94+/100 (9.4+ out of 10)
Sword of the Gray Champion is an adventure-filled historical fiction novel by Domenic Melillo. It is the sequel to Season of the Swords, one of our top three fiction books of 2022 and one of only five to score a 9.6/10.
Domenic Melillo tied for "2022 Author of the Year." He also wrote the book that we considered the best romance of the year, A Major League Love.
So, we were very stoked and excited for this book, and it succeeded in being fun, interesting, and entertaining. Many of us even read it twice!
The book follows the Guardians of the Swords of Valor, fictionalized versions of Melillo's actual family members. The family work as a unit against the forces of evil led by Azazel, the “Watcher” demon inspired by the Book of Enoch who largely corrupted mankind.
In the last novel, the Guardians gained possession of the powerful Swords of Valor, keeping them out of the grasp of the villainous Apostles of Azazel. They then used them to defeat the daunting Swords of Terror, thwarting Azazel's plans, for a while...
However, barring the Second Coming, evil doesn't vanish, it transforms from one form to another. That's the lesser-known fifth law of evildynamics.
In this book, the Apostles of Azazel take the form of an Illuminati-like secret society known as the Leviathan Alliance. Now, from our understanding, in The Bible and Judeo-Christian mysticism, Leviathan is viewed both as a monstrous, coiled, serpentine creature and as a demon of pride—one who coils itself around the hearts of men. Likewise, the Leviathan Alliance consists of some of the richest and most influential families in human history including the Plantagenets, the Julio-Claudian dynasty, the Medici family, and the Rothschilds. You also meet surprising and non-so-surprising members of the Leviathan Alliance throughout the course of the book while also meeting their natural opponents, the champions of freedom and liberty.
You quickly realize that this incarnation of evil is the result of the cousins' tampering with history in the previous book, specifically keeping King Leonidas from dying at Thermopylae. This set in motion a chain of events that put the Leviathan Alliance into positions of power despite the defeat of the Swords of Terror.
Along the way, the cousins meet the champions and voices of freedom and liberty throughout history including Cicero, Benjamin Franklin, and Samuel Adams. Cicero is a name we've read about several times, usually seen as one of the greatest orators of the ancient world. It is also fun to see Samuel Adams portrayed as a character after reading a biography about his family, Wild Colts Make the Best Horses by Mary Rae Mauch, our 2022 Non-Fiction Book of the Year.
This book is filled to the brim with information. Melillo obviously loves history as much as we do, perhaps even more. It is incredibly interesting to read about all of these historical figures, events, and time periods. However, it does get cloying and overwhelming at times. This book is filled with exposition. There is so much exposition—so much explaining and teaching.
Seemingly the entire first-third of the novel is one huge chunk of exposition. At least it's presented as dialogue, for the most part, and we receive it at the same time as the lead characters. It also gets a bit preachy and didactic. This can be a very heavy-handed book, and the teaching moments do slow down the pacing of the story quite a bit. Similar to the last book, it seems like after every mission, the characters have to reflect on the mission and what they learned. That sounds decent, but it can get on your nerves a bit, making you feel like you're in a classroom being lectured rather than reading a story. At least it somewhat invites you to engage with the text and its themes. You can also freely skip those parts if you want.
At least this book has a point rather than being pointless, mindless entertainment.
Something else we noticed is that this book is very formulaic when taking the last one into account. It's almost the same story, told in the same way and with similar beats (and the same restroom breaks and mentor-like characters). You do get to meet new and interesting historical figures, and what goes on with JFK really is a worthy climax of the story. Our expectations were subverted a bit by the evolution of those events.
The John F. Kennedy arc really elevates this book. It is far and away the most interesting and action-packed thing that happens. Yes, there's a random gladiatorial battle and discussions of events like Bunker Hill, but the JFK arc has something over the other arcs: suspense. You really feel like this is a plan that could go wrong in more ways than one. That's a good thing. It supplies tension.
One last thing we found challenging is that the family dynamics and identities of characters are sometimes confusing. It was difficult enough tracking all of the cousins, The Prophet, The Meglio, the holograph or “image” of the grandfather, and the grandfather himself, but now you have a great grandfather in here who commands much of the attention in the book. You also have a holograph or “image” of Catherine, the grandmother, and then Catherine herself. This might not sound confusing to the author who understands who all these family members are because they're based on his actual family, but it can be a labyrinthine maze for readers. It gets to the point where you might just start thinking along the lines of “so-and-so is explaining such-and-such to so-and-so after so-and-so got injured en route to meeting Julius Caesar.” This is partly the reason why we had to read the book more than once. It's sometimes hard to know who is who and what is what.
Ultimately, this is the type of book that you'd want your kids to read rather than what's being shoved down their throats these days. American & Christian virtues and values—even basic rights and freedom—are deteriorating day by day. Books like these that champion the way things ought to be.
Check it out on Amazon!