Wow, I like the premise of this story. I don’t want to spoil anything, but there’s definitely a point of revelation that made me go, “Oh, THAT’s what’s going on. Cool.” The sci-fi/paranormal element here is really well done and interesting, and I can’t think of anything exactly like it. I really enjoyed how the story unfolds so that there’s a bit of mystery involved too. And the spiritual/religious significance of what’s going on here is really unique (creepy, but unique and fun).
The plot rolls along and keeps you interested as Emily becomes more and more caught up in the oddities surrounding Dr. Norrell’s research. It feels like a familiar, “everyday” world and setting until the weirdness kicks in, and it’s easy to relate to Emily and her companions as they try to make sense of what’s happening with her pregnancy and the weird things she starts seeing and can’t quite explain. Emily herself is very much an average woman, but by the end she is definitely the one with an insider’s view into what’s really going on. Dr. Norrell is an interesting character who’s quite mysterious in his true methods and motives, and I’m sure there’s more to be known about him than what we’re told here. Once you learn what’s really going on, the deeper significance of events becomes really, really interesting and spins the story in a new direction.
It’s a small cast of characters, and we don’t get to know them really well, but that’s partly due to the shortness of the story. The book could benefit from some quick proofreading/editing, but it’s pretty well done and a quick read. (I plowed through this in two sittings.)
I’m definitely curious where the story will go next. The ending suggests that this is only the beginning, and – now that the world and its peoples have very much changed – I’m sure the next step forward will be even more interesting.
See it on Amazon!
First, the big picture: The mythology of angels, fallen angels, and their Nephilim offspring used in this book is incredibly interesting and yet not overly complicated. You quickly understand (especially if you have a Christian background, although I wouldn’t say that that’s necessary to enjoy this book) the history of this age-old struggle and get a feel for what’s at stake. The way the author brings historical places, objects, events, and people into the story adds a real depth to these immortals’ lives. I also really enjoyed that the Nephilim were shown to be from many, many different cultures and ethnicities.
As for the main character, Alexandria learns about herself right along with the reader. This was a really great way to maintain a sense of mystery to the story, and her back-flashes move the story along without being just distracting little bits of character development. So much of the story is about WHO she is, and it’s pretty easily to feel invested in her character’s well-being.
The story is slowly paced but punctuated by a few terrifying encounters with the enemy, and there are some fun bits of action as Alex trains with the Nephilim. (The whole middle section felt like what would happen if “This Present Darkness” had a spin-off set at Hogwarts for adults. Really imaginative and great.)
I was also glad that the typical love triangle element actually has VERY great significance behind it, but I won’t spoil anything.
My only nit-picky complaint: The characters feel overly perfect. I loved how good and close and loving Alexandria’s family is, and of course it makes sense that the Nephilim born of angels are especially good. However, none of the good guys do anything wrong – ever. Everyone is ALWAYS sweet and loving and perfect, even Jack, who is completely mortal and human. At every turn, Alex does exactly the right thing – even after a workout when her clothes are dirty and she realizes she needs to sign up for a chore chart, if they have one. I think I just would have liked to see a little more relatable anger, annoyance, messing up, etc.
Anyway, I’m definitely interested to see where the next book goes. SOMETHING is still going on that we don’t know about as far as the conflict is concerned (avoiding spoilers here), and I’m interested to see how it all turns out.
See it on Amazon!
As promised, here are my A’s to your Q’s.
Thanks, everyone who submitted questions! Keep ’em coming for future podcasts!
I tried to remain spoiler-free. These questions/answers deal with Book 1 mostly, with some hint of what is to come in the rest of the series (Books 2-4).
In what way is Trok immortal?
What is Trok’s role going forward?
Why does Trok become like a narrator?
Who’s my favorite character?
Most important question no one asks?
Why do Bullseye and Tigris have greater powers than Rave and Whitewolf?
Does Abduction possession = a death sentence?
Have we seen all the Kota prophecies?
