I must admit, if a novel is more than a few years old, I probably won't pick it up to read unless it's one that was really popular and recommended.
Several weeks ago, I found a copy of Francine Rivers' As Sure as the Dawn (Mark of the Lion series), first published in 1995 in a library sale. If you're an avid reader of Christian fiction, you know how it has changed in the ensuing years as well as the publishing industry.
I've heard Rivers is an excellent storyteller as well as an impeccable researcher. Redeeming Love is probably her most well-known--all of my friends rave about it. No, I haven't read it yet. I know, I know, please don't start with the accusations. It's just that I don't like romance unless it's done right and the only other book I've read that's remotely close in nature to that one is Kay Arthur's Israel, My Beloved (I did like that one.) So, give me more time. :)
Anyway, back to As Sure as the Dawn. It's the third (and I think final) book in the series. I did not read the earlier books, and now I'm conflicted on whether to read them or not. Why? Keep reading.
This book is a story of standing up for Christ, being a witness, loving people into the kingdom, and much more. Atretes, the gladiator from the previous books, has bought/won his freedom and now lives in his own villa. He has been betrayed by his lover, Julia, who no longer wants to marry him and has, as far as Atretes knows, thrown their baby son into the sea to die.
He finds the boy in the care of one of John the Beloved's followers, an Ionian named Rizpah. The rest is a story of how she leads Atretes to Christ and they take the gospel back to his homeland of Germania.
I find no fault with the story line. It seems historically accurate and the characters leap off the page in their realness. For some, it may seem very preachy. Sometimes this bothers me, but not here. I found it inspiring and very moving.
Now for the downside. And this is, I think, the only downside I can find--the POV. Rivers uses 3rd omnicient POV, head-hopping from one line of dialogue to another. You never quite know whose thoughts you will be hearing. She usually pairs thoughts with whoever is speaking, but it's not a hard and fast rule. For someone like me who has mostly read deep/close 3rd person POV for years now (one person's POV at a time per scene), and been told that this type of writing is not appropriate or viable in the market anymore, it was something I could not get used to. It plagued me at every paragraph. The characters were developed well, but I could never really get into their heads because in one line someone would be thinking something and in the next, another person would be doing the same thing. It was like watching a ping-pong match, but more frustrating. She writes like a narrator is telling us the story, and whatever that narrator sees is happening, even if it's the way someone feels or what he/she thinks, it is written in that way, not from the person's sole POV.
Here's an example of what I mean with the omniscient POV(This scene is between Atretes and Rizpah--we see into both of their minds multiple times):
(Atretes speaking)"Give him to me, or by the gods, I will take him from you by force!"
Caleb awakened and began to cry softly. Rizpah felt his small fists pressing against her breasts. Eyes filled with tears, she looked up at Atretes and knew he would do exactly as he threatened. She could not risk Caleb being harmed. Loosening her shawl, she held Caleb out to him. The baby cried harder, his small arms flailing. Her milk came, increasing her anguish. "He's hungry."
Atretes hesitated. His son looked small and fragile. He looked at Rizpah and saw her anguish. Tears poured silently down her cheeks. Face rigid, he reached out and took his son. The infant cried harder. (The previous paragraph was in Rizpah's POV. We now see what Atretes is seeing. It's considered "telling" when words like "knew" and "looked" are used in 3rd close POV.)
Rizpah crossed her arms over her heart. She looked up at him. "Please, Atretes, don't do this." Never had he seen such a look of anguish on a woman's face. (See, you think you're going to be in Rizpah's head, but at the end of the sentence, you see that you're not.)
"Get out," he said hoarsely.
"Get out!" he shouted, and the baby began to scream.
Uttering a sob, Rizpah turned away.
"Don't forget this," he said and kicked the pouch of money after her.
She swung around at the door. Picking up the pouch, she flung it into the fountain, glaring at him through her tears. "May God forgive you, for I cannot!" With one last look at the child, she fled, sobbing.
Atretes strode over and watched her rundown the steps and across the courtyard. He kicked the door shut before she reached the gate. (from Atretes' view again)
I'm told that this sort of writing would never get published these days. So I guess it's good Rivers got this in when she could. Those of us writing now can't get away with it anymore.