Since my early teens, I’ve been a huge fan of The Kingdom Series and The Knights of Arrethtrae. Both have rendered rereading and hold an honored spot on my bookshelf. When I heard that Chuck Black was writing a new series, I was elated. But then life became distracting, my free time decreased, and after skimming the synopsis for Cloak of the Light, I had mixed feelings about it. As far as I could tell, the book featured no sword fights, chivalry, castles, biblical parallels, or any of the elements that drew me to Chuck Black’s other works. On top of that, a couple people warned me that the overall writing quality was poor.
However, I am fiercely loyal to authors who have captivated me in the past. So, in spite of my misgivings and low expectations, I eventually bought the Wars of the Realm trilogy when I had a spare Amazon gift card. I’m glad I did, because the first book, and the sequels, gripped my attention more than any Christian fiction has for a long time.
Cloak of the Light
The story begins at a misleadingly slow pace, chronicling various catastrophes that befall the protagonist, Drew Carter, who seems doomed to a tragic-stricken life. The disasters culminate in a lab accident involving Drew’s brainiac friend, Benjamin Berg, who suspects that his professor was murdered prior to making a revolutionary discovery with a device that accelerates light. When Drew attempts to help Ben validate his theory by recreating the experiment, the machine explodes and Drew is struck blind. After both young men are expelled from college, Ben skips town in fear for his life while Drew lapses into depression over his dreams for the future being dashed.
But then Drew’s sight gradually returns—and with it, the awareness that his neuron activity has heightened. Noises are louder, light is brighter, and his reactions to stimuli are quicker, almost as if he’s become superhuman.
Most unsettling of all, he sees ominous, otherworldly beings interfering in the affairs of man. He calls them Invaders.
Drew is a staunch atheist. Imagine how frightening and confusing it would be for someone who doesn’t believe in God to behold the spiritual realm—to witness demons influencing mankind and angels engaged in battle. This is an apt portrayal of how blind a person can be to the truth—even when it is staring him in the face—until God regenerates the heart and unveils it.
Drew just wants to be rid of the eerie visions and lead a normal life again. However, he is anything but a coward, and as he sets out to find Ben and prove the existence of the Invaders, he exemplifies his father’s maxim that “it’s wrong to do nothing when you have the power to do something.” Each time he places himself in grave danger to rescue others, he teeters on the brink of losing his soul, much to the chagrin of Validus, the warrior angel who has been commissioned to protect him.
As circumstances escalate, God reveals His plan for Drew Carter—and it’s not what the demons or angels expected.
Initially, it might appear that the story revolves around Drew’s prolonged journey to salvation. His interaction with the elusive yet encouraging Sydney Carlyle, who gently prods him toward faith in the Lord, might give that illusion. But the theme is much deeper than that. The books explore the unseen and demonstrate that spiritual warfare is very real. We are not alone in our struggles, prayer has power, and most of all, time is short, because evil is advancing. The words be vigilant kept ringing in my mind as I was reading.
“Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:10-12, NKJV).
One aspect that I especially appreciated about Wars of the Realm was Chuck Black’s commitment to differentiating between fact and fiction concerning angels and demons. In a note in the opening pages, he states that he has striven to adhere as closely to biblical truth as possible (and has bolded sentences that are pulled directly from Scripture), but that he has also taken literary freedom to fill in the gaps where the Bible is silent in order to construct his story. A reader’s guide at the back of each book provides further clarification.
Upon completing the trilogy, I realized that many of my preconceptions about the books had been incorrect—sword fights, chivalry, and biblical parallels were all prominent elements (although in a modern instead of medieval setting). However, the writing quality was admittedly lackluster. Certain words and phrases were repeated too frequently, I spotted a few typos in each book, and occasionally Chuck Black told rather than showed a character’s emotion. (Of course, that’s me scrutinizing the books with an editor’s eyes, so most readers probably wouldn’t be bothered by those things.) The intricacy of the plot far outweighed those weaknesses though, and my enjoyment of the story wasn’t dampened.
Observations for Writers
Chuck Black took two risks with this trilogy: Cloak of the Light and Rise of the Fallen have a startling lack of closure, and Rise of the Fallen is partially a retelling of the events in book one through the eyes of the angel Validus. Both those moves had the potential to frustrate or disorient readers. I know I felt slightly derailed after being propelled by the climax of book one into book two, only to discover I had been thrown into an unfamiliar character’s head. However, the approach lended an extra layer of depth to the story that couldn’t have been achieved otherwise, and I must applaud it. I sympathized with both Drew and Validus, although at times it seemed as if their goals were in opposition—a prime example of character conflict. As for the tense endings (which, in my opinion, deserve an award), I’ve always considered cliffhangers an effective tactic for making readers pant for more. They’re difficult to implement without leaving too many knots and tangles in the plot line though. Chuck Black handled it deftly by inflicting changes in the characters with each installment, yet he kept them standing on the precipice of uncertainty until the very last second.
Wars of the Realm will rivet you as a reader, challenge you to be bold as a writer, and inspire you to be strong and courageous as a believer. Just be sure you have all three volumes handy when you start reading, or you might suffer some angst from having to wait to buy or borrow the next book.
Parental advisory: This trilogy might be too intense for younger and/or more sensitive readers. Violence is an inescapable part of the story, although it’s never gruesome or glorified. The angels and demons are constantly embroiled in combat, Drew resides in gang-infested territory for a time, terrorists launch attacks, and a couple of flashback scenes briefly touch on the horrors of the Holocaust.