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Book Review: Undercurrent, by Michelle Griep

In this post Christian author Mark Fisher reviews Michelle Griep’s novel Undercurrent.

A Review of Michelle Griep’s Undercurrent

Novels of Christian historical fiction set in the Middle Ages are few and far between. I ordinarily don’t read historical romance, but this story has enough action, medieval setting, and just plain good writing to carry me through. In fact, I really enjoyed Undercurrent.

Undercurrent-coverChristian Historical Fiction With a Love Story?

In what category would we place this book? Historical romance? Fantasy? Christian historical fiction with a love story? Really, it’s all three. Griep drops us into the late tenth century Viking world via Cassie, a linguistics expert whose boyfriend has just made her solitary life complete by telling her it’s over. This is right before she boards the ferry where she’s guiding her group of undergrad students on a visit to England’s Farne Islands. On the passage, she listens as the captain, an old salt way too full of his own stories, warns the group at length with an ancient tale about maidens disappearing on the solstice. Then, what do you know? Cassie later finds herself sucked through a vortex to a place where time’s gone backward and there’s not a cell phone or indoor toilet to be had.

A Viking World

Meanwhile, Alarik is the tenth Century pagan Viking who wakes from a hangover beside his dead brother, killed with Alarik’s own knife. But he can’t remember anything that happened the night before. Ragnar is Alarik’s cousin, the lone Christian whose faith is as strong as his sword arm. Alarik flees in his ship, plucks Cassie from the sea, and so begins her adventure in an era so different from her own, she doesn’t realize at first where she is.

Conflicts Aplenty

What are the conflicts in this book? Cassie’s struggle to deal with the Viking age. The charge of murder made against Alarik. Ragnar’s struggle to deal with his brother and his unexplained attraction to the strange foreign woman who appears suddenly to upset his life. And Torolf, the villain whose plots and ambition to rule Rogaland threaten them all.

Griep does an excellent job of bringing the Viking world to life, fleshing out the characters, and exploiting the difficulties Cassie has adjusting to that world. She also shows us how Ragnar’s faith shines through and affects everyone. This is a great read, even for those who don’t usually read historical romance. I highly recommend it. Check out her web site: michellegriep.com

Next week, we’ll return to our look at early medieval culture with the question, What did they eat?

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The Case For Writing About the Medieval Era

In this post, Christian author Mark Fisher makes the case for writing about the medieval era in both Christian fantasy and Christian historical fiction.

Why Buck a Trend? Why the Medieval Era?

Many authors of Christian historical fiction write for the Regency era, the period of English history from 1795 through 1837. Some do write about the Civil War, the Old West, or biblical times. But few write about medieval times. In my search for agents and publishers, many have told me not to write for my chosen era. So why am I bucking the trend? Because I love the era and I must write about what fascinates me. This post and many that follow will explore some of the reasons the middle ages intrigue me.

Cleric-Knight-WorkmanThe Middle Ages? Don’t They Begin at Fifty?

Let’s define “medieval”. It’s the Middle Ages, the period from the fifth through the fifteenth centuries that began with the collapse of the Roman Empire and ended with the voyage of Christopher Columbus to the New World. It was a time of world turmoil. Christianity was spreading across the European continent, but the populace was bedeviled by barbarian invasions, warfare, plague, and the rise of Islam. Whole tribes of people migrated from one location to another. Plagues and war wiped out entire peoples. New kingdoms formed and old ones collapsed. All this is great fodder for the writer.

Kings and Kingdoms

It was a time of kings and kingdoms. Often the medieval kingdom consisted of nothing more than a monarch who ruled a town and its surrounding region. The king lived in a fortress, later a castle, usually on a hill, that provided shelter for the townspeople when the raiders, or barbarians, or a conquering neighbor rode in. For the writer, a king, his family, and the power he holds are a fascinating foundation upon which to build stories. There’s usually intrigue in the court. Someone is always out to get the royal family. Or the king himself is misguided, corrupt, or evil, and our hero must stand against him. Being close to the center of power, our character can affect events. And the wiles, deceits, and plots of the court add to reader interest.

The World Was Smaller Then

One of the things that pulls me toward the period is the opportunity for a character to make a difference. The world was much smaller then, but at the same time larger. It was smaller because an individual’s actions and could more easily affect a king and his kingdom. Our hero can go to the king, make his case or be given his task, and what he does can have a large impact. There are no corporate boards in far-off cities, or monstrous governments too big for our hero to change. If there’s an evil empire, it’s ruled by an antagonist we can fight, an individual with a name, a face, and minions we can fight off.

The social structure was based on the clan—local groups of related people. This was the case in ancient, Celtic Ireland. Our hero or heroine was part of it and when the clan was threatened, we have the basis for a plot that matters. We’ve gone beyond the fate of a single individual. The issues at stake are bigger, affecting an entire people. Larger stakes equals greater reader interest.

But the World Was Also Larger

At the same time, the medieval world was also larger in this sense: Distances were great, travel was treacherous, and going to the ends of the earth might take years. You couldn’t jump on a red-eye and arrive at the other side of the world the next day. Traveling to the far ends of the world was an adventure, requiring an all-out commitment of months, possibly years, to get to your destination. Greater danger, risk, and adventure equals greater reader interest.

As for reasons to write about the medieval era, we already have quite a list. But we’re not done. The ancient world gave us unique virtues, but also death, brutality, violence, and conquest. We’ll continue our look at this fascinating era next week.

Book Review: The Pilgrim, by Davis Bunn

The Pilgrim, by Davis Bunn

In this post, Christian author Mark Fisher reviews The Pilgrim, by Davis Bunn, a book of Christian historical fiction set in the world of ancient Rome in AD 313.

ThePilgrim-Cover-DavisBunnAn Empress Disgraced, But on a Quest

The Emperor has summarily divorced his wife, the Empress Helena, who is a Christ follower. Evicted from her Italian country home and without official status, she feels disgraced and alone. But God speaks to her and she undertakes a perilous voyage to Palestine and Jerusalem. Her son is Constantine, the general in charge of the eastern armies. He opposes the Emperor and recently helped craft the Edict of Milan which decreed tolerance for all Christians. But powerful forces resist.

Friends of the Emperor and enemies of Constantine want to kill her. They’ve assigned the task to Severus, a brutal assassin. Young Anthony, a soldier from Constantine’s legions, accompanies her. He’s lost his family and his faith, but he’s loyal to her. He warns her an opposing army might meet her in Caesarea when they land. But she’s undeterred.

In Caesarea, An Assassin Waits

In the Palestinian port, she meets Macarius, a bishop of Jerusalem, who lost an eye to his persecutors. Cratus, a hard-edged Roman sergeant with soft heart, joins her. Together they start the difficult journey through a dry and harsh land to Jerusalem. Her son’s edict is in hand. She will bring it anywhere that Christians are enslaved or persecuted. She vows to stop the persecution of Christians in Palestine. Despite the peril, she heads toward Jerusalem.

Helena rejects the offer of a horse, choosing instead to go on foot. This slows their progress. And when danger threatens, she insists they must rely on God. Her will never falters.

But Severus and his soldiers are always one step ahead.

A Short Book, Worth Reading

This is a short book, only 175 pages, but well worth the reading. It takes us into ancient Palestine when the Roman Empire was changing its attitude toward Christians from persecution to wide acceptance. Davis does a brilliant job of depicting the times and culture, which truly comes alive through his words. Bunn also writes under the pseudonym, Thomas Locke.

Check out my home page for more reviews of great books of Christian fantasy and Christian historical fiction.