Not Always Popular

Today we are going to discuss three distinctly Christian subgenres of speculative fiction and why they are not always popular with Christian readers of speculative fiction – such as myself, and possibly you. Feel free to share.

First, a disclaimer is in order. I am not, in principle, opposed to any of these genres, and as a reader I have at least dabbled in all of them. I am certain that each one boasts some truly fine books. I am not saying that there is anything inherently inferior about such stories – let alone inherently wrong. It’s simply that I – playing the odds of what I am most likely to enjoy – don’t choose to read them anymore.

And now, enough disclaiming and onto the point. The three distinctly Christian subgenres are …

The End Times. Again: some fine books belong to each of these categories. Evan Angler’s excellent (and sadly discontinued) Swipe series is a shining illustration of the point. In the main, however, I don’t enjoy novels about the End Times. On the one hand, I find it dreary to read about relentless loss, tribulation, and cataclysm, culminating in the Anti-Christ’s conquest of the entire Earth; on the other hand, I find it predictable. It’s just mapping Revelation prophecies to the inevitable conclusion. I loved Angler’s End Times series, but I wasn’t sure it was an End Times series until the second book. Until then, I thought it might have been a dystopia flavored by apocalyptic prophecy – and hoped that it was.

The Nephilim. My instinctive response to the Nephilim subgenre is neutrality. I am not offended by the angel/human concept, and if you recast the essential idea in a sci-fi form – members of an incorporeal species assume physical bodies to interact with humanity, and interact to the point of reproducing – it’s actually pretty intriguing. (Question: In such a scenario, would the offspring really be hybrid? Because for reproduction to be possible, wouldn’t the assumed bodies have to be genetically human, perhaps with minor variations from the norm …?)

But – and how can I put this kindly? – novels about the Nephilim often take an extreme left turn into strangeness. UFOs, Roswell, tinfoil government conspiracies, monsters, aliens – sometimes all in the same book (I know – I read it). It’s all too much. The Nephilim subgenre also gives too much play to false readings of Scripture: one, that it was because of the Nephilim that God sent the Flood; two, that the Nephilim are somehow connected to the End Times. (In a cheap intellectual sleight of hand, some quote Jesus, “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be in the days of the Son of Man” – leaving off the rest of the passage, where Christ explains in what way the days of the Son of Man will be like the days of Noah, and it isn’t the Nephilim.)

Angels v. Demons. I don’t question the poetic triumph of Paradise Lost, or the shrewd, sharp effectiveness of The Screwtape Letters. And it isn’t only the classics. This Present Darkness was one of my first loves in Christian speculative fiction. But over the years I cooled toward stories that give center stage to angels and demons. I admit, the last couple books I read in the genre did much of the cooling. Yet I think it is a general – not, of course, a universal – weakness of such stories to make angels too … human. I want a bit of grandeur or otherworldliness, a flavor of heaven or hell. It’s a tall order, and harder the larger the role. Even now, I think that angels (good and bad) can be well-used in fantastic fiction – but especially in roles that are somewhat marginal, or mysterious.

In my earlier years of reading, I wandered through these subgenres and ended at the conclusion that they are Not My Thing. It’s curious how easily they overlap. Somewhere, I know, they have converged entirely into an End Times novel where the Nephilim fight with demons against angels …

A Christian Twist

(I am going to state right here that this is not my finest work. But I wrote it under the influence of a summer cold, and this is as good as it’s going to get, people.)


