Last night i finished reading A Pius Man by Declan Finn. The best way to describe this book is to say that it’s a pro-Catholic version of Dan Brown’s writings. The story begins when a researcher at the Vatican archives finds something he shouldn’t see. Somebody doesn’t want it to get out. Of course they kill him for it. Action and hijinks ensue.
Most modern explicitly Christian fiction, to be blunt, sucks. I mean, it’s really, really bad. Thankfully that is absolutely not the case here. This book is an enjoyable read.
The best thing about this book is the fun characters. I particularly enjoyed Sean Ryan, the Hollywood stuntman turned mercenary action hero. His background may seem to many to be implausible, but I’ve known enough people from really strange backgrounds that it actually felt more real to me for it. I also greatly enjoyed his portrayal of the fictional Pope Pius XIII. His life history rings very true, and he feels like a priest – the best kind of priest.
This is one of Mr. Finn’s earlier novels. I picked it as the first to read and review under the mistaken impression that it actually was his first novel. Unfortunately, some of that shows through. Although the characters are as fun as I’ve already mentioned, there are a bit too many of them for this particular story. It is sometimes hard to keep straight what is happening to whom. There’s also a bit too much expository dialogue. Indeed, even the author realizes this. One character goes so far as to explicitly comment that they’re drifting into “Dan Brown monologue” territory. The comment would sit a little better if the book hadn’t actually drifted a bit too far into that already.
On the other hand, the action flows pretty well – and there’s rather a lot of it. That helps keep the exposition dumps from dragging the book down too far. Some of it is a little over the top. But then we kind of hope for that out of our action novels, don’t we? It never goes so far as to break one out of the story.
A Pius Man is a strong read. I think most people will enjoy it, even non-Catholics. But the strongest audience for this book is definitely going to be those who want good, fun, action thrillers that don’t insult their faith. I give the book four stars out of five and I look forward to reading the rest of the series.
With Between the Wall and the Fire wrapped up (or mostly so), a major software release just out the door at my day job, and the Memorial Day holiday giving me a long weekend, I finally had a chance to relax for a bit. In addition to catching up on the season finales of my favorite shows, I also had time this weekend to read Mr. John C. Wright‘s newest masterpiece, Iron Chamber of Memory.
And yes, I do mean masterpiece. This isn’t just one of Mr. Wright’s finest works, although it is definitely that. It also now occupies a spot as one of my favorite fantasy works of all time. Yes, this work is really that good. Unfortunately, to say too much about it is to spoil it. So I will dance around the problem as best I may.
First of all, this is one of Mr. Wright’s most readable works. I must beg his forgiveness for that phrasing, and explain carefully what I mean. Although I greatly love the vast bulk of Mr. Wright’s art, some of it is downright work to read. But the work is well rewarded, and well worth the effort. For what it’s worth, I tend to feel the same way about my favorite band, Dream Theater. Iron Chamber of Memory, however, absolutely does not suffer from this issue at all. From the very beginning it’s engrossing, and the reading simply feels effortless – as, indeed, Mr. Wright describes the actual writing of it:
This book has a special and mysterious place in the author’s heart, because the whole thing from start to finish, all the scenes and much of the dialog, came to me in a dream not long after my conversion, and I spent the whole of the next day writing down before it escaped me. Those notes rested on my desk for decade. Only now did I have the time to compose them into a novel.
The book is a deeply romantic (something that is lost in modern society), and contains a wonderful mystery that will keep you reading. And although I guessed one of the major twists quite early on, I truly didn’t quite see where the story was heading. It’s also a deeply spiritual story, and it reminded me quite a bit of one or two of the stories in The Book of Feasts and Seasons. Most surprising from Mr. Wright, however, is how deeply sensual the story is.
This is truly a fantastic tale, and I can’t recommend it enough. I give this one five stars out of five… and frankly, I find myself wishing for a sixth to give it.
Update: Thank you to Mr. Wright for having the kindness to link back to this review!