Sequels rarely equal the first book in a series, with notable exceptions.
Lee Duigon’s The Cellar Beneath the Cellar is one. Duigon, one of the most cogent and entertaining Christian cultural columnists, picks up where his earlier fantasy novel Bell Mountain left off.
It’s fair to say that Cellar might even top Bell Mountain – no easy task. Like any worthy sequel, The Cellar is intriguing enough to stand on its own, although I would recommend that readers start with Bell Mountain. As with its predecessor, this new book is geared to young readers but does not coddle them. Thus, it is a joy for adults to read as well. It could even serve as a guilty pleasure for secular reviewers who set out to trash Christian novelists. But beware, if you are one of them. You just might be bewitched by Duigon’s character-rich adventure and lose some of your armor against the Hound of Heaven.
Since the plot is full of surprises, I will do my best not to spoil it here. And those who want first to read Bell Mountain should stop here, since that book, too, is full of plot twists.
Our young hero Jack and heroine Ellayne are once again immersed in a mysterious mission that might free their country of Obann from the grip of a false religion and evil overlord. Along the way, great and small battles are fought, hearts change and characters grow in wisdom. Trust – or lack of it – is a central theme. Lord Reesh, the faux keeper of the faith whose manipulations are superbly crafted, demonstrates why villains are so entertaining.
Faced with savage threats not only from their own rulers but from invading hordes of pagan tribes, Jack and Ellayne take us on a wild ride. They are aided and abetted by the reformed heretic and assassin Martis, plus the lovable and still somewhat savage and tiny manlike creature Whit, who wields a sharpened stick with the efficiency of a Samurai. Also, Helki, a giant of a man with a warrior spirit and a father’s protectiveness.
Questions abound. Can the young adventurers trust Martis? After all, he was initially sent to kill them to stop them from ringing the ancient bell atop Bell Mountain. And what exactly is so important about a “cellar beneath the cellar?”
The benevolent hand of God is palpable throughout the novel, even as the Great Story is told in allegorical terms. Like J.R.R. Tolkien, Lee Duigon weaves Christian sensibility into his narrative without being heavy handed. Like Tolkien, Duigon knows that the most effective apologetic isn’t compelling without a great story. So he delivers one. Again.