold-outs clinging to traditional thought or old-fashioned mores, the prevailing consensus in most of western society is that truth is relative and must evolve to serve the desires of each person and/or generation. Douglas Groothuis, author of Truth Decay, writes that “the very idea of absolute, objective and universal truth is considered implausible, held in open contempt or not even seriously considered.”

Lest we underestimate the significance of this “truth decay,” Francis Beckwith and Gregory Koukl argue that the infection has decimated our very sense of moral awareness. In their book Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air, Beckwith and Koukl write: “Ours is a generation that has institutionalized moral relativism. We’ve cut our eye-teeth on the philosophy that life’s most sublime goal is to be happy and that virtually any means justifies this self-serving end.”

If Groothuis, Beckwith, and Koukl are correct in describing our culture (and I believe they are), then the reality is clear: postmodernism and relativism have won. Their victory is complete. They reign supreme throughout western culture and society, and their reign is not likely to end anytime soon, if ever.

With each new generation, society further embraces the notion that Truth is simply what you make it. In an article for LifeSite News, Jonathon Van Maren writes: “The vast majority of millennials now believe that each person can define reality for his or herself.”

A few days ago, I published a short book on Wattpad* that explores the demise of truth – and what it portends for the rest of us. The book can be read at NO cost on your PC or mobile device. While I respect everyone’s right of conscience and free expression, I nevertheless believe we must all face up to what we’ve done with the nature of truth. It’s my hope that my short (and free) book, The Death of Truth, will contribute to that important discussion.

 

*Wattpad is an online storytelling community where users post written works such as articles, stories, fan fiction, and poems. They can be enjoyed on your PC or mobile device.

Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Christianity: Is it Wrong to Read Fantasy Books and Stories?

I was a good kid. Most of the time. I had a pretty good reputation with my teachers during my school days. (Since a few of my past teachers might read this blog post, I will qualify that statement by saying there were exceptions. And there’s no need for any teacher to publicly point out those exceptions here. Ahem. Moving on… 🙂 ).

Since I was generally a good kid and didn’t get into trouble much, I was puzzled when my third grade teacher pulled me aside one day and told me not to bring my Star Wars comic book back to school any more. I had been proudly showing it around to my friends. I was a huge Star Wars fan. And this was the 1970s, so the Star Wars craze was just catching on! When I asked him why, he replied with words I’ve never forgotten…

“It’s of the devil.”

The devil? As in Satan!? Satan is behind Star Wars?

To put this into context, I was a student at a private Christian school in Fairfax, Virginia. I would attend this school from third grade all the way through my senior year of high school. Lest I be misunderstood, I have many fond memories of this school and I deeply respect this third grade teacher, who was a big influence in my life. The fact that I disagree (very strongly) with him on this particular issue doesn’t change the fact that I think he is a wonderful man. And I will forever be grateful to him.

My third grade teacher’s opinion (which, admittedly, may have changed in the decades since) was consistent with the strict, conservative Baptist culture of which our Christian school and church was a part. And to this day, there are many Christians who would agree with him. Many Christians today condemn any forms of science fiction or fantasy that involve make-believe magical or supernatural powers, whether we’re talking about Star Wars or Harry Potter. And while many Christians will stop short of condemning science fiction and fantasy books or movies, they are nevertheless uncomfortable with them. And this includes some Christians who enjoy fantasy and science fiction. They enjoy it, but feel guilty for enjoying it. This blog post is written for them.

As a side note…if you are not a Christian, you will probably find this entire subject laughable. If you don’t believe in God, I would encourage you to skip this article and instead watch this video where Dr. William Lane Craig lays out the evidence for God. For the rest of you, I welcome you to read on…

The Bible and Witchcraft

Virtually all Christians have a deep respect for the Bible, and evangelical Christians largely agree that the Bible is the word of God. Bible-believing Christians hold that to disagree with the Bible is to disagree with God. So when the Bible says we are to avoid “mediums” and “necromancers” (Leviticus 19:31) and that “sorcerers” will ultimately be sent to the “lake that burns with fire and sulfur” for all eternity (Revelation 21:8), they take that seriously! And since the Bible also tells us to “avoid the appearance of evil” (I Thessalonians 5:22), many Christians conclude, while others at least sense or feel, that even fictional depictions of sorcery and magic should be avoided.