Christian speculative fiction, as a whole, has evolved along distinct lines from secular speculative fiction, acquiring its own hallmarks and characteristics. There are many reasons for this, too many to explore or even list; different cultural pressures, different audience demands, even the division between Christian and regular literature (did it exist a hundred years ago?) all played their parts. Another cause, and the one I want to focus on today, is that Christianity itself – so much the intellectual and cultural background of these works – introduces different elements into fiction. The handling of these elements may or may not accord with Christian thought and biblical exegesis, but the source of the material is beyond doubt. Here, then, are a few of these elements:

Angels/demons. Many different cultures and religions harbor ideas of angels and demons, and then there are free-floating, popular notions – for example, the belief (unattached to any actual religion) that people die and become angels. What Christianity provides, then, is not the general idea of angels but a specific idea of who and what they are. The two greatest representations of angels and demons in modern Christian fiction are Peretti’s This Present Darkness and Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. There have been many others, all containing variations of their own. But one great commonality cuts across all Christian portrayals of demons and angels: They are always dedicated to the service of either Heaven or Hell; never do they act as free agents. In Christian SF, angels never exist without God and rarely exist without the devil. Christian doctrine on angels is so established, and so developed, that it encourages the use of angels in Christian SF – far more prodigious than in secular SF.

The Nephilim. The Nephilim appear only briefly in the Bible, but long enough to stir up all kinds of controversy. Various interpretations of what they were have been put forward, some quite tame. Naturally, the wild interpretations have gotten a foothold in Christian SF. Half-demon supermen are rich material for fantastic novels, and this is obvious even if you are one of those Christians who are just driven crazy by the whole phenomenon. Nephilim stories are unusually bound to our own world and history, especially to (borrowing a phrase) the days of Noah and the days of the Son of Man. The incubus is made in a similar mold, but it inhabits a different milieu than the Nephilim and lacks the absolute identification with angels and the Bible.

The End Times. To speak of the End Times as the end of the world is accurate but desperately incomplete. The language of the End Times, both revolutionary and catastrophic, makes it clear that it will be the end of the world, the universe, and the current cosmic order. So when Christians use the term End Times, they aren’t whistling Dixie. The End Times have become an established niche in Christian fiction, inspired by the stormy visions of Revelation and driven by Christian enthusiasm (periodically intense, never entirely dormant) for the subject. Left Behind carries the field, but C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle entered it more than sixty years ago, and newer books carry on the charge.

CSFF Blog Tour: Imagining Angels

One sometimes wonders – on these tours where we debate angel books and angel characters – what angels make of it all. Possibly they don’t make much. Heaven has more important business. Anyway, they have surely noticed by now that gaps in human knowledge are often filled by human imagination.

God has set limits so that, though angels are always seeing us, we can hardly ever see them. Our knowledge of angels is so slight that Christians have had a diversity of views on them. Even staying within biblical parameters, we can imagine angels many different ways. Here is a brief sampling of angelic portrayals from literature written by Christians – two from our modern era, two from the era just before.

We’re close now, so close than I can see that touching a Sabre’s wing may be the fastest way to lose an arm. I set to examining the nearest one. He’s gigantic, like Jake said. And his eyes are pure white, trademark white. Like Canaan’s. Like Helene’s. He has the celestial gaze of one who’d lay down his life for another. His skin, too, is white, so white it looks almost silver. His muscled arms and chest make Canaan look trim. But as much as I can find things to admire about his physique, it’s his wings that so separate him from any other angel I’ve seen.

Their beauty is staggering, their design inexplicable. Where I expect to see rows and rows of snowy white feathers, one blade lies on top of another – thousands of them – sharp and glistening silver. Shannon Dittemore, Broken Wings

Love, we have looked on many shows
As over lands from sea to sea
Man with his Guardian Angel goes
His shining shadow more than he.

