Monday, November 20, 2017

Book Review: Cadain's Watch by Daniella Bova

I must admit I approached this book with trepidation, for two reasons.

My first and most obvious thought was, "Hey, a dystopian novel set in the near-future U.S., told mostly from the points of view of several characters from the resistance movement? That sounds an awful lot like my own novel. How could I possibly enjoy it without constantly making comparisons, for better or worse?"

The second source of hesitation came from the presence of a Christian Angel as a character. I've seen some discussions as to the difficulty of writing real-world (rather than imaginary) religions, in particular Christianity, into fiction. After all, having an all-powerful God explicitly on the side of the heroes removes much of the suspense in the outcome, at least on the macro level. The story can still be great, mind you, but generally speaking it's not what I prefer to read.

That said, I was somewhat familiar with Daniella Bova's writings from a couple of her published short stories, so I decided to give her full-length novel a try.

As it turned out, in spite of superficial similarities of the premise, this novel is nothing like mine, and it's a good thing. If nothing else, it answers the common complaint that nowadays we have too many dystopias, and they're all alike.

Well, not this one.

A few things immediately stand out, before you even get to the supernatural element. The main characters are older, and they have families. It's understandable why most dystopias focus on the young and the unattached. It's hard to rebel against the government, no matter how oppressive, when you have family to feed, and when said government can come after your wife and kids if you step out of line. On the other hand, in reality, people will more readily fight and die for their loved ones than for an idea, and this is the approach this author takes. Yes, there are some characters who join the resistance because it's the right thing to do, but for the most part, it's a timeless tale of hard men in hard times fighting to protect their wives and kids.

Not that women are entirely absent from the story. They also, for the most part, serve the timeless role as protectors, nurturers and teachers, and thus the keepers of civilization in a broken world. At least such are the women on the side of the Light. Some of the main villains are also women, but only nominally so, for by the time we meet them, they have lost all right to be called human, let alone members of the fair sex.

As for the Angel Cadain, he serves as an occasional narrator for the story, both to fill in the blanks in the overall picture and to show us the thoughts and actions of some of the non-POV characters. For that I am grateful because let's face it, there are some heads where you as a reader will not want to spend any time. Does it break the traditional narrative structure? Does it nevertheless make for a more readable story? Yes to both.

To answer my original concern, while Cadain does put the finger on the scales, as it were, to encourage, guide and occasionally outright help the heroes, the actual work is all done by men, and as a result not everything works the way it's planned, not every battle won, and not every heartache avoided. And so, nail-biting suspense scenes abound, even in this setup.

On a side note, while reading this novel, especially the parts with the supernatural element, I was reminded of an article by one of the Jewish scholars on the story of Passover. The miracle of the Parting of the Red Sea is one of the great examples of Divine help given to the righteous. However, some scholars claim that Moses had to first walk into the Red Sea and keep walking until the water was all the way up to his nose, and only then, once he--as a man--had gone as far as he could, did the Miracle occur to take him and the rest of the Jews safely across.

And that's the reason why the novel works on this level. The men fight, struggle and suffer, but there is hope and help available to pull them through, and the reason it doesn't feel like an easy way out is because none of it, not a single action or decision or sacrifice is easy. Every victory comes at a price, and all of it is earned.

Is it a flawless story? No, not really, although for the most part my criticisms are subjective. The pace is slow, and only in part because the author tends to the wordy, but also the writing on the whole is more literary than common to the genre. It's very much "a journey, not a destination" kind of read, and frankly your enjoyment will hinge on how much you like spending time with the characters. To me, the protagonists, both male and female, are easy to like, in spite (because?) of the guys acting like real-life blue collar Americans, complete with love of smokes, whiskey and colorful language. Which reminds me: this is not your typical Christian fiction. There's foul language, occasionally cringe-inducing violence and many scenes and references that are downright disturbing. That is a feature, not a bug, because a dystopia should disturb, even though this one unlike many others also gives you a large measure of hope.

 All in all, it's not "light" reading by any definition, but it's worth your time and emotional investment. Recommended.

Purchase Cadain's Watch on Amazon

Thursday, November 9, 2017

New Release and a Giveaway: MAGA 2020 is Live; Chasing Freedom Free with Purchase

After many months on hard work, the much-anticipated anthology MAGA 2020 and Beyond is available in e-book and paperback versions. This is truly a one-of-a-kind anthology, full of optimistic stories of the future as well as essays by some of the more intriguing thinkers of our day.

Much as I love reading (and creating) dystopian stories, perhaps the time has come to switch gears. Cautionary tales serve their purpose, but if all you are is scared of the future, it's not by itself enough as a motivation to make it better. Occasionally, inspiration is required. I think one of the drawbacks of  a conservative cultural movement is that we, as a rule, are good at pointing out all that is wrong, but not so good at offering a compelling, exciting alternative.

MAGA 2020 and Beyond offers a solid sampling of positive speculative fiction themed around the consequences of Donald Trump's Presidency. I hope it inspires many more works that show us optimistic visions of the future, not only in terms of technological progress but in the way we organize our society and live our day-to-day lives.

That having been said, not every dystopian tale is meant to only scare and depress. My Dragon Awards-nominated dystopian novel Chasing Freedom is a good example of a dystopia that is more uplifting and optimistic than is the norm for the genre. And for a limited time, you can grab an e-copy for free by taking advantage of this promotional deal from Superversive Press.

Purchase MAGA2020 and Beyond on Amazon