Friday, September 01, 2006

Read Relentless

I finished Relentless last night. I hadn't really intended to stay up past midnight reading, but I couldn't put it down. It's a very good book, and Robin Parrish does a lot of things right with it. I'm not sure it falls entirely in the thriller genre -- it could also be called speculative fiction. But however you classify it, it works well on several levels.

First, here's a quick plot summary: An ordinary man suddenly discovers he's been shifted into someone else's body. Not only that, he's got a new name (Grant Borrows), a new apartment, a cool car, some incredible and hard-to-grasp abilities, and some very bad people after him. As Grant learns more about what's happened to him, he finds others like him, as well as some other unexpected help along the way. And he learns that somehow what has happened to him is tied up with an ancient prophecy and a mysterious and secretive organization. Before the end, Grant's life -- and maybe the fate of the world -- will be changed forever.

So, to start with, it's a rousing good story. It really doesn't let up. Sometimes that's not a good thing, but there are enough breaks in the pace to give the reader a chance to catch her breath; and here, the pace of the story seems a function of the plot. Grant Borrows is rushing headlong from one crisis to the next and there's a reason for that, but the full implications don't become clear until the end. There are a lot of surprises along the way -- it's a good idea to remember that much here is not what it seems at first.

As I've said before, I get pulled into a book by the characters. The pace of a book like this doesn't always allow for good character development, but for the most part, Parrish has done a good job. Some of the supporting characters are a little thin, but the main characters are strong and distinct. What I said about the plot above holds true for the characters -- some important characters are not what they seem at first.

But the main reason why I like this book so much is the way it resonates at a deeper level. As Grant's story unfolds, he is forced to come to terms with who he is deep inside; questions are asked and not all of them are answered completely. And, what is probably more surprising about this story than the plot, it's been written from deep within a Christian worldview, but without even mentioning Christianity. I haven't read a lot of Christian speculative fiction, but Parrish seems to be breaking new ground. He's framed the story in modern mythic terms -- the language and conventions of graphic novels and comic books -- but it's no less epic than The Lord of the Rings. (OK, maybe that's a bit of hyperbole, but the story really has an epic feel to it.) Parrish's influences show clearly in the book, but it doesn't feel derivative to me.

One of the challenges for Christian writers is to tell stories infused with faith, but without preaching. Robin Parrish does that here, wonderfully. The story deals with the eternal battle of good and evil (the only Scripture he quotes is from Ezekiel, about Satan being cast out from Heaven), but it also deals with what it's like to live in a fallen world, to deal with the brokenness around you and within you on a daily basis. That's something I want to be able to do, so maybe that's why I'm so excited about what Parrish has done here.

Reading through what I've written so far, I see I've been quite fulsome with my praise. So I suppose a little balance is in order. It's not a perfect book (are there any?). Especially near the end, it feels a little rushed. Sometimes the revelations that help Grant add another piece to the puzzle of his life seem to come at awfully convenient times. There's one subplot that could have been developed a little better. And, like a lot of fast-paced books, the romantic elements seem a little strained, but the blood flows freely. There's a lot of violence, but it doesn't seem gratuitous, and it's handled tastefully. If there's a guy coming after you with a sword, heads are likely to roll (literally). And violence isn't always the option chosen. But overall, this is a well-told story and I recommend it.

And did I say this is the first of a series of three? The next one comes out next summer -- I'm looking forward to it. Want to know more about the book, the series and the author? Here's Robin Parrish's Web site.

I've gotta say, this is one of my favorite books so far this year. Back in January, I said I was looking forward to three books: Deliver Us From Evelyn, Waking Lazarus and Relentless. Now I've read all three and not been disappointed. I don't think you would be, either.

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