A Collision of Two Imperfect Causes

I have read and enjoyed The Last Castle several times. I enjoyed it so much, I am reading it now in its much longer, original, unedited version. The title MacDonald originally chose was St. George and St. Michael.

MacDonald’s story begins in 1641 shortly after Thomas Wentworth, The Earl of Stafford was arrested by Parliament, tried for treason, and beheaded. King Charles I, a personal friend of Stafford, signed the order for the execution and regretted his decision to his dying day.

MacDonald, as a masterful storyteller, does not chose the easy road and cast the conflict between Parliament (Roundheads, Puritans) and the King as a one dimensional conflict between Good and Evil, but rather he shows how two groups of people, the Heywoods on one hand, and Henry Somerset , the Earl of Worchester, and his subjects on the other hand, find themselves by differing honorable convictions on opposite sides. Although on opposing sides, they fought each other for noble and altruistic reasons.

The Earl of Worchester, a catholic, and his followers had given their allegiance to the King and would stand by him to the bitter end. Hence St George is in the title, representing the red cross of England and the crown.

On the other hand, Richard Heywood and his father, believed their first allegiance was to their conscience and truth. For that reason they chose the side of Parliament and the Puritans. The archangel St. Michael stands for truth.

Although they were on opposite sides of this great civil war, when they met they respected each other since they saw a true man, a man of principle in the other. They were taking part in a war that was a collision of two imperfect causes (I think this phrase was used by MacDonald but I cannot locate the reference).

Indeed when Richard Heywood is captured inside Worchester’s Raglan Castle, The Earl now a Marquis offers him freedom if he would renounce his cause or even share his secret how he came to get into the castle. Richard declines and is sent to the dungeons.

After Richard is taken away the honorable Marquis says to himself:

“I doubt not the boy would tell everything rather than see his mare whipped. He’s a fine fellow, and it were a thousand pities he turned coward and gave in. But the affair is not mine–it is the King’s. Would to God the rascal were on our side! He’s the right old English breed.”

How Does This Speak to Me Today?

In Matthew 7:1-2 Jesus says:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.”

The reason I am not to judge, is not because judgment must never happen, but rather because I am so poor at it. I am too ready to excuse myself and condemn others. I know nothing of the background, assumptions, or personal history that led to a particular action in others. If this is true of contemporaries I know reasonably well, it is much more true of historical figure in whose shoes I have never walked and whose motivations I could never fathom. Yet, as I get to know people from other eras through what they have written , that reading can be invaluable in finding out about myself, my own biases and about the uncritiqued assumptions that so plague my thinking.

Concluding Thoughts

We live in a time when the wholesale destruction of our history is taking place. Statues are torn down, graves desecrated, and places named after historical figures are being renamed. We act as if we  moderns are uniformly righteous and those that have gone before us are irredeemably evil. Even if that were true (we are too complex as human beings for that to be so clear cut) we would still be better off to leave our history intact and learn from our past both good and bad. It is better to have a view into the past from historical eyes than to leave the writing of history to the biased ideologues of today who desire us to think in a certain way.

Every war is a collision of two imperfect causes. Those on opposite sides may indeed be there for different, honorable reasons. I hope I continue to have the courage to respect that.

Five Star Review of THE DRAGONS OF SHEOL on Amazon-UK

Link to the original posting
Re-printed below in a more readable font

The main difficulty for me with the Halcyon Cycle has been the interval between books! On this occasion, (having previously written to ask when this was coming out) Peter kindly sent me a free review copy, which I found waiting for me on my return from a trip away. I was tired from my travels; so that made a perfect excuse to put my feet up and read – and I devoured over a third of the book in one day! After that, I decided I had better catch up on my other work and rationed myself quite severely. One tip: if, like me, it’s about 2 years since you read the last book I’d recommend re-reading that first. Maybe even re-read both. I found that I had become pretty hazy over some of the details: but I was so intent on following the story that I failed to notice the helpful glossary and maps at the back until I’d almost finished.

