I thought The Seraph Seal looked like it might be interesting. It had a cool cover and the summary indicated it was about some ancient prophesy or other. So I picked it up. I almost immediately put it down again because I opened it and saw that the story started on December 21, 2012. The date instantly brought Roland Emmerich’s catastrophe to mind and it took me some time to suppress the associated unpleasant feelings.
Still, I trundled onward, refusing to blame Leonard Sweet for Emmerich’s. . .uh. . .thematic decisions. As I read on, I kept getting the feeling I had read the book before. A quick scan of the copyright convinced me I hadn’t, but the feeling remained. I finally figured out why. The Seraph Seal, for the first three hundred pages, is rather like Left Behind (minus the Rapture) and Jerusalem’s Undead (minus the vampires) blended together at a terribly high speed. Not that that means it’s not enjoyable, because it is, only it reads like a second reading the first time you read it. Bizarre, but kind of cool.
So the story’s about a man named Paul, who was born. . .yes, you guessed it, on December 21, 2012. He finds a mysterious prophesy and must work out what it means as quickly as possible if he’s to have any hope of saving humanity (you know what I’m waiting for? The one where there’s a prophesy, but it spells out exactly what it means in words of one syllable. No Da-Vinci-Coding-about required). Anyway, as he’s doing this, the anti-Christ is busy running around trying to bring about the end of the world. You know, kind of like a Kabbalah-esque take on Knowing with a generous splash of Left Behind.
I’m slightly confused about the author’s theology, as I was about the end of the story. I’m not sure if it ended with the Rapture, the beginning of the Tribulation, the end of the Tribulation, or the beginning of the Thousand Year Reign. It seemed rather like a mash-up of all four. Then too, as the characters are trying to decipher these clues, one character keeps saying, “Well, according to the Kabbalah, this means X, Y, and Z.” I’ve no idea where the Kabbalah came from or why he should think to use it to understand Leonardo da Vinci’s scribbles. Then he suddenly informs us that he’s eager “to study his Jewish heritage.” Jewish heritage? This is a guy who’s from Chennai, India (whose Jewish population, last I checked, is pretty negligible) and who is said to have a “golden mane” every single time he appears on the scene. I think I had to read that sentence three times before deciding I hadn’t misunderstood. And there’s no good reason for him being Jewish either, has nothing to do with the story, unless the author felt he couldn’t know about the Kabbalah unless he was Jewish (the only problem with this theory is that all he knows about the Kabbalah he learns from poking around in a French Catholic priest’s library). Also, not to give spoilers, but these character’s biology comes straight from left field, having taken a detour on Heinlein Mars first. This character is, in fact, probably my biggest beef with the book.
Rather like Left Behind, every few pages chronicle a new ecological/biological/social disaster. The author describes these by taking us to a random location, like Baltimore, and introducing an entire new set of characters so that we can see them die of radiation poisoning, floods, or virulent staph infections for all of four paragraphs before the action switches back to the main characters. We never see these poor people again (probably because they’re dead). This is both confusing and distracting, and we don’t need to be shown every single disaster from the viewpoint of a new character.
On the other hand, the author’s 2048 world was well-developed and realistic. The technology in use seemed like a reasonable advancement (except, again, for that one Jewish character), and what we know of the political climate seemed rather accurate. And yet mercifully, Sweet did not feel the need to overwhelm readers with information about his world, although it had clearly been extensively thought-out. He merely inserted what was sensible in the context of the story and did not fall into the awful temptation of science fiction writers everywhere to turn their stories into a stage for their worlds to perform on.
On the other hand, however, none of the characters in the book are very well-developed. It seems that, in any given situation, all the good characters would behave in precisely the same way, and all the bad characters would behave in precisely the same way.
On the other hand. . .well, I haven’t any hands left by this point, but still. Matthew Serafino, the big bad wolf in the story, was a satisfyingly evil villain with absolutely no moral compunctions whatsoever, the sort of antagonist you can loathe completely and feel fully justified in doing so.
So the final verdict? Well, the jury took its sweet time, but it’s back now. Overall I enjoyed The Seraph Seal. However, I’m not sure I would recommend it to anyone save those who actually read all the Left Behind books—the original series, prequel series, sequel series, and possibly the kids’ series. If you want an End Times story that will actually throw you a curve ball (because The Seraph Seal is like riding ‘It’s a Small World’: pleasant, but you can see what’s coming from the time you step into the little silver dinghy), I’d point you to James BeauSeigneur’s Christ Clone Trilogy.
In accordance with Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255, I am disclosing that I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My opinions are my own, and I am not required to write a positive review.