Sequels, series, and companion novels are something LDS fiction readers have loved since the time when we waited with bated breath for Gerald Lund’s next volume of The Work and the Glory. Chris Heimerdinger has kept readers hanging on to his Tennis Shoes series for years and romance readers have followed the convoluted family chart of Anita Stansfield’s Emily and Michael for twelve years, almost as long.
There are many reasons readers follow series, and chief among them is a reluctance to say good-bye to characters who have become dear friends. Another reason is that a story may be too big to absorb into one volume. And sometimes it is a device to encourage readers who liked one book by a particular author to pick up the next one.
There are different kinds of series, with some appealing more to particular readers than to others, but the most popular are those that tell an epic story such as The Work and the Glory, Faith of Our Fathers (N. C. Allen), and Children of the Promise (Dean Hughes). Chris Stewart’s The Great and Terrible falls into this category. This epic has its beginnings in the war in heaven and it continues with rapid pace action from there to the final days.
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Stewart is in top form with the techno-thriller aspects of this series. Fans of Tom Clancy will love every spell-binding minute. Writing from a personal background as a United States Air Force pilot, he has a thorough understanding of the technical aspects of today’s military technology. He is also considered an expert on matters of military readiness and national security.
Though sometimes referred to as a “last days” series, The Great and Terrible is far more than that. Certain valiant spirits are introduced in Prologue: The Brothers, Volume One who take leading roles in the war between good and evil. Time moves forward at a rapid pace and they are seen again in mortal life during the rapidly escalating events of the last days in Where Angels Fall, Volume Two. These characters, like all mortals have no memory of the role they played in heaven or their mission on earth -but Satan knows who they are and how dangerous they are to his plans. He’ll do anything to stop them, draw them to his side, or discredit them. In The Second Sun, Volume Three, betrayals, hatred, death, and destruction bring about cataclysmic events and try the faith of those valiant spirits. It also sets in motion the intertwining of their lives and sets the stage for volume four, which is yet to come.
Stewart demonstrates a keen understanding of various cultures throughout the world and clarifies the part centuries of bias, animosities, and customs play in world events. He spares no culture, ethnic group, nor nationality when it comes to greed, either for wealth or for power. His portrayal of life in simple villages, average western homes, and the palaces of corrupt power brokers all ring with authenticity. From the humblest to the greatest, he understands their politics, their allegiances, and who or what they worship.
Tying it all together are the scriptures concerning pre-mortal life and the prophecies of the last days, a strong doctrinal background, and the imagination to apply them to the realities of today’s world events. He leaves the reader painfully aware the Last Days are not necessarily sometime in the future, they could be beginning tomorrow or even today.
Series such as The Great and Terrible are best read in order and are essentially one long, extended story. Another type of series is composed of varying numbers of volumes linked, not by one continuous story, but by some common thread. In this type of series the common thread may be the relationship of one volume to another, such as when a minor character in one book becomes the major character in the next. The common thread may be a family, a group of roommates, an object such as a car, an address, or a city that remains the same, while the characters and their dilemmas change.
Those of us who grew up on the old Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys Books are familiar with a series device that is becoming extremely popular in LDS fiction, mostly in the mystery genre, that calls for the major character(s) remaining the same in each volume, but he/she deals with a different mystery in each one. A 12 Judges Courtroom Drama, by Ron Carter is one such new series which begins with In Joan’s Defense. In this type of series, reading the books in order may be more fun, but is not essential to enjoying each one as a stand-alone novel.
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In Joan’s Defense begins with a call to an attorney’s home on Saturday morning telling him he is urgently needed at the office. There he meets his best friend’s wife, who is also a dear friend, and she confesses to shooting her husband. This is not a mystery or detective series, but one that carefully follows a courtroom case. The tension is derived in establishing motive, frame of mind, and guilt or innocence. It places the reader in the position of weighing evidence and establishing a defense plan within the framework of the constricting rules of a courtroom.
It also sets up the reader to analyze difficult questions just as the jury must. In this case a long-term, happy marriage deteriorates quickly and unexpectedly, seemingly without reason. The husband, who has always been kind and loving, becomes abusive and beats his wife without provocation until she fears for her life. Unexpected access to a familiar loaded, bolt action rifle during this beating, results in two shots fired approximately ten seconds apart, ending the husband’s life.
The wife freely admits she fired the two shots, but was the husband’s death murder or self-defense? Was one shot self-defense and the other murder? Does a woman react differently from what a man would in a life threatening situation?
An intriguing story that raises plenty of questions, In Joan’s Defense is exciting and absorbing. There are a few places where it is difficult to be certain who is speaking or thinking, but overall the book is well written, provocative, and hard to put down. It is also a book that encourages discussion of both courtroom strategy and the ideas and concepts introduced.
A number of excellent new series have been introduced to the LDS market recently, giving readers a wide range of styles, genres, and authors to choose from. I highly recommend these two series to those series lovers who like fast-paced action and concepts that make the reader think beyond simply following a riveting plot.
The Second Sun: The Great and Terrible, Vol. 3 by Chris Stewart, published by Deseret Book, 443 pages, $19.95 (hardback)
In Joan’s Defense, A 12 Judges Courtroom Drama by Ron Carter, Published by Palmyra Press, 254 pages, $15.95 (Soft cover)