Pursued by racists into Kentucky’s Mammoth Caves, teenage Nathan finds an incredible subterranean civilization, where he is a prophesied savior in a war against the ancient, demonic Krytor.
Australian author Ballantyne’s epic might pass the litmus as “Christian fiction,” despite an introductory disclaimer from the writer (a member of the LDS church) that Tolkien-style heroic fantasy was more his aim. Disconsolate after the loss of his parents, teen orphan Nathan Shepparton vagabonds into a small town near the Mammoth Caves of Kentucky and impulsively defends the area’s only black family against Klan thugs. Hunted by vengeful KKK into a neglected cavern, Nathan passes through a waterfall into the vast, incredible subterranean world of Thuromest. Here, pious Hebrew-speaking tribes fashion just about everything out of ubiquitous mineral crystal and have no knowledge of their origin before being brought to this place a few millennia ago. In hot pursuit of Nathan is the Klan leader and Aryan warlord Karl—but straightaway both have an even bigger villain to face: Krytor, a bat-winged devilish menace. Krytor was freed from his rock prison (on the Earth side) a few decades ago and now, having built up his armies of orcs, er, Gromms, plans to resume his ancient campaign of conquest of the worlds both below and above. The only weapons foretold as able to foil Krytor are three mystic gems. Nathan happens to possess one of them, the Key of Knowledge, which immediately confers (besides the LucasFilm ability to shoot out energy beams at enemies) on him the rank of “Lord Nathan” among the awestruck natives. While subtlety, especially in dialogue, is not Ballantyne’s strong suit, he does deploy a few unexpected narrative twists and one or two moral ambiguities. The most obvious of the latter is the no-goodnik bully-racist Karl poised to redeem himself (or…will he?) in succeeding volumes of what is a planned trilogy. Action rarely lets up, and readers with a taste for retro-30s-style pulp adventures set in exotic hollow-earth worlds will be tunneling through the final 100 pages eagerly and looking forward to the next installment.
Generous action and a nonpreachy but Scripture-compatible spirituality uplift this Tolkien-esque journey.