The book is very fast-paced, as Al and his friends engage in an increasingly desperate search to trace his wife and adopted son before they are lost forever in the terrifying abyss called Sheol. This leaves them less time for philosophical debate than in previous books. Nevertheless, the philosophical element is still present, covering such issues as the social bankruptcy of [tyranny], duty in the face of despair and whether the goodies are always good or the baddies irredeemably bad.

The book ends on a high note: but this is very evidently the calm before the storm. Key questions remain unanswered; and the eventual outcome is far from certain. Will good ultimately triumph over the evils that may arise from the depths of Sheol, from within the ranks of the Ancient Ones, or from Earth itself? Is there going to be another trilogy? I won’t be satisfied until I see the next series.

Review of THE DRAGONS OF SHEOL by David Hershey

The first review of The Dragons of Sheol appeared months ago on Goodreads. I have always found David Hershey’s reviews thought-provoking and insightful. Here is his review of The Dragons of Sheol as well as the link to the original posting. I found this in my draft collection on my website and thought I should belatedly make it available for completeness since I have linked to several other reviews. David Hershey rated The Dragons of Sheol as 4 out of 5 stars. I have taken his comment of “there needed to be a summary of where we’ve been so far” to heart.

This is the third book in the Halcyon series and the third that I’ve had the privilege of reviewing for free. Social media has lots of problems, but one of its positives is that you can connect with people. [I’ve] never met Pete, but I’d almost consider him a friend. Or perhaps a kindred spirit.

Pete loves fantasy and has worked hard in creating his own fantasy world. I recall loving the first book, The Halcyon Dislocation, and liking the second, The Battle for Halcyon. “Recall” is an appropriate word there, as it’s been years since I read them. I guess I’ll start the review with a negative (well, I did say nice things about Pete first!): there really needed to be a summary of where we’ve been so far! Even Stephen King did this in his Dark Tower series and you can find summaries of that all over the internet. I imagine reading these books closer together would remedy this. But apart from the main characters, I struggled to remember.

On top of this, the primary big bad of the first two books is barely mentioned (Meglir). Instead the antagonist is Bigelow, a lieutenant of Meglir’s who has a personal vendetta against Al, one of the mains. But I couldn’t remember who Bigelow was. I pieced enough together as the story went, but a summary would have been nice.

Another thing to note about this book is simply its brevity. In a world of Sanderson and Jordan and Martin where world-building is everything, a lot is left to the imagination here. That’s not necessarily a negative. Yet it would be nice to know a bit more about secondary characters like Dwight and Tom and others who are usually around and sometimes say and do things but don’t seem well-developed.

Before I said Pete’s work reminds me of Lewis and Tolkien. Lewis’ Narnia stories were brief and the world was a bit shadowy as Lewis relied on the reader’s imagination. Even Tolkien’s The Hobbit includes 13 dwarves in Thorin’s company but most are not well-developed at all. Dwight and Tim are like Ori and Nori: they’re always around but you don’t know them. [Honestly], this book reminded me a lot of Terry Brooks Sword of Shannara series as I recall a few primary characters being complex and others just being there.

That said, I’m not gonna fault Pete for not writing a Wheel of Time rip off! Sure, a 600 page book full of details would be fun, but it’d be easy to lose focus. This book is about Dave and Al and Floyd and maybe 1-2 others. They are who we know and their actions drive the story. Each of them is a strong character. Reading their adventures remains fun.

And adventure they have! Dragons and spiders and other creatures chase them around the island of Sheol. Sheol, with its real world connotations was distracting as it’s quite different here. It’s not an underworld or land of the dead, though it is not a pleasant place either. Once I rid my mind of preconceptions, I found Pete’s creation scary and riveting.

Overall, it’s a great read. Pete’s best skill remains thing in real world style conversations into the story. Al and Floyd argue about God, Al reads his Bible, people pray. The characters aren’t preachy or unrealistic, they are simply Christian characters (or interested seekers) having an adventure and having conversations. Imagine Legolas and Gimli discussing the gods and such over a campfire during the quest. That’s what Pete gives us: the conversations other authors skip.

