On Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church

ntwright

“The work of salvation, in its full sense, is (1) about whole human beings, not merely souls; (2) about the present, not simply the future; and (3) about what God does through us, not merely what God does in and for us.”

 

April 15, 2017. Eve of the Feast of the Resurrection of Jesus.

In preparation for this year’s celebration of the greatest of days, I read Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (2008), by N.T. Wright, whose The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is I read for Resurrection Sunday 2015.

The book can be viewed as having two main points.

First: The historical and bodily resurrection of Jesus points not only toward life after death (in heaven) but, more importantly, toward the “life after life after death” (148), i.e., in the “final coming together of [the new] heaven and [new] earth, [which] is God’s supreme act of new creation” (208).

Second: We who are created in the image of God, and who have been redeemed from death through the atoning death of Jesus, are led and empowered by the Spirit to reflect (94) the Resurrected Lord to all of God’s creation here and now, on this earth, as well as in the new one. “The intermediate stage between the resurrection of Jesus and the renewal of the whole world is the renewal of human beings – you and me! – in our own lives of obedience here and now.” (249)

Before, between, and after his painstaking exposition of the above points, Wright does his best to expose the errors in the popular worldviews of materialism and Gnosticism and their modern/postmodern variants, and in popular beliefs about death, life after death, the second coming, and the role of Christians in this present world.

QUOTABLE QUOTES

Now to quote some of Tom’s sentences that either caused me to pause, to smile, or to weep:

On salvation:

“The work of salvation, in its full sense, is (1) about whole human beings, not merely souls; (2) about the present, not simply the future; and (3) about what God does through us, not merely what God does in and for us.” (200)

On life after death:

“Life after death, it seems, can be a serious distraction not only from the ultimate life after life after death, but also from life before death.” (198)

On reflecting God:

“One of the primary laws of human life is that you become like what you worship; what’s more, you reflect what you worship not only back to the object itself but also outward to the world around.” (182)

So in worship we reflect the Triune God back to the Triune God, and at work and in ministry we reflect the Triune God to the world. Wow!

On kingdom work:

“[B]uild for the kingdom. This brings us back to 1 Corinthians 15:58 once more: what you do in the Lord is not in vain. You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on the fire. You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site. You are— strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself—accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world. Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world—all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make.” (208)

Wow! In relation to the above, I can’t wait to read and maybe blog about Chris Travis’ inSignficant: Why You Matter in the Surprising Way God is Changing the World.

Still on kingdom work:

“We must therefore avoid the arrogance or triumphalism of the first view, imagining that we can build the kingdom by our own efforts without the need for a further great divine act of new creation. But we must agree with the first view that doing justice in the world is part of the Christian task, and we must therefore reject the defeatism of the second view, which says there’s no point in even trying.” (216)

And still on kingdom work:

“As far as I can see, the major task that faces us in our generation, corresponding to the issue of slavery two centuries ago, is that of the massive economic imbalance of the world, whose major symptom is the ridiculous and unpayable Third World debt… Sex matters enormously, but global justice matters far, far more. The present system of global debt is the real immoral scandal, the dirty little secret – or rather the dirty enormous secret – of glitzy, glossy Western capitalism.” (216)

And finally, on Easter:

“If Calvary means putting to death things in your life that need killing off if you are to flourish as a Christian and as a truly human being, then Easter should mean planting, watering, and training up things in your life (personal and corporate) that ought to be blossoming, filling the garden with color and perfume, and in due course bearing fruit. The forty days of the Easter season, until the ascension, ought to be a time to balance out Lent by taking something up, some new task or venture, something wholesome and fruitful and outgoing and self-giving.” (257)

Now, what new, wholesome, fruitful, outgoing and self-giving task or venture shall you and I take up in the next forty days? 🙂

Happy Feast of the Resurrection!

P.S. Thanks to Raam Dev for the new, cool Independent Publisher theme. And also to the Automatticians for Twenty Ten, my blog’s first theme.

P.S. 2  As in previous Resurrection Sundays (see e.g., 2016, 20152014, 2013), there were birds singing just outside or dogs barking happily at a distance. And this time, I also saw a rainbow. God is good.