Let’s pause here and make something very clear: Christians believe God is real and that He has spoken through the Scriptures (i.e., the Bible). Devout Christians believe in heaven, hell, angels, and demons. They believe the supernatural is as real as the natural, and they believe we should take seriously the Bible’s teachings and warnings on the subject. If you’re not a Christian, you may find this entire discussion odd, but please understand that Christians (including yours truly) take God and the Bible very seriously.

In her book Spellbound: The Paranormal Seduction of Today’s Kids, former astrologer Marcia Montenegro warns that we should not take the occult lightly. She defines the occult as “the set of practices related to contacting spirits or false gods, seeking supernatural power, and claiming ways to uncover hidden or secret knowledge.” In other words, the occult constitutes those practices that the Israelites (in the Old Testament) and Christians (in the New Testament) are told to avoid. Unfortunately, in Montenegro’s view, fantasy and paranormal fiction authors present “the occult arts” as “fun” or “as natural abilities, or worse, as advanced wisdom.” And, in some cases, she says fantasy fiction depicts occult practices as “merely imaginary,” when the reality is quite different.

In his foreword for Montenegro’s book, renowned theologian Norman Geisler writes: “The problem in recognizing the ugly nature of the occult and the paranormal is that it is craftily packaged in such beautiful cultural forms. We laughed at witchcraft in the I Dream of Jaennie TV series in the sixties. We were entertained by it in an exciting space drama in Star Wars beginning in the seventies. Now our teens are spellbound by a charming young wizard, Harry Potter.”

The Witch of Endor (by Adam Elsheimer) was an actual witch in the Bible.

While I deeply respect both Montenegro and Geisler, they aren’t providing the full picture of the Bible’s teachings on this subject. For one thing, the Bible talks about actual sorcery and necromancy. The Bible is silent on the topic of whether it’s okay to tell or listen to stories about sorcerers and magic users.

Author Kersley Fitzgerald explains, “Real supernatural power is either from God or demons – period. Fantasy magic isn’t so straight forward.” Take Christian author Donita K. Paul’s DragonKeeper Chronicles series. Magic is represented as a gift granted by God (or, in her world, Wulder). In Ms. Paul’s fantasy world, God gives some of His followers the gift of magic in the same way He gave some the gift of tongues or the gift of prophecy in our world (see I Corinthians). The DragonKeeper stories are definitely fiction, but the protagonist isn’t tapping into demonic power. Quite the contrary, in fact. Thus, the biblical warnings which Montenegro and Geisler cite simply do not apply to the kind of fantasy literature authored by Donita Paul and others like her.

When it comes to how Christians should approach fantasy and science fiction, I believe it’s instructive to consider the Apostle Paul’s teaching on the subject of meat being offered to idols. (Some of what I’m about to say appeared in my review of Montenegro’s book, so if you read that, this will be a little repetitive). In the first century A.D., it was common in the Greco-Roman world for meat sold in the marketplace to have been set aside as a sacrifice to false gods prior to its sale. Jewish converts to Christ would have nothing to do with this meat. They believed no Christian should ever eat meat that had been offered to or dedicated to false gods. This became a source of contention when more Gentiles joined the church — Gentiles who saw no problem with buying and eating such meat. Paul addressed this controversial issue in I Corinthians 8:

1 Now concerning things offered to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.

2 And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know.

3 But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him.

4 Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one.

5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords),

6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.

7 However, there is not in everyone that knowledge; for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat it as a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.

8 But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse.

9 But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak.

10 For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols?

11 And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?

12 But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.

13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.

