True confession. Even as an author in the genre, I generally avoid “Christian” sci-fi and fantasy. The overabundance of message-heavy works, filled with awkward references, cheap conversion stories, and “God shows up, so everything is alright,” endings, is problematic. Precious few Christian sci-fi authors are successfully navigating a good solid story—staying true to a faith message without bludgeoning the reader into a catatonic gospel-state.
Robert Mullin is one of the exceptions to the rule.
Bid the Gods Arise is an epic fantasy, with enough sci-fi elements blended in to keep even space opera fans engaged. The story follows cousins Aric and Maurin, kidnapped from their home planet and thrust into a harsh world of slavery, hedonism, and quasi-supernatural civil war. The novel begins slowly—an absolute necessity for full appreciation of the action and character notes that will follow.
The intrigue begins in earnest following a short time jump and the introduction of the rest of Mullin’s cast of fascinating characters. Among them, Dania—the reluctant, but ferocious gladiatrix, Talauna—the broken, mute, innocent, and exotic Maolori girl, and one of my favorites, Valasand—warden of the gate, selfless warrior and leader. It should be noted that all three characters mentioned above are female. It is especially challenging for male writers to create authentic female characters. Many are simply clichés that tend to reveal massive gender ignorance on the part of the author. (see George R. R. Martin and Game of Thrones) Mullin avoids those pitfalls and introduces complete protagonists, both male and female, that we can root for as well as villains for us to hate. (And some to sympathize with—another difficult challenge that Mullin meets.)
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Like most high-quality fantasy/sci-fi works, it is larger than life, and does not shy away from conflict, violence, and tasteful sensuality.
Readers without a strong faith-based background need not worry about being ambushed by a clumsy or covert evangelical message. Bid the Gods Arise is an excellent fantasy novel, and as such it incorporates necessary supernatural elements. In the tradition of Lewis and Tolkien (the highest compliment we can pay, here) Mullin skillfully weaves the faith and supernatural emphasis of the characters and their journey into an experience that makes sense and is integral to the story itself, and not a distraction from it. Discerning readers will enjoy themes of deliverance, destiny, and above all, personal sacrifice—all of which take the characters on a journey of increasing intensity with a satisfying conclusion that left me hungry for more stories in this universe. Bring on the sequel!