11/09/2005

Piercing the Darkness

This novel is the second Christian thriller by Frank Peretti, and sort of a sequel to This Present Darkness, which I re-read and reviewed a few months ago. Once again it portrays problems in small-town America which are mirrored in the spiritual realm with angels and demons battling for lives and souls. It's exciting enough that it would probably be enjoyed by anyone who likes action-packed thrilling novels although it probably makes more sense to Christians.

There are two broad plotlines. Sally Roe, a rather reclusive young lady, is on the run after an attempted murder. At the same time a young widowed Christian teacher has his children taken away from him by Social Services, and a pending court-case involving a ten-year-old girl at his school. It's only gradually that the connections between these two people unfold.

The pace is rapid, the characterisations acceptable although not brilliant. There are a large number of characters, a few of whom appeared in the previous book, although it would be quite possible to read this as a standalone novel. The line between good and evil is perhaps a bit too clearly drawn: the innocent in the church, the evil of a satanic cult and a power-crazy organisation loosely connected with them. But there are also gossipers in the church, and there are naive people on the fringes of the power-crazy group, drawn to cosmic consciousness and world peace without any wish to cause violence or fight legal battles.

As encouragement for Christians to stand up for what they believe, and to keep praying, it's probably quite successful. However the book IS fiction, and it's important to remember that Peretti's spiritual battles are only his interpretation of a possible scenario. Some critics complain that his theology is off-beam, but I don't think that's really fair: he's not teaching theology, he's writing a novel.

On the other hand, it's a pity he makes the Christian school stand up so strongly for corporal punishment (called, strangely, 'paddling') and that the court case revolves partly around an incident when a disruptive girl has been spanked. Many Christians - at least in Europe - don't agree with this kind of thing, particularly in schools. So while the supposed conspiracy theory to teach children spirit-channelling and other dangerous practises may well be happening in places, and I'm sure it's true that 'New Age' principles sometimes cause people to lose any sense of morality, it rather weakened the case for the book to have the good guys so in favour of spanking in schools.

That apart, it's a good read which was almost as gripping the third time I read it as it was the first time, about 12 years ago.

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