Waller did a lot very well with this book. The first thing that strikes you is the setting - by setting this in a future America where we have fallen and are conquered by an all-powerful government which does not value us, it really brings home the world of Israel and those of Jewish faith in the time when Jesus came. It was a well done insight that provided depth to my own perspective.
Also, he gets inside the public psyche well. Due to the prophecies in Daniel, the Israelites knew the Messiah was due, but they had widely differing views on who the Messiah would be due to two apparently contradictory sets of prophecies. Jesus neatly explained this with the promise of the second coming, but at the time there must have been a lot of debate and disagreement as Jesus miraculously fulfilled an impossible number of prophecies and yet did not seem to satisfy all of them. Waller highlights the debate and uncertainty as people wrestle with this, in a way the Gospels lightly gloss over. It is well done.
As for the portrayal of Jesus, it is never bad. He lifts almost every interaction and most dialogue directly from scripture and so stays on pretty safe ground. In the later parts of the book, most notably the first couple of days in Jerusalem, he really brings these stories to life. By setting one against another, placing them in the geography of the city and the timeline of Holy Week, and bringing out the cultural and political plots surrounding Jesus's stories and actions, he adds some depth and context that enriches the events of the Gospel. In other places, it's just a rehash of the Gospel story (which isn't a problem. It's the Gospel!) or an awkward or cheesy retelling of the story. Sometimes he tries to create some pathos or monumentality in a Gospel story that doesn't come off. Healing the leper is a place he did pretty well. Jesus having the children come to him was a place it fell flat and made me squirm a bit.
All of this is set against the backdrop of a thriller story. The story itself is well conceived but could be told better. Most of the characters are pretty flat and are reduced to a caricature. Petra starts this way but becomes more robust, the Teacher also develops well, but most others take on the air of soap opera figures, portraying an emotion or an action in reaction to the situation but not having an internal character that drives them through the story. Two characters have a painfully unrealistic love story, the only thing driving them together and holding them their is the author's constant insistence that they are madly in love. Many characters vacillate wildly between emotions from paragraph to paragraph without a sufficient cause in the narrative.
The events themselves can also be jarring, jumping from scene to scene without much connection or development. You just suddenly find yourself in the next vignette. To be fair, this is quite faithful to Mark's writing style, but it still hurts the book when you are trying to tell a narrative. The story did pick up steam toward the end as things came together and I found myself enjoying the last 50 pages more than the ones that came before, so if you push through you'll get to a pretty exciting finish. Even then, the author does more telling than showing, meaning he states what happens and what people are feeling more than creating a narrative where you experience those events and emotions for yourself.
All this is capped by more than a handful of typos and an ending that didn't make sense to me.
In the end, I think it is always worth spending time deepening and widening your knowledge and understanding of the Messiah, and in that sense this book succeeds. It is a great idea and has a solid foundation to build upon. I hope that Waller continues to work and write, he is barking up a great tree and I'm sure every word written will push him forward in his art.