So the payoff day for my part in the blog tour – what did I think of the book Haunt of Jackals by Eric Wilson?
The book starts off with a rush of action in Romania as Gina Lazarescu is fleeing from a battle with some Collectors, the Undead freed from an ancient Jerusalem cemetery. Having struck their leader a fatal blow, she has to survive the wrath of his follower.
The mysterious Cal Nichols and teen orphan Dov Amit are also engaged in a conflict with a Collector who has taken on a bear as a temporary host. Cal has to protect Dov as he is one of the Nistarim, 36 hidden ones who bear the burdens of the world. If he were to fall without someone to take his place, it could usher in the Final Vengeance.
As Gina, Cal, and Dov face their foes, other Collectors are on the move, doing their part to try and bring down the human race, in order to inflict some revenge on the Almighty who banished them into the Separation from physical sense, the reason they take on human hosts.
If Gina survives, will she be able to fulfill her destiny? How will she heal from her years of wounds. Could there really be power in Nazarene blood, as Cal has claimed?
As Cal maneuvers to protect Gina and Dov, what will happen as his greatest adversary seeks to complete his work in bringing about the destruction of the Nistarim?
There are things that Eric Wilson gets right. When the heroes are in conflict, there is real danger. He keeps the suspense high on whether they will survive or fall. Not every sympathetic character makes it. Gina is a strong protagonist with a complex background. She’s not perfect. She is strong but has doubts. She tries to do what is right but struggles. She continues to be the strongest part of the novel. Cal Nichols is also a very good character, and there are interesting insights about him after being so mysterious in the first book, Field of Blood.
Eric does a lot of research for his novels, and his settings are usually rich with detail and vivid description. The deserts of Israel contrast with the wooded wildness of Transylvania and tranquil small-town Oregon. He throws in some intriguing plot points that intersect with history. Some of them pay off, while others are too much of a stretch with the complex interaction of mythology he has created for this series.
There’s also a lot of spiritual themes weaved into the story that speak poignantly into today’s world. The way anger, bitterness, or lust can intwine us in thorns that bind us may not be literal as in Jackals, but it is a powerful revelation nonetheless. Many people may be taken aback by the idea of “Christian vampires.” One thing Wilson does is not make them sympathetic. The creatures are evil, and he never shows them in a light that plays down their terrible ways. The battle of good and evil is portrayed in vivid terms in the book, but this battle is a good metaphor for the spiritual and emotional battles of life today.
Unfortunately, the book is almost too ambitious to hold up everything he tries. The plot is exciting and driving in the first third or half, but the last section of the book is an underwhelming build-up for the third book, with some minor drama at the end to try and keep the suspense factor continuing. The classic “second act” in a trilogy is The Empire Strikes Back, where there are major obstacles for the heroes to overcome for the third, while being dealt blows that leave them very vunerable. Haunt has the bad guys joining forces in the end and the good guys hiding out. The third book (Valley of Bones, coming in 2010) should have a good climax, but this book was left wanting in the process.
Another drawback is the description being overdone at times. Wilson can paint some visual word images, but he can overdo the narrative. There is too much “thinking” by both good and bad guys that slows things down and makes the book too dense. Sometimes it seems all the research and knowledge he has pours out in excess. The plot becomes uneven at times due to TMI.
Overall, Eric Wilson is attempting an ambitious speculative story tied into Biblical themes and settings. There are strong elements that make the story an interesting read, but other aspects bog it down and keep it from its full potential. As far as the whole premise – I am usually pretty accepting from a theological standpoint with what the author is presenting to see if it can work. I am willing to allow some leeway in how things are interpreted. Some may find the mixing of demons (the Collectors) with a legend of Jewish mysticism being applied to verses in the Gospels too far to go for a story. I think it provides an interesting platform to share some profound truths regarding the battle we all face. I hope Eric can hit the home run with the third book.
Bottom line: Make sure you read Field of Blood first because there was too much established there to step into Haunt of Jackals. I still got lost at times due to reading Blood last year. It is an interesting premise with some definite points of suspense and near-horror that get the blood pumping, with some overly dense plotting and description that slows down other areas. If the premise makes you curious, I recommend it. If you’re not into vampires or are sensitive to some blood and gore, it would be a book to pass one.
The whole idea of vampires and other supernatural archtypes in Christian fiction is an interesting point of discussion. I welcome thought on this book or the subject, and we can keep the dialogue going after the tour. Let me know what you think, and check out the other posts that are listed at Becky Miller’s opening post of the tour.