I generally avoid any book categorized as ‘Christian fiction.’ In the past few decades, a lot of bad writing has tried to gain a market by slapping the label ‘Christian’ on the front of it. The ugly triad of boring characters, simplistic plots, and bad theology has made me hesitant to even pick up a ‘Christian novel.’ So, when my wife suggested I read her favorite book of all time, A Voice in the Wind, and then told me it was a Christian novel with a hint of romance, I was a little hesitant. After delaying a while, I finally picked it up and found myself surprised.
A Voice in the Wind begins with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Hadassah, a Christian-Jew is captured and sold into slavery. In Germania, the warrior Atretes is captured by the Roman army and made a gladiator. In Rome, Marcus and Julia chafe under their parents’ moral standards and long to drink deep of all the pleasures of life. As the story progresses, these distant characters are drawn together in their struggle find their place and their purpose. The decadence and moral decline of Roman is vividly portrayed in the characters of Julia and Marcus, while Atretes and Hadassah, in different ways, struggle with the seductiveness of Rome.
As historical fiction, the book is well-researched and fairly well-placed in its context. Rivers tells a realistic story, where not everyone comes to faith and not everyone we want to survive does. There are downward spirals, tragic deaths, and times when even the ‘heroes’ fail. Yet, where A Voice in the Wind shines is in its characters. Some are loved, some pitied, and some hated, but she encourages her readers to invest in them. We want them to find peace and hope. The readers are invited to see themselves in the characters struggles and flaws.
A Voice in the Wind is a novel with a distinct moral vision. While initially subtle, as the novel progresses, the veil is increasing drawn back and the reader is meant to see the parallels between the decadent, pleasure-seeking culture of Rome and the contemporary West. Rivers highlights the contrary and counter-cultural life of the Christian through the struggles of Hadassah as she faces such realities as homosexuality, abortion, hedonism, violence, relativism, infanticide, and promiscuity. Though at times far too heavy-handed (I almost forgot we were supposed to be in Ancient Rome at points), the strength of this approach is that A Voice in the Wind is a novel. Instead of making biblical or logical arguments, Rivers tells a story – a story with real struggles and real consequences. Though Rivers manages to recover in the climax, toward the end of the book, the plot occasionally gets lost as the moral issues dominate the narrative.
While occasionally heavy-handed in its moral vision, the realism of the plot and the engaging characters keep you interested from beginning to end. A Voice in the Wind is well worth reading for both fans and skeptics of Christian fiction.