 

On Mathematical Mindsets

I was finally able to finish Jo Boaler’s Mathematical Mindsets, thanks to the seven hours of flight to KL and back. 🙂 As I wrote in my previous book blog post on Mindset by Carol Dweck, Mathematical Mindsets was the first book I began reading this year but I ended up finishing Mindset first.

Jo defines the mathematical mindset as one in which “students see mathematics as a set of ideas and relationships, and their role as one of thinking about ideas and making sense of them.” She then goes on to say that, although young children may begin to develop (what Carol calls) a growth mindset in mathematics early in life through games and puzzles, this quickly changes to a fixed mindset when they enter school, where they are forced to memorize number facts and follow a single, procedural pathway through timed tests and homework, in which they mindlessly apply a decontextualized mathematical procedure again and again. This in turn privileges students who memorize facts and procedures easily, deceiving them into believing that they are mathematically “gifted” (a myth that a fixed mindset apparently perpetuates), and, conversely, causing those who don’t memorize easily to believe that they are dumb in math or, worse, that they are dumb, period.

In lieu of these bad pedagogical practices, Jo offers evidence-based alternatives. For instance, instead of timed tests, which (can) cause lifelong and possibly debilitating math anxiety, and which give the impression that the essence of mathematics is being fast, she recommends the use of conceptual mathematical activities without time pressure (see e.g., the activities in her Fluency Without Fear web article). Jo also believes that homework that involves mindless practice of disconnected procedures should be replaced with reflective activities, if not eradicated altogether. And instead of “tracking,” in which students get placed into ranked sections, with the lowest performing students being placed in the bottom section, Jo recommends teaching heterogeneous classes instead, using strategies such as open-ended tasks, a choice of tasks, individualized pathways (using, e.g., SMILE cards), or the complex instruction model of Elizabeth Cohen and Rachel Lotan.

What I liked about this book is that it references many research studies (Jo’s as well as others’) and mathematics pedagogies. What I didn’t like about it is that ideas are repeated in the same form again and again and again (get the idea?) throughout the book, bloating it. Jo also tends to toot her own horn (e.g., “In an award-winning research study… I…”), when she obviously doesn’t have to. But I understand how difficult it is for academics to write popular books, so I take my hat off to Jo Boaler (and Carol Dweck) for making their results accessible to those of us who are not experts in their fields.

Possible books for next month’s book blog post:

  • Pernille Ripp’s Passionate Learners: How to Engage and Empower Your Students (2016);
  • Kevin Carey’s The End of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere (2016); or
  • Greg Toppo’s The Game Believes in You: How Digital Play Makes Our Kids Smarter (2015)

Till then!

The Real Beauty

Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorite Broadway musicals – I especially liked Susan Egan singing Home and Terrence Mann singing If I Can’t Love Her – so I was a bit disappointed not to see these two songs in this year’s live action film. (Yes, there’s the new Beast song, Evermore, but it doesn’t sound as good.) But there are three things in the Beauty and the Beast live action film that more than make up for these.

TRB - Emma Watson

First: EMMA WATSON. She might not be able to sing like Susan Egan did, but she does have a lovely, innocent voice (yes, despite auto-tuning) to match her lovely face and body and, I would like to believe, her soul, too. If there’s any single reason why the live action film is better than the 1991 cartoon, it’s her. I’m glad she chose to be Belle instead of Mia (in La La Land), and I’m sure she’ll get her Oscar or BAFTA someday. At least she already has a Britannia Award, along with other fine actors like Tilda Swinton and Emily Blunt.

Second: the dazzling cinematography, production design, costume design, and visual effects. It is in one or more of these categories that this $160-million film by Bill Condon (Dreamgirls) might bag an Oscar. Celine Dion’s How Does a Moment Last Forever might also win Best Song. [Update: Meanwhile, on April 13, 2017, the film joined 28 others that have earned $1 Billion at the box office. Can it surpass its fairy tale sibling, Frozen? As of May 25, it is only $60,000 behind.]

