It is the year 2039 and the world is a better place, thanks to one man. Fresh from college, Malcolm Wilder engineered a cheap fix to fossil fuel dependence. The new energy-for-all economy brought on world peace with famine, disease and environmental degradation all but a thing of the past. As Earth and its people began to heal, creatures once thought to be the stuff of myth decided it was finally safe to reveal themselves.
A decade later, Malcolm is a corporate giant living in exotic Dubai. Malcolm’s business partner and lifelong friend, Levi Tanner, is concerned that Malcolm isn’t allowing himself to enjoy his fame and fortune. Levi finally takes Malcolm to Mortal Sins, a local hot spot that caters to those looking for something a little different in the way of adult recreation. There, he meets Suki, a demon, and other “mortal sinners.” Levi and Suki reveal themselves to him, but more importantly, reveal to Malcolm his pre-ordained destiny.
While Malcolm struggles to digest their revelations about who and what he is, he’s also dealing with the jealous tensions between Levi and Suki that have become noticeable to all and he begins to feel the weight of the sins that surround him. But, little does Malcolm know that the world still has a few problems of biblical proportions and that all hell is about to break loose. And, just when things seem their darkest, an unlikely visitor brings the world an unexpected message of hope.
Warning: Extremely mild spoilers ahead
Sins of The Messiah by Reno MacLeod and Jaye Valentine is the re-edited trade paperback edition of the two novellas in the Messiah series originally e-published by Torquere Press, Messiah 1: The Three of Cups and Messiah 2: The Page of Wands.
In Sins of The Messiah the authors take millennia-old well-known and accepted religious stories and figures stemming from Judaeo-Christian and even Islamic traditions flip them around, shake them up, pull them apart, examine them some, and put them back together by writing a story from a perspective that is not often told. By its very nature, this perspective requires the revisiting and rethinking of familiar religious concepts and the figures that personify them. Nothing and no one is sacrosanct in this revision as MacLeod and Valentine bring together a host of characters to tell the story of those otherwise commonly referred to as the “fallen.”
This book is exceptionally well written in terms of story premise, style and quality. This story is so richly intricate on so many levels I liken it to the proverbial onion that requires peeling one skin at a time. It left me breathless and my brain figuratively spinning. Each reader will come away with their own feelings and interpretations about the meaning and underlying messages of this story and I am no different. This, in and of itself attests to the inimitable talent of the authors to write thematically complex stories through straightforward storytelling.
The writing itself is fierce and fearless and exemplifies the style and qualities that have become MacLeod-Valentine trademarks. Stellar world building and plot development that combine an old and familiar story with futuristic accoutrement to create an alternate universe. The same can be said in respect of the outstanding characterization. The authors have taken commonly known figures in Christianity and have placed them within the context of this futuristic world but their essence and back-story remains firmly rooted in the Judaeo-Christian creation story and its aftermath. With the exception of Malcolm, who is of the temporal world, the authors have personified among others, the seven deadly sins, of which Levi is envy and Suki is lust, and Lucifer himself placing them in Malcolm’s world. Moreover, the authors’ selection of which unworldly beings will be front and center in this story and the perspectives they ascribe to these characters is in my opinion MacLeod and Valentine’s coup d’état in this tale.
Those with knowledge of the Bible and other religious stories will immediately recognize the impeccable research that went into the world-building, plot development and characterization. And yet, the manner in which religious information is presented is almost exclusively through nuance and allusion, and stealthily woven into the fabric of the overall story. The authors’ use of nuance and allusion also serves another purpose and that is to open the door to sub-plots and to the characters themselves without entirely revealing the overall plot of the story or the full motivations behind the actions of its characters. In this respect, there is a sense that the world may not be as it appears. Is it truly an alternate universe in which the point of view of the fallen is being presented? Or is this itself an illusion upon which are superimposed other illusions? This enigma is also present in most of the story’s characters. Is Malcolm truly the anointed one or is he the Antichrist? Is he a victor or a victim of his own sinful appetites? Are the anthropomorphized seven deadly sins Malcolm’s devoted disciples or are they contributors to his ultimate downfall? Is the messenger of hope a protector, or is he the stealth emissary of another? Not only does the book end in a cliffhanger there are mini-cliffhangers throughout. Which is why this story should be read (and re-read) with great attention because the significance of things that are seemingly benign can be missed in the blink of an eye.
The authors’ descriptions of this alternate world and its characters create stunning imagery much of which also has symbolic meaning. The images that remain strongest in my mind are those depicting the perch on top of the Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica over-looking the Holy See that conjures up a high mountain in the desert overlooking all the kingdoms of the world; and the unforgettable image of the continuously bleeding stigmata of the Morning Star.
In Sins of The Messiah MacLeod and Valentine once again dance with the overarching theme of “on good and evil” by not only questioning the relevancy of the omnipotent and omniscient existence of God but also by once again challenging what is deemed as undisputed truth in religious and moral dogma. In this sense many of the underlying messages in this story remain socially and politically relevant in terms of the impacts of religion on mankind as a whole, and the use of religion to regulate the way of life of society’s individual members.
In peeling back the layers though I found this story to be, at its thematic heart, a metaphor for family relationships, with a particular focus on the dynamics and complexities of the relationship between fathers and sons. A rebellious and prideful son who dared be different and oppose his father and as a result was disowned and eternally punished. A prodigal son who discovers a father and family that he never knew and while he is embraced into it is uncertain of his role within it. Sibling rivalry that manifests itself in the vying for a father’s attention, acceptance and love. A brother who has taken on the role of ensuring the welfare of all family members but at times feels this weighty burden. An emotionally distant father, who long ago abandoned his children and precisely because of this continues to motivate their actions even in absentia.
With each story and series that they publish in the realm of urban fantasy or horror fiction MacLeod and Valentine reach ever farther to boldly push a multitude of boundaries. In Sins of The Messiah their writing challenges traditional and commonly accepted interpretations of widely known stories to such a degree that their tales literally create the impression of le monde à l’envers (the world upside down). Most important though, their writing insists that readers open up the windows of their imaginations and let fly without a safety net. Their version of the age-old messianic tale is such a story.
Sins of The Messiah is pure unadulterated brilliance interspersed with numerous strokes of genius in terms of both its individual parts and its collective whole. MacLeod and Valentine remain in a category unto themselves. I await with great anticipation the next revelation in their Messiah series.
UPDATE: Although the trade paperback edition of the book upon which this review was written is no longer available at Amazon, a revised and re-edited version of Sins of The Messiah by Reno MacLeod and Jaye Valentine is available in ebook format at All Romance eBooks, OmniLit, Barnes and Noble and at Smashwords.
Music: Dear God – XTC (Skylarking, 1986)