Saturday, September 27, 2014

Hey, it's okay...

not to finish a book because it makes you feel uncomfortable.

Oh, no.  The Internet is going to come after me with pitchforks and torches.  People will screech, "But how will you learn??? You are prejudiced!  How can you call yourself a librarian if you limit what you reeeeeaaad???"  The Internet gets a little hysterical at times.  Just a wee bit.  In case you haven't noticed.

I requested an ARC of F.G. Cottam's newest book, The Lazarus Prophecy, because I've had Dark Echo (another book by Cottam) on my to-read list for a while.  The summary for The Lazarus Prophecy intrigued me: a Jack the Ripper-esque serial killer stalks London, while DCI  Jane Sullivan stalks him.  His murders are horrifying, because they involve muliation and sacreligeous writings.    Jane and the Yard enlist the help of a seminary dropout turned theologian named Jacob.

Meanwhile, an ultra-modern emissary from the Vatican climbs up a mountain in the Pyrenees to confront an order cloistered there.  They had received instructions from a cardinal in Rome to cease their rituals immediately, and the guard dog priest had been dispatched to ensure that the elderly men of the priory heeded the edict.  He's exceedingly proud of his athletic prowess and pragmatism when it comes to spiritual matters.  This guy is the worst houseguest ever.  He just stomps in, yells at the elderly friars, takes their sacred text, climbs back down the mountain, and gets hit by a car.

Now things started taking a turn for the truly bizarre, and I started feeling like this wasn't the book for me.

The titular Lazarus Prophecy isn't some sort of metaphor (which I erringly assumed from the get-go). Nope, it's an actual prophecy (in the book) uttered by Lazarus.  Yes, that Lazarus.  Back-from-the-dead Lazarus.  From the Bible.  According to the brothers living in the Pyreneean priory, "Lazarus was a sinner, judged before the Almighty and found wanting.  They believed the real miracle was that Lazarus was summoned back, not from death, but from hell.  They believed he had learned something there of Satan's plans for humankind."  Whoa whoa whoa.  What?

After Jesus' death, Lazarus goes to Peter (Saint Peter) and is very distressed by his "burden" of knowing what's going to happen.  Peter, being a rather bang up fellow, relieves him of this burden, absolves him of sin (?), and creates a Super Special Secret Society to deal with the threat relayed by Lazarus.  This threat is that Satan, being rather bored down in Hell, is going to send demons to the Earth.  The Super Special Secret Society basically just has to pray really hard and this keeps demons locked in the basement of their Super Strong Fortress.  At this point, I just said no.



I'm uncomfortable reading books about demons.  Also, when I thought about the argument presented in this book, it just didn't make sense to me.  All that follows is with the caveat that I am not Catholic, but I am Christian.

First of all, one could argue that the book inherently assumes that the Catholic beliefs about Hell, the Devil, and Jesus are all what actually govern the world, and not, say, Buddhism, Hinduism, or Islam.  Generally when authors do a sort of woo-woo evil they'll rename it and say it's XYZ, which influenced a particular belief or set of beliefs in religions all over the world.  This just bothers me from a diversity standpoint.  It might be excessively nitpicky, but it's just the sort of thing I notice, particularly with renewed emphasis in the book world for more diversity.

Secondly, proceeding from the assumption that this is all real, it doesn't really jive with what the Bible says, or with what I've learned about Hell.  In the original languages, the words that the cardinal and the Friars of the Most Holy Order of St. John's Gospel (the guys on the mountain) translate as "hell" are more commonly rendered "grave" (she'ol and ha'des).  The cardinal refers to Matt. 16:18 and quotes "The gates of hell shall not prevail against it."  Then the cardinal muses, "The problem was that if Matthew had quoted correctly, Christ had certainly believed in hell.  And it was his teachings their faith was supposed to serve."  The word used in the verse is ha'des (grave), so death will not prevail against the Church or congregation.

Admittedly, all I know about Hell I learned from Dante.  I'm not sure if people still believe in the Harrowing of Hell (referred to in Canto IV of Inferno (please note that I got out my copy and reread the canto and considered quoting it all here, but this is not an essay on Inferno.  I've written enough of those, thank you.)), but that's when Jesus supposedly descended into Hell and removed all of the righteous who had been there.  They had to wait in Hell until he died and his sacrifice was applied to open the way to heaven.  It's a bit like a celestial vacuum cleaner.  This supposedly happened while he was dead but before he was resurrected to Earth.  So if you believe this, then Jesus calling Lazarus back from Hell, as per the Brothers' prophecy, was a bit too early.  Why didn't he bring back all of the righteous who had been languishing in Hell?

Now, obviously this is a work of fiction, and it's not meant (at least, I don't think it is) to replace a person's religious beliefs.  However, that aspect of the story really caught my attention and made me think.  And when we got into the fact that there was an actual demon running around, I decided this wasn't something I wanted to read anymore.  And okay, I cheated and skipped to the end, and it seemed pretty lame.

Since I read an ARC and not the final copy, all of my quotes may be slightly different.  But I did notice, too, that some of the writing was rather awkward.  I expected this to be on par with Tana French and S.J. Bolton.  I struggled through sentences like, "His cell was lit by votive candles in a metal holder from which wax palely drooled."  How does something drool "palely"?  Candles are by nature pale and this detail doesn't really need to be there.  I also really loved this gem: "Even a renegade Jesuit would not naturally be misogynistic."  Excuse.  Me.  Anyone can be a misogynist (not to encourage people or anything).  I didn't realize that being a Jesuit automatically meant that you were incapable of being a misogynist.

Neither did I find the characters particularly compelling, and you could totally see the romance coming a mile away.  Jane Sullivan is the stereotypical successful-yet-socially-awkward-and-repressed woman.  As far as I can tell, she hasn't any hobbies or close friends.  But she is, of course, extremely sexy.  Duh.  You can't be a main character if you are not super-hot (authors try to get around this by making the character unaware that he or she is hot, but that doesn't fool me).

All in all, I'd recommend it for fans of the author, and also people who don't mind reading about demons, but I'm not ashamed to say I just didn't feel comfortable (and really compelled) to finish.

I received an ARC of this title from Netgalley.

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