Third: the great ensembles. There’s the “castle ensemble” including Emma Thompson (Mrs. Potts, who sings Beauty and the Beast), Ian McKellen (Cogsworth), Ewan McGregor (Lumiere, who sings Be Our Guest), Audra McDonald (Madame Garderobe), and Stanley Tucci (Maestro Cadenza) singing, for example, the Beauty and the Beast Finale (but sadly they did not sing Human Again); and the “village ensemble” including Luke Evans (Gaston) and Josh Gad (LeFou) singing, for example, Gaston or Belle.

A lot of people have of course compared the 2017 live action film against the 1991 animated film, and pointed out that the singing in the latter is superior. I agree (but the singing in the Broadway musical soundtrack is even better), but the 1991 film did not have a live, beautiful Belle, dazzling cinematography and design, and great actor-singer ensembles.

TRB - Wall

Thanks to Alex Zamora for treating me to the musical long ago! 🙂

 

 

 

On Mindset

mindset-1February 27, 2017. At the start of the new year, I told myself I’d read at least one non-fiction book per month and blog about it. Thanks to today’s class suspension, here I am blogging about Carol Zweck’s (2006) Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. I had planned to finish Jo Boaler’s (2016) Mathematical Mindsets first, but halfway through it I found myself reading and finishing Carol’s book instead.

The basic idea of Carol’s book is that there are two so-called mindsets (or powerful beliefs about one’s qualities) – a fixed mindset, which is the belief that one’s qualities are “carved in stone,” and a growth mindset, which is the belief that one’s qualities can be developed through effort. There are several implications of this idea for the teaching profession as well for parenting. For example, it is better to praise students/children for their effort or process, thus encouraging a growth mindset, rather than their attributes such as intelligence or beauty, which only strengthens a fixed mindset. Carol’s studies show that not only can the latter lead to rejection of new tasks (for fear that these would expose their flaws); praising them for their attributes or abilities rather than effort could even lead to the formation of unethical habits like cheating or lying. Carol discusses clearly what I view as mindset principles, and backs these up with results of her own quantitative studies (as a Stanford psychology professor) as well as those of others, and rich stories (qualitative research?) of individuals and, to a lesser extent, companies.

carol-dweck-1What I liked about the book is that it describes in many ways the various facets of a single basic gem of an idea. These different descriptions are like different pathways to understanding. Carol also makes clear that she doesn’t have all the answers (e.g., “Can anyone do anything? I don’t really know. However, I think we can now agree that people can do a lot more than first meets the eye.”) In addition, Carol writes with honesty and humility about herself (e.g., “Until I discovered the mindsets and how they work, I, too, thought of myself as more talented than others, maybe even more worthy than others because of my endowments”, “Late one night, I was passing the psychology building and noticed that the lights were on in some faculty offices. Some of my colleagues were working late. They must not be as smart as I am, I thought to myself.”). I also liked the “Q&A” section, where she engages readers’ possible skepticism. In the last chapter (Changing Mindsets: A Workshop), the book also presents a series of dilemmas to help the reader understand his or her mindset, and work toward strengthening the growth mindset.

What I didn’t appreciate so much in this book was its identification of certain unpopular individuals (CEOs) as having fixed mindsets, and the attribution of their companies’ failures to their fixed mindsets. I’m more inclined to think, though, that mindset is not a binary thing, that one can only have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset, but not (a bit of) both. Instead, I think that mindset is a spectrum, and most of us are somewhere between two extremes. Moreover, it is not clear whether one can so easily transfer the mindset principles from the classroom to the running of a conglomerate. There are probably so many other factors that led to the demise or decline of these CEO’s companies, not just their CEO’s mindsets.

Overall, Carol’s book and her ideas and their application to teaching, mentoring, coaching, parenting, and learning are excellent. All those engaged in these endeavors would do well to read this book and apply her ideas.

little-house-on-the-prairie-main-cast-1Weeks ago, I began watching Little House on the Prairie, a popular American TV series from the 70s about a farmer’s family and community in rural Minnesota in the 1870s. The series is loosely based on Laura Ingalls-Wilder’s Little House books. It’s interesting that Charles and Caroline Ingalls, the parents, “knew” and taught the mindset principles to their children. Charles and Caroline, and their children’s families, were relatively poor compared to the other mainstays of the series, but they had one happy family despite the usual problems of life. Aah, the good ol’ days! (I will blog about this series, too!)

