Faith Awakened caught my attention because it’s a post-apocalyptic novel set in Northern Ireland – specifically Bangor, which is only about forty miles from where I live. It’s not often the Emerald Isle gets the sci-fi treatment. This is also a Christian novel, and those who know me from my personal bloggery might think this would automatically make it right up my street. News that something is “Christian fiction” actually has the effect of making me feel quite ambivalent, because I’ve had the experience of reading some pretty bad Christian novels, dripping with melodrama. I’m pleased to announce that Faith Awakened avoids this trap to a large extent, which is no easy thing because this is essentially a love story.
Grace doesn’t pull her punches. She is not afraid to kill off about six billion people from the get-go, at the hands of a deadly virus. Then, rather than step into the “cosy catastrophe” genre, things get even worse for the tiny band of survivors. It seems that their mysterious immunity to the virus is temporary, as the virus mutates. There seems to be no hope for the last remnants of the human race … until the discovery of a cryogenic research laboratory. The survivors theorise that it may possible be go to sleep for many years, experiencing a virtual reality dreamworld, with your body safely sealed off from infection. Then, many years later, the virus will have died, and it will be safe to emerge.
The novel appears to jump back and forth in time, telling two apparently unconnected stories: one the life of Mariah in the post-apocalypse world, and the other the life of Faith in a world like the one we know. We are left to ponder what’s really going on – whether it is two points in time, or a real world and a virtual one; are Mariah and Faith separate individuals or the same person? Grace resists answering these questions until the end. I had a pretty good idea what was going on long before that, but I did like being left to deceipher it on my own.
This is a Christian novel only in the sense that the outlook of the central character is Christian – and only loosely Christian, at that. Characters refer to God as “The Awakener” and Christians are “The Awakened.” Christianity itself is not mentioned by name. During the reading of this novel, I coincidentally happened to be moving away from my personal Christian faith, so I was glad that this was more of a story told from the author’s peronal outlook than an attempt to convert an audience.
The author often uses very broad brush strokes in telling the story. The usual advice you hear in writing circles is “show, don’t tell,” whereas Grace has largely chosen “tell, don’t show.” But I’m going to defend her stance. The entire life of Faith is crammed into these pages, and it’s often not high-octane drama where you want to pull the reader in and show him every detail. It’s a gentler, everyday kind of story, and I found myself mostly content with the fast pace with which events were told. That said, there were points where I wanted the author to really zero in and pull the reader right into the direct experience of the protagonist.
On purely a personal interest level, I would have to say that the overall nature of the book as a love story didn’t really grab me as much as other aspects that I would have preferred to have seen developed, such as the nature of the totalitarian pre-apocalypse society, and a deeper exploration into virtual reality. In terms of the story the author wanted to tell, the stand-out for me was that I got the distinct feeling I was reading something autobiographical at times. And having now met Grace in person, I can confirm that this was indeed the case to a large extent. And it’s this that elevates the book to more than mere entertainment.
Faith Awakened is a self-published novel, and since so many self-published authors take the easy route of not learning correct grammar and not weeding out errors from their manuscript, I always feel I need to comment on this topic. Well, I’m pleased to say that this novel is very cleanly presented – obviously a labour of love in every way.
I had opportunity to meet Grace in person recently, in the bizarrest of coincidences. I happened to be reading her book while members of the Christian Fiction Review Blog (of which Grace is one) were gearing up to review my own novel, Chion. Grace happened to be living in Ireland at the time (she’s actually from New Zealand, and had been living in Germany until recently), so we arranged to meet up at a halfway point between our towns. Grace brought her laptop, and we decided to interview each other. I’m delighted to share that interview with you here. Grace has also agreed to allow Faith Awakened to be featured here for free download. For more information, visit the Faith Awakened website.