Pentecost by Joanna Penn, ~65,000 words, $2.99
I stumbled across Joanna Penn while looking for writing podcasts to take on a long drive. Her podcasts were the most relevant and insightful I’ve found anywhere. And her straightforward references to her own novels (prudent not pushy) intrigued me. If the podcasts were that good, was her writing? So I picked up PENTECOST and PROPHECY, the first two volumes in her ARKANE series. I’ve reviewed the first here, and am working on a separate review for the second.
Morgan Sierra, an Oxford psychologist and former Israeli Army conscript, finds herself the target of an attack by a shadowy group of religious fanatics known as Thanatos. Her sister and niece are kidnapped by another religious whacko and Morgan is left to save everyone. Luckily, a military hunk from a long forgotten branch of the English bureaucracy called ARKANE offers a helping hand. Sorta. We understand early on that ARKANE and Morgan have differing end games planned. Nonetheless, they work together to solve ancient riddles and take on the bad guys. Until he walks out on her. The scum.
The plot follows a traditional thriller plot and does it well. The writing suffers from some early expository clumps that drag a bit. But I urge readers to slog on because once you’re clear of the backstory the rest is as fascinating as it is educational.
Joanna Penn achieves what Steve Berry dreams of, a thriller that takes the reader deep into remote locations, ancient myths, and local histories with a passionate, compelling voice. Where Steve Berry’s passages read like a travelogue, Ms. Penn flows like the informed adventure with an enthusiastic guide. No doubt this is due to her Masters in Theology and her love of psychology. She uses her knowledge to flesh out a thriller with real details lovingly told. And oddly it is not a religious book.
When I heard her podcasts, I wondered if she were suppressing a spiritual theme to keep agnostics and atheists from fleeing for the exits. When I read the blurb and even into the first few chapters, I remained suspicious, expecting an imminent Bible or Koran thumping. I would not mind. I like religion. I have my favorite but believe all of them. I’m easy. However, many readers slam books closed at any discussion of faith. Ms. Penn walks the tightrope with amazing skill that can only come from honesty. Throughout the book, I noticed others had highlighted passages that explained beliefs with an open, non-judgmental philosophy. And that strikes a chord with readers. I think Ms. Penn speaks for a generation when she writes (her heroine’s voice):
“I believe in something beyond our experience,” she said, “a realm above the physical that I can’t see or touch, but that I feel sometimes in certain places. I don’t believe in a savior who died for my sins, or a personal God who cares if I’m hurting. But I know there’s an energy beyond us, a power of good and evil, a light that gives life and a darkness that can destroy us. I don’t know. What do you think?”
Read the book. Give copies away for birthdays and holidays.
Peace, Seeley James