My Four Happiest Happenings in 2016

It was six years ago when I began reflecting annually on my “happiest happenings” for a particular year (see 2015, 2014, 2012, 2011, 2010). My four happiest happenings in 2016 are (not in any order):

1. Driving and living in Nuvali

View of the sky from car's passenger seat, along Nuvali Blvd
View of the sky from my car, along Nuvali Blvd

I’ve always shunned buying a car, which depreciates the moment it is taken out of the casa, so I’ve always tried to live within walking distance from my place of work or study. But living in Nuvali necessitates owning one because no public utility vehicle drivers may ply their trade in here.

Enjoying the view of Taal after enjoying a breakfast buffet with the family
Enjoying the view of the Taal volcano and lake after enjoying breakfast buffet with the family

I never expected to enjoy driving, but I do, though only in Nuvali and its surroundings, what with the beautiful scenery. I also enjoy driving to Tagaytay, though only in the morning, when there is no traffic.

Of course I don’t only enjoy driving in Nuvali but also living in it. I love the tranquility, the fresh(er) air, and the Solenad malls that are on the way home from work. 🙂

2. Borobudur

On top of Borobudur soon after sunrise
On top of Borobudur soon after sunrise

When I was a kid, I had a stereoscopic toy that showed beautiful scenes of various Wonders of the World, and the 3D photograph of Borobudur was one of those that I enjoyed looking at. I was therefore quite happy to visit it after a finishing a task in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. I went there at sunrise (as FB’s Mark Zuckerberg once did).

Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in the world and Indonesia’s “single most visited tourist attraction in Indonesia” (Wikipedia). Built in the 8th century at the center of Central Java and designed as a step pyramid, Borobudur’s pilgrims would walk up and around nine terraces, whose walls are filled more than 2700 exquisite bas-relief panels, until one reaches the top, which represents Nirvana.

3. K3J

K3J's Anniversary Theme: God Is Able
K3J’s Anniversary Theme: God Is Able

On December 18, 2016, the youth group at church was rechristened K3J (Kabataang Kay Kristo Jesus) and celebrated its first year since its revival. Unlike when I first handled the youth at church in the early 2000s, when most of the members of the group were in college and were children of church members, most of the members of the youth group now, i.e., of K3J, are high school kids and have unbelieving parents. May the light of Jesus (John 1:4-5)  shine in the lives of these kids and their families!

4. Ministry at home

I love it that my house has been used to minister to or mentor various persons and groups this year. There’s my Saddleback Small Group, which began meeting weekly on April 14. Since then we have studied Rick Warren’s The Invisible War and Miracle of Mercy, among others. Then there’s my best friend’s son, Joel, who did a 3-day retreat at my house last September; and K3J’s leaders, who did a 3-day retreat here on January 1-3. There’s also my PhDCS and MSCS thesis advisees, Tessie, Ian, and Regan, who came at least twice to the house. Finally, there are also my family and friends who came in December.

Dad, Mom, and Pen with Tita Aida and Sachi
With Dad, Mom, Tita Aida and Sachi
With inaanak sa kasal, Tessie and Philip
With inaanak sa kasal, Tessie and Philip
Dad, Mom, and Pen with Kuya Mark, Weng, and kids
With Dad, Mom, Pen, Kuya Mark, Weng, and kids
With Carlo after installing paintings
With best friend Carlo after installing paintings
With Lizette and kids
With best friend Lizette and kids
With Justin and Em
With FORMDEV alumni, Justin and Em, who will soon wed
With TLS Youth (K3J) Leaders
With TLS Youth (K3J) Leaders — Jomel, Georgia, Buboy, Tian2 and Jessa — on a 3-day retreat here at the house

I thank God for all the blessings throughout 2016. May 2017 be a year of even more hearing and doing of God’s word (Matthew 11:28).

Blessed New Year, everyone!

Remaining in Jesus’ Love

Resurrection Sunday, 2016. I was supposed to travel to Jakarta this morning, but due to a passport issue, that did not push through.

