Fantasy · Full Reviews · Science Fiction · Thriller

Forbidden, by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee

I was in the mood for something with a bit more “flair” and ended up grabbing Forbidden by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee. If I can give Dekker credit for anything, it’s that he never seems to think “inside the box”… while I may fault him sometimes for execution, he has no lack of raw originality.  Forbidden, the first in a three book arc, is set in a dystopian future and blends futuristic advancements (e.g. DNA manipulation) with a way of life that in many aspects parallels the far past. (Sword fights! Horseback riding! Underground prisons that are basically dungeons!)

The world of Forbidden is a gloomy one—after a cataclysmic world war, scientists create and unleash a virus capable of altering the genetic codes responsible for all higher human emotions. All human emotions, that is, except fear and its derivatives. With a new world order in place, humanity is at peace for hundreds of years—essentially because everyone on earth is only a few steps removed from being a robot. Devoid of hate and love, people appear to be motivated only by reason and a desire to alleviate their anxieties.
That latter, sadly, struck an all-too-familiar chord with me… how many people do I know that are motivated by fear? How many spend most of their time distracting themselves from the uncomfortable realities of life– like death, pain, and the always unknowable future?

Fortunately for the fictional characters in Dekker and Lee’s work, a vial of blood capable of restoring the full spectrum of feelings to those who drink it (side note: yuck) falls into the hands of the story’s protagonist, Rom Sebastian. Suddenly Rom –and a few friends who also take the restorative blood–are the only people on earth who are truly alive. On the run from the establishment, the group must search for a boy prophesied to be the key to restoring the rest of humanity. Unfortunately for them, someone else has found—and taken—a partial cure. Though whether it can truly be called a cure is questionable, since it only restores the darkest side of the human heart…

I really like the premise of this book, and it grabbed me quickly with plenty of action. I think it had a huge amount of potential, but I’m ultimately going to give it a tentative 3/5 stars, and by tentative I mean that it barely squeaked past the two star threshold. What fell short? In my mind there are two glaring issues.

First off, Forbidden was violent. The antagonist, Saric, is literally incapable of any noble emotions resembling humility, kindness, or affection to temper his villainous passions–so I can understand why Dekker and Lee painted him in such a one-dimensional, sadistic light. Among his offenses (although some are just alluded to) are murder, mad-scientist torture…and a disturbing attraction to his own half-sister despite having what appears to be a hoard of concubines. Saric aside, there was darkness elsewhere in the story I felt was unnecessary…a scene near the end involving a dead body and an internal organ stands out in my mind. I would never recommend this book to a young person. I felt as if Dekker (and Lee) enjoyed focusing in on the disturbing nature of things more than is required of the story.

Second, nothing in the book is very well fleshed out. The characters, for example, are mostly flat; the plot is simplistic. To be fair, the premise of the story makes character building difficult—after all, how to you create connection for your readers with a character that has had essentially no emotions for his entire life? Backstory becomes a challenge, as their lives are nothing but a list of facts that held no deeper meaning for them, at least until recently. After the characters are brought “to life”, many still lack depth or behave inconsistently—although it’s a wonder they can function at all given that processing so many new emotions at once must be akin to being blind and then suddenly given sight.

So what saved the book for me? Why did I let it inch up to a 3/5 stars? Ultimately, it comes down to the fact that this book is the first in a trilogy. Despite all the problems I’ve mentioned (and some that I didn’t) I still walked away really wanting to know what happens in the next book, which to me is a sign of some level of decent writing. The closing reveal had all the dystopian-drama-cliffhanger goodness I was hoping for, and I can’t stop thinking about directions the plot could go. Some of the issues I had seemed less rankling as I considered that this first volume may have been, ultimately, setting the stage for the full-fledged drama of Mortal (the sequel title). How many middling TV pilots have led to an excellent series?

“Love covers a multitude of sins” and in this case, well… so does a good sequel.

Major plot twist I’d love to see in book two? Saric getting some of the curative blood, and either redeeming himself as one of the good guys…or purposely fighting against his “better side” to be a more complicated villain.

Speaking of sequels, I still haven’t read book two of Dekker’s Circle series… which would you rather see me read next? Should I continue with this or head back to his more definitive work? Let me know with a comment, and thanks for checking in on the blog!

Ramblings

Thoughts on Black by Ted Dekker

Hello book friends! You haven’t seen me in a while! I’m not going to apologize, because these last weeks have been full, happy, lovely ones for me with family—a birthday party, time with my nieces, a rabbit show (really!), ordering pizza, encouraging sermons from my Pastor, joyful choir practices, and sitting on the front step listening to light rainfall. Of course there were a few down moments in there too—sore throats and such—but overall I am just full to the brim with all the restful, joyful feelings of spring and new growth right now. I hope you are too, and ultimately whether you are going through rough times or good, “…may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 5:13)

I’ve just finished the book Black by Ted Dekker: the story of a man who is torn between two equally compelling realities. Thomas Hunter—the protagonist– wakes up in one world whenever he falls asleep in the other, and to quote the back cover, “…in both, catastrophic disaster awaits him….may even be caused by him.” My feelings about this novel are almost as starkly mixed as Hunter’s dual lives. I found myself on a teeter totter of excitement/love versus frustration/dislike as I worked my way through it.

…excellent cover styling for this series, if you ask me.

I really enjoyed the sheer creativity of Dekker in Black. The entire concept is new and fresh… and interested me right away. Which of Hunter’s “dreams” is the “real” world? One is decidedly modern and realistic, the other is a sort of fantasy/allegorical land filled with strange creatures and characters. Dekker didn’t hold anything back when he created this other world, as every description is full of color and imagination. There’s almost a touch of the quirkiness of Alice’s Wonderland, but with much more meaning, thought, and truth behind every element.

Conversely, there were times when I felt the storyline was bogged down with repetitive or excessive writing. Occasionally imaginative steered into ridiculous or distracting, and many of the supporting characters felt wooden. I came across someone else’s thoughts on Black (I’m not sure where) and the reviewer said they wished that Dekker had written the book later in his career when he had more writing experience under his belt– and I tend to agree. I think that the book has a lot of promise but needed additional editing and polishing.

I plan on reading the next book in the series, Red, and reserving judgment until then. If Black was just the rocky start of setting the scene for all the shining potential of the premise, then I may yet end up with a favorite series in my hands. 🙂 Cross your fingers for me!