– G. K. Chesterton, “Love, We Have Looked on Many Shows”

In a graceful, fiery spiral they drifted down behind one of the college dormitories and came to rest in the cover of some overhanging willows. The moment their feet touched down, the light from their clothes and bodies began to fade and the shimmering wings gently subsided. Save for their towering stature they appeared as two ordinary men, one trim and blond, the other built like a tank, both dressed in what looked like matching tan fatigues. Golden belts had become like dark leather, their scabbards were dull copper, and the glowing, bronze bindings on their feet had become simple leather sandals. Frank Peretti, This Present Darkness

But Thou, Lord, surely knewest thine own plan
When the angelic indifferencies with no bar
Universally loved, but Thou gav’st man
The tether and pang of the particular,

Which, like a chemic drop, infinitesimal,
Plashed into pure water, changing the whole,
Embodies and embitters and turns all
Spirit’s sweet water into astringent soul

That we, though small, might quiver with Fire’s same
Substantial form as Thou – not reflect merely
Like lunar angels back to Three cold flame.
Gods are we, Thou hast said; and we pay dearly.
C. S. Lewis, “Scazons”

CSFF Blog Tour: Sabres, Cherubs, and Guardian Angels

During the blog tour of Angel Eyes, I wrote a post considering different aspects of the angels’ portrayals and their foundation in Scripture. Now that Shannon Dittemore has continued her series, I will continue mine. The portrayal of angels may be classified one of three ways: biblical (taught in Scripture), anti-biblical (contradicted by Scripture), and speculative (neither confirmed nor denied by Scripture).

So here we go:

Angels called Sabres worship God near His throne – The Sabres bear a resemblance to the four living creatures of Revelation, whom John saw around the throne and who “never stop saying, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.’ ” They are also similar to the six-winged seraphim Isaiah saw flying above God’s throne, “calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ “

But the Sabres can’t be the four living creatures. For one thing, there are twelve of them, and for another, they aren’t covered with eyes. Nor does their description match that of the seraphim. Although the Sabres have some biblical antecedent, they are speculative inventions.

Cherubs are small – Pearla, the Cherub, is a small angel; the demonic counterparts of her “cherubic order” – “impish” spies – are apparently small, too.

The Bible makes some mention of cherubs, or cherubim. They were a prominent aspect of the holy art of the tabernacle and the temple, and the Ark of the Covenant was overshadowed by golden cherubim. In the desert, when Bezalel crafted the Ark, he made the “cherubim of the Glory” of one piece with its cover. Centuries later, when Solomon built the temple, they made “the chariot” – two sculptured cherubim who spread their wings above the Ark in the Most Holy Place.

It is clear that those sculptured cherubim – whose design God had given to David – had two wings. We’ll get to the importance of that later.

Cherubim, together with the flaming sword, guarded the way to Eden and the tree of life. The four living creatures Ezekiel saw were cherubim – angels with four faces, four wings, and a multitude of eyes. “When the creatures moved,” the prophet wrote, “I heard the sound of their wings, like the roar of rushing waters, like the voice of the Almighty, like the tumult of an army.”

The walls of the temple Ezekiel saw – like the walls of the temple Solomon built – were decorated with cherubim. In the temple of Ezekiel’s vision, each cherub had two faces.

In chapter 28, God speaks: “You were the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you … You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. … Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor.”

Pearla, the Cherub, was called “little one” by the archangel Michael. One cannot imagine Michael extending the same endearment to the cherubim guarding Eden, or the four living creatures, or the “guardian cherub” of Ezekiel’s prophecy. One word you would not associate with the cherubim of Scripture is “small”.

In making imps and cherubs small, Broken Wings is drawing from culture and art, not the Bible. Indeed, the small cherubs make a very different impression than the cherubim of Scripture. Yet given the diversity of cherubim even in Scripture – two wings, four wings, two faces, four faces, covered with eyes, covered with jewels – I am reluctant to call Pearla the Cherub anti-biblical.

God assigns to human beings Shields (guardian angels) – In Acts, after Peter’s miraculous escape from prison, he came to the house of John Mark’s mother, where the believers initially thought he was “his angel”. Christians have believed in guardian angels since the beginning of the Church.

Two verses in Scripture support the idea. In Hebrews, the author writes, “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” The Gospel of Matthew recounts Jesus saying, “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels always see the face of my Father in heaven.” This is even more in the way of guardian angels, because it implies that God does attach specific angels to specific people.

