An Agnostic Reviews Christian Fiction: Samara's Peril by Jaye L. Knight

by - 5:45 PM

When news arrives that Emperor Daican has been in contact with his chief war strategist, it signals potential doom for the country of Samara. Determined to intervene, the resistance in Landale, headed by Lady Anne, embark on a covert mission in hopes of unearthing further information. However, a shocking discovery leads to complications no one could have foreseen. 

Armed with their newfound knowledge, they set out for Samara to warn the king. War is inevitable, and they must face two desperate battles—one on the walls of Samara’s great stronghold, and the other on the battlefield of Jace’s heart, where victory might only be achievable through great sacrifice.

Samara's Peril is the third book in Jaye L. Knight's Christian fantasy series The Ilyon Chronicles. In short, it's about the rebellion of a Christian religious minority against a government trying to persecute them for their faith. But it's also got dragon riding and unique fantasy races and all other kinds of fun stuff! You can check out my review of the first book here. And as for the second book, well, there isn't a review because I read it a while ago and I don't remember too much of it other than "I liked it a lot and it's my favorite so far." So if I were to try to write a review of it, it would just be "I liked it a lot and it's my favorite so far." Which would not be a very good blog post.

BUT THIS BOOK. I will be reviewing Samara's Peril. I don't like my reviews to get too long, but this one will definitely be longer than usual. So grab a tea, settle down, and get comfy. We have a lot to dissect. and so I will be breaking it up with pictures from Jaye L. Knight's very own Ilyon Chronicles Pinterest boards

This book opens -- let me repeat, opens -- with some kind of cult-looking circle in the woods where the followers of Elôm are slaughtering a baby lamb and bathing their hands in its blood. Going from generic love-your-neighbor and trust-in-God -- in other words, easily universal and understandable -- themes in the previous two books to this right out of the gate gave me whiplash for sure. I used to be a devout Christian and grew up in Christian school, so I do understand the symbolism here. Christ is the Lamb because he went meekly to slaughter (the crucifixion), and he shed his blood for us. This in of itself is fine. But starting off this novel about the poor, sweet followers of Elôm with them killing a baby animal and worshipping its blood was not, uh, the best decision in my opinion. 

This brings me to a larger issue I've seen throughout the series. The faith that follows Elôm is obviously a parallel to Christianity. The opposing faith worships the two moon gods, Aertus and Vilai. Clearly, the former religion is meant to be the good, true religion and the latter is meant to be evil and pagan. Except . . . I'm not sure what exactly is so bad about the religion of Aertus and Vilai? And I feel like by book three, I should have this information. Yes, the Emperor Daican is trying to make it the only religion in Arcadia and persecuting those who don't believe in it. But that's a problem with him, not with the religion itself. Nothing of the doctrine of this supposedly evil, pagan faith is ever explained. To me, it just looks like another religion with completely normal followers and one really vocal bad egg. Which brings me to the question -- what exactly is it about this religion that is so awful to Elôm's followers? (Other than it not being theirs.) If they were to take over Arcadia, it seems like they would want to do exactly what's been done in Samara for hundreds of years: have religious hegemony where the only accepted religion is THEIRS. Which sounds kind of like what Daican is doing, if you ask me. Except it's acceptable because it's us doing it now, not them. Which is not true and not a good message to be pushing.

Here's the last big issue I had with this book, and then I'll move onto discussing normal things like plot and characters: it feels like Knight thought that since the plot and tension is escalating throughout the series (as it should), her religious messaging had to escalate as well. Which is, uh, not true. I mentioned in my Resistance review that the religious themes in that book were universal; it seemed to be a story more about religious persecution in general than Christianity in particular. I felt, and still do, that it and The King's Scrolls are novels open-minded people of almost any faith could read and enjoy. Samara's Peril is not. Samara's Peril goes from general trust in God and love thy neighbor to brazenly Christian messages, imagery, and destruction of universality. Again, there is nothing wrong with this in of itself. I understand that Knight's target audience is probably entirely Christian, but Samara's Peril does kill most chance of this series impacting readers outside that audience, including those on the fence about conversion. I understand the Christian imagery and themes used in this book, but most non-Christians won't, and they will set it down. It might even leave them with a more negative view of Christianity than they had going in, destroying the carefully-built positive image of Christianity shown in Resistance and The King's Scrolls. Again, this is a completely understandable move on Knight's part (given her audience), but I don't think it's a smart or thoughtful one. Part of the reason I enjoyed the previous two books so much is because they felt so universal. Even as an agnostic, I could relate to some of the religious messaging because I believe in religious freedom. But when the themes took a decidedly specific Christian turn in Samara's Peril, it was harder and harder for me to get as much meaning from the book.