If you like fantasy, check this one out.

A Writer’s First Trip to the Holy Land: Gideon’s Springs also called Ein Harod

Gideon’s Spring

It was a rainy day when we arrived at Gideon’s Springs, a beautiful area with clear water bubbling up at the back of this shallow cave.

From there the water flowed across Ma’ayan Harod National park.

This enchantingly beautiful place was the likely the location (see Judges chapters 6-8) where Gideon selected the three hundred to begin the rout of the Midianites.

One of the many colorful flower placements in rock crevices along the trail
This bulb-shaped tree with spikes on the trunk is likely Ceiba speciosa, also called the Silk Floss Tree.

Personal Reflection

In a land of desert and stone such as Israel, the appearance of a well-watered place such as Ein Harod must have inspired reflections on God’s love and provision.

Here is one of my favorite passages:

Isaiah 41:17-21 English Standard Version (ESV)

17 When the poor and needy seek water,
    and there is none,
    and their tongue is parched with thirst,
I the Lord will answer them;
    I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
18 I will open rivers on the bare heights,
    and fountains in the midst of the valleys.
I will make the wilderness a pool of water,
    and the dry land springs of water.
19 I will put in the wilderness the cedar,
    the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive.
I will set in the desert the cypress,
    the plane and the pine together,
20 that they may see and know,
    may consider and understand together,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
    the Holy One of Israel has created it.

Even when we are in a dry place and are driven to the border of death by thirst, Isaiah reminds us that when we are driven to ask, God will provide and provide abundantly. For me, Ein Harod is a beautiful picture of God opening up a fountain in the midst of the valley and the bounty and fruitfulness that living water can bring.

Drawing Maps for the Novel COVENTRY 2091

Vulture Lake, a fictitious lake in the Canadian Shield, North of Lake Superior

Maps play an important part in most of the books I publish. This ingrained desire to associate maps with fantasy adventure was established from my earliest days of reading The Chronicles of Narnia. Indeed, particularly when I read fantasy or seafaring novels, I get significant enjoyment out of perusing the maps and tracing the journeys described in the stories on them.

I suppose an author with a bigger budget could commission these maps for my own books out to a professional artist, but I find that preparing the maps is an important part of the overall experience of writing a book.

One program that I like to use is Campaign Cartographer 3+ (CC3+) from Profantasy. Handy YouTube videos are available to get the novice drawing quickly. I was able to draw the three color maps shown in a short time.

The town of Kinsinger on the barren, but habitable planet, Alpha Centauri A-3
The terrain within one hundred kilometers of Kinsinger

For me as an amateur map builder, it is much easier to select a set of drawing parameters and stay within them rather than change things like colors and effects. However, since the maps in the print edition, are black and white, while the downloadable maps from the website are color, it is difficult to optimize for both online (color) and print (black and white) media.

Black and White rendition of Vulture Lake
Black and White – Kinsinger Town
Black and white – Kinsinger area.

Black and white jpeg versions were generated using the “colorify” option in GIMP,

My Review of THE SORROWFISH. The Call of the Lorica (Book #1)

My Review

Sorrowfish (The Call of the Lorica, #1)Sorrowfish by Anne C. Miles
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Canard is a world in trouble. It is sustained by a life-giving song which emanates from a huge, damaged tree. The Conclave, a severe religious order, is purportedly working to keep the tree alive and nurture it back to health. Yet the tree continues to grow weaker.

Trystan dan Tenkor, a prince and bard-in-training, Danethor Thomas Whitley, a dewin (wizard), and Sara Moore, an artist and college student in our world, are linked to the attempt to rescue the tree. Anne C. Miles, weaves their stories together with great skill. I learned to love the beauty of Canard and was troubled by the unfolding evil in the leadership of the Conclave. It is a beautiful story, with surprising plot turns and characters that captured my interest and allegiance.