How do I come up with world-building?
What is the dark Christian Sci-Fi in the Kota?
Do you have to read the books in order?
Wild prediction about Malice.
Show Kota tattoo?
[This is from a few years ago, but it’s still appropriate. And still a lesson I struggle with…although I hope I’m better. Anyway, ’tis the season.]
I am proud of Jason Segel. I don’t know him. Never met him. I know being proud of someone you’ve never met is odd, but it’s true. He brought the Muppets back to life. The Muppets were essentially dead for over a decade, and now my whole generation has back this wonderful element of our childhood. Better yet, as one of my friends pointed out, we are free to love the Muppets without irony (the culturally acceptable attitude painted over long-forlorn objects of childhood affection).
After watching the new Muppet Movie, which happened to release around my birthday, my friends went on a Muppet binge for over a month. It helped that this was around Christmas, and the Muppets’ several Christmas specials fit with perfect timing. Chief amongst these was, of course, A Muppet Christmas Carol. Admittedly, I’ve always been partial to Muppet Treasure Island and hadn’t watched their Christmas Carol in several years, but it’s still one of my favorite adaptations.
This time, however, I for the first time noticed something about the general story of the Christmas Carol that got to me – Scrooge. I’m sure several people who know me would say that I should always have identified with Scrooge, but that’s not exactly what hit me. The thing about the story that I noticed this time was this: After his midnight ordeal, Scrooge wakes up in the morning a changed man, and though we only see his first morning after, the projection implied is that Scrooge was a changed man ever after. That made me think, as many a jaded adult should probably admit to thinking, “Yeah, but how long did it last?”
Then I watched Young Adult, where Charlize Theron plays a woman so self-important and miserable that she honestly thinks it’s not only a good idea but a possible one that she can steal back her now-married ex-boyfriend. As I watched this movie, I couldn’t help make the connection – she’s a scrooge. She’s entirely focused on meeting her own needs; she sees the world only from her own viewpoint. However, unlike Scrooge, when her climactic moment of decision arrives and she realizes that she must change or else be miserable the rest of her life…she doesn’t. She reverts. She not only doesn’t learn her lesson but she believes that there was no lesson necessary to learn. It’s a disturbingly accurate portrayal of our contemporary approach to choosing to be better people, I think. (I never thought I would accuse Dickens of being optimistic, but by comparison to Diablo Cody, I guess he was.) In Young Adult, this scrooge thinks there’s nothing really wrong with her, and it’s deeply disturbing because you come to want so badly for this person to grow up and be better.
So. When/if we repent, change, heal, whatever, how long does it last? At least for me, the answer is usually “not very.” I have all the gusto in the world and have every honest intention of being a better person once I’ve been slapped in the face with my own idiocy, and I might even make a really good go of it for a week or two. But pretty soon, old nature sneaks back in and my enthusiastic decency-revival fades. Or, worse yet, like Young Adult, I talk myself out of needing to change because I’m so comfortable wallowing in my own mess that I can’t see how to do anything else. I’m not really that bad, right? Maybe it’s everyone else who’s wrong. Maybe I just need to focus more on myself.
Example: Lately (I use that liberally but feel free to replace with “for quite some time”), I’ve been a pretty sulky, victimized, snippy, unpleasant brat. I can easily admit that my biggest problem is that I quickly find flaws in people and expect too much from them, and I was living from the position that all my problems were caused by everybody else. (Let’s face it, this is an easy road to go down.) The stupid thing is that I’m horribly self-aware and knew I was being an ass, but I have always been able to rationalize my behavior and thoughts – okay, maybe that’s my worst quality. Anyway, I was definitely being a scrooge, pre-ghostly visitations. Fortunately, what finally got to me was not as traumatizing-ly supernatural. While reading Not A Fan by Kyle Idleman, I realized that I was being completely, self-righteously ridiculous. The problem was me. Yes, everyone else has problems and nobody’s perfect, but I CAN change ME. For starters, I needed to at least realize I had a plank in my eye. If I can rationalize my flaws, why can’t I do the same in others? I needed to be more forgiving of other people’s flaws. It’s only fair. What right do I have to think I’m better than everyone I’m upset with when I know I’m being a jerk? Why can’t I be as forgiving of other people as I am of myself?
