For those of you just getting to know me, I'm an author and radio host who showcases Christian authors worldwide. I've been doing it for three years and as the good Lord allows, I'll continue to do it until He tells me to do something.  I love to read. I read both Christian and secular books. I was probably one of the few Christians who didn't go into panic mode when Dan Brown's book came out. You know the one -- with the Albino monk, the archaeologist, the marriage certificate of Jesus and Mary -- that one. The one we do not speak of.  *eyeroll*

My first book I'd ever published was a Christian Horror book. Yeah, you heard it -- Christian horror. I though I had stumbled onto something new. I saw myself as the Luke Skywalker, Gandalf,  Captain Kirk of a new wave of Christian fiction -- boldly going where no Christian writer had gone before...until I found out Christian horror's been around for a while now and I was one of those who apparently live under a rock.

I met Mark Carver about  year and a half ago via Facebook. When I heard that his series Age of Apollyon was Christian horror, I hurried and clicked on the 1-Click setting on my Kindle. Mark's picture looks like that of a rebel, dark hair and eyes, pointy chin beard, tattoos up and down his arms and everything else you can think of a rebel.

So imagine my surprise when he came onto the show, he's a very nice man. Appearances aren't everything, are they?

You can listen to Mark discuss the book here on my show Tuesday night.





After I read that series in a weekend, Mark became someone I've only experienced with women  -- he became my automatic buy. You know what that is -- an author whose books you just buy automatically -- what did you think I meant?

All of his books are page turners with darkness, violence, and complex characters you don't know what to do with except hope they survive. Mark kills his characters in his books but maybe it's a guy thing, who knows? At any rate, I was given an ARC of his newest book Nikolai the Penitent:

 


Synopsis:

SALVATION MUST BE PAID IN BLOOD. 

The Black Death ravages 14th century Europe. Kingdoms crumble, cities fall, family members abandon one another. God has forsaken His children and now chaos reigns. 

A young man who has lost everything is swept up in the turmoil and finds his calling in the Brotherhood of the Cross - groups of pious men and women who viciously whip themselves as they parade through the streets of sinful cities, hoping their sacrifice will atone for the iniquities of the people. As the scars grow on Nikolai's back, he purges himself of lust, fear, and doubt, but the price he pays will threaten his very soul.


MY REVIEW

Nikolai the Penitent takes place during a very dark period of European history -- the zenith of the Black Plague. When we look at the time period through modern eyes, we can see what some of the problem was --  medieval Europe was filthy. Not like a little filthy but a lot filthy. In Carver's book, he went into a lot of detail of how conditions were during this era. People's personal hygiene was two steps from non-existent. But at the time, these people didn't know that. In fact, when we listen and watch videos of the past, we tend to shake our heads like, "How could they not know to wash their hands?" or "Why wouldn't you take a bath every day?" Well, folks didn't know but I'll get to that in a few moments because it ties in a lot to the book.

Against this backdrop of plague ridden England, we follow a young five year Nikolai Solberg in the fall of 1333 A. D. He and his family have just been told to pack up and move to another town because they've been sold to another duke. I like that Mark chose for us to follow Nikolai at such a young age because we get a chance to learn about him, his family and life as he sees it. His family has been relocated to work for another duke in a far off city that would take weeks to get there. It's a stark reminder of how the feudal system of the ancient times had some pretty devastating effects on family life.  After a tragic journey, he and his family arrive where he spends the next fifteen years as a blacksmith.

At twenty years old, things start to change for Nikolai. He has an interest in a young woman that is purely sexual but he does all he can to turn away from it. In fact, Nikolai wants to be come a monk. When he discusses this with the priest in his village he says:

"I have committed the sin of lust."
There was silence for a moment. "Go on," the priest said.
"There is a girl. Her father works in the fields. She...we have spoken a few times..."

"Have you fornicated with this girl?"

Nickolai was startled by the priest's harsh tone. "No, father! I swear I have not touched her. I mean, not on purpose..."
"So what have you done?"
"I...I wish to leave a pious life, free from worldly distractions. I try to devote myself to God's work but I cannot control my mind when I see her. I have to tried to resist temptation but she is quite pretty, and her beauty stirs feelings within me, lustful feelings..."

The scene goes on from there but Nikolai recognizes the lusts of the flesh can be a hindrance to serving God. One of the things I LOVED about this book was how very Catholic it was. Even though I grew up every form of Baptist you can think of, my husband used to be Catholic so we went to one of his services a couple of times.  It gave the book an authentic feel as everyone during medieval times respected the Church and also reflects the Church's power in those days. 

Nikolai, along with the surrounding villages and people of the story, know about the plague that is killing people left and right. However, it has yet to reach him. They hear the stories of how how villages have been wiped out in a matter of days but it's far away. Due to his pious sounding nature, the priest selects him and a few other men to go a saint's statute and pray for the village. This is a pivotal moment in the book. The reason why is because Nikolai's fine sounding desires changes when temptation in the name of Mariessa comes:

Nikolai clenched his teeth and slammed his fist against the wall beside her head. She flinched but didn't move. Her eyes locked onto his, daring him to try and touch her again.
Run! Leave! She is poison! Remember the pilgrimage! Remember your family!
Nikolai drew in a deep breath. I want her.

He bent down and kissed her. He felt Mariessa stiffen, then become soft like heated iron. She opened her mouth and welcomed his kiss.

Fire spread through every nerve in Nikolai's body. His senses were screaming, drowning out the frantic objections from his conscience.
 

It gets pretty steamy for a few moments as Nikolai succumbs his passions. This book is edgy Christian fiction after all and generally, people have sex. I'm not sure why some Christians act like sex doesn't exists. Besides Adam and Eve, a lot of us wouldn't be here without it.

This encounter he has with the girl affects the course of his life. Although he goes to the pilgrimage, guilt-ridden because he succumbed to his passions, when he comes back, he finds his village has been destroyed by the plague. Did this plague come because he sinned? Would God have spared him if he hadn't sinned?  How could he pay for his sins?

Nikolai eventually joins a group of floggers who flog themselves daily to atone for the sins of the world in order to have the Black Plague removed from the Earth. Mark goes into the historical context of these people as this book is based on real events.  

Let me interject my thoughts here: I am not good with pain. I will never willingly get a tattoo because pain and I don't mix well. Pain and I are mortal enemies. I avoid it as much as possible. However, throughout the book, Nikolai flogs himself on a daily basis and I can't help but think, "Oh my gosh!"  Flogging was/is a very common practice for many faith institutions. So the idea isn't a new one but I couldn't imagine myself taking a whip and whipping myself. 

There are some anti-Jewish sentiment in the book as well. It is no reflection of the author's views at all. It simply gives authenticity and historical context. Mark makes it plain in his foreword and afterword that the comments are solely used for the sake of authenticity, nothing more that than that. 

All in all, I enjoyed this dark tale. It's not a medieval romantic, fantasy novel. It's a medieval historical tale amid one of the darkest periods in European history. A common theme is Mark Carver's book is this: is there any heart too dark that God's light can't penetrate? Find out and get your copy of Nikolai the Penitent.

**I WAS GIVEN A COPY OF THIS BOOK IN EXCHANGE FOR MY HONEST REVIEW**

Published by Parker J Cole