There were many surprising and delightful moments in the plot. Without giving away too much, in one poignant moment, Danethor had been captured by the Conclave and was being pressured to cooperate. To me it was clear he would be tortured until he broke or died. I was calling for him, as a reader, to pretend to collaborate. He did not and the following events, although unexpected, were very satisfying.

The world that Anne Miles has created is also filled with very imaginative and enthralling entities: gnomes, fae, Chymaera, tunebells, grotesques, and Caprices, to name a few. They each have unique properties and characteristics. They lend excitement to the world exploration that is a significant part of this story.

At this point, I would like to add a personal note describing why this story was particularly significant to me. As a scientist and Christ-follower, I tend to see God through the lens of the things I love and cherish. That is to say my love of physics, chemistry, and biochemistry leads me to see God as The Great Mind, The Supreme Logician, The Designer and Sustainer of the cosmos.

In writing this story, Anne Miles has taken a deliberately artistic and musical path. The world is sustained by the Song. Musical notes and the octave play a significant role in the world building. One of the key protagonists (Sara) is working on a sculpture that captures her “heartfire.” As a reader, seeing the world through the artistic eyes of the main characters, I received a whole new perspective that led me to see God not only as a Great Scientist but also as The Great Artist. In writing this story, Miles filled in a blind spot for me.

In closing, this is a wonderful book that I will likely read again and again. I rate it five stars.

View all my reviews

Review of THE DRAGONS OF SHEOL: “An Exciting Story with Superb World-Building”

C. S. Wachter is a fantasy writer with more than seven books published including the four volume The Seven Words series. It is both delightful and instructive to read an encouraging review from an accomplished world-builder and fantasy author on the third book in The Halcyon Cycle, The Dragons of Sheol.

To read the C. S. Wachter review on Goodreads

To read the C.S. Wachter review on Amazon

In case the links stop working and also for your convenience, the 4/5 star review is posted below …

When Al Gleeson’s wife and child are kidnapped by an old enemy, Al and his friends travel to Abaddon to stage a rescue mission. Abaddon is a fearful place filled with strong enemies; and, yet, the rescuers find friendship and help when least expected. The story is filled with twists and the rescue mission seems destined to fail at every turn.

This is an exciting story with superb world building. I felt the terror as the Necoran attacked and the ground rumble as the pachydons charged. The way the rebels work through the Guild and the feel of the city of Seth is wholistic and believable. And . . . of course, the dragons! Black. Brown. And the loveable Green.

So much of the action takes place on the terraces where my fear of heights caused me shivers when I thought of the immensity of the drop offs. Not for the faint-hearted but excellent fare for an armchair adventurer.

The action of the story begins with Dave, but he is only one of many characters. (The POV is restricted to only two—Dave and Al—so it is not overwhelming) Though there is a degree of depth to the characters, the depth is the fact that this is a plot driven story.

The Christianity is woven through the story in snippets of conversation, thoughts, and prayers. Some of the rescuers question the existence of God while others exhibit a strong faith. This is not a treatise on religion, but a fantasy and Kazmaier handles the Christian aspects well. But, deeper than any character’s faith or lack thereof, the very existence of Abaddon, Sheol, and the Bent Ones establishes the foundation of a Creator within the world-building itself. The Green Dragons express a hope in the Creator. Once again, well done.

Personally, I prefer character-driven stories to plot-driven stories. So, for me, this earns a four-star rating. It is a well-written book with interesting scientific details interspersed. I recommend you read the series starting with book one, The Halcyon Dislocation, to get a better feel for the characters.

I received a copy of this book for review purposes. This review is my own unbiased opinions.

A Writer’s First Visit to the Holy Land: The Golan Heights and Tell Dan

Introduction

A source of the Jordan River in the Tell Dan Nature Preserve

As I stated previously, before I talk about my trip to the Golan Heights and Tell Dan, I want to talk about the situation we are all facing with regard to the Coronavirus. One of the most helpful things I have heard was a brief interview Ravi Zacharias gave from a hospital parking lot (he was in for a cancer treatment after a recent diagnosis).