As a Christian, I believe that the great, great thing about God is that he’s just waiting for us to realize we’re idiots. I always imagine a spiritual finger poking me when I need to realize I’m being stupid. The scary thing about us humans (or maybe just me…but I doubt it) is that we get really good at ignoring the poking. Sometimes it takes something to get our attention, and in my case is was Not A Fan (I’m really happy it wasn’t the Ghost of Christmas Future, because that guy always freaks me out, even in Muppet form). As I finished reading a chapter, I felt a weight lifted, and I knew it was my own stupidity. I acknowledged for the first time in way too long that I was being a self-righteous, judgmental idiot. And just like that, I felt God going, “Ah-ha, there ya go. Welcome back.” I realized at once that this was yet another time when I had to decide where to go and how to be better.
- Be fair – treat people at least as kindly as I treat myself. If I don’t like something about someone, first ask myself if that’s because it’s something I don’t like about me.
- Be a more invested friend – show up when people ask, because they might stop caring if I don’t.
- Get out of my own head. Empathize more.
- Let things go. People aren’t perfect.
Of course, in this approaching time of New Year’s resolutions, there is always the question of “How long will it last?” There will be slips. I’m not perfect, and no one ever completely changes. Within a short time, I’m sure I’ll catch myself saying something or doing something that will make me feel that finger-poking rebuke again. But I intend to remain aware and try to fix my behavior and thoughts as often as possible.
NOT THIS: THIS:
NOT THIS: THIS:
On Inside the Actors Studio, James Lipton asks the question, “If Heaven exists, what do you hope God will say when you come to the pearly gates?” Not that Lipton will ever interview me, but if he did I have my answer all prepped – I’ve always hoped God will smirk and be like, “That was interesting.”
Of all the things I don’t take seriously, death should probably not be one of them. But here we are.
I think about death probably a little too often. I’m not sure when this started. It may have something to do with wanting to be an assassin when I was little. I also know that my “storylines” when we played as children often ended in my death(s). Then there’s that recurring drowning dream I used to have where I would wake up choking. I like mythologies about the undead and have enjoyed playing with the weight of immortality in my own fiction. I really don’t know what the appeal (if that’s the right word) is, but I know that I’ve never been afraid of being dead. This may be overconfidence that, when I wake up in whatever life is to come, God’s going to be happy with me and/or I’m not going to be reincarnated as a cow. It may be that I have an unnatural detachment problem and am a little too curious about whatever comes when I’m gone from here. But whatever the reason, I’m not afraid of Death.
Don’t get me wrong – I think dying is terrible and agony is terrible and the pain it causes everyone involved is terrible. I hate loss, grief, sorrow, sickness, despair. When I see people cry, I cry (a reaction recently developed, as apparently my soul grew back or something, har, har). Funerals, saying a final goodbye – all of that is awful. It is the most painful thing to release someone from their life, our lives, and everything Known. Suffering comes in some way with every death, and that, if nothing else, is a curse that touches us all. I DO absolutely hate other people’s deaths. I become semi-dysfunctional whenever someone I love dies. I even have an odd reaction of anxiety whenever someone has an accident or goes ill or something – I become incredibly creative. I don’t know why. When I am anxious about someone else’s life or death, I go to a place in my head where I can’t stop myself from painting, or writing, or whatever. It’s odd, I know, but for some reason that is my coping mechanism.
