I recently did a review, at the request of the book’s authors, for the Christian fiction website. Apparently, the authors were not aware that the review would be honest, which means it will not necessarily be positive, if the reading experience itself is not positive. This particular reading experience was far from positive, and the review reflected that (though I think it did so as gently as possible). After the review was posted, a series of emails passed hands between the authors and the website administrators. The admins at that site notified me of the author’s request that the review be removed from the site. In normal circumstances, the administrators would have stood behind the reviewer’s right/responsibility to be honest in the presentation of the reading experience, for better or worse. In this case, however, I have some say in what goes on at the site, loosely acting as an editor for the site’s content. In order to avoid a conflict of interests in this matter (or even the appearance of it), I opted to remove the review from the site. Had the review been someone else’s, however, I would not have felt compelled to remove it.
All that said, I don’t believe in censorship. And, perhaps as importantly, I don’t believe in wasting my time reading a substandard work and composing a review that gently points out that the work is not up to scratch. I am willing to spend the time doing that, however, if the review is to be put to use somewhere.
And so, I’ve decided to repost the review here, for any who are interested in knowing my thoughts on the book.
Bene Ha Elohim: Sons of God by K. T. Hehir and C. J. Hehir
I should begin my review of Bene Ha Elohim: Sons of God with something of a disclaimer. The novel is based on a reading of the Book of Revelation that I do not share. My own understanding of that biblical book is very different from that of the authors, and my own understanding of biblical eschatology is likewise very different from theirs. Moreover, I believe that the interpretation of the Revelation and the eschatology embraced in Bene Ha Elohim have led to some disastrous political maneuvers in our own world’s history. This divergence in my own beliefs and those espoused in the novel have certainly affected my ability to enjoy the book, since it is wholly built around these ideas that I do not subscribe to.
From a more literary perspective, the book also suffers, in my estimation. The dialogue is often poorly written, with lengthy passages of doctrine, exposition, or pure opinion inserted into the mouths of characters, and stated in a way that does not seem like natural conversation. The book overtly states a belief that the purpose of storytelling is (or should be) “its moral or instruction.” This insistence on storytelling as moralizing is held to tenaciously throughout the novel, to the point that the reading often becomes tedious. While I am not opposed to a little bit of preachiness in a book, especially one packaged and presented as a Christian novel, I do get turned off when the story seems to be secondary to the preaching. That is, sadly, often the case with Bene Ha Elohim. There are, in addition, some awkward points caused by typos and/or grammar errors in the manuscript. That has gotten some attention on the website dedicated to the book, though, with corrections to some of those errors offered there. I appreciate the effort compiling this and posting it on the website must have taken. Having worked on numerous lengthy manuscripts myself, I know how hard it is to eliminate all errors, and it takes that much more effort to update those notes on the website. It is a task that is as tiresome as it is thankless. The authors’ efforts in doing this job shows their dedication to the work they’ve produced, and to trying to create the best reading experience they can for their audience.
There are several things I like about the book as well, though, despite those things I’ve noted above. The story itself has some appeal to it, and would be even more engaging without the continued interruptions of dialogue in which either doctrine or backstory are discussed at length. With a better handling of the backstory and an editing out of some unnecessary passages, I think the plot could be quite gripping.
I am a reader who likes to imagine the goings-on of the supernatural world, and how those otherworldly beings and happenings might intersect with events in our own physical world. Bene Ha Elohim is all about this sort of interaction. In this sense, it is a lot like Frank Perretti’s novels of spiritual warfare, and how the forces of good and evil fight a battle that transcends the (perhaps artificial) boundary between the physical and the spiritual that seems so solid in our minds.
I also enjoyed reading the speculation about where the Nephilim came from, taken as fact in the world of Bene Ha Elohim. Those creatures get a mention in the Old Testament, but without elaboration. Those sorts of tidbits are always fun for speculation, and I thought they were woven into the story of Bene Ha Elohim in a way that was both intriguing and plausible.