I don’t often review books, but when I do, it’s because they’re epic! With Christmas coming soon, you might still be looking for that perfect gift. A couple years ago, I reviewed Dr. Taylor Marshall’s novel Sword and Serpent. Since that time, Dr. Marshall turned that novel into a trilogy (I’m not sure why I never posted a review of Tenth Region of the Night here), and the third and final instalment is set to be released on Amazon on December 6th, the feast of St. Nicholas (which is fitting, since he figures prominently in the book).
Storm of Fire and Blood is the compelling conclusion to Taylor Marshall’s saga of St. George (or Jurian, as he is better known in the book) which began with The Sword and Serpent, and continued through The Tenth Region of the Night. Picking up with Jurian travelling to Britannia with Menas and Constantinus to begin his exile, Storm of Fire and Blood interweaves Jurian’s desire for political and military redemption with the political scheming of his enemy Casca, as well as Caesar Galerius and the Emperor Diocletian as the latter is spurred on toward the last great Roman persecution against the early Christians. Chapters bounce back and forth between the perspectives of Jurian, Aikaterina, and Sabra, as well as Casca’s manipulations and machinations within the imperial court. For readers of the first two books, they will be overjoyed to see favourite characters return—most notably Nikolaos, who is portrayed again with mystical charm and humour which Marshall depicted him with in the first two books.
The political intrigue is matched equally with scenes of combat against the barbarians in the north, and quieter scenes of spiritual reflection that never come off as forced or preachy. On top of all of that is some very insightful commentary on our current cultural milieu, with a message woven throughout of the need for true, reasoned thought, real tolerance for opposing views, and the freedom to encounter and interact with those views in peaceful dialogue, learning, and freedom of speech—a message so pertinent in a day and age where free speech and opposing views are routinely stifled and silenced in the name of a false form of tolerance.
The greatest strength of Marshall’s writing is in his characterisation. With the possible exception of Nikolaos, his protagonists are not paragons of saintliness which seem more like stiff lead outlines of stained glass, but are rather real people depicted with the same hopes, fears, and passions as ourselves. And the charm and humour with which Nikolaos is portrayed make him anything but stiff and lifeless! The martyrdoms depicted during the scenes of persecution aren’t those of pious hagiography, but are fraught with the fear and anguish that real people would feel in such calamitous situations. Yet through this real, down-to-earth depiction of martyrdom, the hope and love that Christ gives is made evident, and Marshall’s depictions demonstrate the reality of Tertullian’s ancient adage, that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.
On the whole, Storm of Fire and Blood is an emotional roller-coaster that finishes with a breathtaking conclusion that ties together so many narrative threads that began back in Sword and Serpent—particularly the “Sword” part revolving around Excalibur—and does so in surprising ways that are truly satisfying.
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