Now go back and re-read, only this time, replace the references to eating meat offered to idols with references to reading fiction or watching movies or TV programs with fantasy or paranormal elements. I believe that’s what Paul would say on this subject today.

Can Christians Enjoy Science Fiction and Fantasy?

It depends on the book, movie, or TV program.

To completely dismiss all science fiction and fantasy entertainment reflects an unnecessary knee-jerk reaction that’s more based on fear than discernment. Some fantasy stories, like C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia or J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings, are perfectly fine for anyone to enjoy. Other fantasy literature, like the hugely popular Game of Thrones, is in a different category altogether. Martin incorporates elements into his stories that can only be considered perversion. It’s difficult for me to understand how any Christian can enjoy that series (either in book form or on HBO) with a clear conscience.

Christians need to exercise the same amount of discretion when it comes to fantasy as they do when it comes to any literature. Some fantasy stories are clean, fun, and perfectly harmless. Others should be avoided. And the same is true for any genre of literature, including science fiction, historical fiction, romance, westerns, thrillers, mysteries, and so forth. Some books are fine to read; others, not so much.

This question isn’t simply academic for me. As a lifelong fan of science fiction and fantasy, I am now moving from consumer to producer. In the coming months, I’ll be self-publishing some fantasy stories on Amazon Kindle. I do this, even though I’m a devout, Bible-believing Christian and a pastor. I see no inherent conflict between Christianity and fantasy. As I said before, some fantasy stories are perfectly fine. Others, not so much. I plan to write stories obviously in the former category, and not the latter.

Stay tuned to this blog as I will soon be making a FREE SHORT STORY available for those who subscribe to my email notification list. Those on my list will receive advance notice of upcoming books, including a chance to pick up copies for free. I’ll also include some information on books written by friends and colleagues.

When it comes to what you read and what you watch, the key word is… Discernment.

If any of you have any questions about this topic or about my plans to dive into the realm of fantasy fiction, feel free to send me a note through the contact page.

God bless you!

*******

FYI – On July 8, I published a follow-up piece on this same subject. Check out “Is it Wrong to Read Fantasy Literature?”

Catholic Knights Battle a Demonic Cult: My Review of Steven McKay’s Knight of the Cross

The Knights of St. John battle a satanic cult in Steven A. McKay’s novella Knight of the Cross. Set in 14th century Rhodes, Knight of the Cross serves as a prequel to McKay’s take on the story of Robin Hood. The main protagonist is Sir Richard-at-Lee, a mercenary turned Catholic knight charged with investigating the mysterious disappearance of some of his fellow Hospitaller knights. That investigation leads him, and his loyal sergeant-at-arms, into a terrifying confrontation with a mysterious cult that worships a demon and practices human sacrifice.

Steven McKay hails from Old Kilpatrick, near Glasgow in Scotland. As a writer of historical fiction, McKay credits Bernard Cromwell and Douglas Jackson as among his inspirations. His debut novel Wolf’s Head was a hugely popular new take on the Robin Hood legend and it kicked off his bestselling Forest Lord series. One of the characters in that series is none other than Sir Richard, who serves as the main protagonist in Knight of the Cross. I have not yet read McKay’s Forest Lord series, but after reading Knight of the Cross, I may give it a try. I do enjoy historical fiction, and I’ve always found the Robin Hood legend entertaining.

McKay weaves some supernatural and fantasy elements into Knight of the Cross. Those elements, along with the violence and scenes of human sacrifice, will likely make this novella too disturbing for some readers. It’s certainly not recommended for children. In addition, while ostensibly a Christian novella, McKay has his characters drop the f-bomb a few times. While it may be realistic for battle-hardened warriors to speak with such language, I found it jarring as a Christian reader. Not to mention unrealistic, at least in my opinion, for devout Catholic knights of the 14th century. If one can look past these issues (not that anyone should feel at all obligated to do so), Knight of the Cross is a fast-paced, action-packed read with good (albeit flawed) heroes and thoroughly despicable villains.