He said essentially there are two extreme responses to avoid: great fear and indifference. I think he is right and that middle road is what I want to follow as I take precautions of “social distancing” and yet do not let fear rule my thinking. Here is the link to his approximately six minute interview by Ben Shapiro.

Ravi passed away a few days ago on May 19, 2020. Although I did not know him personally, I have read so many of his books and attended a course of his that I feel as if I do know him personally. Since, as it turns out, this interview was the last message from him that I heard, it is even more significant for me.

Tell Dan and the source of the Jordan

Attribution: Map Data © 2020 Mapa GISreal. Orion-Me. A view of the Tell Dan Nature Preserve

The land given to the tribe of Dan is very different from the country we have seen up to this point. Close to Mount Hermon and the Golan Heights, this country was lush as opposed to arid. We saw some of the streams that formed the source of the Jordan River.

The abundant water reminded me of Psalm 1 and Jeremiah 17, a tree planted by streams of water.

A tree planted by stream of water. Psalm 1:3.

An Ancient Canaanite City

Ancient Canaanite arch predating the Roman arch

One of the remarkable finds in the archaeological excavations in this area was the discovery of a “Canaanite Arch” (shown above) which predates the Roman arch. 

A Canaanite Small City

One of the interesting excavation sites in this area was a Canaanite City (much smaller than what we consider a city today). Notice they do not have freestanding walls but rather back-filled walls. The stone work and foundations required for free-standing walls were apparently not known yet.

Walls supported by earth before free-standing walls could be constructed
A closeup of the fortifications
An altar

In the picture below, one sees the remnants of a frame that held the posts of the sedan chair or throne that would be carried to the outside of the city gate for the king to greet delegations, negotiate with neighboring rulers, or perhaps even hear complaints and charges from his own subjects.

This again verifies the historical accuracy of the Bible as the city gates play such an important role in the historical Old Testament accounts. Meeting strangers outside the city gates also likely served a strategic, military purpose: visitors could not spy out the defenses of the city itself since they were not allowed inside.

The platform for the king’s chair just outside the city gates

Personal Reflection

The past two weeks have seen the passing of two very important people in my life. My father passed away on May 10th, while Ravi Zacharias passed away on May 19th. They were very different people: my father was a private man who influenced his family, his friends and his faith community; Ravi Zacharias was an international speaker who profoundly challenged everyone who would listen (including me) to think carefully and consistently about their faith.

Different as they were, they both impressed me with their commitment to understanding the Bible rightly and living out a life that put trust in the Lord Christ. Seeing the picture of the tree in the middle of the pool at Tell Dan reminds me to do the same.

For the previous post in this series …
If you are looking for something to read during this time of isolation, my e-books (ePub format) are now also available from Walmart … here are the links:

The Halcyon Dislocation

The Battle for Halcyon

The Dragons of Sheol

Questioning Your Way to Faith

Kazmaier Review of Glen Robinson’s THE HERETICS

My Review …

The HereticThe Heretic by Glen Robinson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I enjoy books that keep me engaged and keep me reading. But I also like books that get me to think. Indeed, it is the books that have both of these attributes, which I read again and again. THE HERETIC by Glen Robinson excels at both.
On the one hand it is a thriller that kept me reading to find out what happened next. So much so, I couldn’t wait until my next reading session came along. I cared about the main protagonist, DJ, and constantly found myself hoping he wasn’t putting himself into situations he couldn’t escape. The ending was exciting, but to large measure, surprising.
On the other hand, this thriller gave me a great deal to think about. It posed the problem: what would be the fair, just, and honorable response if one encountered a vigilante (or even a terrorist organization in the eyes of the FBI) that was willing to break the law to accomplish good. Would rescuing the kidnapped and giving purpose to those whose lives no longer had meaning, compel me in some sense to approve or condone the actions they took? I would say that the end does not justify the means, but what if the end were unmistakably good and authorities seemed powerless?
Elijah Brown runs an organization he founded by rescuing street gang members, prostitutes, and drug addicts. But he is hunted by the FBI. What the FBI does not know, or will not believe: many of Brown’s foes are supernatural and have powers that make them almost impregnable. Is Brown breaking the law? Yes. Is he bringing criminals to justice? All the time. Does this excuse him and his associates? I don’t know. The story makes it difficult for me to give an easy answer.
If you like a fast-paced thrillers with a supernatural component, this book is for you. My rating—five stars.

