Have you read this book?
It was interesting to me to note that The War in Heaven was originally published in mass-market paperback in 2000. Now, Pocket Books has reissued it as a trade paperback under the classification of “Visionary Fiction.” Visionary Fiction = Christian Fantasy. As I remarked in my review of Arena, another Christian-based work, it seems that the big publishing train is starting to roll as far as Christian-based speculative fiction is concerned, due to the success of the Left Behind series.
Let’s put that aside and take a look at The War in Heaven. Christopher Lewis is your normal teenager. A loner, interested in role-playing and video games, not part of the in crowd, he proves ripe for the temptations of Kaym, a Fallen Angel who seduces Christopher to the Dark Side. Christopher is a normal kid, but the Prince of Light (as Lucifer is referred to here) needs him to help break open the gates of Heaven. Why it needs to be Christopher, we don’t know and are never told. And in the end, all his actions don’t matter anyway, at least not to the outcome of the war.
If you’re looking for realistic characters, don’t look here. The characters seem more like comic-book caricatures than real people. Powers and demons and Leviathans appear, huge flaming swords are swung (though no one really dies; they just go into the Beyond), wings flap, Angels fear to tread, muscles bulge and demons wear tight black leather and Ray Bans. But all that does not a convincing story make. Beale should have done this as a graphic novel–it’s well suited to that format because of the visuals. Maybe that will be the next wave of faith-based fiction.
I’m not up on the Christian fiction is out there, so I can’t say whether this is good or bad in comparison. In the two books of this type that I’ve read now, it seems as though the authors are more interested in presenting their message than in their story. The characters seem to do what they do because of fate or a higher power (instead of deciding for themselves) and the Dues ex Machina at the end is just that. Beale allows his characters to make some decisions, but closer examination reveals they really aren’t decisions at all but instead represent the choices we’re supposed to make to be good Christians.
Beale has a gift for description and we get some vivid visuals. He tries too hard for a teenager voice though, peppering his teenage characters’ dialog with too many ‘likes’ and ‘you knows’ and ‘cools’ in an attempt to mimic adolescent speech. Very tiring. Towards the end of the book he settles down and the writing smoothes, but never so much that I didn’t stumble over something awkward at least once every few pages.
Beale has talent; I’d like to see him focus on the story and let his beliefs infuse it naturally rather than by design. The Christianity here and the message isn’t overbearing, and he’s done some interesting things with his Angels (both good and bad). I like the concept of a Guardian and a Fallen set to watch over us; one to tempt us and one to try to lead us astray. His Angels are especially interesting, being as human (and often more human) than the humans they watch. The war between good and evil is eternal, and there are heroes and villains and ambitions among those who fight it in a plane beyond our perception.
I highly recommend this to younger readers–say between 12 and 17. Readers in that group will relate to the characters well and won’t be bothered by their lack of complexity or inconsistencies in the plot. Too, it has a refreshing lack of profanity and violence one finds in many of the more adult orientated fantasy on the shelves.