17 November 2007

The Book of Joby by Mark Ferrari

There was a time, about 20 plus years ago, where I bought and read many fantasy novels. While I never started with the granddaddy of the all, The Lord of The Rings, I none the less read a many.

However, beginning in the 90's, my thirst for them waned -same thing that happened mysteries between 1977 and 1981. There was so many, and mostly multi-volumed, that I could not finish them all. Some where just badly written, and others where just too close to Lord of the Rings to be inventive.

Over the intervening two decades, I’ve read only a few fantasy series that went beyond three books, mainly because I could not wait years between volumes. I mean, a year or two between books created this problem where I kind of forgot what happened.

There are some authors, I think, who realize that many people no longer have the time, or the motivation to devote years to a series. But, as the world goes, publishers are looking for series titles, franchises. A single volume “epic fantasy” is sort of frowned upon.

A couple of years ago, Tad Williams (who wrote one of my favorite multi-volume series, Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn) wrote a stand-alone fantasy novel called the War of the Flowers. While I like him, I was a bit hesitant to read (and still have not) his 4 volume Otherland series. Again, I argued, too many years between releases. Anyway, War of the Flowers was great time to sit and read an epic story, but told in only in one, if a bit overlong, volume.

Of course, Williams is an established author, so he can get away with this one-off. He’s back at the multi-book series format with the Shadowmarch, book one in which I read, and awaiting the paperback release of book 2.

A couple of weeks ago, I un-boxed The Book of Joby at my Borders, by first time novelist Mark J. Ferrari. As it boldly claims on its backcover, it is “An epic fantasy complete in one volume.” So, I had to read it.

Delving into Judeo-Christianity “mythology,” he drums up take on the Old Testament character of Job, here called Joby. The character of Job -(from wikipedia) is described as a rich, blessed man who fears God and lives righteously. Satan, however, challenges Job's integrity, and so it is revealed to Satan by God that Job exceeded the protective hedge with the word "behold" in effect God is saying look he is outside his protective boundry, resulting in tragedy for Job: the loss of his children, wealth, and physical soundness.

But this is no fantasy novel for the Left Behind crowd -as suggested by a review from Publisher’s Weekly that appears on Amazon.com’s web site. In truth it is a modern take on the classic Good vs Evil, with Lucifer wagering (what God calls a “stupid bet”) to undo God’s Creation of the Earth, and more importantly, free will.

Here, the novel becomes more interesting, as Ferrari also adds elements of Camelot and King Arthur, along with Jody’s devotion to be the best kid -and then, man - there is.

Joby is sweet child when we meet him, growing up in a normal, if not one bound to enormous amounts of coincidence and circumstance, world. But as Lucifer’s plan to take on God’s Champion, proceeds, everything Joby lives and loves for, begins to collapse around him. Yet, he retains his sense of love for God and the world, believing that there is more good in the world than evil.

But as his universe shatters, there is still hope, as a forgotten seaside town holds many unusual people and seems to defy a modern world. There a long-lost love, and her loving, yet emotionally damaged son, that holds Joby’s future and King Arthur’s past.

Ferrari’s mentions in an interview over at A Dribble of Ink, the challenges of crafting a novel that is heavily influenced by Christianity. He worried he might turn off the fantasy junkies, and also feel the rage of Christians, who seem to not want anyone mess with their religious history.

So, as a gay man, I kind of worried that Ferrari was going to make some Left Behind novel, where he condones many things, including gay people. But, to my surprise, while the novel is a bit heavy handed, it neither panders to or criticizes religion. It also never sort diverges into a soapbox on liberal points of view, either.

I kind of did not like the cliched notion that all “sensitive” kids are thought as gay, but sadly, that seems to be all too real. In correspondence with Ferrari, he explained to me that he was one of “sensitive”, artistic kids that most fathers seem to dread. So, it opened my eyes a bit on why Joby’s dad has issues with his son’s potential possibilities that he could be gay (although planted by Lucifer’s minions).

But, overall, I like the book, loved the characters and liked the way he addressed issues that -as I read - came into my mind. But you got to like the balls of a guy who would take on the Bible (and the Book of Job) and mesh it with a retelling of King Arthur and The Round Table.

And make it work.

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