My wife and I had the privilege of visiting Rhodes a couple years ago. Part of this story takes place at the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes, a site that our church group visited. Having some of the novella’s scenes depicted in that palace made this story particularly interesting for me.

I do not recommend this book for kids. If I were to give it a rating, it would be PG-13 and possibly R. Some of my Christian readers will not want to pick it up at all. But those of you who enjoy action-packed historical fiction may want to give it a try.

Heroes Fit For The Times: My Flag Day Review of The Revolutionary War Novel Rise to Rebellion

Today is Flag Day, the day Americans celebrate their flag, which was officially adopted June 14, 1777. It seemed fitting that, on Flag Day, we review a book that fits that theme. Jeff Shaara’s Rise to Rebellion fits that bill. Published in 2001, Rise to Rebellion is the first of a two-part series set during the American Revolution.

Readers of historical fiction, especially military historical fiction, will likely recognize the Shaara name. It was Michael Shaara who wrote the classic Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Killer Angels. That book was later the basis of the movie Gettysburg starring Tom Berenger, Martin Sheen, and Jeff Daniels. The Killer Angels was groundbreaking in its brilliant combination of fiction and fact. Michael Shaara died in 1988, but his son Jeff has carried the torch forward, becoming a prolific author of historical fiction novels depicting some of the most violent episodes in America’s military history. The younger Shaara has now written novels set in the Civil War, the Mexican War, the American Revolution, the First World War, the Second World War, and most recently the Korean War. For Flag Day, I felt a look back at Shaara’s Revolutionary War series was most appropriate.

Rise to Rebellion follows several figures from the American Revolution, primarily Benjamin Franklin, John and Abigail Adams, and British General Thomas Gage. It begins to introduce George Washington, who (far and away) becomes the central figure and hero in Shaara’s follow-up The Glorious Cause. With Rise to Rebellion, the main protagonists are John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, two of the greatest statesmen in American history, and arguably world history. What’s interesting about Rise to Rebellion is that Shaara takes us into the politics behind the war and leading up to the war. This was new territory for him, as his previous books focused primarily on the wars themselves.

The book begins with the Boston Massacre and showcases John Adams’ principled defense of the British soldiers put on trial following that tragedy. It also shows how Ben Franklin tried valiantly to prevent war, only to see the situation in London unravel and the Mother Country go to war with its rebellious colonies. And it shows us Gage, a British general who tried to keep peace and order by preventing an ugly situation from spinning out of his control.

Shaara climbs into the heads of these historical figures, allowing them to step out from the dusty pages of the history books we studied in school and come alive. Does he use some creative license in doing so? Absolutely. Does he get all their thoughts exactly right? Probably not. But his painstaking research is obvious, and one gets the feeling that Shaara’s depiction of these famous (in some cases, legendary) historical figures isn’t far off the mark.

Rise to Rebellion is an inspiring book. It doesn’t contain as much military action as The Glorious Cause. Those looking for exciting battle scenes will probably be disappointed by the first half of Rise to Rebellion. But I found Shaara’s depiction of the politics and intrigue to be quite compelling. I thoroughly enjoyed it and would highly recommend it. And of course I likewise recommend The Glorious Cause.

Jannes Comes to America: My Review of James Byron Huggins’ Sorcerer

Michael Thorn and his wife have just moved to the outskirts of Salem, Massachusetts and want to settle into a quiet, semi-normal life. Thorn, a retired detective and former Special Forces operative, has seen enough violence to last several lifetimes. He now wants to focus on his marriage and his children. Unfortunately, the Thorn family’s new digs include the skeleton of one of the most evil sorcerers in history. When Thorn discovers the skeleton, he unintentionally frees the ancient evil to unleash havoc and horror on unsuspecting innocents in what had been a quiet New England hamlet. Such is the premise of James Byron Huggins’ supernatural thriller Sorcerer.

