Monday, October 28, 2013

Once again, brilliant Christian story-telling

Empire of Bones by N. D. Wilson

This is the third volume in the Ashtown Burials series. Reviews of this book are a little superfluous. If you have read the first two, you will want to read Empire of Bones, and you will love it. If you haven't read any book in the series yet, you will need to start with The Dragon's Tooth.

Yet I do need to say something about how I love this series so much, and the recent publication of this volume is an excellent opportunity to do so. I want to mention five important themes in the series, that came out in the book in particular.

Firstly, the series is distinctly Christian, and this became slightly more explicit in this book (e.g. p. 333). There is an atonement of sorts, and it has a similar feel to that of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Secondly, as Suzannah Rowntree has astutely pointed out, the Order of Brendan in the book series is used as a metaphor of the Church. This is developed a bit more in Empire of Bones, and we start to see the fuzzy edges of the concept, such the existence of different denominations, and the presence of people who view the Order as a club rather than a calling (p. 313).

Thirdly, Wilson draws heavily on the Old Testament's Book of Daniel. The central character of the book is a boy named Cyrus, who (like his biblical namesake) is a Messiah-figure. His brother, Daniel, is a prophetic figure, and the book contains a significant prophecy about "seventy weeks".

Fourthly, Wilson explores the theme of death in this series, and especially this book. Again and again reference is made to the blessing of mortality. As one transmortal character is told (p. 103), "You fall and you rise and you fall again, but your inner war can never leave off, it can never stay won. Mortals weren't made for it. We were made to run and hit the finish." This is also something that Wilson has been exploring in his non-fiction writing – see this video, for example.

Fifthly, this book is strong on the theme of family, especially fatherhood. There are lots of interesting family dynamics and exploration of the differences between girls and boys (e.g. p. 142).

Finally, I detected a couple of interesting influences in N. D. Wilson's writing that I hadn't seen before. The other day I happened upon a review he had written of Thomas Cahill's How the Irish Saved Civilization many years ago. Wilson had sounded convinced, and his appreciation of Celtic Christianity comes through in Empire of Bones. Also,there is a hint of the Eastern Orthodox concept of the "Holy Fool" (p. 430).

Empire of Bones is brilliant writing. Wilson draws on a wide range of sources, but so much of it is original. This is an imagination most fertile.

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