The details of “our” angels, and how they minister to us, are unknown to us. Maybe the popular idea of an angel who is always near us is correct; maybe the angels watch from heaven; maybe they come, from time to time, as God directs. The “Shields” in the Angel Eyes Trilogy are a sound biblical idea, even though the specifics are by necessity speculative.

CSFF Blog Tour: Broken Wings

The truth, when uncovered, can cause a lot of trouble. Brielle knows this, after all the chaos stirred up when Damien discovered the secret of her eyes and Jake’s hands. That trouble is now on the back-burner, where it’s simmering to a boil. In the meantime, Brielle has enough to handle with the truth the angel unearthed in the cemetery.

Broken Wings is Shannon Dittemore’s second novel, continuing what she began in Angel Eyes. It’s a second act, but it feels like a middle-act. Dittemore handles the “before” events with enough skill that you could begin the story here, if you wanted, but you would be missing something.

What mainly creates the impression of a middle-act is the story-lines that are only begun and those that never really come to a head. Nothing is concluded. The end of the book does not set the stage for new conflicts; it merely lowers the curtain on a drama full of unfinished fights and unanswered questions.

All sorts of forces are at work in this story – demonic and angelic, human and divine. The designs of the demonic enemies are kept largely hidden; the purposes of God are more mysterious still. To Dittemore’s credit she gives God an unseen but present role, never fully explaining Him. Her characters are left to trust, or not trust. Like we are.

Shannon Dittemore keeps interest alive throughout Broken Wings, seasoning it with dashes of excitement. I enjoyed the development of Kaylee, and the textured introduction of Olivia. Marco – over this book and the first – strikes me as a bit of an idiot, but that’s acceptable in a secondary character.

I liked Jake and Brielle a little less this time around. Strangely enough, the reasons are related largely to their romance. I thought it shallow and selfish that Jake – with a miraculous healing gift in a world full of suffering, dying people – essentially reduced his criteria for healing people to, How will it affect my girlfriend? And no one will ever justify why Brielle would not wait until Jake was done healing a bleeding, unconscious person before she began kissing him.

I also thought unmarried Christians should be more hands-off than they were, though I know that the majority opinion is probably against me. And the author’s use of a few (mildly) crude words was a bad thing

Despite these moral missteps, the book had a solid spiritual foundation, themed in trusting and worshiping God even when we don’t understand. Shannon Dittemore dealt creatively with the speculative element, and the characters were strong and, on occasion, winning. Even by the standards of professional writing, the prose of Broken Wings is notably good. Those who like books about angels will find this the sort of thing they like. Even those who don’t may make an exception.

And now, happy campers – and unhappy ones, for that matter – here are the links:

Broken Wings on Amazon;

Shannon Dittemore’s website;

and the CSFF’ers, as our organizer Becky Miller calls us:

Gillian Adams

Julie Bihn
Jennifer Bogart
Beckie Burnham
Pauline Creeden
Janey DeMeo
Theresa Dunlap
Emma or Audrey Engel
Victor Gentile
Nikole Hahn
Becky Jesse
Jason Joyner
Karielle @ Books à la Mode
Carol Keen
Emileigh Latham
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Megan @ Hardcover Feedback
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
Nathan Reimer
James Somers
Kathleen Smith
Jojo Sutis
Steve Trower
Phyllis Wheeler
Shane Werlinger

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

CSFF Blog Tour: A Halo Around His Head

Yesterday I classed Shannon Dittemore’s depiction of angelic halos as “speculative”. It does not contradict the Bible, though it can hardly be possible.

The notion that angels have halos comes from medieval art, where they are so portrayed. I had thought that medieval art was the beginning of the halo, but a little digging swiftly proved me wrong.

Before the coming of Christ, Greek and Roman art gave halos to gods and emperors and heroes. In the Iliad, “Achilles dear to Jove arose” and Minerva “crowned his head with a halo of golden cloud from which she kindled a glow of gleaming fire.”* There are Roman mosaics – dated in the second century and still preserved – that show Apollos and Poseidon haloed.

