My antipathy for much of what passes as Christian fiction is well-documented, perhaps too much so. But I love God and I love books and it pains me that the one is so often poorly served by the other. So I suppose that explains what I’ve been doing hanging out over at Mike Duran’s blog and discussing what Christian fiction is, why it is the way it is and how we as writers who are Christians can either make it better or make better work in the mainstream.
I took a free copy.
I also bought the Kindle version for $4.99. I bought it after finishing the book because I thought that anyone who writes a book like this OUGHT to be compensated.
The book is called Running Black, and is sort of like Neal Stephenson* meets William Gibson meets later James Rollins. It is, as I’ve seen Patrick say elsewhere, a ‘run and gun’ novel set in a dystopian future where corporations govern and corporate espionage seems to be the number one way to get things done.
As with many books of this type, there’s a core team of get ‘r’ done types called ESHU International that Todoroff is franchising into a series. (More on that in a minute.)*** Running Black is the seemingly straightforward story of what happens when ESHU Intl is sent to steal a revolutionary piece of nanotechnology and things go either very wrong or very right, depending on your point of view.
I knew I was in for an atypical Christian fiction read when the protagonist and first person narrator Jace says, three paragaphs into his part of the story “Christ, I needed some sleep.” Most people in Christian fiction don’t talk like that. BUT gun-toting mercs on a dangerous mission? Yeah, I’m sure some of them do. And that right there was how I knew that Todoroff was not writing the story for a presumed audience or to curry favour with a publisher. He was writing a story that he thought would be fun to tell. And those are the stories that are the most fun to read.
I did have fun reading it, very much fun. All in all I’d say I’m giving the book four out of five stars. I’m taking one star off because I still had a few issues with some of the characters. Because the book IS a Christian book (I guess…)** that means there were religious Christian characters who were ex-members of ESHU international. I know why Todoroff wanted them in the story because they have a key part to play in the narrative. But they seemed to be the most stilted of his characters and the ones he had the hardest time trying to make believable. Understandably so. Another reviewer on Amazon said they seemed hypocritical, but to me that was VERY believable…how many Christians have you met who aren’t struggling with reconciling their old ways to their new ones? Still, their dialog felt stilted to me, and some of the things they were able to procure seemed just too convenient.
I also had the story spoiled for me by one of the author’s own blog posts (shame on you!) and that made it pretty hard to read in spots, knowing as I did what was coming. I think that may also have affected my rating, so I’m wavering between 4 and 4.5 stars.
*You’d think I could spell his name correctly since I’ve got one of his books LITERALLY two feet from my face. I always ALWAYS spell it wrong. At least this time I didn’t Google it and remembered to look up and slightly to the right instead.
**Is it a Christian book? In one aspect I definitely think it is, as there are Christian characters who present a gospel message that I think MAY be a bit too heavy-handed to market the book as a straight-up thriller with Christian characters. But overall the book makes a definite escape from the ghetto of bonnets and bodices that typify Christian Fiction in the early 21st Century. And I didn’t feel like Todoroff’s characters were any more “preachy” about their religion than Dennis Lehane’s are about alcoholism and South Boston. Far less so, actually.
***The series thing always gets me in Christian fiction. As I’ve said a billion and one times, the Christian publishers are overly fond of chopping up one novel’s worth of story into a “series” of large-print, double-spaced overpriced novels. Todoroff is instead opting to go with the Gentleman’s method of creating a series in that he is franchising leads across multiple adventures. THAT is respectable and plays fair with one’s paying customers.