(As you read the rest of this post, if you’d like to listen to The Katinas‘ “Mighty River”, just click the Play button below. To stop it, just click the Pause button.)

 

View of the sky at dawn from one of the east windows of my Nuvali house.
View of the sky at dawn from one of the east windows of my new house.

RESURRECTION SUNDAY, the greatest of feasts!

How deeply glad I am to have been able, by God’s grace, to start this day reading God’s Word. The church youth and I are reading through the New Testament, one chapter a day, and today’s chapter is the 15th of John. What struck me is the 10th verse, which says that, among others, if I obey the Lord Jesus’ commands, I will remain in his love. At first, the verse seemed to say that God’s love is conditioned on my obedience:  the more/less I obey, the more/less God loves me, which I knew in my heart not to be true. Soon, however, the Lord reminded me that his love is like a mighty “river of living water” (cf. Revelation 12:1-2) – always flowing, always giving life, abundant life and that it is truly I who leaves the river instead of remaining in it! God, Who is Love (1 John 4:16), truly is wonderful! What’s more, John 15:7 guarantees that as I remain in the river (or on its banks, like a tree), the more fruit I will bear, for the glory of God!

TSW - Newsletter - Vol 4 Iss 2-3 My TestimonyAfter reading God’s Word and eating a delightful breakfast of bread and fruit, I celebrated the resurrection of the Lord with the brothers and sisters at Saddleback South Manila, which is inside the community I live in – Nuvali. As soon as I got back home, I searched my archives for the testimony I wrote for my local church’s newsletter about my Saddleback experience 13 years ago. Here it is:

TSW – Newsletter – Vol 4 Iss 2-3 My Testimony

Isn’t it amazing how, thirteen years ago, I “chanced upon” Saddleback Lake Forest, California, and now, thirteen years later, Saddleback South Manila and I decide to live in the same community?

Happy Resurrection Sunday!

P.S.

As in previous Resurrection Sundays (see e.g., 2014, 2013), there were birds singing just outside, and dogs barking in the distance. Thank God for all things, big and small! 🙂

P.S. 2

I actually read a couple of books during the Lenten triduum (Stephen Smith’s The Jesus Life and David Platt’s Follow Me), and planned to blog about them, but instead, here I am blogging about God’s mighty river of love and about my Saddleback experiences while listening repeatedly to Mighty River. 🙂

P.S. 3

I’ve been wanting for a very long time to have a regular Christian activity at home, and on April 14, nineteen days after Easter and a hundred and thirty-five days after moving to my new house, I’d begin hosting a Saddleback Small Group at home! How did this happen? To make the long story short, on the Feast of the Resurrection I simply shared with Pastor Narry Santos my experiences at Saddleback Lake Forest and expressed my desire to be of help to Saddleback South Manila, and then he asked me if I wanted to host a Saddleback Small Group at home, and without hesitation I said, “Yes!” God is good!

 

The Broken Empire Trilogy

I read this trilogy last year, but got so busy I couldn’t blog about it until now (Maundy Thursday).

Note: SPOILERS here!!!

BE MapThe Broken Empire trilogy is set in what would be Europe a thousand years after a nuclear holocaust. Prior to that, scientists and engineers (“Builders”) had previously discovered and exploited a way for man to “control his environment directly through the force of his desire, rather than through machinery” (Fexler Brews in Emperor of Thorns, 170), thereby altering “by just a fraction” (Fexler Brews in King of Thorns, 321) the orientation of what could be viewed as the wheel of the ship that is reality. Since then, this wheel has kept on turning albeit in the wrong orientation, resulting in various kinds of magic in the post-apocalyptic world, including the ability to control fire (“fire-sworn”), inhabit bodies (necromancers), soul-fly (“sky-sworn”), enter and influence dreams (“dream-sworn”), or see the future (“future-sworn”). Unfortunately, the more these magics are used, the thinner the barrier grows that separates life from death, and the collapse of this barrier is now imminent.  Fortunately, the Builders had also managed to create “data echoes” – virtual models of themselves – so that they could somehow survive the holocaust. One of these data echoes is Fexler Brews, who seeks to right their wrongs…

BOOK 1: The Prince of Thorns

PoT (2)Four years ago, Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath, then only nine, witnesses from inside a thorn briar the murder of his mother and of his younger brother, William, by soldiers of his uncle, the Count of Renar. Vowing to kill the count, he frees a band of mercenaries who are prisoners of his father, King Oliden of Ancrath, and escapes with them. With the protection of Kashta the Nuban, wisest and deadliest of the mercenaries, and Sir Makin, whom Oliden ordered to bring Jorg back but who would turn to follow Jorg instead, Jorg becomes their chief, leading his band of Brothers with fearlessness and uncanny success.

