In Shadow of the Mountain: Exodus (Bethany House 2015), author Cliff Graham brings to life Caleb, one of the Bible’s most intriguing heroes. Who can forget the indomitable 80-year-old who told Joshua “Give me this mountain!” a mountain held by the very giants that had so intimidated Israel 40 years before that they had turned back to wander in the wilderness for a generation.
The narrative begins as Caleb prepares to face the three Anakim giants who hold the final Canaanite stronghold at Kirjath-Arba. As a storm delays their assault, Caleb recounts his life to Othniel, his young nephew. It’s an intriguing series of stories, told in a believable voice, and takes you from Caleb’s youth as a stone carver, through his torturous training and subsequent rise in the ranks of the Pharaoh’s elite Red Scorpions, through the 10 Plagues upon Egypt, and across the Red Sea.
Along the way, Caleb fights his way through Bedouin robbers, hordes of Amalekites, Egyptian deserters, and of course giants. The resulting action scenes are generally well-written and kept the book moving (and me reading.) I appreciate Graham’s willingness to boldly depart from the sanitized stories so often featured in Christian fiction. I actually stumbled across Graham’s books when searching through lists of Christian books trying to see if anyone out there in the Christian world is writing the kind of action-packed, no-holds-barred fiction I love to both read and write. Finding Graham’s books gives me hope of one day going mainstream myself. Very young readers should probably wait a few years before picking up this book, but anyone from 12-13+ would enjoy it. This is a story of warfare and the level of violence is what you would expect: descriptive without being needlessly gory or gratuitious.
Overall, I enjoyed the book. I read it over the course of a couple days, which is fast for me as I tend to read slowly and visualize the story as it unfolds. However, there were a few moments that jarred me out of the pleasant “suspension of disbelief” that makes the fictional world so magical. In some places the plotline seemed forced, as if Graham wanted Caleb to move, for instance, from being a stone carver to being a soldier and simply made it happen by unlikely turns of events instead of a natural progression. Certain battles seemed likewise unlikely, including the numerous attacks by Amalekites who seemed to fill a stand-in role whenever an antagonist was needed. Even within the battles the tactics often seemed questionable, such as when Caleb abandons a perfectly good war chariot designed to cut a swathe through infantry to flee on foot rather than simply riding straight through his attackers or when Anakim raiders focus on capturing women rather than killing warriors when sallying out to attack the Israelite besiegers. An assortment of typos as well as outright errors (Caleb wearing a medal that he just said he hadn’t received yet or sorcerers using rods that Aaron’s rod-turned-snake had already devoured) further broke the rhythm of the book. Caleb’s character was well-developed, but the lack of a true antagonist to set against him also weakened the novel. These various nits detracted from an otherwise very-enjoyable read and left me thinking that the novel would have benefitted from a more critical and detailed editing process.
All that being said, my love for historical fiction and compelling Biblical characters brought to life in this way, as well as my admiration for this war-weary, aged, and yet still fierce and faith-filled warrior Caleb carried my interest through the book. I enjoyed the sweeping vistas of Ancient Egypt and the wonder of the Pyramids. Going through the Plagues with Caleb instead of watching from the outside certainly put them in a different perspective and brought an understanding of the human suffering brought about by a stubborn ruler defying an almighty God. And I was happy to read a Christian novel with enough action to hold my attention. I’m likely to check out the other books by Cliff Graham surrounding the life of David and his mighty men.Thanks for spreading the word!
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