Wednesday, October 24, 2007

CFBA Tour - Illuminated

Illuminated is the first book from Matt Bronleewe. This guy is amazing. He helped found the band Jars of Clay. He currently writes songs and is a very sought-after producer by artists such as such as Michael W. Smith, international pop singer Natalie Imbruglia and Heroes star Hayden Panettiere. To think that he has added a new career in writing is pretty remarkable. And an added bonus: Matt composed a soundtrack for the book that is available for free download at his website. How cool is that?

Illuminated tells the story of book specialist August Adams returning from a successful trip acquiring a rare copy of a Gutenberg Bible. Little does he know that he holds the key to a secret spanning hundreds of years, and there are people dedicated to getting that secret - at any cost. All August holds dear is at stake in this thriller.

I admire Matt a lot, reading his posts on Infuze and seeing the type of culture-impacting work he's done. His new novel has several strengths to it. The plotting is very suspenseful. You can't end a chapter without catching your breath and wondering where he's going next. The plot was intriguing, with nice insights into history. As mentioned in marketing for the book, it can appeal to those who liked The DaVinci Code or the movie National Treasure. It was hard to tell at times who the protaganists could trust, and this kept me constantly guessing. Overall it is an easy read.

There were some weaknesses as well - many of which I think are the mark of a first novel and should clear up down the road. The writing sometimes didn't hold up the circumstances of a scene. Whenever a book tackles a historical topic, it is hard not to have a passage of "info dump", where the narrative slows to catch us up on context. This book is not exempt, although it is not near the problem this was in DaVinci Code. The ending seemed to wrap up quickly with some contrived situations. Finally, sometimes a character does some things that are highly improbable for their situation (an eight year old boy with an incredible amount of fortitude for his age.)

There is one issue in this book that makes me want to discuss it further. It is pertinent to bring it up in a review, and I'm going to spin it off into a discussion on this blog. The issue is violence, specifically the level of violence in Christian fiction. In Illuminated, it is a suspense with secret orders, chases, and narrow escapes. There has to be danger and violence to make it realistic. Yet there is a level of violence and gore in a couple of sections that seem extreme. Body parts are carted around. A rival agent is tortured, killed, and sawed apart to dissolve in acid. Another aspect that made me uncomfortable was violence around Charlie, the 8 year old son of August. He wasn't harmed, but his frequent association with it made me cringe.

Overall, I think Matt Bronleewe has crafted a unique book for the CBA world, a book with some flaws of style that should improve with experience, and some plot choices that may push some boundaries in the Christian fiction field. It wasn't my favorite read this year, but it is not a bad thriller for fans of those books. People with a queasy factor may want to give it a pass.

Like I said, this book made me ponder the issue of violence within Christian fiction. If you're interested, please join me for subsequent posts discussing the topic.


  1. I'd love to get in on the discussion. Just let me know when and where!

    LOL...I am guessing that you haven't read Robert Liparulo's Comes A Horseman, or Germ ...LOL!

  2. So have you read Liparulo? Because he does get pretty gory.

    I guess the question is if the violence fits in the context of the story. I didn't have a problem with the violence in Saving Private Ryan, for example...because it fit.

  3. I've read Germ by Liparulo, and we'll get to it and other examples.

    Mark - point well taken. I'm betting it will be made again.

  4. Hey Jason, leave a comment here when you get the discussion started because I signed up to get email follow-up comments, so that way I'll know where to go!

  5. Ok Bonnie. I posted the first day on 10/25, and plan on posting about this for a few days.

  6. Jason, I agree. I thought about commenting on the violence in my review of the book, but I was already not fond of the book so didn't add another blow to my review.

    But yes, the violence was too much for me and really turned my stomach. It felt like it went too far, was too graphic.

    Some may think that's hypocritical, that violence can be too descriptive when it's violence. But I don't want the gory details. I don't want to be dragged through the gutter, because those are images I will never get out of my head.

  7. Hello everyone! Guess I'll chime in here too.... I've been shocked at how many people have been focused on the violence in ILLUMINATED, which I think is MINIMAL compared with most books out there. (Has anyone read HEARTSICK?) I'm on mainstream shelves, next to novels that make mine look like a children's book. I simply had BAD GUYS acting BAD. To have them act nice would have been to weaken the evil they depict. I'm just trying to be true to my characters and my stories. Hope that helps shed a little light!

    But this is just the beginning. Things are about to get crazier. The follow-up to ILLUMINATED comes out August 12th, 2008. Prepare yourself for the next thrillride...HOUSE OF WOLVES!

    Matt Bronleewe

  8. Matt,
    Thanks for stopping by! It is always a challenge to discuss another person's work.

    You write about being on mainstream shelves - and that makes a difference in the discussion/comparison. I'll confess to reading mostly Christian fiction in the last 2 years, so that is my comparison group. I can't really compare to other books on the shelves. My comparison is coming to other books by Christian publishers.

    I'm wrestling with this subject as I post. I'm glad to have your imput, and my main purpose is to discuss violence and ask questions concerning it in the CBA industry. I thought about starting this discussion later and not tie it so closely to your book, but the timing seemed right. I'm interested to see what people bring to the table, and the wrestling with it via dialogue.