I’m going to break out of the typical reading/reviewing I do to mention a young adult novel I read on vacation. This is the backstory…my sister and I read the first book in a fantasy trilogy called Aurelia’s Colors. I was ambivalent (one of my most-used words, btw) about it, but my sister loved it. So she was going to buy the other two books online but for some reason, the second one was pretty expensive, but the third one was very cheap. Being my sister, she didn’t want to spend that much on the second book, so skipped that one altogether and bought just the third one. Apparently this happened a month or two ago and she had been saving the third book to read on vacation. I found out about this a couple weeks before we left and was shocked to discover she would completely miss book two and read the end of the story without reading the middle. She received several outraged lectures on the role of the author and how if someone writes three books in a particular order, they are giving the reader the privilege of entering their own world, but on the writer’s terms. You don’t just take over and decide how you’re reading the books. It is an insult and affront to an author to assume that you can skip reading a book that they obviously thought was important to include. Anyways, I convinced her to not read this third book, but she was disappointed because she didn’t think she had any other books to read, although I had shown her several books on our shelves that she has not read and even offered to loan her books like The Iliad. And sadly she was not interested. So I took pity on her plight and purchased this book, Hostage Lands by Douglas Bond, from Amazon so that she could have something to read on vacation. Hence I’ve ended up with this book and felt compelled to write a book review since it is such an anomaly in my library.
Douglas Bond is the author of several Christian young adult series. One, the Crown & Covenant Series, focuses on the story of the Scottish Reformed Presbyterians back in the time of Queen Elizabeth I and following. I had read these books a few years ago and enjoyed them, and I knew about this other one, Hostage Lands, so I figured it would be a trustworthy author and one I wouldn’t have to proof first or risk finding out it wasn’t good.
Hostage Lands takes place in Britain during the Roman Empire. The events center around Hadrian’s Wall because the plot of the story is the tension between the Romans and the Celts. To put it simply, a Roman soldier encounters a Celt who had, in an interesting twist, once been part of a Celtic delegation to Rome and while in Rome this Celt witnessed the Christian martyrs being killed in the Colosseum. This impacted him deeply so he goes on a quest to find out more about this mysterious religious sect, ends up being converted to Christianity, and then returns to the British Isles.
Honestly, I have very little respect for modern Christian young adult fiction. So often the portrayal of Christianity comes off as a false, “everything-is-rosy-and-Christians-are-perfect-people” sort of message. I’m drawn more to the Christian works of Flannery O’Conner because of the pure honesty and courage to face the reality of life in this fallen world, even as Christians. But O’Conner is not always appropriate nor enjoyable for the young reader, so I do see the point of writing that has been tamed down a bit.
I felt that Douglas Bond did a good job of writing an age-appropriate story with an exciting plot and multi-dimensional characters. Calum, the Christian Celt, did not come off with the Elsie Dinsmore-like perfection and snobbery I can’t stand in Christian fiction. I actually liked Calum and cared about him; I felt that his character was nuanced and realistically portrayed. Since this time period fascinates me, I especially appreciated the story. It is good historical fiction.
One of the reviews I read online mentioned that the surrounding plot of the book seemed forced and I tend to agree. The book starts off with the introduction of a modern-day student at a Latin school near Hadrian’s Wall. This student couldn’t care less about ancient Rome, but ends up discovering these ancient tablets which tell the story of the Roman soldier Rusticus and the Celt Calum. The way that the story jumps from the modern setting to the real story of ancient Rome did seem a little, hmmm…a little awkward, but it wasn’t a big deal. I’m just thankful the story didn’t jump back and forth between the two. The transition happens a couple chapters into the story, then you spend almost the entire book in the Roman plot, and come back to the modern plot only for the last chapter or so to wrap up the loose ends of the modern setting. So not a big deal at all.
Overall, it was an enjoyable story with a strong but yet authentic Christian message. I would recommend any Douglas Bond books to young people looking for decent and worthwhile novels.