Book Review: Risen

Written by: Angela Hunt

A Novelization of the Major Motion Picture

I received a free copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review from Bethany House Publishers as apart of their Blogger Review Program. 

I recently signed up for the Blogger Review Program at Bethany House Publishers. This is the first book that I’ve received. Each month reviewers are given a list of nonfiction and fiction books to choose from. Here’s the synopsis I read that led me to choose Risen:

“Epic in scope, yet deeply personal, this novelization offers a unique perspective on the story of the resurrection. Roman Tribune Clavius is assigned by Pilate to keep the radical followers of the recently executed Yeshua from stealing the body and inciting revolution. When the body goes missing despite his precautions, Clavius sets out to discover what happened.”

This synopsis really caught my attention. It seemed like such an interesting premise (the story of Jesus Christ through the eyes of a Roman, which is a perspective never given in the Biblical narrative), but what I did not realize at the time of selection (despite the use of the word in the synopsis) was that is is a novelization of a movie. I think I missed this detail due to the fact that I’d not heard of the movie. It was a major motion picture released last year with several well known actors, but I have not seen it and didn’t know it existed until I received the book.

Generally, I tend to not enjoy novelizations of films. As far as I’m concerned, the book comes first and then is transformed into an on-screen work. Sure, the movie can’t capture the rich detail of the book, but it’s a different medium and that’s okay. It does it’s best to get in as much as possible and then viewers have the option of reading the book to fill in the gaps. When done in reverse, you take a much shorter story and have to flesh it out, add details that weren’t in the original work and the end result often feels incredibly contrived. An author was forced to rewrite and expand on someone else’s story for the sake of selling it in print. I allow that this may sometimes be an unfair assessment, but it’s how I’ve felt about movie-to-book adaptions and I think I should be honest that I was a bit disappointed from the start because this likely effected how I read the book somewhat.

I hate writing negative reviews (even more so knowing that the author might read that review), but if I’m being honest, I didn’t love this book. You may like it! It is indeed an intriguing premise and when I read the author’s afterward I completely understood what she was going for and why she made the choices she did. But here is why it didn’t quite work for me:

  • The language was too modern
  • It was written in first-person narrative
  • Rachel was not believable for this era

The language was too modern. I don’t know how else to describe this other than to say that the descriptions and dialogue read like a modern realistic fiction book. It was hard to immerse myself in this era when it felt so contemporary.

I also did not like the choice to write the story in first-person narrative. Given the expansive setting and the descriptive nature of such a large scope story, I would have preferred a more removed voice. I think the choice was meant to make the stories more personal, but I felt that we could have gotten into the minds of the characters just as well with a the more traditional third-person narrative and also been able to give the rich setting and scene descriptions in a more believable way. To the same point, we bounced back and forth between characters frequently so a third-person narrative would have made that feel less abrupt (constantly switching between being inside the mind of different characters).

The character of Rachel was added to the story and is actually, a great addition. It is nice to have a new voice, and specifically the voice of a woman, in the story. We don’t get to hear a female perspective from this period of time very often. That being said, as great as Rachel is, she doesn’t really fit. Her attitudes and notions seemed very modern to me. I found it hard to believe that this is how a woman would act in the first century. I could be completely wrong, of course, but it distracted me quite a bit because I didn’t buy her self-sufficient, defiant of Jewish traditions life. This is historical fiction so I expect it to feel historically accurate, even if it’s not.

I believe this is one of the most difficult eras to write a story in and that is why you don’t often see authors attempt it. I appreciate Angela Hunt’s efforts to remain faithful to the Biblical text and history of this event. A bit of research informed me that she has a Theology degree and I think that is evident in her writing. If you want to read fiction that crosses over with the Bible in ways that doesn’t destroy the text, this is a good book for you.

I haven’t read anything else by Angela Hunt, but she has a retelling of the Delilah story coming out in June that looks interesting and I may give her another try in the future.

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