Reviews from Lord Taylor of Glencoe
Showdown: Ted Dekker, September 14—October 11, 2013
My rating: ♦♦♦◊◊
Showdown is the first of the three-part Paradise Saga, which in itself forms part of the wider Books of History Chronicles. It introduces the Books of History: anything written in them comes true if the writer has the faith of a child. They are discovered first by David Abraham, Marsuvees Black, Billy and Thomas Hunter.
Abraham’s discovery is the progenitor of the saga, and his subsequent loss and rediscovery leads to the hiring of Black as a monk at his monastery-cum-orphanage.
Black’s discovery prompts him to use the books for evil, influencing Billy to begin writing in them.
Billy’s writings form the basis of Showdown, and includes writing in the future discovery of Hunter’s. Billy would later reappear in The Circle Saga’s Green.
Thomas Hunter’s discovery is mentioned in passing, which itself forms The Circle Saga: Black, Red, White and Green, and is in the recent past.
Onto Showdown proper, and there are two major threads. One is set in a monastery run by Abraham where he hopes, through Project Showdown, to train orphans in the way of goodness and love in the hope that they will be reintroduced to the world with a default for choosing good over evil. Among these orphans are his son Samuel and also Billy, and among the staff of monks is Marsuvees Black.
The second thread is set in the nearby town of Paradise, where the AWOL monk Black shows up and claims to be a preacher who essentially influences the residents to embrace evil. These threads merge when it becomes apparent Billy is writing the ongoing events in Paradise into the Books of History, thus causing them.
Thematically, Showdown is an interesting exploration of human nature. It’s a core theme in both settings and Dekker plays with it quite a lot. Black is wrapped in enigma and the unravelling of the truth about him (not spoiled above) is intriguing.
The early part of the novel has a very This Present Darkness feel about it, with the God-fearing residents of Paradise gradually listening to Black’s whispers. There are a lot of characters introduced very quickly and it takes a while to get to know them. Disappointingly, half way through the focus switches exclusively to the Black/Billy/Samuel/Johnny core group and lots of the sub plots and threads are abandoned: characters just disappear.
The dénouement includes powerful writing and the main cast are given some great material. Allegorically, it becomes predictable but that’s no bad thing. The reasoning is handled well, and it works. The execution is quite poor though, and it is a clunking case of deus ex machine that feels very, very contrived. It’s a tough one: Dekker was evidently wary of showing his hand too soon and that’s understandable.
A decent offering from Dekker that could have been improved with tighter plotting, slightly less repetition and a smoother finish. The Paradise Saga must be compared negatively with the landmark Circle Saga which preceded it. Some interesting ideas are offered, and Dekker does a very good job of pushing the boundaries of Christian fiction by creating a convincingly dark and scary world and not being afraid to give his prose some bite.
Saint follows Showdown but was read out of sequence. Sequential reading of this saga is not mandatory, says the author, but in my view far better.