Kaben's Reviews > There Comes a Prophet

There Comes a Prophet by David Litwack
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Oct 12, 12

Recommended for: juveniles and young adults

Note: this review was posted 8 October 2012 at On Starships And Dragonwings. The next day, in awful coincidence, the Taliban tried to kill fourteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai, the Pashtun schoolgirl known for advocating women's rights to education. As of this writing, Malala has survived gunshot wounds to the head and throat, but she remains in critical condition. Please keep her in your thoughts, or pray for her, according to your beliefs.

To learn more about the blog Malala wrote for the BBC:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7834402.stm
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-15879282

***

We still credit St. Augustine for the modern Heaven, Hell, and Catholic Church, but it’s no fair to praise/blame him for the subsequent Dark Ages. We once knew when and what they were, but nobody agrees anymore. If you use the term wrong, you’re crass. So be vague about the “Dark Ages”. For example, don’t mean “600 years of religious zeal and intellectual turpitude between the fall of the Roman Empire and the Renaissance”. If you do, someone will say “Charlemagne!” and then you’ve stuck your foot in your mouth. But what if a Dark Age began today, characterized by ignorance and zeal? What if religious fanaticism permeated and then dominated our politics? Would we benefit? What would be the risks? How would morality change? How would it be enforced? What would we be allowed to do and to think? What knowledge might we lose? Could we ever get it back? How?

With his first novel, “There Comes A Prophet”, new author David Litwack gives a well-written and all-too-plausible answer.

Setting: There Comes a Prophet consists of a journey on-foot starting from the tiny village of Little Ponds.

Premise: In a world absent all technology save medicine and other Temple magics, one out of every three youths are chosen by the Temple of Light for Teaching — a feared, unexplained experience that leaves them changed and haunted. Thomas of Little Ponds is taken for a Teaching, and is kept longer than most. Upon his return, he and his two closest friends fear they too may be chosen for a Teaching. The choices they make to cope with this fear will trigger a chain of events a thousand years in the making.

Strengths:
* Thought-provoking. The implications and possibilities are kind of scary.
* Like all good adventures, There comes a Prophet will frequently make you wonder, ”What would I do?” The answer is usually, “I’d do exactly what they did.” This is also kind of scary.
* Considering modern totalitarian theocracies, the premise is reasonable. So is the way the whole story plays out. Again, scary.
* Nearly everything about this novel is believable: dialog, character development, events, conflicts, responses, consequences. You’ll identify and empathize strongly with the characters. This makes for a gripping story.
* Somehow, impressively, this gripping story has no fights to the death, no bloodletting, no demons, no sex, no drugs, no violence, not even any cussing. All tension is psychological. Okay, somebody gets a black eye, but we never see it happen.

Weaknesses:
* The one big implausibility in There Comes a Prophet is the precepts of the Temple of Light. Frankly, they’re too reasonable. I’ll be vague to avoid spoilers: How many religious leaders would honestly endeavor to do no harm to their people? All? How many would cooperate to save humanity? All? While there would be many, there would also be holdouts who would violently disagree to the end, and kill for their beliefs. But the Temple of Light is very similar to things that could happen and have happened many times in our history, some of which exist today.
* The premises of There Comes A Prophet are so huge that I think Litwack could have spun it into a much longer story. I wish he had. If all of Litwack’s ideas are this good, he has room to be much more ambitious.

A friend of mine just commented, “So that period before the Renaissance: who brought Europe out of it? Europe? The Irish? The Arabs? Hint: it wasn’t the Irish. Europe had nothing on the Arabs. They were way beyond Europe. Europe was still being all Augustinian, and couldn’t get beyond Neo-Platonic logic. It was Arabic thinking that brought Europe into the Renaissance.”

There are plenty of things besides religious fanaticism that could trigger a Dark Age (war, disease, natural disaster). But if the whole world falls into a Dark Age, which it could plausibly do, who could bring us out of it? According to David Litwack in There Comes A Prophet, the only answer is us, now, somehow reaching into the future.

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