Category Archives: Book Reviews

‘Martin the Warrior’ (2013)

Image result for images of martin the warrior

After some headaches getting the ol’ computer into gear this morning, I happened to think of this book I’d read some years ago: Martin the Warrior, by Brian Jacques.

Sometimes I just don’t get it. Like, Mr. Jacques sold 30 million books–no, I don’t get it. His books were adapted as TV shows and even… an opera! I read a couple of them and really, there was nothing much there.

Not that the book was truly awful. But the only thing memorable about it was all those dinner scenes. I didn’t get that, either.

‘The Green Ember’: A Fantasy Fit for Kids to Read

Image result for images of the green ember

Every now and then, in my search for suitable reading matter for children, I turn up gold–like, for instance, The Green Ember, by S.D. Smith.

It’s a heroic fantasy featuring rabbits with swords, instead of people. And it’s about faith, hope, family, and self-sacrifice. This puts it miles apart from most of the Young Adult fiction that’s out there; and it’s written well enough for adults to enjoy it, too.

We do need more of this, much more. People of all ages consume huge amounts of “entertainment,” mostly without realizing that this is a passive but very effective form of self-education. We need to consume and digest more faith, more hope, more charity.

More Green Ember, less Spirit Animals.

I Love My Characters

Image result for images of the cellar beneath the cellar by lee duigon

Ellayne at work

I have to admit an embarrassing thing. I have fallen in love with my characters.

They’re fictional. I made them up. But by now I’ve spent so much time with them, they don’t feel like made-up people anymore. They feel like real people.

Yesterday–sometimes it’s like I just watch this stuff come out of my pen–Ellayne had a set-to with Lord Orth. I love Ellayne because she has so much go to her: you just can’t keep her down. And I love Lord Orth for the totality of his conversion, which took away the gourmandizing theological show-off and left a humble servant of God… who is now more himself than he ever was before.

I love Wytt for his resourcefulness, his complete lack of fear, and his very small size that never stops him from doing big things.

I love Gurun for her courage: here’s a girl who’s deathly afraid of riding a horse, dreading that she might fall off in front of all these men who insist she be a queen; but that doesn’t keep her out of the saddle.

I love King Ryons for his earnestness, Fnaa for his irrepressible sense of fun, Uduqu for his cheerful bluntness, Obst for his devotion, and Helki for his wildness–and for the fact that there’s no one else remotely like him.

I even get kind of fond of the villains. Lord Reesh. Ysbott the Snake. Lord Chutt. Just don’t let them know I said that.

And I love Nanny Witkom standing up in the cart in the middle of the world’s worst downpour, hair flying every which way, crying “Behold the salvation of the Lord!” No wonder Chief Zekelesh, who couldn’t understand a word she said, was so attached to her.

Of course, if you haven’t read any of these books, you won’t have met any of these characters. But that’s a problem easily remedied.

But if you have, tell me–are there any characters you’ve fallen in love with?

Yeesh! At one point, when they thought I’d killed off Chief Uduqu, both my wife and my editor were ready to tan my hide… I guess I’m not the only one who gets kind of involved with these books.

No, No, Please, No! No ‘Katana-Wielding Scullery Maid’!

Image result for images of ella the slayer

Here she is with her katana. I wonder what school she studied in.

In my continual search for fantasy fiction that edifies instead of just making you dumber, I receive many invitations to review new books. Like Ella the Slayer, billed as “an Edwardian retelling of Cinderella.” Or “Cinderella” meets “Upstairs, Downstairs.”

The premise is, the worldwide 1918 flu epidemic was something more sinister than a germ, and the people who die of the flu come back as zombies who have to be killed all over again, blah-blah. I hate zombies. You seen one zombie, you seen ’em all. Besides which, the Great Flu was only 100 years ago and there are those of us whose families included some of those victims: this is in rather bad taste. In fact, it’s in execrable taste. The publisher ought to get the ducking stool, and the writer a public thrashing.

But allow me to mount my hobby horse–

Ella, the heroine, is described as “a katana-wielding scullery maid.” A lot of those in Edwardian England, were were?

I studied Japanese swordsmanship. I had to study and practice with the wooden sword for five years before I was allowed even to touch a katana–ten pounds of live steel sharpened to a razor edge. This is a serious weapon and I don’t appreciate ignorant wannabes fannying around with it. You could very easily do yourself a major mischief.

No one can say that my own fantasy novels fail to include major female characters who are strong, brave, resourceful, and worthy of admiration. Believe it or not, this effect can be achieved without writing up your female characters as comic-book superheroes with steel bras. I think I hate superheroes even more than zombies. Like, how many cliches can you jam into each chapter?