And so the Christian church – first established and finally accepted in the Roman Empire – began, in the fourth century, to use halos in its icons. At first only Christ was portrayed with a halo, and then only when on a throne or “in an exalted and princely character”**. But by the end of the sixth century, the halo was given to Mary, saints and martyrs – and angels.

In the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore*** is a series of mosaics depicting the annunciation of Mary, the visit of the Magi, the flight into Egypt, and Herod’s command to slaughter the children. In these mosaics, the angels are haloed, the Christ-child is haloed, and Mary and Joseph are not. Herod, on the other hand, is wearing a halo – even in the mosaic where he is bidding his soldiers to kill the children. In this the artists followed the pagan practice of giving halos as symbols of royalty, and not necessarily goodness.

As time went on, the tradition of the halo grew more elaborate, more nuanced. Christ’s halo often had a cross within, or extending from, it; the Orthodox tradition sometimes added to this the Greek letters Ο Ω Ν, which – taken together and translated – read “The Existing One”. A triangle, or two triangles intersecting, became the given halo for God the Father, in symbolism of the Trinity.

In 600 Gregory the Great – not being dead – was painted with a square halo, “the sign for a living person”. From then on it was the standard, in all portraits of the living, that the halo be square. In 1625 Pope Urban VII actually issued a bull that forbade representing anyone with a halo who had not been beatified or canonized by the Catholic Church.

A revolution in art brought about the decline of the halo, with artists finding it hard to combine realism and perspective with halos. The Nazarene movement came alive in the early nineteenth century, drawing artists to look back to the Middle Ages. Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld was one of those artists, and in 1835 he painted “The Three Marys at the Tomb”. But even he gave a halo only to the angel.

In the popular imagination, angels are still associated with halos. But once you know the origin and the history of the halo, you can’t believe that angels really wear them. After all, Achilles wore one first.

* Ever read the Iliad? Me, neither. Anyway, you can find the passage here.

** Quoted from the Catholic Encyclopedia.

*** The Papal Basilica of Saint Mary Major, a church in Rome, Italy built during the fifth century. It just looks better in Italian.

CSFF Blog Tour: Angels in Art and Reality

A few months ago, the CSFF toured Eye of the Sword. The book’s “angels” set off discussions as to what angels really are and if the beings in Eye of the Sword merited the name (you can guess, by the quotation marks, where I came down on the question). Now, for Angel Eyes, I would like to consider different aspects of the angels’ portrayal and what foundation they have in Scripture.

Angels are sometimes female – From the Victorian era onward, much of angel iconography has been of beautiful women with wings. Some Christians have said, in reaction, that all angels are male. This is not quite the whole truth.

All angels shown in the Bible are male. But, as Donald Rumsfeld once said, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” The fact that the Bible does not prove the existence of female angels is not itself proof that no female angels exist.

I will, then, classify Shannon Dittemore’s use of a female angel as “speculative”.

Angels have wings – Ezekiel, in his extraordinary call to prophethood, witnessed the four living creatures – cherubim, with four wings. Isaiah, in his commission, saw seraphs with six wings flying around God’s throne. Daniel wrote that Gabriel came to him in “swift flight”.

The four-winged angels of Angel Eyes are, then, a mixture of the Scriptural (at least some angels have wings) and the speculative (we do not know that all have wings, or any beside the cherubim have four wings).

Angels have halos – Ah, no. This is another idea about angels we derive from art and not from Scripture. But since the Bible never counters the idea, it comes under “speculative”.

Angels are beautiful (and demons are hideous) – As far as I can recall, the Bible says nothing about the appearance of demons. Angels are sometimes described – the four living creatures in great detail. They made a strong impression on Ezekiel; I daresay they would make a strong impression on all of us.

