A historical novel offers a vindication of the Christian faith packaged as a political thriller.
Christians are familiar with the story of Paul, the apostle responsible for writing much of the New Testament. Paul’s road to faith was as unlikely as it was dramatic: He was an enemy of Christians before Jesus intervened, miraculously turning him into the staunchest defender of the early church. Quist’s (Abigail, 2018, etc.) new book presents a similar scenario. Its title character, Sirius Merestius—or “Christianus,” as he is called by “the people of Rome”—is the emperor’s chief investigator in charge of persecuting Christians. Duty-bound to follow Caesar’s orders, he must seek out and eliminate threats to the empire. But Christianus quickly realizes that most believers are “honest, simple, hard-working people” who pose no real danger; he even comes to admire them. So he is put in the tricky situation of trying to save innocent men and women of faith while carrying out his investigations. All of which is not to say that no dangers lurk in and around first-century Rome. The Sicarii—a Jewish splinter group that opposes the occupation of Israel—are willing to use violent tactics to pursue their ends, and their terrorist plots leave Christianus with his hands full and get the ball rolling in this rousing piece of devotional fiction. Quist’s plotting is both intricate and carefully structured; he ably manages his large cast of characters, and the taut narrative races along smoothly, like a sled down a hill. The only thing that slows the progress is the author’s occasional tendency to overwrite. Take, for example, the following: “The voice was soft, gentle, almost inaudible, but Sarah’s dreams faded in an instant and her eyes opened, her mind instantly wide awake.” “Soft,” “gentle,” and “almost inaudible” are all roughly synonyms; one of the three would do the trick. And to write that after Sarah’s dreams “faded in an instant,” she was “instantly wide awake” is repetitive. Readers will get it: She woke up quickly. A strong editor would have cut lots of this deadwood, leaving a more streamlined—and more satisfying—story. Yet the extra words don’t do too much to dampen the tale’s drama, and the novel remains a gripping read.
Christian historical fiction that excites while it evangelizes.