Why is non-idiotic fantasy so hard to come by?

‘The Lost Souls of London’ (2015)

Image result for images of ruth rendell

I don’t expect this review to send you all out galloping for a copy of this book–The St. Zita Society, by the late Ruth Rendell. But like I always say, contemporary fiction often has a lot to teach us about our own time and culture.

True, Rendell spent her long career writing about weirdos. I think we have more weirdos now than when she started.

Which is something to think about.

Here’s That ‘Curtain’ Article

See the source image

Hooray! The Chalcedon website ( has a brand-new front page to display new articles and video. From now on, that’s where all the new stuff will be; and that’ll make it easy to find.

And published there today is my article on Agatha Christie’s Curtain, written months ago and now available here.

Can a mystery novel tell us what’s gone wrong with British Christianity–and probably our own, too?

Read it and see!

‘Michael Crichton’s Dark Night of the Soul’ (2014)

Image result for images of jurassic park and michael crichton

Michael Crichton spent his adult life writing best-sellers and expanding his knowledge of the sciences. When he rebelled against Global Warming dogma by writing State of Fear, the Left turned against him viciously. But I wonder what they thought of these paragraphs from his Jurassic Park  sequel, The Lost World:

Science makes a useful tool but a dangerous religion.

Jesus’ Parables: Study Them

Image result for images of parable of the laborers in the vineyard

I reviewed John MacArthur’s book on the Parables of Jesus for the Chalcedon magazine in 2016. Reading that book was hours well spent.

This is an important book, and written in such a way that any reasonably intelligent adult or teen can understand it. It’s full of unexpected insights, and information about the world in which Jesus Christ lived at the time–information that, once we have it, clarifies much that might have been confusing us.

For instance, I didn’t know that the “penny” mentioned in the King James Bible, far from being the lowest possible denomination of money, was actually a more than respectable piece of change–a silver coin, the Roman denarius. That information changed my whole understanding of Jesus’ parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard.

MacArthur’s book is a great tool for Bible study.

‘Not Only Dumb, But Evil’ (2015)

Image result for images of unhappy readers

Some of the stuff you find in Young Adults fiction, it’d make a jackal retch. But the business at hand is always to undermine the family.

And this isn’t even the really filthy stuff that wins award and gets endorsed by the American Library Assn.

Culture Rot… and Conan Doyle

Image result for images of arthur conan doyle

Culture rot in the West has deep roots, at least as deep as the French Revolution. The 19th century came up with Marxism, Darwinism–and spiritualism, a new “religion” based on communication with the spirits of the dead.

A major factor in the rise of spiritualism was the devastation caused by World War I, which shook many people’s Christian faith right down to the ground. These were Christian countries killing each other’s young men by the millions: something must have gone very, very wrong. So a lot of people started looking for answers… in spiritualism.

Among the chief proponents of spiritualism was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the man who created Sherlock Holmes. Doyle also believed in fairies. I don’t write this to show contempt for him. Doyle was emotionally shattered by the war, losing a son, two nephews, and a brother, and spiritualism was his way of trying to cope with it.

In 1926 he published a novel of spiritualism, The Land of Mist, featuring Professor Challenger, the hero of The Lost World (   In this novel Challenger, scientist and skeptic, is converted to belief in spiritualism. It doesn’t make for very edifying reading.

In Chapter XII we find an account of a seance in which a medium summons up the spirit of a “Pithecanthropus,” a prehistoric ape-man which has since been upgraded to Homo erectus, a human. The original science that reconstructed Pithecanthropus is today presented as a comedy of errors. But in 1926 it was settled science.

Here’s a footnote by Doyle, discussing the incident in Chapter XII.

“The account of Pithecanthropus is taken from the Bulletin de l’Institute Metaphysique. A well-known lady has described to me how the creature pressed between her and her neighbor [at the seance], and how she placed her hand upon his shaggy skin. An account of this seance is to be found in Geley’s L’Ectoplasmie et la Clairvoyance…”

This illustrates G.K. Chesterton’s maxim that when a man ceases to believe in God, he doesn’t believe in nothing; he’ll believe in anything. You can think of as many more illustrations as I can.

Conan Doyle wound up believing in a lot of things which Sherlock Holmes would have sneered at. We shall be more charitable than Holmes. Spiritualism swept through British popular culture and is, of course, still with us today. Along with equally queer beliefs in Man-Made Climate Change, gender fluidity, and utopian socialism. One wonders what the churches have been doing, all this time.

Chesterton was right.

%d bloggers like this: