Fiction Review: R.J. Larson’s “Judge”

I’ve seen modern fantasy takes on the Old Testament prophets before. This one was different, and original, and I greatly enjoyed immersing myself in something that was not predictable.

Jonah, Jeremiah, Samuel; I saw each of their accounts pulled in to the larger story. Yet I didn’t feel like I was just rereading a Sunday school lesson where the names had been changed, and Larson’s created story woven around the parallels kept me intrigued. The universe created by Larson is rich and vivid, well-crafted and full. The different kingdoms, their customs and cultures, the land itself are all well-developed and bring life to the story. I know this is the second novel of a trilogy, and I must tip my hat to the author for not relying on her readers having read her first book to gain context; but also not rewriting everything so readers who start with the second book, as I have, won’t be lost. She found that perfect balance, it pulls the reader in, is well-developed, and the story never lost its footing or pace. I read from beginning to end without feeling bored, and when I put the book down it was with the satisfied feeling you get from a good meal, full and pleasant.

However, there was one major stumbling block for me during my reading. Theologically, this book is at war with itself. This jarred my reading over and over, making me unsure of where the author was trying to head, what the intent and overall purpose she was guiding us to might be. There is a strong battle between the idea of “those who CAN change” as one group and “those who WILL change” as another, and then at times, the book seems to use them interchangeably. The whole overarching theme is that of The Infinite (God’s) mercy toward those who have fallen away, or failed to heed his calling. Yet there are times when the Infinite says “they are condemned”, and then a few chapters later he tells his prophet to cry out to those same people and pray for them, if they repent and turn they will be saved. I am a great fan of stories of redemption, as they point to my Redeemer and Savior, but a story where the God figure rebukes his prophet for praying for the unredeemed made me come away with questions, and dig through my Bible for context.

I liked the book. I probably won’t read through it again, but it’s one I’d give to a friend as an “interesting read”. The theological inconsistencies bother me enough though, that I’m not sure I’d be interested in picking up more of this author’s material, which is a shame, because it’s so very well written.

I received a free copy of this book through the Bethany House Reviewer program.

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