Friday, May 13, 2016

Jonathan’s Shield by Channing Turner

Genre: Historical fiction

Beral's only goal is to serve loyally as Jonathan's shield bearer and protect his prince through whatever battles may come. But Jonathan needs a friend as well, a man he can trust while navigating the precarious footing of his father's court. Being that friend puts Beral's life in danger and stretches his loyalty to the breaking point. For what Jonathan wants is to do Yahweh's will, whether that be through defying his increasingly paranoid father, King Saul, or supporting the aspirations of young David, whom Jonathan believes is the rightful heir to the throne. 

As he competes with David for the hand of the king's daughter, Beral struggles to hold true to his loyalties, even while he watches King Saul descend into madness. If Yahweh withdraws his protective hand, Beral and his men will be all that stand before their gathering enemies. Only one thing is certain: Beral's fate, as well as the future of Israel, is tied to the virtue of their king, and Saul's honor has long since fled.”

His publishers (Red Adept Publishing) say of him: A son of the South, Channing Turner grew up in Arkansas and Louisiana before graduating from Louisiana State University in Psychology. He did graduate work in marine biology and became an estuarine biologist along the Texas coast. After retiring from the petrochemical industry where he worked in Louisiana and Montana as a laboratory analyst, he managed the 2010 US Census in Montana and northern Wyoming. He now lives in eastern Washington with his wife, Barb.

Channing served in the army and was discharged as an Armor captain. Reading and writing are his sedentary pursuits, but he also enjoys riding his Tennessee Walker in the Blue Mountains of Washington and Oregon.”
This, I believe, is his first published novel. To learn more about Mr. Turner feel free to visit his website or follow him on Facebook.

I enjoyed Jonathan’s Shield very much. Turner has gone to the Bible, and imagined what the arc of the extraordinary events described in the Book of Samuel might actually have been. The Bible is fruitful ground for writers. I’ve worked up a fictional ‘what if’ from the New Testament myself. It offers lots of opportunities for one to fill in all the frustrating gaps in the story which have occurred in its transmission through time and various languages down to us today. But it is, of course, a fiction. It is not a Christian book. It may, indeed, be a book some Christians will find strays too far into fictional territory. There is plenty of smiting, a lot of treachery, and hubris gets its comeuppance, but there is also a fair amount of sex.

The book deals with what happened when the Israelites, under King Saul, got fed up with being pushed around by the Philistines in particular and most of their neighbours in general and fought back. Historical figures about whom we know rather less than, perhaps, we think we do – Saul, Jonathan and David – get plenty of time on stage and Samuel the prophet has himself an important role to play; the events of the book are observed, experienced and related by Beral, the shield bearer of the title.

Turner uses a verse from Samuel as an epigraph before each chapter, and what follows expands on that, rolling the sparse source material together and forward to build an exciting story. The author has a good, plain style without frills or furbelows which suits his subject matter well and keeps the story moving at a goodly clip. He knows how to pace a story, what to put in, what to leave out. This is a lean, mean, fighting machine: lots of battles occur and are excitingly related. Even the drilling of soldiers to become an everyman army, with the tricks of how to catch the men’s imagination and commitment, and revelations about Beral the narrator in the mix, is riveting.

Turner fleshes out female characters as well as male ones (not something the Bible does much of) and the book is the richer for this, as women are often motivation for upheavals in empire as well as beside the domestic hearth. Seeing both genders in their familial and societal roles lends verisimilitude and depth to the work as a whole.

Despite the small quibbles below, this is a work that is well worth your time if you enjoy biblical era epics, adventures set in the Holy Land, or sword and sandal fiction in general. And if you haven’t tried any, this book is a fine place to start.

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In a few places, tiny infelicities of expression left me puzzled as to who someone was, or why the plot had just taken the turn it had. If you go with the flow it soon comes clear. Two such instances: who is Miriam? (she is a slave of Saul’s who Beral acquires as a maid later on when one has quite forgotten her earlier, momentary, walk-through part). And a second: why does David bring his brothers food? They are in the army, he is not – yet he is part of Saul’s entourage and it is odd if he doesn’t know that all food is shared via a commissariat system. It is, of course, an authorial device for getting him to the army camp, which just needs a teensy tweak to work perfectly.

Format/Typo Issues:
None. Looks very good on the page.

Rating: ***** Five stars

Reviewed by: Judi Moore

Approximate word count: 85-90,000 words

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review, Big Al/Judi. I'm remiss in not getting back to you sooner, but I appreciate your approval. This is my first attempt at a novel, and good reviews make me want to try another.