The fourteenth book I’m reviewing is Jaclyn Lewis’s novel Mercy for the Serpent. It’s billed on Amazon as science fiction, but by my reading it fits more closely with fantasy. The characters inhabit an Earth-like world called Trelisor, and their society is relatively primitive. This world has two factions locked in a centuries-old war, while a smaller faction called the Gleaners live in the jungles and deserts while survivor through thievery against the two main factions. Our protagonist is a young Gleaner named Phinehas (“the serpent”), a thief who unintentionally kills a man (Valahar) while stealing from him. The story’s plot centers on the consequences of this murder as Phinehas attempts to flee from the rigid justice of Valahar’s people, who include the victim’s wife Azira and brother Goeh’el.
The book is Christian-themed fiction, and this becomes clear fairly quickly. The conflict focuses on the decision by Valahar’s brother as to whether Phinehas should be justly executed for his crime, or whether he should be shown mercy. It’s difficult to review this book without giving away spoilers, but in the book Goeh’el chooses mercy and makes a plainly Christ-like sacrifice by choosing to be executed in Phinehas’s place. As the rest of the book goes, the rest of Valahar’s people must cope with this unusual decision while Phinehas must learn to live with his pardon.
The writing is quite beautiful. There are lots of vivid descriptions and flowery poetic language, which was initially was a little off-putting for me. Once I was further in and better adjusted to the writing style, it didn’t bother me. The fictional society was also very believable, which I appreciated.
I’ve had some issues with Christian fiction in the past, because I’ve seen a lot of it done badly. Often it is essentially a sermon disguised as a story, and the quality of the narrative suffers because the characters and events are secondary to the message. Christian fiction that avoids this pitfall can achieve great things. I consider C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy a good example of this, and some books of his Chronicles of Narnia are also good examples (not all are, but some are). Mercy for the Serpent, as a work of Christian fiction, avoids that pitfall for most of the book. Phinehas, Goeh’el, and Azira are characters with personalities and desires apart from just being characters in a sermon. When they are well-written, they are very well-written. That being said, towards the end of the book this pitfall became more prominent. I had the feeling that the author wanted to cram in as many Biblical allusions and references as possible (the Good Samaritan, Jesus washing the feet of the disciples, the divine name I Am Who I Am), and they didn’t all fit so well. The message of the book was strong, but many of the Biblical references felt like they were put in just for the sake of having Biblical references instead of because they contributed to the narrative.
Overall, I liked the book. The prose is very good and the setting is memorable, and it had a central theme that I certainly recognize and agree with. It was heavy-handed with its theme, but not enough to seriously detract from the book’s quality. I can certainly recommend it for Christian readers and fans of C.S. Lewis or Madeleine L’engle. It was appropriate for younger readers as well, so parents could suggest it to their children as well.
And now as always, the plug. If you liked this book review, you can see my others here: