The World in Shadow, by Theodore Beale

the-world-in-shadow-by-theodore-beale coverGenre: Faith Based Science Fiction
Publisher: Pocket Books
Published: 2002
Reviewer Rating: three stars
Book Review by Lynn Nicole Louis

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The World in Shadow is the sequel to Theodore Beale’s The War in Heaven. Like the previous book, this one is also Christian fantasy–a story where Christianity and Christian values are espoused and end up being key to the characters’ success. Whereas his first book took place in an alternate reality, this one unfolds on Earth, in a seemingly normal neighborhood in Minnesota.

While The War in Heaven was suitable for younger readers because of almost its totally unrealistic presentation of violence and character, The World in Shadow is a much darker and ‘believable’ work. Though it (like other Christian works) lacks profanity or any sexual scenes, there’s a high level of violence and drug use presented here that make it unsuitable for younger readers–the same readers I thought would most enjoy book one. The disparity between the two volumes is somewhat baffling; why write a sequel not appropriate for the audience most likely to have enjoyed the first? The end result is that if you’re a parent buying this book for your young teen on the basis of him or her liking The War in Heaven, I suggest you give it a glance first before you hand it over.

In The World in Shadow, the war in Heaven is over and Christopher and his sisters Jami and Holli are firmly back on the mortal plane, having discovered the power of the Almighty. Now staunch Christians, they find their small community beset by the fallen archangel Balazel and his minions. Balazel is intent on causing a massacre, and the two boys Derek and Brien (a la a Columbine-like climax) will be the vehicles of his revenge.

Derek and Brien are your typical social outcasts: reviled by almost all whom they come in contact with at school on a daily basis. Drug use, the Internet, fantasy war games, and first person shooters are all implicated in their downfall into evil and corruption. Their penchant for such immoral pastimes opens them up to the influence of Balazel and makes them ripe and useful tools for evil.

I thought the writing in this volume better than in the previous. Beale seems to have found a smoother voice and doesn’t go so overboard in his efforts to mimic adolescent speech patterns. The action takes place on good old Earth and the characters and plot aren’t so over-the-top and unbelievable in nature as they were in the first. He spends more time with his characters and it shows in the results. He does an especially adept job at bringing to life the struggle ordinary teens might have adhering to Christian morals in the midst of their hormonal rebellion and out much-less-than-religious society.

That said, there are some things here that didn’t sit well with me, things–as usual–more related to the message Beale is sending than with the story itself. The biggest: at the end, Beale simply confirms our society of excuse. We do bad things because we are made to do them, because of video games, or drugs, or the possession of an evil spirit. The Dues ex Machina makes its appearance again, this time in the form of resurrections, where damned souls are brought back and given a second chance to realize the greater glory of God while the ‘saved’ souls go on to their reward.

Personally, I’m sort of sick of our society’s obsession with dodging responsibility. I wish Beale had presented ‘evil’ as more of a choice than an accident brought on by lifestyle and demonic possession.

I think this book would appeal more to horror or dark fantasy fans than Christian Fantasy readers, though I suppose I could see a Christian holding it up as an example, a sort of ‘See what happens if you keep playing that horrible Quake game’. I recommend it, but with reservations when it comes to readers under the age of sixteen, especially since the most likely customer is probably a parent looking to offer a Christian alternative the all the ‘unchristian’ fantasy most of us secular speculative fiction folks read.

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