Score: 90/100 (9.0 out of 10)
We'll open by saying this: this is a very polarizing book! The first time we went through it, a lot went over our head, the multiple-timeline aspect seemed a bit convoluted, and the religious elements seemed to be a bit forced. However, the second time we read this book, we really gained more of an appreciation for it. You really have to read this book slowly and patiently to fully grasp the merit of the storytelling. This is a very ambitious story that borrows elements from Christian religious tradition (primarily the Gospels) and Arthurian lore.
The book primarily follows Genesis, commonly just called “Gen,” as she has recently endured the tragic and unexpected death of her grandfather, a devout Christian man beloved by the entire community. Grandfather raised Gen to be familiar with the Bible. Among Gen's favorite stories are the Gospels, the life of Jesus, and the slaying of Goliath by David. Sometimes when she recalls hearing these stories from her granddad, she also recalls experiencing the sounds and actions of the stories as if she were really there. This is great foreshadowing for when her character develops and her eyes are opened to her uniqueness.
See, Gen isn't just another 20-something-year-old MBA student, she's a girl with a very special lineage and a very special destiny that began when Jesus was crucified and killed on Golgatha. She has a deep affinity with and is a guardian of the nail that pierced Christ's feet, believed to have absorbed his essence. While this isn't necessarily biblical as in true-to-scripture, it is consistent with extra-biblical Christian folklore such as the Arthurian myths and legends themselves. In fact, the footnail in this book shares many similarities with the Holy Grail of Arthurian Lore—a sought-after artifact believed to have been associated with Jesus. It is essentially a McGuffin, but we mean that in the most flattering way possible. Sometimes you need a McGuffin for heroes and villains to feud over and chase after. It adds tension and makes the story more exciting.
The footnail seems to behave almost like those pins in the Tommorrow Land, a movie we love, or like Luke's lightsaber in the Force Awakens, a movie we hate. When someone with an affinity for it touches it (namely Gen), they get a flash of the past and the history of the item. In other words, they get to see and experience bits of the life of Jesus and the struggle by those after him to obtain the item.
Gen is an adequate protagonist. She is brave, spunky, and tenacious. She is the Chosen One, the one meant to bring balance to the Force. However, she's also a bit generic in that sense. Yes, we can relate to her early loss in the book, but that doesn't seem to have impact and payoff it should have. Does she grow throughout the course of the book? Yes. In the beginning of the book, she is confused and sometimes even afraid of the wild things going on which prompts her to call for help and ask questions. She eventually grows to have a greater understanding of what's going on and her role in the universe. This is her awakening.
There's also Mark, essentially that handsome guy with all the tattoos on his face and the machine gun from The Mummy (1999). He's handsome, cool, and helpful. There are times he bails Gen out of very tough situations.
This book also features Merlin (yes, THE Merlin from Arthurian legend) as part of a twist you learn about early on (so it's not much of a spoiler). Merlin is a rather interesting and fitting addition to this story-line as he serves his classic role as a sort of facilitator and catalyst for the larger conflict. Merlin is essentially the Yoda, Obi-Wan, or Gandalf of this book, the grizzly old veteran wizard serving the greater good.
We also follow Empress Helena and her loyal guards. If you don't know, Empress Helena was historically the mother of Emperor Constantine, the man who made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire after living one of the coolest war-time stories ever. Helena was obsessed with Christian artifacts, especially things related to the life of Jesus and his apostles. Perhaps the artifacts she is best known for trying to obtain is the Spear of Destiny, the spear said to have pierced the side of Christ after his death. This legendary spear has been coveted by leaders throughout history and seems to be the direct inspiration behind the footnail in this story. Interestingly, when the Spear of Destiny was analyzed by scientists, it actually contained a nail, supposedly one of the nails involved in the crucifixion, although the dating seemed to disprove that.
One of the things we noticed about this book and Season of the Swords by Domenic Melillo is how eerily similar the books are. They're almost identical. Both stories begin with the death of a grandparent shrouded in mystery. Ironically, we read them back to back. Both stories feature a figurative or real return-from-the-dead of said grandparents. Both stories revolve around artifacts and historical figures with mostly Judeo-Christian significance (i.e. Jesus). Both tout a mostly Christian message. The thing is, as far as storytelling, character, and pacing goes, Season of the Swords comes across as the superior book. It's also a funnier book. Perhaps that's the major different: it was just funner and more entertaining to read.
Now, that's not to take away from Genesis Awakens because Season of the Swords will likely rate at or near the top of all fiction books this season. Genesis Awakens still does its job in featuring a strong female lead coming into her own, charismatic side characters, and arguably better villains. Unlike in Season of the Swords in which the villains (“the Apostles of Azazel”) are on the sideline being talked about for 95% of the book, the villains in Genesis Awakens (“the Accursed”) are constantly at our heroes' throats, always just one step ahead or behind. In that sense (the involvement of villains in the plot), this book is superior.
We can definitely recommend that you at least give this book a try if you're into Christian fiction related to the life of Jesus and/or Arthurian lore.
Check it out on Amazon!