(Note to Readers: Those who follow me know I write a lot of book reviews, mostly on books related to theology or Christian history. You may be wondering why I would consider a novel. For one thing, I enjoy stories particularly sci-fi, historical fiction, and Southern fiction. If you think those are weird combinations, you should see what music I have on my iPod. Also, I am currently reading books related to politics, apologetics, church history, and autism not to mention studying Spanish and writing a prospectus for a Ph.D. dissertation. Plus I have to work. A novel now and then makes a good diversion.)
The Calling by Rachelle Dekker (yes, that Dekker family) is the second book in the Seer series. The Choosing was the first. The series’ setting is a dystopian world where the Authority runs the city under a legalistic religion and system that locks people into social classes and vocations. The Choosing told the story of Carrington, and The Calling picks up a year and a half later focusing on her husband, Remko, who leads the Seers when Aaron, their spiritual leader, is not around, which is most of the time. The Seers are those who have escaped the City to follow Aaron with his message of faith in the Father and surrender. In this book, Remko struggles with fear and failure that challenges his journey toward faith and surrender.
Reviews of The Choosing raise questions about Dekker’s development of individual characters. If The Calling is any indication, Dekker chooses which characters she will develop. The story is told mostly through the eyes of Remko. Interviews with Dekker indicate that she was very conscious of being a woman writer seeking to speak through a male character. She does an excellent job of capturing the masculine voice and the masculine reaction to insecurity and fear. Carrington remains an important character that continues to develop through the book. Damien Gold is the villain, but he is not one-dimensional. Dekker is excellent at developing the characters that are essential to the story. In the third novel of the series, I suspect that the author will give deeper insight into more of the people in the first two novels.
The dystopian world is developed well and convincingly dystopian. It has a lot of similarity to the worlds of other recent dystopian novels, which may irritate readers looking for something new. The world may seem unoriginal, but the book has an original plotline.
The action was uneven through the book. If you are looking for a book with constant action, this book may not be for you. The pattern for most of the book was action followed by a lull as the character developed, which was followed by action and another lull for character development, on and on. I can say by the last quarter of the book, the action and plot have the reader hooked.
As a Christian novel, some attention has to be given to the books message. I am not of the belief that all Christian fiction has to present an evangelistic message with the result that every Christian novel serves as an evangelistic tract. However, in The Calling, Remko does experience a conversion, and examining the message surrounding that message in the light of Scripture leads to some mixed conclusions. On the positive side, it is evident that one cannot come to the Father by one’s own efforts. Salvation is by faith alone. It is surrender to the Father. It is spiritually empowered. All of that is positive.
On the negative side, it is unclear who is the object of faith or what the individual is being saved from. The Father is not entirely described. We assume that He is God the Father of the Bible. However, God the Son does not figure in the book. Atonement for sin is an absent concept. In fact, sin, as rebellion against God, is absent. The book mentions being free from earthly moral standards, but it is unclear if the Father has any moral standards. Conversion involves faith, but repentance is missing. People are set free from their human fears and shortcomings to find their true selves, their true identity in the Father. What that means remains unclear other than that it results in peace. Is it self-actualization or is it restoration to an Eden-like relationship with God such as the eternal life described in John 17:3?
As a novel, this work is good enough. The plot keeps one reading, and the characters are compelling. The writing is solid. Regarding message and theology, I have questions but would reserve final judgment until I know more about the author and loose ends that remain in the series.
(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of the book from Tyndale publishers in exchange for a review. I was under no obligation to write a positive review.)