If a modern-day Bard of Avon penned a near-future thriller, it would resemble Brett Armstrong’s Day Moon. As a programmer and art student at the university, Elliott McIntyre’s greatest concern is wooing fellow student and artist Lara Hopewell. But when Lara finds a hidden message in a poem written by Elliott’s grandpa, they are drawn into a labyrinthine treasure hunt for truth, pulsing with conspiracy and danger. An intriguing masterpiece of character relationships, marked by deception and betrayal, displays authentic human interactions and motivations on the story’s canvas. And the plot is deftly coded with mysteries and surprising twists. Burdened by immersive descriptions and ornate prose, the narrative lacks an editor’s touch, yet presents a richly layered world and magnetic plot with need for a sequel.
Best for: Readers who enjoy a slower-paced but exciting story, with explicit Christian themes arising naturally from the story flow and characters’ beliefs.
Discern: Mild violence, kissing, suggestive elements, and one scene involving lingerie.
A Marriage in Time
A Marriage in Time offers a passionately emotional story of love and loss and making choices. Mega-church pastor’s wife Lacy Stevens is transported by an angel to the time of Bathsheba. Lacy is placed in Bathsheba’s household, and serves Bathsheba, powerless to stop the events she knows will soon unfold. But she has a mission she doesn’t quite understand: to help Bathsheba face the consequences of her actions with King David, and to confront her own choices, feelings, and future. Anna M. Aquino paints a rich historical setting for a timeless tale of the bondage of sin, the impact of the choices we make, and the power of forgiveness. While a thorough edit would have made this read even more enjoyable, the story’s emotional impact was profound.
Best for: Adults, married women, and those who enjoy Biblical fiction.
Discern: Issues of adultery, infant mortality, and other themes central to the story of David and Bathsheba.
Masters and Beginners
Not everyone who looks normal is normal—this fact can prove disastrous. But the Driscolls, who appear like a conventional suburban family, are secretly members of an ancient order devoted to battling the Unseelie, the dark fey, on behalf of humanity. In Masters and Beginners, Daley Downing blends the traditional Faerie mythology with biblical ideas of angels, Nephilim, and the war in heaven. These diverse elements are skillfully woven into a convincing world, leavened with magical quirkiness and textured with political maneuverings. The story finds its focus on fifteen-year-old Sophie Driscoll, slanting the novel sharply to young-adult fiction. While the story’s plot is unfortunately thin, the story’s surrounding magic will enchant many readers.
Best for: Teens, fans of the Harry Potter series, readers who enjoy fairy tales.
Discern: Three misuses of God’s name, roughly half a dozen instances of mild swearing, mild violence, and defiance of parental authority.
Nick Newton is Not a Genius
Nick Newton is not a genius. That isn’t shameful; you might even call it normal—unless you lived in Nick’s house. There, the dazzling brilliance of his mother, father, and older sister shine a painful glare on the fact that poor Nick is not a genius. But he’s curious and persistent, and by those virtues he will discover what secrets from the war are hidden in his home. With Nick Newton Is Not a Genius, S. E. M. Ishida creates a sci-fi tale for young readers. Her story plays out in Thauma, a country of advanced robotics and whimsically named educational establishments. It is peopled with colorful characters, sometimes wrong but always memorable. The plot is simple and the book is never in a rush, but children and grown-ups alike will be charmed by this gentle, creative tale.
Best for: Children, fans of science fiction.
Discern: Characters discuss rumors that a man murdered his parents.
The Red Rider
Red Riding Hood survived, of course. The wolf died. But wolves still prowl the forest, so the story goes on. Randall Allen Dunn’s The Red Rider cleverly blends the tale of Red Riding Hood with the legend of werewolves. Playing out in a darkly dreamlike version of France, this story digs its roots deep into religion. Catholic Christianity, savage witchcraft, and whispers of new churches form its conflict and themes. Fantasy yields to horror as the inherent ghastliness of a wolf stalking a little girl increases and spreads until finally overwhelming the original story’s fairy-tale aura. The Red Rider bears teeth, but horror fans will find it gives an exciting chase.
Best for: Adults, fans of horror and fairy tale retellings.
Discern: Gore, considerable violence, grisly images; not appropriate for younger readers.
The Relic Cycle: The Bloodheart and The Lightningfall
Some Christians may spurn depictions of fantastic magic, yet Steve Rzasa’s Relic Cycle series reverses this belief. Here, magic is a person’s innate ability granted by the Most High, and anyone repressing magic offends God’s created order. That’s one blessing, for in this realm of airborne islands and sky-high piracy, our band of heroes—ragtag even amid a melting pot of fantasy races and real-world nationalities—needs all the magical help it can get.
We first encounter Captain Bowen Cord in The Bloodheart, where he’s caught up in a desperate scramble for a legendary MacGuffin (an object vital to the plot). And as if one ferocious and intelligent villain wasn’t challenge enough, Bowen works to keep peace among his strong-willed crew—comprising a were-fox, a winged woman, a faithful dog, and a cryptic orphan—while grappling with the latent threat of his own ice-summoning power. In the end, survival may require a very personal surrender.
