Bid the Gods Arise was on my Amazon recommendations for what seemed like months before I finally bought it.1
My first impression was Mullin’s writing style. It is smooth and I felt like I was being well supported on a comfortable couch moving with little or no vibration or sense of movement as it transported me to this fantasy world that Mullin so masterfully creates. So easy it is to lose oneself and become so engrossed in this world. From this point of view, Mullin creates a wonderful fantasy world.
From my reading of fantasy and science fiction, it seems the author needs to create a believable and credible world; it has to have structure, depth, history, mythology in some cases, different variable landscapes, creatures and plants, even variation in climate. In one social media groups I belong to, the writers there talk about this importance of world building and I can see now how this really does support and underpin an entire novel. Mullin does this well and BTGA is an example of this world-building.
Another part of this world-building is this novel is a blend of fantasy, science fiction, and the supernatural. Again, Mullin does this well.
There are also Christian themes. In an interview, Mullin says concerning this:
The story is set in a world that should feel familiar but fresh, as the novel is a sort of mélange of genres. I drew on a number of influences and synthesized them into a single mythopoeia. This wasn’t so much conscious as the way my mind tends to work; I don’t lump things into neat categories the way most people do. So you will see a great deal of epic fantasy influence, some supernatural, and a hint of science fiction. There are also Christian themes, but hopefully not to the point of being overt or preachy.2
Having read this novel, I totally agree with what Mullin says. There is a hint of science fiction, there is epic fantasy, and the Christian themes and how he has developed them is not preachy but very respectful and honouring of God.
I must confess that I found something refreshing in this novel. It was great having the Holy Spirit (known as the Breath) included in the plot as a living, active being and not hinted at or not mentioned at all as is the case in some other Christian fantasy or speculative novels. Here are some examples to show this:
Yet the Breath had whispered in her ear of this girls importance; an importance that might even eclipse the others.
“The Breath of Yasul [God] has been stirring our lives, moving us towards a certain end …”
“The Breath spoke to me of each of you before I ever laid eyes on you. I must do as the Breath leads me to do, Maurin …”
“… and the Breath will guide us as we move forward …”
“The breath is the voice, the moving spirit of my god. It whispers to me and guides my thought and actions …”
“I heard the Breath call and this time I answered …”
“When the Breath sends a message to Yasul’s beloved, it doesn’t matter where they are …”
And similar can be said for the depiction of God (Yasul). He is not just mentioned as the God that Valasand and Masalla follow and believe in and who stays in the background, but He is active in their lives as it is He who has called to act on His behalf, during many situations on their mission to rid Argoth of slavery and bring the perpetrators to justice. Mullin has depicted Valasand to be the main vehicle through which Yasul uses during this mission through her faith and being surrendered to Him. What follows is a medley of Valasand’s quotes supporting this,
“…go with blessings of Yasul… Thank Yasul… Yasul, give me strength…Yasul, protect us…we made it through the night only with the help of Yasul…May Yasul be with us… then it is the will of Yasul that you go alone to Darkhorn Fell…that is not the way of Yasul…that is one way you may know when Yasul is speaking to you: what you hear may well be contrary to what you believe to be the wise or sane thing to do…Relying on the Breath for help and trying to control the Source (Yasul) are two different things. No one controls Yasul …in order to hear the voice of Yasul you must first silence your own…Yasul with be with us…That you are Yasul’s and always have been….That’s all Yasul expects of us….My entire life has been spent in willing servitude to Yasul….All must bow before the end, but those who bow willingly are Yasul’s… Yasul will have you back, if you would have Yasul back …”
Further evidence of Yasul being active is found in the following examples, through indirect intervention of Yasul through an Angel speaking to Valasand:
“Take comfort, Yasul has heard you … you are watched over and never are you out of the sight or care of Yasul, even when all seems silent, and hope has fled. … Yasul has decreed that you must seek out this young man who has attracted the attention of the Reamar.”
When Maurin realises that he has come to then end of himself and his situation, he realises that Yasul is a living Deity and cries out to Him,
“Yasul…..I don’t know you. I don’t know even know if you really exist. But if you do, reveal yourself to me. Help me.”
Later Yasul responds to Maurin’s plea:
“Hear Me now, Maurin, for I have called you from your lifelong slumber, and it is time for you to awaken …I am that which was, is, and shall be. I am Yasul … Become what I have created you to be. You are my sword of reckoning … Fear not. I am ever with you.”
Following this, Maurin, under the power of the Breath, uses the Authority of God’s name to take control,
“….in the name of Yasul, STOP! And stop they did!”
There are a few more examples in the novel, but enough here to illustrate my point. It is very deceptive what Mullin has done, all these examples are scattered throughout the novel and they add strength and depth to this plot.
