Monday, December 19, 2016

Book review: 'A.D. 33' by Ted Dekker

A.D. 33 is a novel written by bestselling author Ted Dekker. This novel is the sequel to A.D. 30 which was one of the best novels I had ever read, except that I didn't like the Mortal Kombat style ending where Shao Kahn shouts “Finish him!” and Maviah says “Naaah!”...... But let’s move on. The story of A.D. 30 is of an Arabian woman named Maviah. Despite being a member of a royal Bedouin household, Maviah is looked down upon because she is a woman, and also because she has a child out of wedlock, and when bloodthirsty invaders destroy whatever little she has, she seeks out a certain carpenter from Palestine. She learns from this carpenter the power of faith, and with this faith she not only restores her dignity and wins loyal friends, but also becomes the ‘Queen of outcasts.’

A.D. 33 continues Maviah’s tale. Maviah is now the leader of her people, but she still has to deal with the invaders who had ravaged her homeland and left her people homeless. Her enemies, furious at her victory over them, strike again and deceive her people, leaving them scattered in the brutal desert of Arabia. Hence, Maviah is once again faced with overwhelming odds, and once again she has no choice but to return to Palestine in search of the famous carpenter prophet of the Jews.

As usual, Ted Dekker fills his pages with suspense and action. He throws us deep headfirst into the savage and cruel world of first century Arabia. His minimal descriptive style works perfectly. But it is the heroine who keeps the reader invested in the story. Maviah is a brilliantly written character. She is not a cardboard cut-out female lead that so often emerges from Hollywood movies; she is thoroughly human. We care for her because she is vulnerable despite being courageous. When Maviah is forced to lose everything she holds dear, she has a crisis of faith. She breaks down during times of utter defeat and humiliation. This makes her a very relatable character. The problems she faces, the uphill battle against principalities and darkness, can so often be our own. Her companion, the feared warrior Saba, is also evolving wonderfully as the story progresses. He becomes a great admirer of Yeshua and ponders a lot on this enigmatic prophet’s teachings. Judah, another returning character, is, as usual, the heroic Jewish zealot who wants to free his homeland from the clutches of Caesar. He and Saba are Maviah’s closest friends and faithful allies. A welcome addition to the cast is Talya, Maviah’s adopted son. All of the major characters, except the antagonists, are handled beautifully and with care. There are some questionable decisions that were taken with some of characters, but I won't spell them out here and spoil the plot. You’ll probably know it when you see them.

The antagonists could have benefited from a little more depth. They are shown to be somewhat one dimensional, but I guess Dekker will work on that in the planned third follow up. Another odd decision made by the author is the repeated switching between first person and third person narratives, but then again this doesn’t obstruct the storytelling in any way. The only serious complaint I have about A.D. 33 is how similar the story is to A.D. 30.

Dekker shows great respect for scripture. The biblical characters are handled very well; nothing overambitious is attempted through them. I admire that. Too many creative nonsense can often leave the reader amused or scratching their heads (cough... The last temptation of Christ...cough). Thankfully, A.D. 33 is refreshing and it does not have any of the self-indulging passages common with most authors who set out to tackle a biblical story.

Maviah’s battle of faith and outright doubt is very relevant. Like Maviah, many young people face spiritual crisis in their lives. And so often, these young people leave the church simply because of the church's inability to guide them. Also, we learn how rash and reckless decisions, often made on the basis of hyper self-reliance, can lead to disastrous consequences. During critical times, Maviah is left without any options; she has only God to rely upon, and in these moments she performs extraordinary feats and finds her true self. By showing this, Dekker illustrates beautifully how we are strong when we are weak.

Despite a few nitpicks, A.D. 33 is another Ted Dekker novel that I fairly enjoyed. The pages just begged to be kept turning every time I opened this book. It was a thrill-ride all the way. I can't wait for the third installment.

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