The sorcerer unleashed on the world by Thorn is none other than Jannes — the very sorcerer who faced Moses in ancient Egypt. Jannes is, of course, an actual figure from the Scriptures. That he winds up in North America thousands of years after his failed confrontation with Moses signals that we’re definitely reading fiction. It’s entertaining fiction, but definitely fiction as there is no evidence whatsoever that Jannes and his colleague Jambres ever left Egypt. Huggins goes further, imagining that Jannes was the real power behind Egypt’s throne. Pharaoh was but a puppet to Jannes’ evil scheming and palace intrigue. It is true that the Bible records Pharaoh’s magicians performing “enchantments” (see Exodus 7). If the Bible is true (and I believe it is), then the sorcerers who confronted Moses possessed supernatural powers. Huggins’ novel runs with that biblical claim.

Huggins’ protagonist, Michael Thorn, resembles those from Huggins’ other novels. Brave. Tough. Ex-military. Proficient with firearms. Huggins has lots of experience with this type of protagonist. Like Huggins’ other heroes, Thorn must face extreme odds in a fierce fight between good and evil. Thorn is aided by a devout priest, a wise professor, and a mysterious unit of Special Forces soldiers that report to the Vatican. Whether such a force actually exists, this non-Catholic cannot say. I have my doubts. But, again, Sorcerer is fiction.

As one who loves action-packed novels, I’ve long been a fan of Huggins’ work. While he can sometimes get bogged down in firearms minutiae, Huggins knows how to craft heroic protagonists, evil villains, and thrilling action sequences. If you at all appreciate Christian fantasy or science fiction, I encourage you to pick up Sorcerer.

A Ragtag Crew in an Aging Vessel Save the Galaxy in this Exciting Space Opera Adventure: My Review of Chris Fox’s Destroyer

A misfit crew on an aging warship must save humanity from destruction in this science fiction actioneer from Chris Fox. Released in March 2016, Destroyer is Fox’s debut space opera novel. It’s the first in his self-published Void Wraith Trilogy. What’s it like? Well, if you throw Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, and Mass Effect into a blender, you’d get something along the lines of Fox’s Void Wraith series. Since I enjoy all those sci-fi franchises, I enjoyed Destroyer. I read the book in two days, and am looking forward to continuing with the series.

Chris Fox is an iPhone app developer and self-published author based in San Francisco, California. He’s written numerous books, both fiction and nonfiction. As a novelist, he’s written about spaceships, aliens, werewolves, zombies, and mech warriors. His nonfiction writing is all about helping other authors enjoy some of the same success he has experienced. So far, I’ve read 5,000 Words Per Hour, Write to Market, and Launch to Market. And I’ve watched several of his very helpful videos. What got me interested in Destroyer, in fact, was his video series on how he wrote Destroyer in 21 days. If any of you are interested in writing fiction (or perhaps working on some fiction projects), I encourage you to check out Chris’s helpful resources at http://www.chrisfoxwrites.com/for-writers/

Destroyer‘s main protagonist is Commander Nolan, the newly installed executive officer of the UFC Johnston, an aging destroyer-class vessel. For reasons that become clearer as the story progresses, Nolan lost his cushy job with the Office of Fleet Intelligence and was  exiled to the Johnston. It was an assignment he didn’t ask for, and few on the Johnston appreciate his being there – at least at the story’s outset. Nolan’s commanding officer is the legendary Captain Dryker, hero of the Tigris War, a war the humans lost to the savage feline race. In his sixties, Dryker is beginning to show his age and the rigors of service are catching up with him. Destroyer also features a handful of other characters, including a grizzly female Marine sergeant who chews up her scenes quite well.

The crew of the UFC Johnston are considered rejects and misfits by Fleet Command. Even their famous captain, skipped over for promotion to admiralty, is serving on board because no one back home wants much to do with him. The ship is old and technologically inferior to the vessels with which it interacts. And yet…it’s up to the Johnston to save the galaxy from a looming threat that no one seems to take seriously.