I discussed this with Mullin and this is what he had to say:
Ironically, one of my reviewers hated that aspect of the plot (that of God being active). But I thought it was necessary to show that yes, despite all the confusing “theology” and various “gods” in this story, there really was an active force in the form of a personal God.
For me, this is one of the strengths of this novel. It is going to be encouraging to see this continued in the following two installments. I admire this in him as an author, but it also shows the depth of relationship he has personally with God. I believe that Christian fiction should uplift, encourage the reader’s walk with God while educating on its themes and entertaining as well just as fiction should. Mullin does all this with this novel.
There are a few examples of sex in this novel. Nothing graphic or gratuitous but implied. I was not expecting this, but when seen in the context of the plot and the dynamics of the relationships, I can see it is relevant. I did get the author’s take on this:
I see the story as very much about temptation and the consequences of giving in to it. I realize that it’s not a popular subject, and one usually avoided like the plague in Christian novels, but I think it’s a very real Achilles’ heel, and wanted to show that a young man being driven insane by his dreams would be vulnerable to predation, particularly if he did not live by principle in the first place. I see Maurin and Aric as being flip sides of that coin; they are both exposed to temptation, but one gives in, and the other does not.
It is also very much about the swath of human wreckage damaged people tend to leave in their wake, an unfortunate but also all-too-real phenomenon.
I didn’t want to treat sex casually the way most fantasy authors tend to, with the “hero” leaping from one bed to the next with no hard feelings, no broken hearts in his wake.
I realized that I ran the risk of alienating people, but it’s kind of an important point to me. I’ve seen wrecked marriages, ruined hearts, and young men whose lives are forever tainted because their lust is their downfall. In Aric’s case, he is as much a victim as he is a perpetrator, but he still has free will, and despite the circumstances, could have made different decisions. Maurin’s admonition in the first chapter that he is going to hear many voices in his life, and would have to be careful which he would listen to, is meant to be a cautionary theme in the novel.
I have collected many versions of the film, A Christmas Carol, as well as the original book, over the years. One thing that has always fascinated me is that Scrooge is generally given a sad enough back story that one could extrapolate the wrong conclusion from it, that he was fully justified in becoming the man that he did. Yet in the end, he is held fully accountable for his choices.
I pray that this explanation and motive from the author gives Christian readers a positive insight into how the inclusion of sexual themes in a Christian novel can be an opportunity for better understanding of sexuality from a Christian point of view and it does not need to be a taboo subject. Mullin has dealt with this sensitively and appropriately.
One of the elements in this novel is the relationship between the two main characters, Aric and Maurin. It did not take long reading this novel to get the impression that these two characters were not just figments of the author’s imagination. I was not surprised that they were based on people in the author’s personal life, as the author admitted in the same interview I mentioned before:
Bid the Gods Arise is the tale of two cousins kidnapped and sold into slavery on an alien planet. The notion of making the protagonists cousins was an intentional homage to the relationship I enjoyed with my own cousin, but the characters are very much their own.
You can see this by the way he has developed the relationship between the two. It is definitely based on what he knows. I really did love the characters of Aric and Maurin. This relationship forms another strength of this novel and it will be good to be reintroduced to them (and I hope all the other characters too!) in the sequel.
I loved the dark, spiritual side to this novel. Working in with the corrupt head of the slave trade, Mullin has created a mysterious, fearful and powerful race of beings called The Reamar. These are revered and also feared as soul-sucking vampire-like demons. As Mullin describes them:
The Reamar are a bit of everything. Not everything has an exact counterpart in theology; it’s a mythopoeia, meaning that I borrowed a bit from here and there to make my story work better. They are a sort of vampiric fallen angel, though if one believed in different classes of angelic beings, they would be one of the higher orders. That is probably the best way to simplify it, though.
Reading this novel, the reader is introduced to the fear and mystique surrounding them with only a few knowing of their background. In their mythology, there existed a prophecy of The Dreaded One who would come and either end their existence or cause them to have a rebirth. It is here that Aric and Maurin get involved with the rest of their group and where the action and suspense deepens leading to a fine finish of this installment. It is also where Mullin ends the evil and cruel reign of Argoneis, corrupt head of the slave trade, and whom Valasand must defeat.
Interspersed throughout this novel, and with the plot of the Reamar, is the deceitful and manipulative ways of this tyrant and his fellow subversives and it takes all the skill and obedience to Yasul to rid them of this scourge and oppression. This provides very much alot of the action, especially at the end as mentioned.On this point, Mullin depicts these characters as quite desp icable a nd every account I found myself tense and loathing them and was cheering with victory at their demise at the end.
I cannot praise this novel and Mullin highly enough. It is a real gem and Mullin’s creativity makes a good fantasy a much better one. I am looking forward to the rest of this trilogy.