Now that I am done with all that: I feel like this review so far has made it sound like I disliked Samara's Peril. I did not. It was my least favorite in the Ilyon Chronicles, but I still gave it four stars. For one: I enjoy Knight's writing style. I devoured Samara's Peril in just about a day. For two: there was some huge plot-twisty stuff with Jace's backstory that totally caught me off-guard and I LOVED. For three: LIAM HAS A BIGGER ROLE IN THIS ONE AND I LOVE HIM SO MUCH. He's definitely my favorite character. For four: The tension and pressure in this book was unbelievable. I sped through The King's Scrolls because I was enjoying it, but I sped through this one because I absolutely had to know what happened next. For five, and this will require a little more explaining: how Knight dealt with the issues of rape and sexual assault.

Knight didn't exactly dance around huge societal issues like this in earlier books, she just didn't make them a part of the story or plot. This was completely fine by me; there's no need to try squeezing those messages into stories if they don't fit in the first place. But then she hit me with THIS and I realized it was the thing I didn't know I needed. Kyrin (the female main character) is a victim of sexual assault with intent to rape, and another character was raped prior to the book's start and tells her story during Samara's Peril. Knight not only gives these women a voice and details the insane fear and anxiety that lingers with a person after these encounters, chasing them for most of their lives, she also addresses the culture we live in that allows this to happen. It's so rare I see conservative Christians criticize aspects of traditional society, and Knight held nothing back. It was great

Also, this one couple [highlight to read who] Jace and Kyrin, obviously finally got together!! Which is not something I expected to happen this soon. They're very good for each other, though; excellent couple, 10/10. I only had one minor issue with the writing of their relationship. It wasn't how chaste they were, but how easy it was. One of them had like 0.2 seconds of struggle and that was it. I totally understand and expected the extreme chastity, I just wish there was a liiiittle more struggling with it. I feel like that's something a lot of Christian teens reading this book could benefit from, given the immense pressure we as a society are under to be sexual at an early age -- including people like me who intend to stay relatively chaste for nonreligious reasons. But in general, this romance was a great model for real-life relationships. Just not perhaps the most realistic ones there's ever been.

ONE FINAL THING AND THEN YOU'LL BE AT THE END I PROMISE. I love how Knight took the Christian equivalency along its natural path and introduced Elon, who is basically Jesus*. I do wish he'd been alluded to earlier; it does seem like he was shoehorned into this book. But I appreciate that she wasn't afraid to Go There when it felt like the right time, and I liked the thoughtful parallels to the crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension. (It almost feels like the crucifixion should have been the climax to the entire series, but I'm willing to put that judgement on the back burner until I read the next few books and see what Knight has coming up next plotwise.)

*And no, this does not contradict my earlier point about being disappointed in the ramping up of Knight's Christian messaging. I'm giving her a slight pass for Elon because it's a lot harder to make belief in Jesus universal than characteristics most religions already have, like the importance of holy texts and some history of persecution. Also, Elon was a completely peaceful, loving figure and did not seem like the kind of person who would encourage slaughtering baby animals so as to bathe in their blood. I really wish we'd been able to see more of him.