I cannot do justice to the description of the cherubim in Ezekiel 1 and 10; I will only mention the premier facts: the cherubim had four wings, four faces, forms like a man’s, feet like a calf’s, and were covered with eyes. I am sure that if we ever saw the cherubim, merely aesthetic beauty would fall into its true insignificance, but no one will consider this description one of beauty.

Daniel also described an angel he saw in a vision: “I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of the finest gold around his waist. 6 His body was like chrysolite, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude.”

The appearance of angels often had a kind of radiance. When the angel appeared to the shepherds, “the glory of the Lord shone around them.” Of the angel who rolled the stone from Jesus’ tomb, we are told, “His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.” When the women went to the tomb, they were met by men in “clothes that gleamed like lightning”. Jesus Himself said that He would return in His glory, and the glory of the Father, and “of the holy angels”.

Perhaps the angels were beautiful, but what most struck those who saw them was light, brightness, glory – and what such people usually felt was fear.

Yet I wonder if Christians’ fantasy-novel descriptions are – at least in part – consciously metaphorical. C. S. Lewis wrote that “Devils are depicted with bats’ wings and good angels with birds’ wings … because most men like birds better than bats.” Perhaps Christian novelists portray angels as beautiful, and demons as hideous, for the same reason.

So to finally reach the conclusion, Shannon Dittemore’s descriptions are speculative, with a measure of Scriptural truth.

C. S. Lewis also wrote that angels “must be represented symbolically if they are to be represented at all.” And it is surely true that if we are to write novels about angels, much of what we write must be speculative. Angels remain hidden from us. I do not mind the speculation, though I believe Christian writers should refrain from contradicting what the Bible reveals to us. And in that, Angel Eyes holds true.

CSFF Blog Tour: Angel Eyes

When Brielle Matthews returned to Stratus at the beginning of winter, the cold inside her was greater than the cold without. She left a tragedy behind her in the city; she did not guess its players would follow her out of it. Far less could she imagine how the world changes when you see it through angel eyes.

Angel Eyes is the debut novel of Shannon Dittemore. It’s Young Adult, and in many ways it lives up to the label: teenage leads, barely breaks 300 pages, a smattering of pop culture references, an adolescent romance.

It also lives up to its other labels. Christian. Speculative. Fantasy. This novel is far broader than its Twilight references. Stratus is a nowhere town, a shard of universality in itself. The city is apparently Portland, but it could be anywhere. The characters are too human to be pinned in their environment.

This sense of universality comes, in part, from the style. The style is, for me, the most compelling part of the book. Most of the narration is in the first-person, some is in the third, and all of it is present-tense. Shannon Dittemore matches adjectives well and freshly (the fleecy sky, for example), and she has a talent for creating pictures a reader can feel. At the book’s opening, Brielle watches a train pull away from the station: “It’s empty now, but I stare after the steel snake as the heaviness of good-bye squirms inside my chest, locked away in a cage of frozen bones and tissue. Will I ever thaw enough to say the word?”

The spiritual element is strong, with a dose of the angel-demon warfare suggested in the Bible and so vividly imagined by Frank Peretti. Yet if some of this is expected, there are new concepts, including one particularly satisfying and surprising use of angel mythology.

Brielle’s spiritual journey was well-managed. Dittemore drew her, through relationships, farther than she would have gone on her own – subtly, convincingly handled. By a Christian measurement, the novel is sound. Though some of the angelic portrayal was speculative, none of it was anti-biblical.

It did, however, bother me that the book showed so positively a believer getting into a romance with an unbeliever. I realize how unusual the circumstances were, but that almost makes it worse. There are no extenuating circumstances, no reason for a Christian to wrap his life and heart around someone who rejects his Lord as a fairytale or tyrant.

The climax had excitement and complexity, but the heroes were too haphazard. It was not only that they plunged into a crisis when a moderate amount of good judgment would have kept them out of it. They jumped into the fire with no idea what they were going to do next. They never had a plan. And they didn’t need one, because other characters forced their hands time and again.

