G. P. Taylor
This book should have been a movie. The story of spiritual warfare, kids versus demons, is told in a very cinematic style, and the author’s jumping between perspectives would perhaps have worked better on film. And if it had been a film, I wouldn’t have had to suffer through 275 pages of some of the worst writing I’ve ever forced myself to read. I hesitated on whether to give this book an F for writing quality — an F just seems so extreme — but I realized that the failing grade description “take a grammar class” actually applies rather well to this book. Taylor misuses commas, overuses the word “and”, extensively employs sentence fragments, and otherwise clunks through highly inept prose on every page.
I was excited when I picked up this book, because the cover blurb informed me that it is set on the Yorkshire coast south-east of Whitby. Having spent a day last May wandering these very Yorkshire cliffs, surely within a couple of miles of the area Taylor has in mind, I thought I would be able to appreciate the setting of this book. But unfortunately Taylor includes nothing in the way of milieu development. I didn’t even know in which era the book was set until a character came out with the informatory phrase “These are the 1700s!” (Not the best way of notifying your audience of the era in which your story takes place, especially when you do nothing to give the audience a feel for that era throughout the remainder of the book.) The dialogue was certainly neither consistent nor reminiscent of the 1700s. One lovely moment featured a character observing “I like a storm, it sets the heart aquiver,” followed on the next page by another character’s “Leave her alone, you freak!” Right. And then I had to wade through travesties like “Beadle locked the door and from a large empty plant pot took a cane walking stick,” and editors’ nightmares like the follow paragraph: “The vicarage was always a dark place. Even on the brightest autumn morning it had the feeling that night still clung to its portals. It had a strange, rugged beauty, and looked as if it was hewn from the rocky headland high above the bay.” Shocked and appalled by incorrect grammar, clunky structure, and inexplicable mood swing, all included in a paragraph no more than three sentences in length, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or be very afraid.
Oh, and need I mention that the characters in this book manage to be both flat and inconsistent? Quite a feat, yes, but I assure you Taylor carries it off remarkably.
Morally, I’m a little confused by the book. It’s a spiritual warfare story, obviously written by a Christian (Taylor is an Anglican vicar, I believe). Yet the lousy writing which pervades the entire book somewhat affects its moral atmosphere. Taylor doesn’t restrict his inconsistency to description — e.g. “the stones broke from the dry earth” on one page, with a reference to “the patterns of mud that clustered around each cobbled rock” on the next — but also leaves some ambiguity when referring to spiritual content. At times it seems almost as if God — Rhiathamus as He is referred to in the novel — could be defeated by the evil Satan figure, Pyratheon. The book seems to represent an almost dualistic view of the battle between good and evil. Can the heroes of the story be ‘snatched out of His hand’ against His will? The author’s opinion seems to vary — sometimes yes, sometimes no, sometimes ambiguous. Other aspects of moral content perhaps simply suffer from the fantasy setting — in a book that is clearly fantasy, in spite of Christian spiritual underpinnings, one perhaps shouldn’t be too critical of portrayals of the mechanics of demon possession or of selling oneself to the devil. The book certainly maintains the distinction between grasped and granted power, and God and His servants do win out in the end.
Still, as a Christian novel I find the book more embarrassing than uplifting. Reading reviews of the novel on Amazon.com, I found that some readers weren’t sure whether Taylor means to mock or support Christianity. I definitely think he intends the latter, but his terrible writing doesn’t do much for his cause; in spite of Bible-quoting characters, he is unable to indicate and clarify much about Christian belief. On the other hand, this novel is certainly encouraging for aspiring Christian authors — if this can make the NYT Bestsellers List, anything can. Please improve on this precedent.