The older I get, the less I enjoy surprises. It isn’t so much that I like everything in life to be thoroughly planned and executed, but more that surprises are almost invariably disappointments. The Tribulation Force books surprised me. With all the praise surrounding the series, I expected more than was there. The characters were cookie-cutter heroes and villains and the plot was completely lacking in…well…surprises. It’s a good and inspiring story, but its literary quality–or rather its lack of it–disappointed me. And, unfortunately, it’s not alone. It is probably a good thing for the genre that there has been an almost unbroken string of apocalyptic films and novels over the last few decades. Without the constant attention, I doubt that many would think twice about the Antichrist or the Mark of the Beast. There certainly hasn’t been anything memorable about any of these works individually.
Not like other genres such as romance, which has Gone With the Wind, and westerns, which have The Virginian, and fantasy, which has The Hobbit. Over my relatively short lifetime, I have read thousands of books, most of them science fiction and fantasy novels. Out of all those books there are a very few which I remember clearly–perhaps one in a few hundred. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and its accompanying Lord of the Rings Trilogy; Dan Simmons’ The Fall of Hyperion; Lewis’ That Hideous Strength. Jewels of literature that are completely unforgettable.
That’s why I really didn’t expect very much when James BeauSeigneur first contacted me about his Christ Clone Trilogy. From the title, it was obviously another end-times, antichrist story. I was certain he had read my last review of an end-times novel, and, believe me, it wasn’t flattering. When I saw the publisher’s name, SelectiveHouse, I was impressed even less. Who is SelectiveHouse? A low budget job, for sure. The cover graphics didn’t boost the books’ first impression. But you know what they say about covers.
With a sigh of resignation, I sat down to begin the first of the series, In His Image. By page one sixty-seven, I already knew that I could sum up the entire series in a single word: Surprise! Apocalypse fans, here is your Hobbit. Every turn was unexpected. The characters were real. The plot was real. And never have I seen the Seven Seals broken with such clarity and imagination–if you think you know darkness, think again.
In His Image follows the life of Decker Hawthorne through the historical examination of the Shroud of Turin in 1978, three years as the hostage of Lebanese terrorists, the Disaster and the ensuing oscillations of the world through chaos, peace, and to chaos again. But to focus on Hawthorne’s life is to see only one of many levels of plot. Several years after the trip to Italy, a scientist discovers live skin cells on a sample taken from the Shroud. Cloning these cells results in discoveries that lead to treatments for cancer, AIDS, and many other diseases. It also leads to Christopher Goodman.
Goodman is one of the few characters that take time to become real. At first he was very two-dimensional. With a few exceptions, his actions and dialogue were predictable. But as you watch him grow up–the first book covers a span of about 33 years–he becomes genuinely likeable. He seems a good man, through and through.
There are several characters I instinctively distrusted. Robert Milner, a New Age mystic and the Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, and Jon Hansen, the Secretary-General, come immediately to mind. But a hallmark of a superior writer is the ability to make you see the good in the bad guys and the bad in the good guys. It’s difficult for me to imagine sympathizing with anyone who would promote the United Nations, but by the end of the book I was pleasantly surprised to be thinking of Jon Hansen in the same light as Dag Hammerskjold. How do such good men come to such power in such corrupt organizations?
But the surprises don’t end there. In His Image holds surprises in the characters and in their individual stories. The second book, Birth of an Age, holds surprises of a different sort. The fulfillment of the prophecies of Daniel, John, and others begin coming at a faster pace, but rarely in the form I expected. The Seventh Sign, The Stand, The Omen, and Rosemary’s Baby all stand out for their complete disregard of Biblical prophecy. Tribulation Force tries to remain Biblically true, but fails for lack of depth and imagination. BeauSeigneur has no problem in either department. You can follow along in John’s Revelation, but you will still not know what’s coming next. Every prophecy is fulfilled in ways I would never have expected, but that, in retrospect, make so much sense. I won’t pretend to be a prophecy expert, but if you subscribe to evangelical eschatology–or for that matter, even if you don’t believe in prophecy at all–you won’t be able to stop reading. I read the first book in about one week. I read the second book in one night, and the third, Acts of God, in another night.
Birth of an Age kept me guessing as to who were the good guys and who were the bad guys. Acts of God left no doubt. While a little wordy at times, it was fascinating to watch all the threads come together into this complex tapestry. With vast portions of the planet completely uninhabited after two nuclear wars and a series of astronomical disasters, the Beast is finally revealed.
BeauSeigneur is not a perfect writer. His form and structure isn’t perfect. His characterization isn’t perfect. But it’s so close you might not even notice. These are some of the few books about which I can honestly say, “Wow!”
-jay carper, January 17, 2000
SelectiveHouse Publishers can be found at www.selectivehouse.com or at P.O. Box 10095, Gaithersburg, Maryland 20898, or by calling 1-800-CLONE-99 (orders only, please).