3 out of 4 stars
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Beyond the Fire by Dewayne A Jackson is a fictional tale of Christians living in far off Amity, about fifty years prior to present day. The tale is a trilogy totaling about 750 pages, and is told via a framing device in present day Amity. Book One, “A World in Conflict: Sparks in the Tinderbox,” describes growing threats to the peace that has surrounded Amity for generations. In this section Jackson introduces the Stafford family and Bill Cotton and his family (the main protagonists), as well as characters who have sparked this new unrest.
In the second book, “Facing the Defiler: Enduring the Flames,” Amity goes to war to protect its borders from the invaders of Endor. Due to the war we get to explore the lands surrounding Amity, learn some of their histories and meet many new people, friend and foe alike. Both sides experience devastating losses physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. The main protagonists face trials both in their personal lives and in securing the fate of their country. The spiritual warfare in this second book is extremely intense; several lives hang in the balance between succumbing to evil and continuing on the difficult road of following the Holy Writings.
The final book, “Restoration: Beyond the Fire,” is not as calm a denouement as the title suggests. Warriors returning to Amity from Endor find their homes in disarray, and they must now fight a war on the homefront that they’ve labored so hard to protect.
I thoroughly enjoyed Beyond the Fire, but it is worth noting that a facet of this book will draw some readers in while alienating others: the story goes beyond having merely a religious tone to being outright Christian fiction. While Amity seems to be a nonexistent place, the Holy Writings and the work of Jesus Christ on the cross are identical to the Bible and its gospel. The characters who are Christians live out every part of their lives within this belief, and you can tell the author cares deeply about his spiritual walk. As a Christian myself, I do not mind the author utilizing his belief so thoroughly, but you should be aware before delving into it that Christianity is not a mere add-on to this book: it is its core.
In further regard to the characters, you’ll notice I did not name many in the summary. This is not because there are too few, but rather there is a huge cast of characters. No individual is clearly set as the protagonist, because there are several members of the Stafford family, and Bill Cotton who narrates the book is of less importance than the Staffords. Each character has both good qualities and flaws: the people with whom you’re supposed to sympathize are often easily deceived or let anger get the best of them. This does make every character feel human, yet most of the Christians seem like the exact same human. The evil characters all have the same temperaments and motivations; so while there is variety in characterization, there is not nearly enough to make me actually attached to the myriad of characters in the book.
Beyond the Fire is Dewayne Jackson’s first book, and you can tell he is just starting to develop his writing style. It is excellently edited: I found fewer than 10 mistakes across the 750 pages, most of which were simple typos. Jackson certainly has a handle on what makes for good writing. At the same time, the tone is quite casual for the apparent time period; I would have expected a little older style given the setting, and occasionally a modern-day American idiom slipped past the editing room into the finished work. Nonetheless, all of the writing, including the dialogue, was believable and easy to read, if a little plain.
The final point to discuss is the plot. Each of the books is very exciting and realistic about the difficulties of civil and foreign war. The overarching plot is simple enough, but the author does include various subplots and dream sequences that are confusing and do not substantially add to the main storyline. It’s as if the author wanted to build an entire new and epic world in just one book, but he could not choose which stories to include. For example, the subplot of a character named Seagood was entirely unrelated to the outcome of Amity’s war, and it took up valuable space. I would rather see his story as a separate book so we could get to know Seagood on a more intimate level.
Even though this book is Christian fiction, I think the author uses characters’ conversions to Christianity and the power of prayer as cheap contrivances to move the plot forward rather than as character development, which is how prayer and conversion function in real life. Characters experience instant and complete changes of heart rather than letting their new beliefs grow and gradually change them over time. I’m left with questions about how certain battles were won, beyond, “we prayed and the Lord gave us the victory.” But in all, the decent pacing and good use of plot devices made for an action-packed as well as introspective read.
As much as I enjoyed Beyond the Fire, I cannot give it a perfect rating due to its somewhat awkwardly implemented religious themes and a storyline that is a little rough around the edges. I rate it 3 out of 4 stars, and recommend it to anyone who wants a whole easy-to-read epic in one book, and especially to younger readers and Christians. It may not be for avid readers, but of all the books I have read for Onlinebookclub.org, this one is certainly my favorite.
Beyond the Fire
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