Ela Roeh of Parne doesn't understand why her beloved Creator, the Infinite, wants her to become His prophet. She's undignified and bad-tempered, and at age seventeen she's much too young. In addition, no prophet of Parne has ever been a girl. Worst of all, as Parne's elders often warn, if she agrees to become the Infinite's prophet, Ela knows she will die young.
Yet she can't imagine living without Him. Determined to hear the Infinite's voice, Ela accepts the sacred vinewood branch and is sent to bring the Infinite's word to a nation torn apart by war. There she meets a young ambassador determined to bring his own justice for his oppressed people. As they form an unlikely partnership, Ela battles how to balance the leading of her heart with the leading of the Infinite.
--image and summary from Goodreads.com
There is a lot of Biblical fiction out there; the genre is full of Bible stories retold from various points of view, fleshing out already well-known tales. But I had yet to come across a Biblical world in a fantasy setting (maybe I just wasn't reading the right books!). That is, until I came across Prophet, by R.J. Larson.
There are a lot of reasons why I loved this book. For one thing, the desert setting, with the heat, the sand, and the searing sun, was brought to all its sweltering, suffocating life. The place names, such as Ytar, Parne--they all invoke a certain atmosphere on their own. As someone still learning in the worldbuilding department, I loved these tidbits.
Another reason Prophet is a book to pick up is, of course, its plot. You would think a book in which the main character knows pieces of what's about to happen would be boring, right? Wrong. While Ela has visions as sent from her Creator, she often misinterprets or only has part of the entire story. And knowing what comes next does not make it any easier to face the future--there were a lot of sad, painful moments where I just wanted to reach through the page and give Ela a huge hug. There is a lot of destruction in this book--of kingdoms, and of the human soul. It's not always an easy read. Ela questions as much as any human would, and her questions become your own.
Which leads me to my next point. The characters. I fell in love with the main cast, which had a wide variety of people--from a bad-tempered, still-learning girl prophet to her younger sister with an ageing condition (whom I absolutely loved!), to a wise-cracking soldier, to a monstrous horse with an appetite for gardens. While the subject matter could get dark at times, the interactions between Ela and Kien, the soldier, and Pet, the horse, kept the book full of humour as well. There were just as many times I was snorting with laughter as nearly crying. So there is an amazing balance.
I could go on and on, gushing like a crazy person, but I'll leave you to go out and get your hands on this series, which includes two following books, Judge and King. I have yet to read them, but you can bet I will get my hands on them somehow! ;)
Five fantabulous stars!
And now, on to the interview with R.J. Larson herself! First, a bit of a bio:
R. J. Larson is the author of numerous devotionals featured in publications such as The Women's Devotional Bible, and Seasons of a Woman's Heart. She lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with her husband and their two sons, and is suspected of eating chocolate and potato chips at her desk while writing. The Books of the Infinite series marks her debut in the fantasy genre.
-image and bio from rjlarsonbooks.com
Q: You've mentioned that you never intended to write fantasy. What changed your mind?
A: In early 2010, I was working on an 1890's historical, and enjoying the story completely. Somewhere in the middle of chapter eight, I stopped for the night and fell asleep. I woke up the next morning, still seeing a little scrap of a dream: A young woman in a dark place, struggling to make a life-or-death decision. Usually I forget such dreams, but this one stayed with me. By the end of that day, I'd thought of the young woman's story more than my 1890's historical. I knew the young woman's name, Ela, and I knew from the few details of my dream that her story must have a fantasy setting. I also knew her decision, and its result--to follow her Creator, the Infinite and become His prophet, knowing she would die young.
I was hooked! To this day, I'm still not sure when, or if, I'll ever return to my 1890's saga. ;)
Q: Were there any specific Bible stories that wiggled their way into Prophet, or inspired certain scenes or themes?
A: One of the earliest in the book, Ela's first prophecy, was based on 1 Samuel 2:12-36. I also wove other themes into Prophet and the entire series from OT prophets such as Jeremiah and Ezekiel. I also wanted to explore the themes of forgiveness, obedience, and the Lord's eternal love vs. justice. It's amazing how well the verses work together while being rewoven to tell the story of a fantasy realm's scriptures.
Q: What is your favourite Bible story?
A: I can't decide! I love the stories of Joseph, Moses, Esther, Ruth... the list could include the entire Bible!
Q: In Prophet, the Infinite is the equivalent of God. Did you encounter any difficulties in writing His Voice? God is so mysterious--did you struggle with coming up with what He might say in various situations?
A: I prayed a LOT, and I tried to match all of the Infinite's words and reactions to appropriate verses from Scriptures. It's a scary, awesome responsibility; I would NEVER want to misquote the Lord. Above all, I wanted the Lord's eternal love for us to be fully reflected in the stories, even as He requires obedience and forgiveness.
Q: The scalns were delightfully scary! Where did they come from, and are they prevalent in the rest of the series?
A: They snuck up on me! Hissing, horrid creatures. I wanted a "shiver-down-the-spine" feel for the first monster in my series. So I imagined what I would least want to hear or see if I were in Ela's situation at that time. The scaln won by default.
By the way, all the mysterious creatures in this series are based on the Bible, or folklore, or...dinosaurs. The scaln is the only exception to my "mysterious beast" rule. Oh. And the destroyers. Did I mention destroyers?
Q: Who is your favourite character in The Books of the Infinite?
A: I don't really have a fave. I love them all! Ela, Kien, Tzana, Pet...they're all my babies. :)
Q: Now that the last book has been written, can you tell us what your favourite part of writing this series was?
A: I would say the final scene in each book, where the main character is inspired to sit down and write his or her account of their own adventures while serving their beloved Creator, the Infinite.
I love presenting the idea that this is the way the scriptures were built in their world, so different, yet so similar to our own!
Thanks so much, Mrs. Larson, for being with us today! Readers, feel free to leave a comment! :D