The Edge of Reason by Melinda Snodgrass (Tor, 2008).
Summary: A modern day, dark/urban fantasy mixed with Lovecraftian elements and shaken with religious commentary.
Review: Richard Oort, a bishi police officer/musician, rescues a young sorceress from clay golems in the opening scenes of this novel; an act that draws him into a millennium long confrontation between the bastions of religion and science. Eventually employed by a man named Kenntnis (who is more than what he seems) Richard becomes a paladin for forces of logic and reason. Oort is aided on his quest to stop a second Dark Age by Cross (a multi-aspected deity who wants to die), a sassy medical examiner, the sorceress Rhiana, and a fellow a police officer; as well as several others along the way.
The book walks some fairly novel ground by turning the notions of typical good and evil on their heads and painting religion into a very dark corner. At the same time the book espouses some interesting ideas on faith and religion that center on a personal God and remaining faithful to humanity rather than a wrathful impersonal God. Which, a little research shows, links it strongly to Theosphy. Indeed the plot of the novel focuses on religion as an antithesis of theosophy; with religion being created a means to instill fear and obedience rather than a means to: “help humanity in evolving to greater perfection, and that each religion therefore has a portion of the truth” (Thanks wikipedia!).
Oort, a man of faith, shown nigh incontrovertible proof that his beliefs are misplaced is exposed to theosophic ideals by an Episcopal minister:
“I teach and have always believed that Jesus wasn’t kidding when he said that the kingdom of God is within you….I think every human is capable of Godlike behavior, so if you believe in yourself you believe in God.”
“So, by celebrating humanity…,” Richard said slowly.
“You celebrate God,” finished Charlie.
Compare that with the closing remarks from a talk given by theosophist C. Jinarajadasa given in 1944:
The eternal problem for me which I am discovering is not that of an Impersonal or Personal God, but of God as man. I do not mean by God as man God on earth as an Avatar, as the Incarnation of God as Jesus, or Shri Krishna. I mean God in man as the human man, woman, and child. To know these “fragments of the Divine,”The eternal problem for me which I am discovering is not that of an Impersonal or Personal God, but of God as man. I do not mean by God as man God on earth as an Avatar, as the Incarnation of God as Jesus, or Shri Krishna. I mean God in man as the human man, woman, and child. To know these “fragments of the Divine,” who are struggling even as I am struggling through darkness to Light, -from an address in London, 1944 available at the Theosophical Society of Canada website
Interesting coincidence that I highly doubt is an accident and reveals a certain depth to the background research by Ms. Snodgrass that is impressive. In a world where religion was created by alien beings who feed on human fear, a theosophical argument seems about the only way one could go. However, I was not a fan of the means through which Snodgrass introduces those tenets to the novel. The dialog between Charlie and Richard is far too obvious and creates too much of a break in the flow of the novel. The thriller level pace of the action in the novel is halted for that one scene and, though it is a brief halt, it is a jarring occurrence.
Making the connection between the theosophy and the novel opens up some interesting areas of exploration. In particular Richard, bi-sexual and androgynous, is a fascinating example as an embodiment of one of the “three declared objects” of the theosophic tradition: “To form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or colour.” Richards skin is often described as being nearly translucent (numerous references to being able to see the blue of his veins) which to me goes a little beyond “white” to be almost absent of color altogether, but maybe I’m stretching it. The motley band of heroes as assembled in the final pages of the novel certainly runs the gamut of color, class, caste, and religion. I’m not a student of theosophy and I’m sure one could make more connections (or totally debunk my own) but the connections seem there to me and provide an added depth when examining the novel.
Since this was a review, and I wandered a bit further afield from that than I really intended, I figure should at least get back on track for someone who wants to whether they should read the novel or not.
Interesting religous arguments asside Snodgrass crafted a tighly paced supernatural thriller that manages to stay interesting and thrilling from being to end. The troubled Rhiana, the initially mysterious Kenntnis, and the confilcted and haunted Richard make for a compelling cast of characters that would be interesting and worth reading about even absent any major apocalpytic threats. The familiar setting, crisp writing and breakneck pace lends a crossover appeal to the novel, while the examination of fundementalist religious ideals, even in the context of the supernatural, lend an air of currency to the precedings without feeling like it capitalizes on current events. Overall The Edge of Reason was a great read flawed by some minor editing issues and an occaisonal hiccup due to didactic or exposition heavy dialogue. A solid B+ read; recommended.