I never thought I would read a book that reminded me of C. S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength. But I just finished J. B. Toner’s The Nephilim Effect, and it has it all–a blending of Greek, Judaic, and Tolkein-esque mythologies, a startling portrayal of physical battle against spiritual attack, and a sense that magic, science, and grace may have different boundaries and spheres of action than the modern world understands–plus more, including a sort of theology of martial arts. This is a fun and terrifying book.
Toner does an impressive job switching voices between the three main characters: romantic, motherly Faith, goofy and innocent Tommy, and skeptical, cocky, chivalrous Roy, who has this this hilarious reaction on his first visit to the land of Faerie:
…a tower cut from a single hundred-foot-tall diamond. What did they cut it with? Who cut it? Was there a working class here, supporting the monarchy? Or maybe slaves? If they had diamonds and wine just lying around in the open, then what was the basis of their economy?
The book is probably best categorized as Young Adult, because Toner’s depiction of the three teenage heroes–especially their dialogue–is accurate, and consequently a bit annoying to the adult reader. But although this book should easily attract teenage readers of popular fantasy novels, there’s a lot more going on under the surface. Without being preachy or explicitly religious, Toner manages to incorporate a chilling portrayal of demonic possession and temptation, as well as a heroic Christian response. In the words of Faith, the characters are discovering that “whatever else [the discovery of supernatural forces at work] might mean, it meant the world was a different sort of place than I had thought.”
These spiritual themes will not slow the teenage reader down. Toner does an excellent job of pacing the novel, alternating between different points of view, action, thought, speculation, and description. His action scenes are fluid, his chase scenes are breathless, and his dialogue is realistic. (The only exception was the world of the Elves, which I found a bit stiff; but Tolkein is a hard act to follow!)
A few quotes which made me really sit up and take notice:
My eye twitched. There was something lice about him, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. He was extremely average-looking, with thinning gray beetles and dismal brown eyes. Conservatively dressed, in oozing leprosy and a grey tie, with brown loafers and flies breeding in sores.
‘I represent an organization called, ha, called The Eye,’ Wingrove said dully. ‘We’re interested in speaking with Mr. Connor if that’s, hee, if that’s all right.’
Brr. Shades of Wither from That Hideous Strength.
One last thing worth mentioning: Toner’s lovely portrayal of family life. While most of the male characters are better developed than the female ones, the character of Roy’s mother is lovingly and fully realized. Good job, Mrs. Toner.
Go buy yourself or your kids a copy! It’s only $2.99, and you’ll be helping a deserving new author get off to a good start.