Destroyer has it all: spaceship battles, space marines, political intrigue, suspense, exotic species, and lots of destruction. There’s even a quote from General James “Mad Dog” Mattis thrown in. Fox keeps the story moving at a steady pace. And keeps the reader turning pages, wanting to see what happens next.

If you like space opera science fiction, give it a shot. I doubt you’ll regret it.

The Beginning of the End of Religious Freedom in America (for Christians)

It may be the beginning of the end for religious freedom in the United States of America, at least for evangelical, Bible-believing Christians. Doubt me? Well, earlier this week, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) grilled President Donald Trump’s nominee for the position of Deputy Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget during the latter’s Senate confirmation hearings. To be expected, of course, so long as the grilling was over Russell Vought’s political or economic views. But that’s not what happened. Instead, Senator Sanders came after Vought’s religious views. For a sitting U.S. Senator (as well as a popular presidential candidate in last year’s Democratic Party nomination contest) to publicly and brazenly question an executive department nominee’s theology as a condition for public service should give all Americans serious pause.

In early 2016, Mr. Vought’s alma mater, Wheaton College, was rocked by controversy when one of its professors said Christians and Muslims worship “the same God.” In an article for Resurgent magazine, Mr. Vought defended Wheaton College’s statement of faith, writing that Muslims have a “deficient theology” and “do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.” Now this is certainly offensive talk in our postmodernist age of political correctness. And I fully expect many of my readers (since this blog is aimed at a wide audience, including people who do not share my Christian faith) will be appalled at such a statement. Nevertheless, what Vought said is basic Christian doctrine.

In the third chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus tells Nicodemus (and all those who, for the last 2000 years, have read John): “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18). There’s also John 3:16, John 14:6, Romans 10:9-10 and 13, and numerous other passages — all of which say that Jesus Christ is central to salvation.

The Bible is certainly offensive to many people. That’s why many people have tried to destroy it (unsuccessfully) over the years, but the Bible (and Christianity) have been around for 2000 years. And for most of that 2000 years, Vought’s beliefs would not have been considered controversial or revolutionary. But even if you find Mr. Vought’s religious beliefs offensive, even if you find the Bible offensive…that’s not relevant here. What’s most distressing is that this line of questioning even came up at a U.S. Senate hearing!

The U.S. Constitution clearly states that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” (Article VI, Section 3). That means it’s unconstitutional for a sitting U.S. Senator to consider an executive branch nominee’s religious beliefs when deciding whether to consent to that person’s nomination. For a senator to do otherwise shows (at best) ignorance of or (at worst) defiance of the Constitution of the United States.

Has Senator Sanders not read the Constitution? Who cares what Vought believes regarding heaven, hell, salvation, and the like? It doesn’t matter! The only vested interest the government has in someone’s religious beliefs are whether those beliefs will drive a person to commit violence (that’s actual violence, not the verbal hurt-your-feelings, micro-aggression nonsense so many college campuses are worried about) against their fellow citizens or call for some kind of insurrection against the government. That’s it. A person can believe (and express his belief) in God, Allah, or the atheists’ favorite “Flying Spaghetti Monster,” and it shouldn’t be a matter of consideration for the U.S. Senate.

Thus far, it’s mostly conservatives who are upset at Sanders’ line of questioning, and that’s why I see the writing on the wall for the future of religious freedom. Most of those on the left side of the political spectrum seem to find this line of questioning reasonable and appropriate. If that’s the case, it’s only a matter of time before evangelical, Bible-believing Christians are no longer welcome in the public square.

In this blog, I normally try to steer clear of political commentary. This issue deserves our attention, however. What Senator Sanders did by raising Mr. Vought’s religious views is unconstitutional, un-American, and frankly bigoted toward Christians. Are we going to respect that part of the Constitution or not? Clearly, Senator Sanders is not. And, for that reason, this American is glad he is not our President today.