Friday, July 09, 2010

Friday Review: Vanished by Kathryn Mackel

A terrorist's bomb. A rogue experiment. An impenetrable mist. And no one is coming to help...

Sounds good, right? Like I said way back in the CSFF Blog Tour for the book, it sounds like a Christian version of Lost, something I started work on waaaay before Vanished, or even Lost, were around.

So, 12 months after the tour, having finally read the thing, is it any good?

Well, er, yes and no. First, I have to say that as something marketed as a Christian Chiller, it didn't chill me very much. Maybe that's just the hardened Stephen King reader in me; most Christian readers may well have been scared to death by it. But that, it must be said, is about the smallest problem in this book's marketing.

Anyway, the story: comparisons to Lost are unavoidable I'm afraid, but that's no bad thing. The means by which the characters vanish does seem a little more contrived than a simple plane crash, but lets assume we can all suspend our disbelief that long and get into the thing. After the explosion, the whole story cracks along at a nice pace, showing the aftermath from the viewpoints of a variety of innocent (and not-so-innocent) bystanders, plenty of suspense, weird supernatural mysteries, Lost-y flashbacks, the whole bit. And an underlying thread of hope and faith from a Christian worldview. So far so good.

There did seem, to me, to be something a little wrong with the Christian characters here. It might just be that they're American - that's not me being racist, but the shortage of Christian fiction (especially of the speculative kind) from anywhere else in the known universe gets a little tedious at times - or it might be that writing believable Christians is a difficult thing to do. Maybe I need to revisit the book, not get so caught up in the story, and look specifically at how God interacts with the characters.

And then it ends.

It is literally half a book. It's about 300 pages, which is probably about right for a Christian market novel, but 5-600 pages wouldn't be overly long for a story like this to be done properly. And the end of Vanished couldn't have been more abrupt without actually being mid-sentence. Which is more than a little disappointing.

It's not the author's fault, of course; it seems the publishers pulled the plug mid-project (no mention of a series is even mentioned anywhere on the cover), and book two is still drifting in limbo somewhere until a new publisher decides to put it out. (Didn't the same thing happen to Mackel's Birthright Project? And The Personifid Project would have been the same but for Marcher Lord Press stepping up. I guess the message to Christian spec-fic authors is don't start a series...)

In summary: Vanished is like a Christian take on Lost, but with a less satisfying conclusion.

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