The Sword by Bryan Litfin (Crossway) is a unique fantasy. It contains elements of classic fantasy, but the story is set on earth, in the future. Intrigued? I was.
The Story. War decimated earth and brought on a nuclear winter that nearly wiped out the human race. Four hundred years later, a noble but primitive civilization has developed in a land known as Chiveis. Almost everything about the “Ancients” has been forgotten, including Christianity. However Teofil, a young scholar and Royal Guard captain, and Anastasia, the young woman he’s rescued from Outsiders who kidnapped her and carried her to the Beyond, discover a copy of the Ancients’ sacred writings.
The narrative and poems introduce a handful of family and friends to the Good God who contrasts with the four Chiveisi gods that rule by fear and displays of power.
The High Priestess of the most potent of these gods determines to keep the religion of the cross from coming to Chiveis.
And there I’ll stop.
Strengths. Without a doubt, Bryan Litfin has a winning premise. He’s cleverly married a dystopian/futuristic novel with traditional fantasy. Those who favor the former may not find enough here to keep them excited, but those of us who prefer the latter have all the sword play and horseback riding we can want, along with some intriguing futuristic/dystopian elements such as a discovery of the remains of iron carriages and the ruins of ancient cities.
This unique genre blend also gives a fresh look at Christianity. Teofil, the young scholar, must translate the Sacred Writings for his friends who do not read the Fluid Tongue. He finds sections with names such as Beginnings, Departure, Magistrates, First and Second Histories, Hymns, and Maxims. As they read portions at a time, they begin to formulate ideas about the Good God.
For the most part, the story is unpredictable. There are some interesting surprises, some questions left unanswered, some disappointments that mirror real life.
Weaknesses. While there is much to like in this book and I am thrilled that Crossway has ventured into fantasy, I wish there were fewer problems. Characterization was not strong. At times the action seemed almost cartoonish, with devastating injuries having little or else unusually short effect.
Character motivation was a problem. Why did Ana so quickly and unswervingly turn from the gods of Chiveis to the Good God Deu? Why did Valant spurn his wife? Why did Lewth turn from what he had believed was the task Deu had given him? Why did Habiloho reject the path she’d been on for over a year? Too many such questions kept the story from being what it could be.
Then too, the characters seem to reach accurate conclusions about the Good God fairly quickly, something that is surprising in light of the fact that they have only known evil gods up to this time, and they have only read a small portion of the Sacred Writings.
But the biggest problem, in my opinion, was theological. Whenever a book is set in this world, a Christian author, if he addresses spiritual things, must be faithful to Scripture. While The Sword apparently is primed to do so, Mr. Litfin took an interesting but damning turn: he had the last third of the Sacred Writings unreadable. Consequently, the characters who are learning about the Good God, do so without any knowledge of His Son.
It’s an interesting twist, but the problem is the apparent relationship a number of the characters develop with the Good God, including two who die. Yet the Sacred Writings which are true and would be true in the future, too, say that the Good God’s Son is the Way, the Truth, the Life and that no man comes to His Father but through Him—the Son that these characters do not know.
It’s a huge problem and one that has serious ramifications for the real world if you believe those ignorant of the Son can still come to the Father. Why then did Jesus die?
Recommendation. I’m glad I read The Sword. I’m glad Crossway published it. I think fantasy lovers will enjoy the story. I think those who care about the Truth will question why a man with Mr. Litfin’s theological background (he’s got a masters degree from Dallas Theological Seminary and is a professor in the Theology Department at Moody Bible Institute) would write something so misleading. While I’d like to give this one an enthusiastic endorsement, instead I have to give it a tepid nod primarily for those who love fantasy.
Cross posted at A Christian Worldview of Fiction