A few things in the novel were too convenient, not really squared against the reality of the story. [Spoilers] Marco’s confession was never explained, nor did we ever learn why the police believed he had been recaptured. And the big one: After they discovered the children held captive in the warehouse, they did not call the police because Marco was with them. But that made no sense. Couldn’t Marco have just waited in the car? Or even taken the car? At least they could have given him a head start before the cops showed up.

[Spoilers continue] And even if it was inevitable that Marco be rearrested – so what? Why would Brielle and Jake put their own lives – and forty-two children – at risk to ensure that Marco didn’t end up in police custody? Logically, morally, they had no reason not to call the police.

I noticed these things, but to be honest, I did not think of them much as I read. Angel Eyes is an engaging book, with the style and the spirit to keep you in it. Shannon Dittemore has entered the Christian speculative fiction scene with talent, and as a reader, I welcome her to it.

Now, briefly:

Angel Eyes on Amazon;

Shannon Dittemore’s website,

and Facebook page.

And the blog tour:
Gillian Adams
Julie Bihn
Beckie Burnham

Theresa Dunlap
Nikole Hahn
Jeremy Harder
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen

Emileigh Latham
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller

Anna Mittower
Faye Oygard
Nathan Reimer
Chawna Schroeder
Jessica Thomas
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower

Dona Watson
Shane Werlinger
Phyllis Wheeler

Note: In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

CSFF Blog Tour: Creative License

Yesterday I wrote that, in Karyn Henley’s Angelaeon Circle, God is not really God and the angels are not really angels. Chawna Schroeder and Julie Bihn wrote similar criticisms, going into Scripture to show the difference between Karyn Henley’s angels and God’s.

Becky Miller wrote that the angels in the Angelaeon Circle are invented beings who should not be taken as representative of true angels. She also pointed out that the debate about which fantasy novels are Christian includes works as respected as Lord of the Rings.

We all would agree that, in telling and enjoying stories, Christians have broad creative license. New worlds with strange races and different natural laws – that is permitted. The question is this: What sort of creative license do we have in portraying God and angels in these speculative worlds?

I will take the question regarding God first, because it is more important and also easier to answer. Whenever Christians write of God – even in fantasy worlds – everything they write must be true. There’s enough room in this universe to imagine a thousand different planets and races, but there is not room enough to imagine a different God.

I don’t think that every Christian fantasy has to bring God into the picture. But if any does, it must be true to Scripture. Silence is better than a false portrayal. In the Angelaeon Circle, everyone acknowledges that the Most High exists – and usually acts as if it doesn’t matter. Even the angels rarely take him into account. A story like Lord of the Rings, where the heroes don’t talk about God, is more Christian than a story where the heroes treat Him as negligible.

As for the angels, I wouldn’t lay down an absolute principle there. Some reviewers have been bothered by Karyn Henley’s unbiblical angels, some haven’t been, and I understand and respect both positions. Each to his own conscience and his own judgment.

But it might clarify things if writers would decide at the beginning whether they really want angels. Do they want holy, celestial beings who do not marry, die, or procreate? If the answer is yes, then they should portray angels as they are.

If the answer is no, and what they really want is beings who are only sort of like angels, then they should invent a new race and a name for them to go by. After all, if it doesn’t walk like a duck, and it doesn’t quack like a duck, and it doesn’t look like a duck – why call it a duck?

CSFF Blog Tour: Eye of the Sword

Trevin, newly made a comain for the king, was sent on a quest to find allies for the kingdom. And the missing comains. And an oracle. And a magical harp. And himself.

He quickly got sidetracked into the right direction. On a ranging search, from the mountains to the edge of the sea, he found more than he would have dreamed.

In Eye of the Sword, Karyn Henley irons out many of the wrinkles of the preceding book. The story is more focused, the characters steadier in their objectives – and more analytical in their actions.

