Today marks the beginning of a series I want to run–not necessarily consecutively–featuring the Christian speculative fiction I’m excited about. Anyone paying attention to the Clive Staples Award realizes that the number of titles available has increased significantly, but I believe the quality has improved as well.
I’m starting with Captives by Jill Williamson in part because the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy (CSFF) Blog Tour is featuring that book this week. I also believe in Williamson as a writer. She won two Christy Awards with her first two published novels and has only improved in her craft. In fact, in my opinion, Captives is her best book so far.
It is the first of The Safe Lands series, published by Zondervan and now part of their young adult imprint, Blink, launched last April.
Captives is also a dystopian fantasy, a genre Christian publishers have only recently embraced. I realize that dystopian fiction in the general market is winding down, but the movies made from those books–starting with the Hunger Game movies–are just beginning, so I suspect the interest in the genre will continue for some time. In that respect, The Safe Lands is a timely series.
There’s also the Christian aspect of Williamson’s series. How does Christianity fit in with a dystopian world? The Left Behind books gave one answer. In some respects that series by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye might be considered the forerunner or the catalyst for the recent apocalyptic and dystopian novels, showing one interpretation of the Biblical record of the events leading up to the return of Christ and the end of the world as we know it.
Another series which is a post-apocalyptic dystopian, though it reads much like a medieval story, is the Cheveis Trilogy by Bryan Litfin (The Sword, The Gift, The Kingdom). Litfin’s handling of Christianity is distinctly different from Left Behind, and Captives is distinctly different from the Cheveis Trilogy.
It’s also different from, though with some similarities to, Swipe (Thomas Nelson), the middle grade series by the mysterious Evan Angler (Swipe, Sneak, Storm). And Swipe has similarities, with greater differences, to Left Behind.
In other words, how Christianity fits into a dystopian fantasy is anything but pat. There is no one “right way,” no standard treatment, no prescribed formula.
Williamson has chosen to show Christianity primarily by way of contrast. It’s an intriguing and effective method, I think, which also renders anything that could be construed as preachiness, unnecessary. At the same time, I don’t think Christians will complain that the “faith element” is missing or obscure (but I’ll have a better idea about that after I’ve visited some of the other blogs participating in the CSFF tour).
One thing readers should be aware of is that Captives is perhaps a grittier novel than many from Christian publishers. Besides making the story feel more real and relevant, however, the non-gratuitous grit served as the contrast that underwrote the theme. In other words, it was necessary and effective and in no way exploitive.
Readers should also be aware that Captives is the first part of a continuing story. I don’t know how many books are in the Safe Lands series, but it’s apparent that the story problem is resolved only in part at the end of this first installment. I thought it was a satisfying conclusion, though, not one of those contrived cliffhangers that seem to be somewhat in vogue these days.
In short, I’m excited about Captives. It is well written, Christian in an organic sense, filled with unexpected twists and lots of action, and peopled with interesting characters in a clearly drawn, futuristic world.