Rating: 4.5 out of 5
(Reviewer’s note: I received this book as an ARC from the author)
Spirituality and religion. These words have been the salvation and bane of human existence since we first formed coherent thought. From the tribal convictions of the earliest African nations to the ancient Greeks to the world as we know it today, we have celebrated them together, found solace through their teachings, fought and killed each other over their differences.
What Moses Siregar has sought to do in The Black God’s War: Splendor and Ruin Book I is show the dangers of intransigent religious belief, to do for literature what Aqualung by Jethro Tull did for music: demonstrate how spirituality and religion are projections of our own thoughts, fears, adorations, and prejudices, that desires propel our convictions rather than the other way around.
The Black God’s War tell the story of two warring peoples – the Rezzians, modeled after early European culture (Celtic in particular) who believe in a covenant of ten gods, and the Pawelons, whose principles and appearances mirror a more eastern, Buddhist/Indian ideal. We are first introduced to Lucia, the daughter of the Rezzian king Vieri, at the birth of her brother Caio, who, by the way of markings on his hands, is proclaimed the people’s Haizzem, or savior. It is here that Lucia is first haunted by Lord Danato, the god of the underworld according to Rezzian myth. He kills her mother and sets in motion a series of nightmare experiences that will forever alter the makeup of this innocent young girl.
By the time Caio is nineteen, the war that has begun (for nefarious reasons disguised as virtue) between the Rezzians and Pawelons has been raging for ten years. Lucia does all she can to fulfill her father’s wishes for victory, though she sometimes has a hard time telling what is real and what is a dream because of Lord Danato’s nightly visits. Caio, on the other hand, is gentle in nature. He wants peace, to use his uncanny abilities to heal people, not fight a war he doesn’t believe in. But being the Haizzem, it is his sacred duty to lead Rezzia’s army, so he does so…reluctantly at first.
On the other end of the spectrum we have Rao, the only remaining prince of Pawelon. He has become a sage, the most powerful sage in the history of Pawelon, and he takes it upon himself, along with his best friend Aayu, to travel from his homeland and assist his father, the Rajah Devak, in defense of their country against the invading Rezzian army. Like Caio, he wants peace – but unlike the Haizzem, his father, though brutal, is a generally fair man, and is allowed the courtesy of his own convictions. In almost every way this makes him the better of the Haizzem, one whose ability to love and forgive is below no other.
As the story progresses, we are thrown into multiple “coincidental” scenarios that are seemingly set up by the Rezzian gods. At least, this is the way things are presented on the surface. If one looks a little deeper, they will see that all the gods did was point the way. Every decision made, though sometimes predictable, was solely the result of the free thoughts and actions of the characters. They are all bound by their upbringing and nature, and it isn’t until they realize this that all the major players begin to actually change. And the nature of the gods, themselves, are brought into question as well. Are they timeless deities or a result of the combined subconscious power of the people? It’s a question the story asks often in the latter stages, and it’s one that really makes one think.
I won’t go any further on the plot other than to say the battle rages on, the gods get involved in some rather surprising ways, and eventually there is a rather brilliant climax that left me grinning from ear to ear.
As a novel, The Black God’s War works on many levels. For sheer entertainment value, we have many epic battle sequences. As a love story, we have Lucia and her brother’s protector, Ilario, as well as Rao and his lover, the young, beautiful, and precocious Narayani. As a spiritual tome we have many segments discussing the nature of spirituality and its effects on the people who practice it. And it’s also a tragedy, in by which only through sacrifice and understanding the nature of balance can the issues presented ever be truly resolved.
And that’s really what the book is about, when it all boils down to it. We have two differing opinions, western pre-Christian (that looks very much like early Christianity, despite the numerous deities), and the nature-loving eastern “godless” peoples. In some ways this book could be looked at as a fantasy retelling of the Crusades, as the lily-white forces descend on the dark-skinned masses, trying to “enlighten” them by basically killing off a whole gamut of folks. How one could ever read a spiritual text and think the murdering of a whole ethnic group because they don’t believe in your god is justified is beyond me. But it happens, and just as in this tale, the results are always disastrous.
Siregar does a fantastic job of painting both faiths in a kind light, though the Pawelon’s, by the nature of their not having started the war, obviously fares better in presentation. It allows for almost every character to come across as sympathetic – Lucia especially. Her tormented nature shines through in everything she does, from her conflictions to her anger to her confusion over the role she has to play in the grand scheme of things. She is the main character of this novel, and more than lives up to it.
That being said, if Lucia is the main character, Rao is the one who steals the show. With his compassion and understanding, his willingness to take risks and ability to see through the veil of righteous deceit, he comes across as an individual who could one day be a spiritual leader strong enough to lead his people to enlightenment. He is young in this book – about the same age as Caio – and yet we see a glimmer of the man he could be, the man he is well on his way to becoming. It really is quite beautiful.
And do you know why it’s beautiful? Because as a character, Rao is balanced. And as I said, this is the main point I think Siregar is trying to make. When his prose speaks of the nature of life and death, of the scales that must always be adjusted, he’s talking as much about the cosmos in general as he is any religious belief. The concept of Karma, after all, can be boiled down to a scientific principal – for every action there is an equal opposing reaction. We see it in nature, we see it in the universe, we see it in people. For every (perceived) evil in the world, there is an equal (perceived) good. I write “perceived” because, just as Siregar presents in The Black God’s War, evil is subjective, not quantifiable on any realistic scale. This book has no evil characters, even though the characters themselves often think their opposing party is such. And in order for their war to end, each individual must come to their own conclusions and make choices – yes, choices, free-thinking choices – about what is right, what is wrong, and what path will best lead to a sense of harmony, both between their respective peoples and within themselves. Some make this discovery, others don’t. You’ll have to read it to find out which is which and what happens when their choices are made.
For a first-time author, Siregar surprised me with the strength of his voice. It’s consistent, and he knows what he wants to say. However, it’s not perfect. He can be a bit wordy at times, and a couple of his major characters (a Pawelon sage and the Rezzian king) are a bit one-note. Normally I wouldn’t make a huge deal out of this, but with the other characters being so fleshed out, complex, and believable, the presence of these less-than-satisfactory entities was all the more obvious. Not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things, but something I feel I have to mention. As it stands, the author isn’t quite up to the level of Salvatore, Dalglish, or Pyle, but he’s not too far away. This book is proof of that.
In conclusion, The Black God’s War is a unique experience. The plot is intricate, the characters even more so, and the message is one of beauty. By the time you flip to the last few pages, I hope you have the shivers just as I did, which is how I know that Moses Siregar is going to be around a long time, and his voice, one of unity, passion, and loving sensibilities, is important – in the world at large as well as literature.
So bravo, Mr. Siregar. You wrote a damn good book. You should be very proud.
Plot - 9
Characters - 8
Voice - 9
Execution - 9
Personal Enjoyment – 10
Overall – 45/50 (4.5/5)
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