I must start off by saying that I was raised in a Fundamentalist Christian home, so I felt pretty confident that I would at least understand many of the religious concepts of this very ambitious novel.
A first novel that’s a rom-com is one thing…but to take on what is arguably the “greatest story ever told” and put your own personal spin on the people, places and events, takes huevos rancheros I don’t have.
John Neelemen has them, and in spite of a few glitches along the way, I found Logos to be a read even my mother would have enjoyed and she doesn’t like anything that isn’t straight from the Bible, so that’s saying a lot.
Why would we both like this novel? For the very reason I had a hard time with the Bible…I need three dimensional, living, breathing people. People I could care about, especially Jacob. Now, I wasn’t a huge fan of the Jacob in the Bible when I was attending church, but Neelemen has drawn this Jacob character with such detail, such presence, and such flaws that I actually found myself warming up to him…and that was an unexpected pleasure.
It is the detail Neelemen presents us with that I thoroughly enjoyed. Having a Masters in Ancient and Classical Civilizations, I was ready to pounce on any grossly negligent historical data (as is the historian way).
There was no bounce in my pounce.
And that was a delightful surprise.
His research is impeccable, and he places us smack in the middle of a time and place with such texture and depth, you feel like you’ve really been there…but that’s not why I loved this book. Neelemen has taken well researched and well-documented history and turned it on its ear in a way that is human, endearing, and compelling. It is not easy writing historical fiction of any kind, but to take on this project and turn a dubious reader such as myself into a fan speaks volumes about his research, his character development, and his sensitivity of a subject that can quickly and easily become an ugly debate.
In all honesty, I didn’t want to like or enjoy this book. I had had enough Christianity crammed down my throat as a kid…but as a historian, a writer, and someone who loves a tightly written historical tale that makes me keep turning the pages?
Oh yes. He had me after the first ten pages.
The key to enjoying this book is to come in with no preconceived notions. If I had any advice to give to the author it would be to ditch the sub title about it being a novel of Christianity’s origins. It is misleading and actually sets the reader up to expect something that this book is not.
It is not a non fiction tale of the origins of Christianity.
I have already recommended this book to my Christian and non-Christian friends alike, not just because of the religious subject matter, but because the history and the people involved in it are so well shaped you will find it hard to stay away from them for too long…and THAT is what good writing should do.
For a first novel, it reads like the third, and I look forward to Neelemen’s next big project!