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The book is very informative as a history of persecution and I have no doubt Christian readers will find it inspiring and relish the (for me) overlong biblical quotations. The pace meant the suspense was well maintained. My main problem was I couldn't get a feel for the historical setting. I wanted more information about the sights and smells. I felt the characters' thought processes and dialogue were too contemporary and sometimes were mouthpieces for ideas rather than having their own psychologically convincing thoughts.
The visit to heaven and hell didn't work for me either. And that's where I found the book most problematic. I wanted more moral ambiguity and complexity. It was too dualistic for me. This is a pity because it could have been a great story and the reader's faith shouldn't necessarily affect their enjoyment of it (you don't have to be a Catholic to appreciate Waugh's ''Brideshead Revisted"). But if you want a book to remind you of the power of faith in overcoming adversity then you'll enjoy this.
Since I'm neither an expert on ancient Christian culture, the Diocletianic Persecution, or any of the historical personalities involved, I'm going to express to you in this brief review how I felt while reading this book, as a writer of fiction myself. Maybe from this point of view, you can tell whether or not it's something you might want to read. If it doesn't help, I apologize in advance, since the author's perspective is the only expert perspective I have to offer as a reviewer.
While I don't normally read Christian fiction, and I'm actually staunchly anti-Religion in general, I'm going to ignore any parts having to do with the faith I might disagree with. This, I write simply to get out of the way, since it should be a given that the review is not a review of the faith, the times, or the people described in the novel. This review is about the novel itself and how well I feel it succeeds as a literary work of art. So, first of all, I'll mention the parts where I feel it failed, then, to leave you with a happy feeling, I'll describe the parts where I feel it succeeded.
The first major problem I have as a reader is being distracted by things like grammar and misspellings. You won't find many such errors committed in the text of this novel. It's proofread quite thoroughly, though I did run across a few misspellings and and split infinitives. The main distraction I found though, was the author's tendency toward excessive or misplaced exposition. My reading notes are cluttered with "sDt!" throughout [Show Don't Tell!"] and these entries far outnumber anything else.
Coming in a close second is something other reviewers have mentioned before me -- the author tends to over quote from Christian texts. I get the sense the author is in love with these passages and is moved by them; however, as a general reader, I'm not moved. Instead, I'm kicked out of the scene and find myself flipping forward through the text to the end of each lengthy quotation and, thus, the continuation of the action. What's more, and a close third in the errors I saw committed here, is the tendency of the author to speak in lingo or code decipherable only by Christians. For example, what does it mean to see an assembly "bathed in the Spirit like weary travellers who have reached an oasis," exactly? What are you really saying when you write, "God's people were filled with every grace and blessing as they shared the sacred meal?" What exactly are you trying to say? So, why not just describe that instead of use code phrases and lingo that means nothing to those outside the culture?
Beyond this, another major distraction was the anachronistic appearance of ideas and phrases. For instance, at one point, a major character who works in the palace as a scribe, thinks about calling in sick the next day. This seems an idea that shouldn't really even occur to ancient people. As I wrote above, I'm no expert on ancient Romans and Christians, but a scribe calling in sick to the palace seems sort of comical ... Mel Brooksish. In another example of anachronistic thought or action, one character looks at blood on the ground and wonders if a person could survive losing so much blood. This, 900 years before Medieval medicine had advanced to the point people were being bled to cure illness, mind you. So, how would an uneducated Christian have such a modern-day thought? To her, it would likely be up to God if that person survived or not. For all we know, she may have thought losing so much blood was a good thing!
And this leads me to another distraction -- the people in the story are walking around in what I'm thinking is right around 303 AD. Yet, they speak as if they're walking around modern-day Los Angeles. This is, except for the fancy people, like the upper-class Romans, who, true to cliche, refuse to use contractions ... just like the demons.I'm guessing the demons and upper-class Romans would speak with an upper-class British accent in the film version of this book, except maybe for the demons, who might have a Cockney accent, spoken in a deep, gutteral voice.