Sidenote: I first noticed this uber-anxiety about others’ deaths when my great grandmother started fading. I was a teenager. Since great grandma lived alone (and there’s a wonderful story about her shooting a gun in her house to get the squirrels in the wall, btw), towards the end each member of the family took turns staying with her at night. This usually meant my mom, my aunt, or my older cousins, but for some reason one night my mom made me do it. Alone, with a person who could potentially die any minute, I don’t think I slept all night. It freaked me out. When I finally got to go home, I remember sequestering myself in my room and writing for hours.
Anyway, while death is bad, I personally am okay with it, if that makes sense. I accept that, at some point, I am going to die. I don’t see the point in being afraid or taking it too seriously, letting it haunt this life. It’s GOING to happen. I don’t want to die of a long drawn out illness, a painful demise, or go screaming in flames or anything. I certainly don’t want to leave behind my loved ones or have my life end before I’ve done and seen all I can. But I find death a little bit fascinating. It is the ultimate Unknown. Death is the one thing that happens to us all that none of us can ever know about until it happens to us personally. It’s the one thing we all have in common. It’s what makes this life all the sweeter, because we know it’s going to end. Death happens, and by searching to understand it as much as possible, I think we take as much of the sting away as we can.
My own faith and belief system obviously comes into play here. That’s probably a big part of why I’m not afraid and have a kind of peaceful relationship with the idea of death. It probably also explains some of my fascination with whatever comes next. But the interesting thing to me of late – in this past season of Halloween especially – is that I’m clearly not alone in this curiosity about the afterlife. I’ve been reading a LOT of zombie fiction lately, and everywhere you look these days there are books, movies, TV shows, etc. about what life would be like in a post-apocalyptic world. (Don’t get me started on vampire fiction.) We seem really fascinated by the idea of The End and what comes after. The thing that keeps standing out to me is that we are oddly drawn to the horror of death and kind of romanticize it. I’m sure this says something about our culture at the moment, and that’s probably enough for a whole other blog post, so I’ll let it go for now.
I’m not saying that we should revel in the idea of death or have a blasé attitude about it. I do think it is important to prepare for whatever you believe happens at death. But I don’t think we should fear death or getting old – THERE’S definitely another possible blog topic – to the point that we let fear of the Unknown infect our daily, walking life. Whatever your belief system, how you live in THIS life matters. There is plenty to fear and worry about now. There is plenty to make sure you get right now. There are other, much more manageable fears to focus on and try to heal.
I know what makes me sad.
I know what makes me hurt.
I know what makes me unhealthy.
I know what makes me guilty.
I know what makes me regret.
THESE are things to fear to the point of doing something about them, if that makes sense. These are things we have a shot of doing something about. We’re all going to die – you can’t control that. What you can control is how you live in this life. The better you manage this life, I think the easier the idea of death becomes.
So, yeah. Death happens. But I guess the point is what we do before it hits us. Suffering happens. But I guess the point is how we react to it. For me, I really do hope I can continue to see death as something that should make me appreciate life and joy all the more, death as the ultimate Unknown that reminds me to instead focus on those things I can control.
“Sometimes you run into someone, regardless of age or sex, whom you know absolutely to be an independently operating part of the Whole that goes on all the time inside yourself, and the eye-motes go click and you hear the tribal tones of voice resonate, and there it is – you recognize them.” — Anne Lamott
“So when we meet as strangers, when even friends look like strangers, it is good to remember that we need each other greatly you and I, more than much of the time we dare to imagine, more than more of the time we dare to admit. Island calls to island across the silence, and once, in trust, the real words come, a bridge is built and love is done –not sentimental, emotional love, but love that is pontifex, bridge-builder. Love that speak the holy and healing word which is: God be with you, stranger who are no stranger. I wish you well. The islands become an archipelago, a continent, become a kingdom whose name is the Kingdom of God.” — Buechner
For my own sanity and well-being, I try not to base too much of my life philosophy on Fight Club. However, the idea of single-serving friends is something that I appreciate.
