I hope you’re enjoying the holiday season. I’m sharing some reviews I realised I’d accumulated, as I want to take a bit of time to think about the blog, but wanted to have featured most of the reviews before that, although I’ll carry on with reviews for sure.
Today I come to share one of those books that are difficult to catalogue but once you’ve read is impossible not to think and talk about it.
In The Shadow of David (The Secret Rebellion Book 1) by Martin Baggen
A thoroughly innovative reworking of “the greatest story ever told.”
Readers have heard tales from the life of Jesus so many times, in the Bible and a bevvy of other ancient texts, it’s a wonder that anyone has anything left to say about it. Yet nothing can stop modern authors—from Norman Mailer to Anne Rice to José Saramago to Philip Pullman—from returning to this fertile story. In Baggen’s debut, readers get yet another take on Christ’s life, yet this one feels truly original. In brief, it reimagines the familiar New Testament narrative as a sort of political thriller in which Jesus—or Yeshua, as he’s called here—is less the Son of God than a charismatic insurgent. (Think Dan Brown with more than a hint of Vince Flynn.) Working by Yeshua’s side, or sometimes behind his back, are Yohannan (John the Baptist), Yehudah (Judah), Miriam, Nicodemus, and a handful of other disciples and allies. Baggen tells his story not only through Yeshua’s eyes but also from supporting characters’ perspectives—an excellent narrative decision that lends the novel complexity and depth. Furthermore, and much to his credit, the author offers historical details that make Jesus’ story both more and less unique, noting that Jesus was just one of many messianic figures wandering Palestine; that there were other new religious movements, such as the Essenes and Gnostics, competing with early Christianity; and that many other upstarts’ lives came to an end on a cross. Perhaps the story’s only real weakness is that it sometimes pales in comparison to the original, with which it tacitly competes. The Bible’s style is striking in its austerity, simplicity, and accessibility, and Baggen’s prose, by contrast, is occasionally wordier than it should be. That said, this rookie effort stands sturdily on its own.
A Gospel retread but one that’s provocative, tense, and exciting.
In his audacious debut novel, In The Shadow Of David; The Secret Rebellion, Martin Baggen offers a thoroughly original retelling of the story of Jesus, taking the biblical “Son of God” and shrinking him down to size – the size of a man. The story, told, like the Bible, through various points of view, sweeps readers along through the now familiar series of events of Jesus’ life, his miracles explained as clever tricks achieved by mortals. The plot thickens when Jesus is arrested, leading to an explosive climax. This well-researched and exciting book – part sweeping epic, part political thriller — gives readers a fresh and provocative take on the tale of Jesus.
-Greg Mandel, author of “High Hat,” and “The Palin Prophecies: Apocalypstick Now”.
A young, rightful queen returns from exile to her homeland. Her mission is to reclaim her country from the grip of an oppressive foreign occupation. To achieve her goal, she must find a king. Her quest leads to a charismatic and gifted man who possesses the ability to help her lead a nation to freedom. But the mission comes at a cost greater than anyone can predict, and the misunderstood legacy of their secret rebellion will endure for thousands of years. A failed political movement that gave birth to a new religion.
Thanks to NetGalley and the author for offering me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.
This novel will polarise readers. Because of its rewriting (or perhaps reinterpreting) the facts of the life of Jesus (or Yeshua in the book) committed Christians might find it difficult to read (if not altogether offensive). Entire episodes of the life of Christ depicted as sleights-of-hand set in order to gather support and get all Jews together under a Leader will sound irreverent at the very least.
Those readers with no particular attachment to Christian beliefs might have other issues with the novel. The story is told from many different points of view, alternating but not always in the same order, by characters whose names are sometimes very similar. Especially at first, this might be confusing, as we are not sure where we are or who is talking to us. Readers who have at least a superficial working knowledge of the Bible will come to identify many of the historical figures/characters that appear in the novel, although I personally think a cast of characters with brief information and perhaps identifying them by the names they are best known would help.
All the characters are intriguing, especially to people who might have read very different versions of them. I particularly enjoyed Myriam (Mary Magdalen), who in this version is a shaker and mover, a thinking woman, and one determined to get her people out of the Roman clutches. She’s strong, independent, determined, and takes charge of her destiny without hesitation (although there are doubts, unavoidably so). Yeshua is difficult to reconcile with the image I have of Jesus, but that doesn’t make him any less interesting (perhaps more interesting even). The book is quite short and although there is no time spent delving deeply into each character, there is enough to whet readers’ appetites and to make us hope for more development in future instalments.
The book doesn’t provide lots of detail about the places visited and is not heavy on descriptions. On the other hand, it does a good job at portraying the politics, the economic relationships and the power struggles between the different players. It manages to give an utterly modern spin to the conflicts of the time. This is not the history of dusty respectful tomes that only list “facts” but rather, a dynamic and familiar state of affairs that will make us think.
This reimagining of the story of Jesus as a conspiracy/ploy to conquer power and move people might not fit in easily in the category of historical fiction (not enough detail, too many liberties taken, not sure about how closely the language and customs have been adapted from the originals), but as a challenge to our preconceived notions and a new way of looking at a story that perhaps we’ve never dared to question, it succeeds. And it has some pretty amazing characters too. You might like it or not, but I can assure you that if you read it, you won’t forget it in a hurry.
Thanks so much to NetGalley and to the author of the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and like, share, comment and CLICK!