While The Bloodheart offers a fairly straightforward episodic quest, its sequel The Lightningfall breaks new narrative ground. By taking aboard a mysterious client carrying a powerful relic—another MacGuffin?—Bowen begins an apparent repeat performance. But this time, the line between good and evil isn’t so clear. Loyalties will be divided, allegiances forsaken, and the unlikeliest of opponents find themselves facing off over the world’s fate.
Rzasa’s first-person, present-tense delivery proves surprisingly versatile, and the intensity of his action scenes compensates for the minimalism of his worldbuilding.
Best for: Older teens and adults seeking a swashbuckling sword-and-sorcery spectacle.
Discern: Unflinching violence, a smattering of language, and brief strong sensuality.
In The Remnant, theistic belief becomes a disease, so believers become patients. The government sentences them to humane quarantine—lifelong isolation from society, lest they spread their contagion. But the disease is growing into an epidemic, and the quarantine may end in humane extermination. William Michael Davidson’s sci-fi world is comfortable to most of its inhabitants, dangerous to some, and bleak only to a few. Although the plot proceeds along predictable lines, realistic characters bring life to the story. Religion unabashedly holds the center of the story without overwhelming it. The Remnant spins a future of well-meaning tyranny sure to help readers ponder the threat of potential real-world dystopia.
Best for: Teens, fans of sci-fi and dystopian stories.
Discern: Mild violence, a few inappropriate words, discussion of mass execution by poisonous gas.
The Rise of Aredor
The Rise of Aredor follows Corin, a young prince kidnapped and sold into slavery. He earns the respect of his master and eventually attains freedom, only to return home as a man and discover his land under siege by a cruel, power-hungry dictator. Corin determines to free his country. Some of the plotting and problem-solving elements may seem a bit contrived. Yet with action and intrigue reminiscent of a Robin Hood story, and hope that comes only from deep within, Claire M. Banschbach spins an enjoyable, worthwhile adventure of wartime courage.
Discern: Lots of violence in battles and hand-to-hand combat; some graphic depictions.
Best for: Young adults who like high action and lots of fight scenes.
The Roman Empire generally fails to be good, but it never fails to be busy. Apollyon roams the Seven Cities, stirring up violence and plotting to release demons from the Abyss. Rome burns, Nero fiddles, and Christians die. Alexander, a Jewish physician, is drawn into Roman schemes unwillingly; and Cassandra, a Christian merchant, is drawn in more unwillingly yet. Brian Godawa’s Tyrant unites history, spiritual warfare, and eschatology in an ambitious epic. Tyrant plunges deep into history and theology, bringing up a wealth of detail. Artless exposition clutters the story, however, and too much is told, too little shown. But if Tyrant stops too long at some places, it boldly charges in others, and it will find a ready audience among those who appreciate how it roars.
Best for: Adults, fans of Frank Peretti, readers interested in history and theology.
Discern: A few instances of vulgar language; disturbing scenes of death, torture, and one abortion; references to infanticide and cannibalism; sexual allusions, including to rape, homosexuality, pederasty, and one passing mention of bestiality.
The Unlikely Intrusion of Adams Klein
J. R. Greco’s The Unlikely Intrusion of Adams Klein serves an intriguing story of a boy who is sent back in time to the twenty-first century for protection against a paranoid dictator in a dystopian future. The future world is excellent and very detailed, and the time travel and technology are believable. The characters are fun and engaging, and easily relatable, with real-life issues like bullying and crushes intruding on Adams Klein as he runs from robot assassins and tries to get back to his own time. At first the villain was a little too cartoonishly evil, and some transitions were hard to follow. But overall this is a fun, engaging adventure with fantastic worlds and action.
Best for: Teens and young adults who like complex worlds and technology.
Discern: Some violence and references to drugs and drug use.
Wolf of the Tesseract
In Christopher D. Schmitz’s Wolf of the Tesseract, guardian Zabe determines to rescue Princess Bithia, whose blood holds the key to safeguarding—or destroying—the multiverse. Elsewhere, archaeologist’s daughter Claire Jones is due to wed a handsome movie star. But when an old schoolmate reappears, Claire’s certainty about the future begins to fracture. As Zabe’s quest intersects with Claire’s life, she must confront the truth of other worlds—and the secrets of her own. This story’s vehicle of Lovecraftian horror and comic book physics doesn’t always offer a smooth ride. A rapid start in divergent universes creates dimensional jet lag until the cosmology is explained halfway through. Pulp-style action can seem overdone and characters’ morality is never nuanced (with one notable exception). Despite its sometimes confusing plot, Wolf of the Tesseract is a satisfying adventure.
Best for: Fans of pulp adventure, H. P. Lovecraft, and paranormal romance.
Discern: Stylized action and violence, including gore and dismemberment; discussions of romance and sex; love triangles involving doppelgangers; vague religious and spiritual references; and soul transference.
What say you?