Probably the biggest difference between the Sunny of Mother Superior Era and Sunny Version 2.0 is that now I like people. Love ‘em, even. As a writer, people are good sources of quirks that aren’t from my own head. As a slightly better-adjusted human being, people are just fascinating for their own sake. I love meeting new people, which is something I learned about myself during the model scouting period. I’ve always liked opening people up, finding what makes them tick, finding what passions drive them. Sometime the people that are in our lives every day get comfortingly boring, and we forget to ask new questions, discover new things. With new people, it’s much easier and natural to ask about who they are. And it’s great how new people can completely surprise you by being exactly what you need at exactly that moment. I think the shock value of a complete stranger getting you can do wonders. Sometimes you run into someone who is so much you that it’s wonderful (or awful). Sometimes you run into someone who teaches you something you’ll remember for the rest of your life.
Here are a few of my favorite single-serving friends:
- Garage Sale Kindred. During a family garage sale, my brother and I had an encounter with one of those people who I know God throws in my path just to get my attention. We were almost ready to close down the garage sale for the day when this blue car slid to a stop just too far of our driveway. Slamming the unenthused car into reverse, this old lady pulled into our driveway and got out to inspect my brother’s drums. Immediately, we both got the sense that she didn’t think she was old – you could just tell that about her. Her hair was white and she wore wide-rimmed glasses, but she carried herself like she was my age. She wore this beautiful sari that fluttered in the wind like a flag. The woman – I don’t even think we got her name – had attitude, spunk. It would be no stretch to say that she was interested in whatever she came across that she didn’t know about, I think. It was like she knew a secret that only she and life shared. Christian and I both agreed after she left that she was awesome. All the time we talked to her about her Sunday school kids, her yellow house down on the corner, my brother’s drums, and our own lives, she talked to us like we were her equals. That really was a great unspoken compliment.
- Smiley Asian Guy. Do you ever notice that simple, seemingly coincidental run-ins can change your outlook on a day? One morning at college, I was stressing over the problematic people in my life. I was walking down the sidewalk when I crossed paths with a little man who was obviously a visitor to campus. As I walked by him, he greeted me with a serene grin and asked, “Are you enjoying this morning?” It was just funny somehow, and it surprised me because it wasn’t the monotonous, “Hi, how are you?” I perked up immediately.
- Meijer Lady. During grocery shopping on a busy day, I found myself stuck in a funnel where this silly girl with her boyfriend was clogging the aisle as she tried for 3 minutes to decide which kind of ketchup she wanted. A lady in a scooter and I were the next up for crossing paths if the girl moved, and we made eye contact and exchanged smirks. Finally the exasperated boyfriend shoved his cart to the side enough for the scooter lady to get by. As she went by me she said with an eye roll, “Your word for the day is, OBTUSE.” I started laughing but tried to cover it as the boyfriend also rolled his eyes. Great.
So, yeah, I enjoy discovering fresh people. But what about people who are in my life daily and who have been in my life forever? Obviously we can always seek to know people better, and we shouldn’t forget to continually try. This leads to another favorite quote:
“We spend our lives guessing at what’s going on inside everybody else, and when we happen to get lucky and guess right, we think we ‘understand.’ Such nonsense. Even a monkey at a computer will type a word every now and then.” – Orson Scott Card
But the thing about people you know well – in many ways, it’s harder to be surprised by them. You know each other’s histories. You know their favorite foods and movies. You know what makes them angry. You know so much about them already that you can get lazy about pushing for more. However, even old, old, old friends can surprise you and be exactly what you need at exactly that moment. I’ve found that the trick is to fake myself out, to be just as interested while conversing with a friend as I would be with a new, single-serving friend. You see things more freshly that way, and sometimes your eye-motes go click. Sometimes you re-meet someone you’ve known for years and they’re a blessing you never saw coming.
