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The Great and Terrible, Vol. 3: The Second Sun
by Chris Stewart
Reviewed by Jeff Needle
1/9/2006 9:55:11 AM
When this book arrived, I groaned a bit -- volume 3 in a series I had not read -- I always fear I won't be able to catch up sufficiently to do a reasonably good review. Stewart offers about 3 full pages of "the story so far" to help folks like myself figure out what had come before. After reading the recap, I still wasn't quite sure I knew what it was all about. Many characters, an end-time scenario positioned in light of today's headlines, a Mormon good-guy versus the Evil One. Haven't I read this one before?.

One of the central characters is Azadeh Pahlavi. As you may guess from her last name, she is a survivor of the infamous Shah of Iran. As such, she is not liked, even hated, by her countrymen, and she is forced to flee for her life and the life of her child. When she is forced to flee to a safe place, she gives up her child in the care of a trusted friend. The reader tracks the lives of both mother and son as they confront their many enemies.

In the meantime, Prince Abdullah al-Rahman of Saudi Arabia has been making noises not appreciated by the western powers. They don't know he's working directly for Lucifer. Yes, Lucifer. Having killed his father and many of his siblings, he is positioned to make a bold move in his goal to take over the world.

The other story arc centers around the family of Major General Neil Brighton, whose foster son Sam is in active duty in the current war in Iraq. Brighton and his family are LDS; Neil's other sons are (tentatively) preparing for their missions as Sam continues his military service. Sam's Church mission will come later. Sam hooks up with other LDS soldiers, including a man they call Bono, who becomes a close friend and confidante.

The story then becomes a chronicle of the war between good and evil, between God's plan and Lucifer's schemes.

I had several problems with this book, perhaps reflecting my own political biases. As one reads, the American soldier, and, by extension, American motives for its military involvements around the world, are viewed as uniformly virtuous. This trend reduces the political message of the book into a one-dimensional view of a very complex issue. I'm not clear whether the author intended for the book to contain a political message, but it's there nonetheless, and it reflects a view toward America and Americanism that ducks some of the real problems we face.

This extends into the book's portrayal of the "bad guys" -- it isn't enough that their deeds are evil, they are indeed led by Lucifer himself, and frequently goaded by an evil Balaam, who whispers his damnable lies into the ears of many of the players.

In the end, we have a very complex historical and theological backdrop populated by simplistically-drawn characters and predictable plot lines. As I read, I imagined how much more the author could have done with the premise, avoiding some of the pitfalls that accompany writhing for a specific audience.

It may be that I'm missing something here, having read only the third volume in the series. It may be that different aspects of the characters of the players have already emerged, only to be subsumed into the concerns of the present volume.

All this aside, Stewart knows how to write clearly and cogently. He is very good at writing dialogue, a skill not always evident in popular writing. And his pacing is good, keeping the action going and growing the story with each new chapter.

Add to this a more nuanced approach to both characters and plotline, and I think Stewart can produce a winning story, truly reflective of the serious nature of his story.