Stuart’s (The Wonder of All That Is, 2009) second installment in his Bean trilogy is a cerebral and wildly thought-provoking fusion of fantastical fiction and metaphysical speculation.
Bean, a benevolent spirit who has existed since time immemorial, believes in the credo, “Man has within himself the power to produce a world devoted to the seeking out of morality and godliness.” In his latest adventure, he teams up with Leader, the cynical former “bleeder leader” of all the world’s bloodsucking creatures. Leader is leaving his post after countless centuries in favor of embarking on new escapades. While exploring the place where the “evolutionary germ” first sprouted humankind, the odd couple discovers a being of pure evil—a supreme malevolence—whose mission is nothing short of recreating the world with its growing darkness. Bean and Leader eventually find the evil’s antithesis in the form of a little girl with miraculous abilities named Pax, and the three join forces to save humankind. While the themes of the story are undeniably powerful and fascinating, the author’s frequent tangential discourses and interjections of personal ideology dilute and hinder the novel’s potency. Along those lines, the inclusion of footnotes highlighting philosophical thoughts from the author—alongside Einstein, Shakespeare, etc.—comes across as a bit grandiose. That said, this is an intelligent, surprisingly humorous novel chock full of ideas and speculation. It explores the true nature of humankind and gives readers a glimpse into a potential future that includes an apocalyptic clash between the forces of good and evil. To paraphrase a line from the book, the god we search for is within ourselves; we alone can control our destiny and have the power to do so.
Readers looking for a fast-paced, superficial read should seek their literary escapism elsewhere, but those who enjoy challenging, provocative and ultimately uplifting novels will want to get to know Bean.