Book Reivew: The Gift

The Gift is the second book in Chiveis Trilogy. Crossway sent me a prepublication copy to review. It may be helpful to take a look at my review of The Sword, the first book in the trilogy. In this review, I’ll try to avoid any spoilers.

By way of introduction, Bryan Litfin teaches theology at Moody Bible Institute. This trilogy is his first foray into writing fiction. This trilogy has romance, action and Christian theology nicely put together in the story.

In The Gift I found that Litfin has gotten better at this type of writing. There were a few places in The Sword where I cringed a bit. There was none of that in The Gift. What I hope he grows in in the third installment is in character construction. Though Ana and Teo are no longer in their home kingdom, some of the characters were familiar. Teo’s mentor in The Gift felt very much like his mentor in The Sword. Ana’s flighty girlfriend is very like her flighty girlfriend in the first installment. Their malevolent foe in Ulmbartia seems a lot like the one they left behind in Chiveis. This didn’t ruin the story but it did give it a somewhat familiar feel. Also, as happened in The Sword, strangers trust our hero and heroine too quickly and easily.

None of this is to say that the story was a repeat. It certainly wasn’t. Often the second book in a trilogy can be a bit flat as it is bridging the beginning of the story with its resolution. Litfin never let The Gift fall into that trap. The story moves along briskly and always had me wanting to find out what happens next. Pacing has proven to be something Litfin understands. Just when I was beginning to getting tried of the right person showing up just in the nick of time, Litfin changed it up. He fought against making The Gift predictable and mostly succeeded. He also showed finesse in the way he rehashed the first book for those who didn’t read it. He carefully retold the story in a manner that felt like it belonged. I don’t think anyone would be lost reading The Gift if they didn’t read The Sword.

What I found somewhat brave about The Gift was how Litfin introduced evangelical hot button issues: sex, homosexuality, alcohol, nudity. Litfin didn’t omit the ugly side of a kingdom that has forgotten Christianity. Had he chosen to make the Ulbartian culture “acceptably depraved” by avoiding those issues, it could have made the story “safe for the whole family” and at the same time made it lifeless and boring. Litfin includes these things and he doesn’t do it in a tawdry or approving fashion. He simply presents them as what they are. Wisely, he leaves us to recognize them as wrong. We don’t have a character acting as Litfin’s moral mouthpiece. To my mind, that’s good writing; it invites us into the story not to passively consume but to feel and react.

In the end, I found The Gift an improvement on The Sword in most respects. It will prove to be fun summer reading and could provide some interesting points of discussion on how the world would look after a plague and small scale nuclear war but also on engaging theological questions as well. Crossway even included study questions at the end to facilitate it.

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