While I'm on the subject of the demons by the way, I agree with the another reviewer who said the demons weren't needed. That's exactly right, in my opinion. It's not an easy thing to write demons convincingly, so that they're taken seriously by most readers and things don't come off as cliche and farcical. Were I revising this book, I would cut out the scenes of Asmodeous and the gang entirely.
I could go on with other faults I find with this book, but I'll stop there and move on to the things I actually liked. For one, I liked the way the author took me into the everyday lives of Christians in the time of the Diocletianic Persecution. He really does convey how scary life could be for Christians during those times, and, though I failed to connect emotionally with the characters (I really wanted to be moved about Rachel, I promise, but for some reason, I felt more like a spectator than a close friend during that whole part) I thought it was interesting to see how tough life could be during those uncertain times where death could come to anyone at the mere whim of a local official.
Another thing I liked was the way the author used real figures from history, so I could look them up and learn something about an era and people I really hadn't given much thought to before. I mean, I've taken the old World Religions class at the university, but that was at least six years ago, and, while we did touch on the Judeo-Christians during the time of Christ, we didn't really go into the culture and times described in this novel.
While it isn't something I would normally read, I would recommend this for Christians who are curious about those times and people. I think this book will entertain you, engross you, and expose you to something you -- just as I -- never really thought about before.
I liked the Christians and their dedication to each other. Linus didn't completely convince me with his sympathy for them although he worked for the Emperor and was always posting up edicts of how they should be further persecuted. For anyone but a staunch believer it is indeed hard to understand who they withstood the inexorability of it.
The one area in which I had reservations was in the style which, for me, focussed almost too much on telling and not enough on showing. For example, I did not get a sense of place, could not visualise the landscape and even my mental pictures of the communities were mixed up with memories of any community at any time in the past where houses were huddled together and the streets narrow. But it didn't stop it from being a moving and shaming story.
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The main character, Linus, is a Christian. He is also a scribe for the emperor. He spends his days penning edicts against Christians, the very people he loves most. With this foreknowledge, Linus is able to prevent some attacks upon his community, but not all of them. It is a wonder that Christianity survived the Roman onslaught of burnings, killings, and prejudice against them.
Bulman adds to the historical fiction an element of the supernatural that I found intriguing. I was reminded of Milton's masterful presentation of Satan in "Paradise Lost." Here in "Replenish the Earth," we are taken to the heavens to meet some of the angels and to hell to meet some of the demons. The reasons for attacking the Christians, testing their faith, looking for traitors, goes on among all. Asmodeus is the most evil of the demons.
Although there are many quotations of some length in the text, the pace of the book is quite good. The fate of the Christian families we come to know hinges on the whims of the soldiers who knock on their doors. Some soldiers are lazy; some are fervent haters. The suspense of attack holds up throughout the novel.
I think I would have liked it even more had it been longer, like Taylor Caldwell's Roman books. Still "Replenish the Earth" is an entertaining and inspiring story.
At first, the government sets out to burn all of the existing churches. Along with the buildings, many scriptures that have been kept within the churches also perish. Linus and a few others who know how to write try to gather as many surviving scriptures so that they can put together a complete set. From that set of scrolls, they copy the scriptures in order to scribe sets of scrolls for Christian communities like their own. Christian worshipers begin secretly gathering at member's houses in order to continue their faith. As things turn more serious and the emperor's soldiers try to uncover the improvised churches, membership within the Christian communities begins to decline. The emperor announces that anyone who is caught with scriptures or found worshiping in a secret church will be imprisoned or punished in even worse fashion.
This story is about the love, dedication, sacrifice and fearlessness of the Christian people who lived during the time of the persecution. No matter the repercussions, the remaining members of the Christian communities stood together and continued to go about their lives, helping others and serving God.
This story was so powerful and well-written that it drew me in immediately. Being a spiritual, non-practicing Christian, I wasn't sure how I would take to the religious aspect of this book. The religious references within the story were in no way overbearing, and they certainly did not take away from the story-line itself. In fact, there was just the right amount to go along with the engrossing tale. Upon finishing this book I was left feeling inspired and hopeful.