Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Indiana Jones and the Garden of Eden? (A Review of the Garden of Souls)

It's hard to find a good supernatural thriller, especially one that stays true to its Judeo-Christian roots. Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark is one. Cheri Vause's novel The Garden of Souls is another.

The Garden of Souls has a goodly amount of swashbuckle in it, as well as a search to uncover the mystery of our creation and the one who created us. The vivid imagery and fast-paced action make the book flash across your imagination as if you were watching it on a movie screen.

The male lead, Liam, is a priest-archeologist torn between obeying his superior's orders to catalog piles of moldering documents in the Vatican archives and his desire to join his best friend Avi in discovering the secret of humanity's origins hidden in the blistering Israeli desert. The female lead, Alana, is an archeologist seduced into a ring of criminals who steal priceless antiquities and sell them to the highest bidder. Indy and Marion Ravenwood have nothing on them.

At the heart of the book are the main characters' struggles to choose between irreconcilable destinies. Liam feels he is losing his vocation to the priesthood. Alana has turned into an FBI informant gathering evidence to incriminate her fellow conspirators, but she despairs of making it out of the criminal underworld alive. The two meet on a quest to find the burial site of the Old Testament figures Abraham and Sarah. What they unearth is a mystical passageway to a land virtually unseen since the beginning of human history. The dream-like sequences near the book's end reminded me of the visually stunning, but not particularly Christian, depiction of the Tree of Life in The Fountain, a 2009 film starring Hugh Jackman.

The quest of the characters in The Garden of Souls is ultimately the search for God and their own individual destinies within God's plan. As  Liam's best friend Avi, the skeptic, marveled: "the Old Testament is coming to life, becoming fact.  ...This means God is real." And the quest's driving force comes from the characters' families, who propel them toward the lives that God wants for them.

The fourth commandment to honor your father and mother is "the anchor for every child to steer his way through life,"states The Garden of Souls. The book fleshes out the truism that our relationship with our parents deeply colors our feelings about God. The beauty and terror of our vocation as parents is that our children's relationship with God will show us how well or how poorly we reflected God's love to them as we raised them.

In The Garden of Souls, Alana's life of subterfuge has contaminated her relationship with her father. She lives a lie within a lie as an FBI informant pretending to be a criminal and as a criminal pretending to be an honest archaeologist. She wishes to end the lies. The expedition to the ancient burial site, while "rattl[ing] the agnostic cage that she had constructed around herself," makes Alana long primarily for one thing. To apologize to her father for being such a terrible daughter, and thus restore normalcy to her life. Faith awakens love, and vice versa.

Liam is also at a crossroads. Emotionally scarred by the death of his mother and father, Liam is plagued by nightmares. When the time comes for Liam to choose his destiny, he receives the mysterious advice that his mother is the gate and his father is the key. On one level, this advice guides Liam to the heart of a fantastical land where he finds the answers he seeks. On another level, these words hint at how Liam's parents instilled faith in him and planted the seed of his vocation. Liam's mother was a Jewess, and Judaism is in a sense the mother of Christianity. Through the gate of Judaism, the religion of the Old Testament people of Israel, Christians enter into the knowledge of the One God. The analogy holds true with Liam's father as well. Liam's father came from a long line of men dedicated to helping the Catholic Church. Just as Judaism is the gate, Catholicism is the key to unlock the fullness of truth about Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the only-begotten Son of God. Liam's inner spiritual journey towards a deep and abiding faith in God's promises can be followed by all of us.

The Garden of Souls was published through the Christian self-publishing firm, Xulon Press, which might not have been the ideal choice for Vause. Xulon, which provides some editorial services to its authors, has a style marked by radical abandonment of commas and a self-described "looseness" of verb tenses, which includes using the present tense occasionally although the story takes place in the past. While the editors stand by their choices, my background as a lawyer and journalist leads me to regard these choices as simply grammatically incorrect. They mar the flow of the story and present an annoying distraction to an otherwise excellent narrative.

Moreover, at around $16 on Amazon or Barnes & Noble, the book is pricey for paperback fiction. The $8.99 Kindle version is a better deal. But you get enough 50-cent words to make up for it -- the author's exquisitely elegant word choice is one of the most delightful aspects of the book.

As stated by one of the reviewers on Amazon, where the book currently has a 5-star rating, I can't wait for the movie to come out.

My thanks go to the author for providing a free e-book review copy.