It’s easy to write about books that work within established guidelines. Mysteries, for instance, present a crime and then solve it. You can discuss how well a mystery does that, or what’s original about the presentation or the prose or the characters, or if the author has tried to get away with writing a mystery where there’s no crime, then you can talk about that, but there are some set parameters. It facilitates things.
Siding Star, by Christopher Bryan, is difficult to discuss, because all the usual descriptors seem as if they might put off the very people who would actually be quite interested in reading this book. It’s fantasy, sort of, though it takes place mostly in modern-day Britain. It’s actually quite literally apocalyptic. It’s unabashedly Christian. But we are not talking about a conspiracy theory with the hectic flush of the Left Behind series, or a volley of judgments on the lost, or indeed anything remotely like what you might imagine if I began with categories. Bear with me a moment.
Siding Star begins with a man killed in a cathedral — a man who had been trying to perform some sort of occult ceremony. He is killed by an escaped wolf from a fair. The police, headed by D.I. Cecilia Cavaliere, investigate the dead man and these strange circumstances, and begin to find more than they bargained for: a sinister group of influential people trying to bring about global chaos. Cecilia is in more danger than she believes, but she also has allies she scarcely understands.
At the same time, in Australia, an astronomer who is simply doing his job notices that 27,000 years ago, the center of the galaxy exploded — and now, the shock waves have reached Earth, and the end of the world is arriving. (I instantly wondered where Doctor Who was when you really needed him.)
Siding Star posits that there are (at least) two planes of existence: the spiritual and the material, and that they can and do affect each other every day. It presents the notion that evil is quite real, but that good people — and by that, Bryan means those who keep their promises, tell the truth, show compassion, love each other, enjoy good food, love animals — make a genuine difference on the spiritual plane and during the end of the world, and also a concrete difference to individuals they meet. It confidently puts forth the notion that God is far more real than anyone expects, because no one expects him to be real in any material way. Most people expect him just to be floofing around with the spirits, but in fact he can be found in friendship, in lovemaking, in a good dog, in bread and wine, in doing a job you wish you didn’t have to do. This is a gentle, strong, compassionate book, never preachy, full of wisdom, written in a simple style and dressed as an apocalyptic fantasy mystery/thriller.
I don’t know whether you’ve ever read anything by Charles Williams (one of the Inklings and a great friend of C.S. Lewis.) He’s the only other person I’ve ever read to write books quite like this, where the physical and the spiritual meet and mingle as a matter of course, in a contemporary setting. His books are very odd, and so is this one, but they are worth reading. (Williams’s books are stronger and sterner and weirder. Bryan’s novel is full of a warmth and humor that Williams tends to lack.) If this intrigues you at all, I do recommend trying it on for size.
*Note: I didn’t exactly get this as a review copy, but my mother gave it to me, and she knows the author well. Make of that what you will, FTC!