3 out of 4 stars
Share This Review
Casting Lots, by William D. McEachern, is an epic tale about a Roman soldier, Cornelius, who embarks upon a journey with a slave named Lucinius. Cornelius is not just any Roman soldier. He is one of the centurions responsible for carrying out Pilate’s orders to crucify Jesus. As Cornelius touches a sponge to Jesus’ lips while he is hanging on the cross, Cornelius experiences some supernatural encounter. Cornelius utters in amazement, “Truly this man was the son of God.” This is an odd pronouncement coming from the lips of a Roman soldier.
Many years later, Cornelius is approached by a slave who has been sent to him on behalf of his master. The master wishes the slave to return with Cornelius’ version of the events of the crucifixion. After repeated attempts, Cornelius finally acquiesces under the condition that Lucinius travels with him along the Via Egnatia. Along the way, Cornelius is constantly telling stories about Roman history, and he has requested that the slave record everything he shares. Lucinius is frustrated because the man is supposed to be telling him about his encounter with Jesus, and yet all he cares to share is seemingly irrelevant information about Roman history. Suspiciously, Cornelius seems to have witnessed these events himself though they happened well before he was born. Will Cornelius ever share what happened to him on the day of the crucifixion?
This story has many strengths. If you are one who finds time to read in brief snippets of time, you may appreciate the fact that you can finish most chapters within a few minutes. Each chapter also begins with a thought-provoking quote. This story is steeped in historical content. It contains Greek, Roman, and biblical historical scenes and characters. The author covers a large time span in the flashbacks and has a descriptive style that makes you feel as if you were there. I learned a ton of information as I read. I also loved the characters that the author created. Cornelius is rough and coarse as a Roman soldier would be, and yet he has a sense of honor and duty that reflects how his encounter with Jesus has changed him. Lucinius is understandably distrustful, and yet his heart softens and he begins to hope. He hopes that he will be reunited with the love of his life, Hestia, whom he planned to marry before he was forced into slavery. I also appreciate the way the author includes the Christian perspective of the power of the gospel. As a Christian, this was my favorite part of the story.
This novel also has some weaknesses. There are several minor editorial mistakes. This was only slightly annoying. The story’s biggest downfall is that it lacks forward momentum within its plot. It covers almost too much historical content for a fiction tale. Numerous transitions between Roman history and our characters' journey leave the story arc feeling disjointed. Please don’t get me wrong. I love historical fiction. I love learning new things. I feel a really good historical fiction novel will engage you in a way that you can’t help but turn the page to find out what happens next. At the same time, it will teach you history in a way that you barely notice you are learning. This particular tale had that feeling occasionally. At other times, I was falling asleep while I read.
I give this book 3 out of 4 stars. I deducted a star for the editing mistakes coupled with the slow plot. While it was a bit too cerebral for my personal taste, I think there are people out there who will appreciate this style of storytelling. The author’s vast historical knowledge is evident. I recommend this book to people who love Roman history or Bible history and don’t mind to wade through the ever-changing historical flashbacks. I don’t recommend this book to those who would be offended by authentic descriptions of cruelty that Roman slaves endured, including sexual abuse.
View: on Bookshelves | on Amazon