Forbidden (The Books of Mortals)
Ted Dekker (Facebook) (Twitter) and Tosca Lee (Facebook) (Twitter)
Center Street (2011), Hardcover (ISBN 1599953544 / 9781599953540)
Fiction, 384 pages
Source: ARC received from publisher at BEA 2011
Reason for reading: Faith & Fiction Roundtable discusssion
Opening lines: “There was never a body.
“Not even at a funeral. Mourners sat angled to one another in the stiff pews to avoid looking directly at the empty casket and the destiny hanging over them all. They all knew that only one of two things happened when the body died, one outcome more likely than the other.
“The terrible outcome, of course.”
Book description, from the publisher’s website: A terrible truth has been revealed to one man: the entire human race has been drained of every emotion except one– fear. To bring life back to the world, Rom must embark on a journey that will end either in his own demise or a reawakening of humanity. But to bring love and passion back into existence will also threaten the powers of the world with the revolution and anarchy that had nearly destroyed them previously.
After happening upon a journal through strange circumstance, Rom’s world is shattered. He learns that humanity long ago ceased to “live,” that it exists today in a living death of emotions. In a terrible risk, Rom exposes himself to the vial of blood folded into the old leather of the journal. His change is fearful and fraught with mind-bending emotion. A once-pious observer of the Order’s passionless statues, he is filled with uncontrollable impulses. He is filled with love.
He is undone, terrified, and alone in the desolate world.
Comments: It’s a safe bet that this novel wouldn’t have crossed my radar without the Faith & Fiction Roundtable, which is part of the reason I wanted to be part of that group. Forbidden – the first volume in a planned trilogy called The Books of Mortals – was the subject of our September discussion, although it actually didn’t prompt a very active conversation. A fair amount of the talk involved comparisons with co-author Ted Dekker’s earlier Circle trilogy; since I’ve never read those books, I couldn’t contribute much.
The premise of Forbidden is intriguing, although its setup – how the world has changed after a large-scale man-made disaster has wiped out most of its population – is a pretty familiar one for speculative/dystopian fiction. In this particular post-apocalyptic world, the genetic basis of each emotion has been identified. Since emotion is blamed as the catalyst for everything that destroyed the world “before,” genetic therapies have eradicated all but one: fear, which remains due to its power to keep people in line and in Order. However, members of a secret group have safeguarded a precious vial of “old” blood – blood that contains the original human genes and their encoded emotions – for centuries, holding it for the arrival of a child predicted to return humanity to its original state.
Within this structure, Forbidden explores themes related to what it means to be fully human. As a few people are entrusted with the blood and their long-dormant emotions are triggered, the wonder and danger of their new feelings’ effects on their behavior drive the story forward.
I found the framework of the story more interesting than the execution, sadly. I think Forbidden bites off a bit more than it can chew (although, to be fair, it is the first book in a series and some of the threads introduced here may be further developed in later books). The characters felt underdeveloped to me, and at times the story meandered. Description of some events was excessively graphic, while others seemed fuzzy. It was interesting to note, since we were reading this for the Faith & Fiction group, that the world depicted here isn’t an overtly religious one, and those aspects of the novel are more metaphorical. I don’t read much co-written fiction, so I don’t know whether that’s a factor in the rather inconsistent quality of the writing.
Despite not being especially impressed with Forbidden as fiction, I found its ideas interesting. I don’t think I’d line up for the rest of the series, but if it found its way into my hands, I’d probably want to see what happens next.