View all my reviews

THE DRAGONS OF SHEOL Review: “A solid, well-balanced novel within an epic framework”

Writing a novel is a bit like cooking dinner for someone else: a badly prepared meal will appeal to no one, but even a well-prepared main course will not appeal to everyone, since tastes legitimately differ.

Having said that, it is always a special pleasure for me, as a writer, to find a kindred spirit that seems to appreciate the same things in novels that I do. I am so grateful for speculative-fiction-author Tessa Stockton’s thoughtful and insightful five star review of The Dragons of Sheol. Check the links below …

On Goodreads

On Amazon.com

In case you have difficulty accessing the review on these sites, see below …

After having finished reading The Dragons of Sheol, I can’t help but come away feeling as if this is one of the most solid, well-balanced novels within a high fantasy, epic journey setting. This is not a subgenre in which I often read, as it’s not one of my favorites in the speculative fiction realm. However, the amount of work and detail the author skillfully presented was impressive. That in itself won me over, never mind the successful plotline.

This is some of what I appreciated about the book: deep symbolism, amount of fine detail, weapons hosting names, well-developed and likeable characters, as well as villains who make you cringe. There’s an array of interesting creatures—and I enjoyed that a vicious lup was adopted and turned rather cute and helpful. I also favored Hanomer, a critter with a hand at the end of his tail, and the green dragons were downright cool. The story held intriguing manners of communication, and the powers of nature were highly descriptive. Abaddon is evil and the dark magic that presides there invokes fear and trepidation as it should. The Dragons of Sheol is a complex story well carried out.

As a Christian reader, there are refreshing surprises along the way. One is with Al, a protagonist who kick-starts this journey in a search to find his kidnapped pregnant wife and stepson. The honesty that is painted regarding his sense of failure and defeat followed by purpose is realistic and relatable. And I appreciated most of all how questions were presented about the nature of God via down-to-earth conversations between characters; therefore, it never came across as preachy. A teaser from one of my favorite exchanges comes from character Dave in speaking to Al: “At the end of the day, my question still stands. Can God really love me if he’d let me choose a destiny that involves eternal torment?” It’s this kind of philosophical exploration that works—really works in causing one to think and ask those tough questions regarding spirituality and fate.

Overall, I was impressed with the amount of creativity, philosophy, purpose, sheer writing skill, and also a unique addition of scientific elements to cap this outstanding world-build. We are gifted by the author with the explanation of air pressure and how it is that dragons can fly, the topography of Abaddon, contour of the terraces, relative maps, and an in-depth glossary.

In offering something constructive, it would be with the chapter titles. Seems like an insignificant thing, and maybe it is. However, I as a reader find that an air of mystery would have had more impact. Many of the chapter titles here flat-out told me beforehand what to expect, and that kind of killed the suspense for me (because I especially love elements of suspense and mystery). As an example, when I read the chapter heading, “Necroan Attack,” I thought, “Okay, something called a Necroan is going to attack,”—and I was right! With all the interesting twists throughout this book, the chapter titles seemed, in contrast, too direct in telling. One of my writing coaches from back in the day said the best thing for a writer to give a reader is room for their own imagination to fill in some blanks. Tease them with hints of what a chapter might be about, but don’t summarize the chapter by its heading.

Those who admire J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis will really dig this epic fantasy by Peter Kazmaier, as their influences are evident. Yet, I can also recommend this book in general, even if it isn’t what you’d typically read, because it’s very well done and deserving of a five-star review.

I received this book as an ARC for free and am giving it my honest review voluntarily.