I’ve been a fan of Ted Dekker’s books for a long time – a VERY long time. His novel “Showdown” was certainly one of the most powerful and influential books I’ve ever read – and his loosely-connected “Circle Trilogy” (“Black”, “Red”, and “White”) was a magnificent tour de force on par with the best of Lewis or Tolkien. However, since then, the quality of his books has seemed to deteriorate somewhat (with the exception of the dramatic “Adam”). Novels like “Skin” and “Kiss” just don’t have the page-ripping suspense or emotional intensity of his earlier works. When I learned that Dekker was diversifying into the young-adult market with his “Lost Books” – a series of six volumes set in the universe of the Circle Trilogy – I was eager to see whether they’d rise to the level of his prior trilogy.
The books follow four young people from the Middle Village (these books take place between “Black” and “Red”) as they attempt to help Thomas of Hunter save the people of Elyon from the barbaric Horde. Johnis, the primary character, is an impetuous-but-good-hearted leader. Silvie, his love interest, is a warrior-princess with a special talent for throwing daggers. Billos is the renegade of the group – the one who’s not afraid to suggest using dark forces against darker enemies. And Darsal, Billos’ closest friend, is a hardened-but-ultimately-compassionate female lead.
The story’s primary conflict revolves around the seven original Books of History – blank books that contain the power to affect reality (i.e. words written in the books play out in the actual world). The four youths’ goal is to recapture the Books from both the vengeful Horde forces and the demonic Shataiki bats that control them. Their adventures span six volumes (Chosen, Infidel, Renegade, Chaos, Lunatic, Elyon) and two universes.
The first four books are pretty good. Johnis, Silvie, Billos, and Darsal fight Horde, Shataiki, and their own darker sides as they engage in a desperate search for the ever-more-elusive Books of History. “Chaos” concludes with a smashing confrontation between good and evil, very reminiscent of the best moments of the Circle Trilogy. If the “Lost Books” had just called it quits then, I probably wouldn’t be writing this review.
But “Lunatic” and “Elyon” proceed to ruin the entire sextet.
For starters, the plot has nothing to do with the Books of History – rather, it seems to be about some sort of amulet that grants the holder power to control the evil Shataiki. I don’t know where this whole plotline came from, but it feels like something pulled from “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” or one of the really bad BIONICLE comic books. Deep spiritual significance flies out the window, with worn-out tropes taking its place
But that’s not all. Johnis – formerly a paragon of heroism, leadership, and courage – is abruptly possessed by a “Leedhan”, a half-Shataiki-half-Horde creature of unearthly beauty, who just happens to be a vampire. It’s a tacky way of capitalizing on the “Twilight” craze and has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the series. (Nowhere else have we even heard of a Leedhan). And we’re never really given any convincing explanation for why Johnis allows her to possess him, either. It’s a poorly written, badly conceived finale to an otherwise promising young-adult series.
I’m a bit leery of the whole universe-hopping concept – first of all because of its “Matrix”-derivative nature, but also because young-adult fantasy has a tendency to deteriorate rapidly when there are too many dimensions to keep track of. One needs look no further than Bryan Davis’ disastrous “Oracles of Fire” series to understand what I’m talking about. Not only were the books theologically questionable and poorly plotted, but the number and rapidity of the dimension-hopping excursions made the end of the series borderline incomprehensible.
And sadly, the final two “Lost Books” aren’t much better. The universe-crossing was relatively limited in both the Circle Trilogy itself and the first four Lost Books – but Dekker’s attempts to link the Circle Trilogy with his “Books of Paradise” (“Showdown,” “Saint,” and “Sinner”) have mostly fallen flat since then. The muddled monstrosity that was “Green” attempted to reconcile the two sagas, but settled for an ambiguous, cop-out ending. (Along those same lines, the similarity between the names of the Lost Books’ main characters and the children in “Showdown” (Johnis = Johnny, Billos = Billy, Darsal = Darcy) are never fully explained.)
From a worldview standpoint, there are some considerations.
First, I want to make it clear that I am still a fan of Dekker’s work. His book “Showdown” was truly transformative in helping me make my faith personal, and the Circle Trilogy has had the same effect on many other readers. However, his books have recently taken a turn for the worse, in my opinion.
There’s not a whole lot of love given to organized Christianity. There’s a lot about a “relationship” with Elyon (God/Jesus), but not very much about how to walk in His steps. Organized religion is portrayed as an oppressive, unpleasant force that exists solely to judge and condemn. A reliance on “love” and emotional response is held up as the pinnacle of Christianity.
But our faith is supposed to be more than just a euphoric sensation. We need to understand what we believe and why we believe it – not just relying on what we “feel” in a moment of spiritual ecstasy. Dekker’s approach to faith, while well-intentioned, is not practical in a world where our beliefs are under attack from all sides.
There is also a morally problematic element running through the series as a whole – the character of Billos/Billy. It is never clear whether Billos/Billy is a hero or a villain – he appears to be an enemy in “Showdown” and “Green,” but takes on the role of a heroic figure in “Sinner” and “Renegade.” Personally, I found it disturbing that Billos/Billy’s allegiances were never clear – it led to some very morally murky situations, especially in “Sinner,” when I was never sure whether to be rooting for Billy or against him.
This isn’t to say that the Lost Books are somehow spiritually subversive – they’re not. The last two books are badly written, and there are a few questionable swipes at the organized Church, but overall the message is strongly Christian.
Other objectionable content? There’s some violence (nothing gory or severe) and occasional mild sensuality (in temptation-related contexts), but nothing else that should preclude Christian parents from giving the books to their teens. There are a few “dark” moments (especially in “Chosen” and “Chaos”) but they’re counterbalanced by scenes of self-sacrifice and heroic renewal.
Should you read them?
It’s up to you. They’re certainly not Dekker’s best work, and your time would almost certainly be better spent reading his fast-paced “Circle Trilogy” or the emotionally devastating “Martyr’s Song” series. They’re substantially better than Bryan Davis’ “Dragons In Our Midst” and “Oracles of Fire” quartets, but they’re definitely not “literature” on the level of the “Chronicles of Narnia.”
A mediocre effort from one of Christian fiction’s best authors.