The writing is smooth, the style pleasing. Other successes of the first book hold up: The plot moves at a good pace, the characters are individual and real. Although small in scope – no place seems hard to get to – the world is varied and rich.

Eye of the Sword suffered a little from repetition. You can only describe a character as husky so many times, especially in a 233-page book. What is more important, the “I am your father” card is overplayed in this series. Karyn Henley’s uses are interesting and emotionally compelling, but this sort of thing should not be done often even when it is done well. This is the only book I have ever read where the entire main cast could be put on the same family tree.

The Angelaeon Circle is billed Christian fantasy, and the influence of Christianity may be felt. But it has also the feel of a kind of cleansed pagan mythology. The old gods are dethroned and tamed; now servants of the Most High, they’re generally good and go under the name “angel”.

Which they aren’t. They wander about, well-meaning but flawed, exercising their special powers and ruling their special domains, mating with humans and raising superpowered offspring. Also, they die. And they can’t get back to heaven without their stairway.

But the troubling thing is not that the angels are not really angels. It’s that God is not really God. The novels are firmly monotheistic, but the monotheism itself strikes one discordant note after another.

A few stray mentions are thrown to the Most High, but for all that it matters to the story or the characters, he might as well not exist. Even the priests and priestesses show only rote devotion. Neither humans nor angels waste much thought or emotion on their creator.

In their defense, he doesn’t appear to waste much on them, either. The Most High seems distant, almost cold. He may have created that world, but he has largely signed off the running of it. There is a character called Windweaver, an angel who directs the winds, and I enjoyed him. But our God doesn’t appoint a Windweaver; He is the Windweaver. He feeds the birds, and He clothes the grass of the fields.

Nor is it only winds and oceans that the Most High leaves to angels. He even lets them figure out what to do with souls that are trapped on earth after the stairway to heaven is destroyed.

I recall two serious discussions of the Most High in the series. In the first – written in Breath of Angel – Melaia asks why the Most High doesn’t intervene. She is told: “What human will destroyed, human will must restore.”

The justice of that cannot be denied. Yet think of what our religion would be if God had that attitude toward us. “You made this mess. You clean it up.”

In the second discussion, this one in Eye of Angel, the Most High is called the “father-mother of the universe”. I don’t know what, exactly, Karyn Henley meant by that. But the formulation is unquestionably pagan.

And it is reinforced by two unfortunate coincidences. “The Most High” is gender-neutral – and I cannot recall anyone in the novels referring to the Most High as “he” or “him”. Furthermore, the Most High is served by priestesses in temples – another thing that carries the taste of paganism. The God we call Father chose only priests to serve in His temple. But it makes sense that the “father-mother of the universe” should have priestesses, too.

I have dwelt a long time on this, but it was only a small element in the novels. It can be ignored; it can even be missed. I am also bound to note that the wrongful impression is created in large part by omission. Karyn Henley can, if she chooses, reverse it in succeeding books.

It is only fair, after all this, to stress the good in Eye of the Sword. As a story it was well-crafted, and it has the proper fascination of the genre. If the mythology is as much pagan as Christian – that is for each reader to weigh according to his own judgment.

And now, for further elucidation and for buying opportunity, we have the tour links:

Eye of the Sword on Amazon;

Karyn Henley’s website,


and Facebook page;

And, always last but never least, the CSFF reviewers:

Julie Bihn
Thomas Fletcher Booher
Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
Jackie Castle
Brenda Castro
Jeff Chapman
Theresa Dunlap
Cynthia Dyer
Victor Gentile
Ryan Heart
Janeen Ippolito
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Emileigh Latham
Rebekah Loper
Karen McSpadden
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Anna Mittower
Mirriam Neal
Faye Oygard
Nathan Reimer
Chawna Schroeder
Kathleen Smith
Donna Swanson
Jessica Thomas
Steve Trower
Shane Werlinger
Phyllis Wheeler

And before I forget:

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.