by KA Schuster, fantasy (2006)
Samhain Publishing, $5.50, ISBN 1-59998-099-1
Acts Of The Saints is not going to appeal to anyone who fancies himself or herself a religious fundamentalist. This story is set in an America where such folks have formed a coalition called the Paragenesis. These folks are burning books, burning the bodies of people suffering from AIDS in a public pyre, torching abortion clinics, publicly executing people of different beliefs... the usual, while folks called the Witnesses act like Public Inquisitors, going around and singling out folks who aren't behaving according to their moral code of conduct. These sinners are sent to "rehabilitation centers" where they are turned into Bible-thumping zealots. The Unsaved Underground, comprising mostly gay folks, academics, minority folks, and women, are formed to strike back against the Paragenesis.
The central mystery figure in this story is the Summoner. No, he's not a necromancer from some computer game, he's said to be the charismatic leader of the Paragenesis. The question is whether this person exists in the first place. This is what Father Theodore, an alcoholic priest, and Catherine, divorcée who is bursting with pent-up sexual desire even as she struggles with her residual Catholic guilt, intend to find out as they attempt to locate the Paragenesis HQ called the Citadel. These two are companions in a quest to make sense of the madness and find a way to right things. Alas, along the way Catherine falls for the beautiful Underground member Martin "Marty" Sovalle, not realizing that he will soon end up as a bait in the trap set out just for them by the Summoner. The future of the left wing dogma is in the hands of an alcoholic priest, a disenfranchised divorcée, and a bunch of self-effacing gay men. Are you bracing for the Apocalypse, people?
Acts Of The Saints is a dark counter to all those Christian dispensationalist End Times stories like the Left Behind series. Readers looking for a story where the author doesn't beat the reader in the head with Deep Important Messages may not appreciate this one, although I'd personally think that it will be a pity to give this book a miss because of that because Act Of The Saints is a well-written and very interesting story.
Sure, I'm a left-leaning person so I'd no doubt appreciate this story better than those who prefer the Left Behind stories but I personally feel that Ms Schuster isn't mocking Christianity as much as she is trying to point out the dangers of using your faith as an excuse to indulge in behaviors that turn you into a mindless monster incapable of discerning right from wrong anymore.
On the other hand, Theo and Catherine are also staunch Christians but they believe that the Paragenesis is wrong and the madness has to stop. As Theo says, it has come to a point where he starts feeling as he is Judas every time he prays to God. As the violence escalates around them, what with the Mormons waging guerrilla warfare in Utah against the Paragenesis (I'd love to see Donny Osmond in combat gear waving machine guns - won't you?) and all, these two will face the biggest test of their wills yet when they encounter the charismatic Summoner.
If you are still with me, you should have realized that this is not a romance novel. If not, I'm telling you now, heh, that this is more of a thriller set in an alternate reality. I find that Ms Schuster's prose is alternately beautiful and blasphemous, but there's no denying that she has me hooked completely. Theo is a tragic yet noble character and I find his relationship with the Summoner the most intriguing aspect of the story while Marty and Catherine, I'm afraid, bore me with their love story.
A part of me wishes that Ms Schuster is a little less heavy-handed with the depictions of the Reverend Phelps type of Fundies Gone Insane antics in this story because after a while enough is enough and I feel like saying to the author, "I get it. I get it." Yet on the whole this is a very readable and compelling story that is simultaneously heartbreaking, terrifying, and inspirational. It portrays the horrors of intolerance committed in the name of religious fervor even as it paints an inspirational portrait of a character who holds on to his faith and is willing to become a martyr to it. It is also heartbreaking because ultimately, it seems as if faith isn't enough and... well, I'll let you find out for yourself if you want to read this book.
So yes, this is a most fascinating and well-written story indeed.
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