A few times old friends/family/acquaintances have really mattered to me:
- Shaaaaaaane! The summer between high school and college, I was a mess, to say the least. One of my cousin Randy’s friends, Shane, happened to be up for the Fourth of July at my aunt and uncle’s cottage on the lake. Everyone pretty much acted like normal, asking me the usual questions about my upcoming departure for college, but I remember sitting on the beach with Shane and him asking me similar questions. For whatever reason (I’ve convinced myself it had nothing to do with the fact that I was at last 18), Shane treated me like he really cared, like this next step in my life mattered. I’m not sure we’d ever really talked before, but for some reason this was completely refreshing to me and meant a lot, maybe simply because he was a new person and I needed so very badly to be reminded that I needed new.
- Rachel K. A great thing about people who know you well is that sometimes they know exactly which of their own experiences you can learn from vicariously, even if you never saw it coming. When I was having problems with a particular mutual friend, Rachel was a surprising source of comfort as she explained a similar situation with another mutual friend (yes, I’m being vague). It was one of the first times we connected about things more serious than books and movies, and her response to her situation made me realize I had a better way to handle my whole thing. Her advice really helped, and I’d never seen it coming.
- Second-Favorite Hunter. I think I’ve told this story before. Chris H. is really probably my favorite hunter (don’t tell!) because I like a person who will jab at me playfully and know I won’t be offended. Chris for years would say, “What is that smell?” whenever I would enter a room. Anyway, during one fateful Haymarsh Sporting Clays Pig Roast, I broke my hand. Everyone asked what I’d done and looked sorry for me and all that. My family of course knew I was a klutz and so helped me get a plateful of pig and other assorted potluck food. BUT, much to my surprise, Chris was the one who brought me a piece of the dessert his wife had made. I didn’t ask for it, he didn’t ask first, he just brought it over. It was oddly kind and memorable, and it reaffirmed my love for my weird little hunter family of adopted-uncle-types.
Now here’s the flipside. What happens when I am that person who has the opportunity to matter in someone else’s life? How can I contribute to the people in my life – whether strangers, single-serving friends, people I’ve known forever, whatever?
For starters, I really do try to smile more (stop laughing, people who know me! I do!). I learned from that man above that this simple thing can matter to people. And I can be more cordial and kind in general to random people whenever our paths cross.
Strangers actually are easiest for me to be charitable towards. It’s the people I know well, the people who I’ve spent perhaps too much time with, the people whose flaws/strengths I know inside and out that I have a hard time with. (Apologies all ‘round.) But obviously these are the people I’ve invested in, the people who are most part of ME, and I should work to be…better. I should have the decency to dig deeper and not assume I know everything about them. I should be more forgiving of faults. I should seek to help them open up and grow. I should be encouraging. I should…I should…I should.
Sometimes I even do. I really do try to give more than I take. I try to be whatever a person needs from me. It’s that 1 Corinthians, “I have become all things to all people” idea. The problem is that I somehow usually end up draining myself – yes, I realize how self-righteous that sounds. Often I will invest so much in trying to help someone that I lose myself and feel like that person is sucking me dry. So, yeah, a happy medium would be good. But, honestly, I always know God is trying to teach me something as I try to help whoever He’s put in front of me. Patience. Compassion. Abandonment of self. Etc. Etc. Even in mattering to other people, we end up getting a lesson ourselves, I think.
There are obvious things I need to work on. I’m not good with criers. Hypothetically, I will pat a crying person’s head if I don’t know what else to do. And I’m not good with not poking when I see something is wrong – I want to fix everything and often don’t have the patience to go at someone else’s pace. I’m not good at letting down my defensive shield if it means I might get hurt, if it means I might have to be so honest that I could lose that friend. And, again hypothetically, when a person requires more vulnerability from me than I’m prepared for, I’m not good at letting go of all my little mechanisms for controlling the situation, and instead I will segue with something like, “Say, did you hear about that killing spree?” …Hypothetically.
So, yeah. People sometimes surprise you and can change you. And you can sometimes surprise people. I think the key thing – whether with strangers or best friends – is to treat each meeting as an opportunity to know someone better. You just never know who might turn out to really, really matter.