Book Review: The Sword

The way Crossway described the book got me: Fiction yet theology, future yet Medieval. They said it was a book for men with a strong male lead. Plus there are swords. I pegged this as one of my summer reads right away.

I have had thoughts for a review since about page 4 and I’ll write this under three heads: Storytelling, Writing, and Theology.


Litfin is a theology professor and this is his first foray into fiction. That said, the story is fairly well done. I never felt like the storyline got stuck though I did begin to wonder at one place if Litfin had forgotten one of the important subplots. No, he hadn’t and that was the point. We were supposed to feel that gap. It was a good tactic to keep you engaged emotionally with the story and the characters. The story line was good but it wasn’t great. Don’t expect C.S. Lewis here (and for the record, Litfin never pretends to be Lewis). While not compelling it was entertaining and engaging. I have found myself entering the world of Chiveis in my head and imagining other adventures. I even spent some time on Google Maps and found the location he describes including the cathedral on the cover. I’m such a nerd.


In the videos on the website, Litfin says that he did a lot of research for the book which included how to write fiction and the writing reflects it. It isn’t bad but it isn’t polished yet. His writing is sufficient. He knows how to keep the episodes moving so that each time I put the book down I wanted to pick it back up. However, his dialogue was stilted and awkward at times. A few times it was groan-worthy. One of the things I remember hearing about fiction writing was “Show it, don’t say it.” In a few places, Litfin does both. It wasn’t a show stopper. I wasn’t so bothered by his writing there but I did wonder why his editor let that go.

Despite these few relatively minor irritations I thought the writing was capable and shows potential. His characters were mostly people you felt like you knew. The world he describes is one you believe (most of the time. Where’d the radiation go though?) Once again, it isn’t stellar writing but it is good, light, pop Christian fiction. Just the target he (and I) was aiming at.

Theology – There may be some spoilers here so beware!

Litfin teaches theology at Moody Bible Institute so I expected Dispensationalism but it isn’t there. This isn’t another version of Late Great Planet Earth or Left Behind (not that I expected it.) There is no theological ax to grind, at least not in this installment. Instead what Litfin explores is essentially this history of the Church. Early on the lead characters have no knowledge of God, only the false gods of Chiveis whom they’re not fond of. There is a nagging sense that there is a good God out there, if they only knew him. While those around them seem fine with these ugly gods, Teo and Ana want something more. When they find the Bible the last third of it is (conveniently) rotted and unreadable. Litfin here is exploring what it was like for the Church before the New Testament. What did they know about God? How did they approach God? I’m assuming that in future installments we’ll see them discover the New Testament and be blown away by Jesus coming and fulfilling all of what they knew. But that will is for a future volume.

I very much appreciated how God is present in the story. He isn’t a theory or idea but an “actor”. That is, he acts; he is active. But from a Christian perspective, how does Hebrews 1:1-3 apply in a world which has largely forgotten Christianity and has only recovered the Old Testament? Asked another way, will God reveal himself apart from Jesus Christ after the Incarnation? I knew what I thought and I was glad to see that Litfin seems to agree with me.

What is great is that Litfin does his theology without long-winded debates and discussions between stick-figure characters. The characters explore their new faith and grow in it. Yet, they seems to too quickly become “Christians” without Jesus. There is an animal sacrifice to atone for sin but there is much more discussion of God’s mercy for those who repent. That they got this from a few chapters of Genesis, Ruth and a couple of Psalms seems a bit of a stretch to me. And then the “house community” that formed seemed to be a church small group with a pastor (Maurice) was a bit too convenient for me. Add to this the “church split” and I felt like I was in a small, American, Protestant church!

Litfin briefly explored the issue of hermenutics. I think that’s a good idea but I didn’t feel the way Valant came to his opinion of how to read the Bible was “organic”. His was essentially Gnostic but it seemed to come out of nowhere basically. How did he get to that place? I didn’t feel like we went along on his ride. Also, the prevailing method of reading texts and mythology in Chiveis should have come in to play here. We always read and interpret texts according to our culture. I think Litfin was trying to tip his hat to Medieval Church struggles but this didn’t work well for me.

What was beautifully displayed again and again was grace and holiness. I appreciated that. Characters love and forgive because of Deu. Teo and Ana are repeatedly put into situations where, if this were a Hollywood movie or a TV show they’d have been naked in a minute. Our hero and heroine are clearly attracted to each other but both are noble and and behave honorably to each other. I liked that. Sex is present elsewhere in the story, but as is likely to happen in a godless world, it is misused. Teo and Ana maintain their purity in the midst of it all because God is an actor here.

Over all I’m glad I read the book and hope to make volume 2 next summer’s light read.

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  • […] 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 […]

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