Now 14, Jorg discovers that his father is about to proclaim his new queen’s child as the new heir to the throne, so he returns to his father’s palace with his Brothers. To prove his worth to his father, he agrees to kill the King of Gelleth, which he accomplishes by piecing together the accounts of the Builders, and detonating what (he didn’t know) was one of the nuclear bombs the Builders had left behind underneath the mountain on which the kingdom of Gelleth stood. In the process he befriends leucrota (mutants made so by exposure to radioactivity) and kills a couple of vampiric necromancers, the heart of one of which he eats, as a way to bolster the dying courage of his mercenary band. When he returns to Ancrath, he is murdered by his own father, but he comes back to life due to vampiric contamination. While dead, he is released from a powerful spell of compulsion placed upon him by his uncle’s sorcerer, Corion, which prevented him from even coming close to his uncle’s lands. The same spell also lent him sorcerous powers without his being aware of them. Jorg eventually kills Renar and his sorcerer, and crowns himself King of Renar.  His next goal: to become Emperor of the Broken Empire.

RATING AND COMMENTS: I give this book 3.5 stars out of 5. Though the characterization in this trilogy is not impressive (only Jorg’s character is developed; everyone else’s is one-dimensional), the trilogy quickly startles and then polarizes its readers by beginning its tale with an amoral antihero killing the leader of a small town and participating in the rape of the leader’s girls. (Jorg does make it a point to say that he did try to talk to the leader, but the leader wouldn’t budge.) But the cause for such apparent mercilessness is slowly revealed as a confluence of the boy’s traumatic experience, genetic and environmental predisposition (his father was even crueler), and being bound by a spell by an even crueler sorcerer.  Sure, a murderer is a murderer, but in God’s economy, in which every human being is sinful, even killers can become heroes (cf. Moses, Joshua, David, Paul).

The character I liked most in this book is Kashta, whom Jorg describes thus: “I never knew a man more solid… Few among the brothers sought his counsel, men upon the road have little use for conscience, and although he never judged, the Nuban carried judgment with him” (195). Why did he have to die this early in the trilogy?

BOOK 2: The King of Thorns

KoTSoon after he becomes a king, Jorg meets the charismatic Prince Orrin of Arrow, who, like Jorg, wishes to lead the Broken Empire, but who, unlike Jorg, has more statesmanly goals, which is why smaller nations have been flocking to him. Orrin defeats the younger Jorg in one-on-one combat, but Orrin, who is everything that Jorg is not, lets Jorg live. Jorg then decides that to become Emperor, he has to get the support of his mother’s father, the Earl of Hansa, and brother, Lord Robert. On his way to his grandfather, Jorg has some interesting side-adventures that leave in him the powers of fire-magic and necromancy, insatiable powers that both try to consume him. At his grandfather’s castle, he encounters a “ghost”, actually a data echo, Fexler Brews, who gives him a lens (see the cover of Book 2),which enables him to view any part of the world through satellite and terrestrial surveillance systems, and a pistol. He also gets engaged to Lord Robert’s twelve-year-old niece, the fiery and independent-minded Miana.

Four years later, on Jorg and Miana’s wedding day, Prince Egan of Arrow (who had earlier killed his brother, Orrin) storms Castle Renar with thousands of Orrin’s men, but Jorg kills Egan using Fexler’s pistol, and unleashes the fire within him, burning Orrin’s men as well as his father’s sorcerer, Sageous, who, Fexler would reveal, was the one who put Jorg in the thorns, and who was the one who dream-ensorcelled Egan to commit fratricide. Jorg himself would survive the conflagration (but with a burnt face) because of the necromantic power within him, and the fire magic and necromancy within him would consume each other, leaving him with no trace of either magic. But though the Dead King may have lost his foothold inside Jorg when Jorg lost his necromantic powers, he has now become Jorg’s – and the Broken Empire’s – most formidable foe.

