Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Illusion, By Frank Peretti (Book Review)

Review By Professor Alan

When the book (and later movie) The Time Traveler’s Wife was released, there was much discussion about whether it was a genre story or not. Yes, there was time travel, but the main dramatic through line was a love story. So was the book science fiction? Or was it just a romance novel, placed in a sci-fi setting?

I felt a similar tension reading Frank Peretti’s newest novel, Illusion. Peretti single-handedly brought unsterilized and unsafe storytelling to Christian fiction with his novels of spiritual warfare. But this latest novel more closely resembles The Time Traveler’s Wife than his classic This Present Darkness, especially the first half of the novel.

Dane and Mandy were a Christian married couple, who had a long career as a popular magic act. Their forty-year relationship ended when Mandy died tragically in an auto accident. Shortly thereafter, a woman who may or may not be the nineteen-year-old version of Mandy from four decades before arrives in present day, throwing her and others into confusion. Teenaged Mandy starts to earn money as a street magician, and does demonstrate actual strange powers. She crosses paths with sixty-year-old Dane more than once, and the pair find themselves strangely drawn to each other.  I admit, there is a mild "creep factor" about this, given the apparent 40-year age difference.

It does take a few hundred pages, but the novel eventually moves into solid sci-fi thriller territory in its second half. The explanation of how Mandy moved forward in time, and the source of her strange powers, is done well, as are the motivations of the scientists (mild spoilers) who caused it to happen.

The Christian nature of the story is very subtle, and I appreciate that. Mainstream Christian art does not do subtlety often, or particularly well, and it is welcome here. There is no sense of being preached at, at any point in the novel.

As a story about magicians should, this one contains lots and lots of doves. To those familiar with traditional Christian iconography, these references to the Holy Spirit as helper, companion, and comforter are quite well-managed in the novel. There was a strong theme of fate/destiny, as well, as Dane & Mandy always seem to find each other, no matter the circumstances of their increasingly twisted timelines.

There were a few aspects of the plot that did not make sense, events that happened in the novel (or character reactions to these events) that seemed unrealistic. But these moments did not pull me out of the overall flow of an otherwise solid story.

Frank Peretti does a more than serviceable job narrating the audio version of this novel, although I usually prefer professional actors as readers. I saw Peretti give a talk at a Christian festival more than two decades ago, and his experience on the speaker circuit serves him well here. He is definitely above average among novelists who read their own work.

In terms of the quality rating, I would give Illusion a solid 8.0, with the heavy romance angle of the first half of the novel keeping it from being an 8.5.

In terms of relevance, I would give the novel an 8.5. The idea of destiny is worth a discussion, as is the classic sci-fi trope of scientists "playing God," dealing with things that man was never intended to deal with.

Quality: 8.0/10

Relevance: 8.5/10

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