Posts Tagged ‘Fiction’

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.

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.