RATING AND COMMENTS: I give this book 3.5 stars out of 5. Jorg is growing, and that is good.  Though Jorg still has no qualms killing in this book, there’s now a kind of empathy: “Once upon a time perhaps I might have thought two women running around on fire was a free show…But I had grown to understand this kind of pain” (236). The character I liked most in this book is Fexler, the so-called data echo. I’m doing research on persistent virtual online models of students, so it intrigues me how Fexler-the-virtual-model was created from all manner of data from Fexler-the-human, including “…unguarded moments captured in secret, phrases uttered in his sleep, exclamations cried out in coitus, chemical analysis of his waste, public presentations, private meditations, polygraphic evidence, DNA samples. Data.” (319) Cool!

BOOK 3: The Emperor of Thrones

EoTJorg, now 20, soon-to-be-father, and leader of six kingdoms plus Kennick, travels to Vyene, the former Imperial capital, to make a bid for Emperor at the Congression. Every seven years, the Congression is held at Vyene, where representatives of all the kingdoms of the Broken Empire cast their votes for an Emperor. What makes this Congression different from those in the past is the imminent threat of the Dead King and his army of zombies. While Jorg is traveling toward Vyene, the reader is shown several flashbacks filled with violence, such as the rape of young Jorg by a bishop, and how Jorg took his revenge; the torture of Jorg in a desert, saved only by remnants of fire magic, months of sword practice, and Fexler controlling the body of a mechanical scorpion; and Jorg’s saving the Caliph of Liba from nuclear destruction by an automaton controlled by Michael, another data echo, apparently higher in rank than Fexler.

At the Congression, for fear of the Dead King, whose zombie army is fast approaching, the delegates vote for Jorg as Emperor, since he is the only one who has the temerity to fight the Dead King. The Dead King finally appears in the body of a sky-sworn, while his zombie army kills many of the delegates and scatters the rest. It turns out that the Dead King is none other than William, Jorg’s younger brother, who now chides Jorg for not saving him. It appears that William, whose will (to be reunited with his brother) is apparently even stronger than Jorg’s, fought against death (i.e., annihilation) and won.  When he learned that his brother was intent on reuniting the Broken Empire, William then thought of raising the dead so that together they could “take the empire out past all boundaries, in this world and the next, and make it whole, entire, and ours” (386). Jorg eventually manages to kill the body which William used, but knowing that William isn’t really dead (i.e., annihilated) and can therefore come back, and fearing for his son and the world he will live in, he asks his Brothers to kill him so that he may go to his younger brother. When everyone refuses, it was Chella, William’s harbinger, who deals the fatal blow. In the epilogue, Jorg and William set their hands to push the “wheel” (see this post’s introductory paragraph) back to its original orientation, and Jorg’s data echo meets with his son, the young Emperor Will. It seems that Fexler’s ring got more information from Jorg than Jorg got from it, enough data for Fexler to create a model of Jorg to help him (Fexler) determine whether Jorg could be trusted to save the world.

RATING AND COMMENTS: I give this book 4 stars out of 5. I must admit that at first I didn’t like that Jorg died. But then again, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). My favorite character continues to be Fexler. In high fantasy, I’ve always been more interested in the acts of the master wizard – Gandalf, Dumbledore, Merlin – who aids the hero, rather than the hero himself (unless the wizard IS the hero), but since, in this trilogy, magic-wielding men (Corius, Sageous, Ferrakind) and women (Lady Blue, Skilfar, the Silent Sister) are like Sageous, whom Fexler describes as “nothing but a savage, straining truth through superstition,” it is Fexler who becomes in essence the master wizard, influencing and helping Jorg in the race against world annihilation.

MLEmperor of Thrones won the David Gemmel Legend Award (DGLA) for Best Fantasy Novel in 2014. I wish I could write fantasy like Mark Lawrence or Bandon Sanderson one day.