Stolen Shroud by Daniel Westlund
is an action-packed Christian thriller that delves deep into apologetics.
How does that work together? Somewhat awkwardly.
Westlund balances the fast action, shooting guns, super human powers, and scientific race (and espionage) with meandering passages on doubt and faith, hard-sell preaching, and tragic backstories. Throwing Mark Eberhart, an ex-youth pastor, together with Cora Byron, a hardcore atheist, means that there's no place in the novel where faith doesn't come up as an issue or an argument. The good thing about this is that their respective faith journeys seem both flawed and believable--just like our convoluted, complex, and constantly shifting beliefs. The bad thing about it is that it sometimes feels just a tad too forced. Still, if you're a fan of such discussions, I think you'll find some very interesting discussions in here.
The narrative style takes some getting used to, especially as Mark's narrative voice is snarky, a little jaded, and sometimes almost comic-book style. It flows well, however, and keeps a strong pace. My biggest annoyance with the book is the POV and its lack of consistency. While the majority of the book is written in first person, with Mark Eberhart as the main narrator, Westlund fits in short flashback chapters from Mark, Cora, Raj, and Stuart's POVs. These are marked in the chapter headings, so that's clear enough, but flip between first and third person for no discernible reason. In the later part of the book, the narrative jumps between POVs without any chapter, or even scene, breaks--I'm not sure if it's a formatting issue in the ePub I received or just something that was overlooked in the editing. [update: I have been told this was a formatting issue that has now been fixed in the ePub]
Where Westlund excels is in the creation of his characters. Each one of them has an intricately crafted backstory, all rather tragic, and related in great detail, that fleshes them out. It feels like Westlund knows his characters intimately and is able to make you empathise with them (somewhat) even when they're being idiots because you've been brought to understand where they're coming from. In this case, the flashbacks did serve their purpose, despite their initial clunkiness, especially when he ramps it up at the end to a spectacular reveal/twist.
Overall, Stolen Shroud has an impressive vision and scope but, unfortunately, suffers a little from poor execution.
Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
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