“Awakened by his own screams, he lay in his bed, shaking, drenched in the stink of his fear, uncertain of what was real and what was imagined.”
I will admit, I initially judged this book by its cover (which looks a little amateurish to me) and did not have high expectations. The opening chapter was a little awkward, but after another chapter or two I was surprised to find myself becoming invested in Demetrios’ story. The main reason I have only given this book three and a half stars is because I felt short-changed by the ending. I had barely even registered the resolution before I came face to face with the discussion questions, and felt that this lessened the impact of the book’s message of forgiveness and freedom in Christ because the reader wasn’t given a chance to experience the follow through. I also felt the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of the resolution was a little nebulous in contrast to the strong portrayal of guilt’s burden throughout the rest of the book.
A few notes about the book: Firstly, Demetrios is a Gentile who pays homage to the god Mercury for most of the novel. He does not have a great understanding of the Jewish religion and his response to Jesus was very much in keeping with his circumstances and character, driven by fear, guilt, and a lack of understanding about forgiveness. Secondly, there are some scenes which readers may wish to be aware of prior to deciding whether to read the book, such as a visit to a prostitute (her seductive manner is portrayed, but nothing more), and a visit to a sorceress which involves animal sacrifice and incantations, etc. There is also some violence, particularly between Demetrios and his master early on in the novel, and the crucifixions at the end of the novel. I thought these scenes were appropriate for the storyline and were written in a way that evoked appropriate emotional responses without being overly graphic, but they may not suit some readers.
The basic story is this: Demetrios, a gentile boy who is about 19 years old at the beginning of the novel, is a slave in the household of a retired Roman general named Marcus. He flees the household after killing Marcus in self-defence and together with Elazar, Marcus’ Jewish slave, establishes himself as a trader and caravan leader, eventually settling in a new city called Tiberias located on the southern coast of the Sea of Galilee. But no matter where he goes Demetrios’ past haunts him. When Elazar comes to tell Demetrios that he wants to leave their business to follow Jesus of Nazareth, Demetrios feels betrayed. But that is nothing compared to how he feels when Elazar admits that he has also confessed the crime that forced them to flee their master’s home. Initially fearing that Jesus will hand him over to the Roman authorities, Demetrios quickly becomes concerned that Jesus has a much worse punishment in mind for him: Raising his Roman master from the dead in order that he may exact his own revenge. After a visit to a sorceress he is convinced there is only one way to stop Jesus of Nazareth: He must assassinate him.
While the ending of this novel was the bigger let down for me, I also found the beginning of the novel a little difficult to settle into. Although otherwise told from Demetrios’ point-of-view (in third person), the opening paragraphs are narrated by an omniscient narrator who is watching a scorpion approaching Demetrios unawares (I could almost hear David Attenborough reading the text as a voice-over with suitable dramatic flair). To me, it felt like a contrived ‘dangerous situation’ to hook the reader, particularly as it resolved fairly quickly and shifted our focus to the real point of the scene: A conversation overheard by Demetrios between his master and Elazar. But then this brief exchange leads into Demetrios recalling the day more than a year ago when his father had sold him to Marcus, a memory which actually forms the most substantial part of the chapter, and I couldn’t help but feel that the story would have had a smoother start had it simply begun with this event. As it was, I found myself a little lost as to what was actually happening to Demetrios in his present, and it took me a little effort to form a linear understanding of the events leading up to the final confrontation between Demetrios and his master.
As I said, though, the bulk of the novel was well written with some good evocative writing. I also enjoyed the touch of romance that appeared in the story. Although Jesus himself is not a major character in the novel, the events do intersect with his ministry and crucifixion, and from this point of view, readers who enjoy historical fiction set in this time will quite possibly enjoy the novel. I just felt that the ending left me a little unfulfilled, preventing me from recommending it more highly.
“Blood of a Stone” is published by Tuscany Press and was released in March 2015.
Thank you to Netgalley for providing a copy of this book for the purposes of providing an honest review.