Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Book Review: The Blood of the Lamb trilogy

Book Review: 'The Blood of the Lamb' trilogy
by Mark E. Rogers

4 / 5 Stars

Mark Rogers’s ‘The Blood of the Lamb’ trilogy comprises the novels The Expected One (230 pp., Ace Books, May 1991, cover artist Michael Racz); The Devouring Void (213 pp. Ace Books, November 1991, cover artist Alan Clark); and The Riddled Man (255 pp., Ace Books, October 1992, cover artist Den Beauvais).

The trilogy is a loose sequel to Rogers’s two previous novels: Zorachus (December 1986) and The Nightmare of God (July 1988), although it is not necessary to have read those books to understand the happenings in the ‘Lamb’ trilogy.

The ‘Lamb’ trilogy shares the setting of the Zorachus novels: the Kadjafi Lands, a fantasy counterpart to the Middle East. The Lands’ peoples have Arabic names, and a monotheistic religion overseen by the Sharajnaghim Order. In a manner akin to that of the Roman rule of Palestine in the era of Jesus Christ, the Kadjafi Lands are ruled by a tribe of Mongols called the Mirkuts. Although the Mirkuts are quick to violently suppress any efforts to overthrow their rule, they rarely interfere in any internal squabbles among the Kadjafi.

With the ‘Lamb’ trilogy, author Rogers implements one of the more imaginative approaches to the genre: the trilogy takes the New Testament gospel of Matthew, and places it in a ‘fantasy’ landscape where magic works.

The trilogy is composed of two major plots. In one plot, a trio of adepts from the Sharajnaghim Order investigate the rumored actions of a man named Essaj Ben Yussef, extraordinary actions that include the healing of the sick and injured, and even the raising of the dead. Could Essaj be a genuine holy man, perhaps even the Expected One of scripture……… or is he a heretic who wields black magic in the service of Tchernobog ?

Interwoven with the narrative of Essaj is the other plot, which deals with a violent assault on the Sharajnaghim Order. Powerful magic is being used to kill selected higher-ranking members of the Order; the identities of the assailants are a mystery. The order’s second in command, Khaddam Al-Ramnal, suspects that the Black Anarites – a death cult that worships Tchernobog – are the likeliest of culprits and urges the Order to mount an attack on the mountain redoubt of the Anarites.

Over the course of the trilogy, the true nature of Essaj and his ministry is revealed, as is the conspiracy to destroy the Sharanajghim Order. Both narratives eventually join in a world-altering confrontation between Good and Evil………with some characters destined for salvation, and others destined for damnation……….

I finished the ‘Lamb’ trilogy with mixed emotions. Its setting and premise certainly are imaginative, and it certainly succeeds in bringing something new and novel to the ‘fantasy’ genre.

As with Rogers’s ‘Zorachus’ books, the ‘Lamb’ trilogy works in abundant horror motifs – the headquarters of the Black Anarites, for example, is the setting for all manner of appalling atrocities. And, as with ‘Zorachus’, Rogers liberally applies splatterpunk imagery. A large catalog of grievous injuries are inflicted on the novels’ major and minor characters, and the battles between good and evil magicians feature the casting of spells and the conjuration of demons in the manner of a Dr. Strange comic, albeit battles with no shortage of limbs, heads, and torsos being severed, burned, or blasted into atoms………!

The third volume in the trilogy features some of the bloodiest battles, and some of the higher body counts, in any fantasy novel I’ve yet read. But these lend the narrative the drama and suspense that justify the necessarily involved world-building that occupies the first two volumes of the trilogy.

However, ‘The Blood of the Lamb’ has its faults. A major fault is the insistence of author Rogers on inserting lengthy epistemological discussions into the narrative; many of these passages have the awkward nature of a college student’s term paper on theology:

“The truth is, this notion that Essaj is God incarnate is hardly more palatable than the idea that God can die. As a matter of fact, the two are inextricably linked. If you assent to one, you assent to the other; and as we both know, God has become man. For the first time in all the worlds, transcendence has become immanence. The myth – the most potent myth of all – has instantiated itself. We have seen its adumbrations since God first summoned us from the slime; thousands of dreamers have been possessed – and destroyed – by it. But Essaj is no feverish vision, no truth glimpsed through a darkened glass. The Word Made Flesh is in our midst. He is one of us. His mature has fused – fused homeostatically – with ours.

“But flesh perishes, doesn’t it ? And what then is implied ? The syllogism’s quite elegant; all men are mortal, God has become mortal, therefore……….”

Erim shook his head. “God is eternal.”

Another weakness of the trilogy seems - on the surface - to be a minor one: its use of Arabic names. It’s understandable that, in light of the books’ Middle Eastern setting, that some degree of authenticity be employed when bestowing names on the large cast of characters. However, author Rogers has a habit of using similar-sounding titles, and over the course of three volumes, this becomes confusing…………for example, trying to keep ‘Ahwaz’ distinct from ‘Akram’, who is distinct from ‘Arghun Khan’, who in turn is distinct from secondary character ‘Anwar’, had me stopping at regular intervals to try and recall who-was-who.

Summing up, I gave ‘The Blood of the Lamb’ trilogy a four-star rating. Those looking for something a little more offbeat in the fantasy and horror genres will find it rewarding, while those who are at ease with the more traditional stylings of the ‘high fantasy’ genre, and less comfortable with in-your-face violent content, might not find it to their liking.

[If you do decide to acquire the ‘Lamb’ trilogy, be advised that, being long out of print, all three volumes are fetching increasingly steep prices in the used book markets.]

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