Saturday, April 27, 2013

Book Review: Ninth Witness by Bodie and Brock Thoene (AD Chronicles #9)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Interesting story; strong characters
Cons: The underlying theology of the story
The Bottom Line:
Good surface story
Theology presented
Winds up troubling

An Episode from Yeshua's Childhood

When I sat down to read Ninth Witness, I thought I knew where the book would be going.  But as the book began, I realized we were doing another flashback.  While part of me cried out, "Will we ever get to Palm Sunday?" the other part of me began to really enjoy the book.

For those who aren't familiar with the series, this is the ninth novel written by husband and wife authors Bodie and Brock Thoene.  The series has been following the last year and half of Jesus' ministry here on earth and the political turmoil of first century Jerusalem.  But the series has taken a couple detours to events from Jesus' birth.  After a couple books moving the story closer to the ultimate conclusion, this book once again flashes back to His childhood.

It has been a hard year in Galilee.  The Romans have just put down the latest rebellion, and the rows of crosses are the result.  The rebellion has left nine year old Jude and his younger sister orphans.  The two head down from Galilee to Jerusalem hoping to find help there.

Meanwhile, Mary, Yosef, and Yeshua are heading to Jerusalem for a different reason.  It is time for Yeshua's bar mitzvah, and what better place to celebrate then during Passover with his cousin Yochanan?  But danger lurks around every corner.  Will this trip spell disaster for the future Messiah?

As you might have guessed from my opening, I haven't enjoy all of the previous books that stop the storyline to flash back like this one does.  So I didn't necessarily start this book with an open mind.  And I did find the plot mostly predictable.  But then again, for anyone reading the series with knowledge of the New Testament, that is nothing new.  After all, we are reading fictionalized versions of familiar stories.

So once again, it falls to the characters to enliven the story.  And they did draw me in.  While I sympathized with Jude and his sister, they weren't the main draw.  I found watching the teenaged Yeshua fascinating.  This was especially true during the second half when he meets up with Yochanan and one of the future disciples.  While obviously these scenes are fiction, they rang true for me in a way I hadn't expected.

On the other hand, there were pieces of the plot that truly bothered me.  I know I shouldn't be getting my theology from a historical fiction novel, but some things here really didn't jive with how I read scripture.  In the past I've let those things go due to dramatic license.  Here, they seemed just a tad too big for that.  (And yes, I am being intentionally vague so I don't spoil anything.)

Don't let the books appearance fool you.  About 90 of the 270 pages in the book are the study guide.  I was prepared to complain about the book only being 180 pages, but it really did feel like the right length.  I think any more would have drawn the plot out too long and made me bored.

As any fan of the Thoenes knows, they write well, bringing the historical world to life.  That's certainly the case here.

By the end, I actually wanted to like Ninth Witness more than I did.  The story and characters were good, but I let their theological supposition ruin it for me.

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