Overall feelings: I would like to stress again that this review mentioned mostly my negative reactions because they relate to larger discussions I wanted to have -- about things like the perception and presence of Christian media in the minds of the public and the importance of maintaining a level of social realism even in books about making idealism a reality -- not because they were my prevailing reactions to the book. (Oof, that was a sentence.) And most of the things I liked revolved around specific characters and plot twists, which are hard to write at length about without major spoilers. But I did overall enjoy Samara's Peril, and I'm really excited to read the next bookExiles. (Especially because it looks like there will be more Daniel!!) If you're Christian, what are you waiting for? You'll probably like these books. If you're not Christian but still think of yourself as an adventurous reader, consider giving these books a shot. (Especially if anything in my review of the first book appealed to you.)

Let's chat! Have you ever read or considered reading Christian fiction? If so, what are your thoughts on it? Also, I know I said a lot of stuff in here, and most of it is probably controversial. So if you have any other opinions, please feel free to share them! The reason I started reading this series is because I wanted to understand the Christian community better, especially the writers, with whom I interact a lot on here. So if you feel like you want to clarify, counter, or fact-check any points, go for it! (In a respectful manner, of course. But I don't really feel like I need to say that.)

AND THAT'S FINALLY THE END OF THE POST. Yikes. Have a lovely day, everyone, and I'll see you again soon <3

P.S. GUYS?? A quarter of a million views on my little corner of the Internet?? That's insane. Thank you all so, so much <3

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  1. This was quite interesting to read! In a good way, honestly. I am a Christian myself, but I get what your saying about the whole religion thing. It's like how you recognize a terribly written villain: he/she's 'evil', and that's the extent of his/her character. I believe what you're saying is that the same applies to fictional religions: like, if a religion is going to be portrayed as evil, there has to be something more than just one bad guy who happens to adhere to it that makes it evil. Did I understand you right? Still, I can probably see why Knight would have written it that way... (Though I haven't read this series.)

    1. Thank you! Yes, you did. I get it, too, it's just a lil frustrating to read. I'm almost tempted to take Aertus and Vilai's side sometimes?? Like why can't Kyrin and Jace just let them and their followers be.

      - Ellie

  2. This was an intriguing post for me to read as I've enjoyed Jaye's books as a Christian reader. Some of your points are very good. I appreciate you sharing!

    In your opinion, what writing tips or suggestions would you give to a Christian who wants to challenge readers in a loving, un-forceful way? Obviously, I am not willing to compromise in my beliefs, but I'd really like to hear input from someone with a different worldview from mine. =)

    1. Thank you!

      I think I mentioned that I've been a devout Christian in the past, so I know from personal experience what a personal and important thing religion is in many people's lives. I think the impression lots of people have of Christians is that religion is a negative force in their lives, making them judgmental and immoral, and I'd love to see Christian novels that take that assumption to task. Showing how meaningful, pure, and personal a force religion generally is in people's lives would be awesome. For example: a lot of people view "I'll pray for you" as the emptiest thing a Christian could say because they don't believe prayers do crap. But for a Christian, praying is often the most powerful, caring thing they could possibly do. Also, showing people's faiths propelling them to "walk the walk" as well as "talking the talk" would be great, because I believe that is an awesome way religion works in many people's lives. Showing these things -- people's personal connections to their faith and how many people's faith prompts them to be more loving and caring towards others -- and contrasting them with a few (like Daican) who take a perfectly fine religion and just twist it would be great for distinguishing between different practitioners and challenging people's one-dimensional assumptions about people of faith.

      It's also hard, I will admit, to not sound weird writing Christian stuff when you've grown up Christian. For example: the lamb blood thing. To a Christian, that symbolism would make perfect sense. But to an outsider?? They'd be repulsed and confused. Another example would be stuff like "Jesus's death wiped away our sins" -- that makes sense to Christians, but to non-Christians that's an entirely nonsensical statement. How does one person's death negate the evil things others have done?? What? Going to Church, maybe Christian school, and having religious family embeds these kinds of beliefs in Christian psyches so they seem natural, but to an outsider they're completely nonsensical. I think Christian writers wishing to impact, in part, non-Christian audiences (which should be most of them, I think) should have non-Christians (or former Christians, like myself) read their work to point out stuff like this so instances of it can be minimized as much as possible. That would help non-Christians get greater feelings of universality from the work and not feel so much like it's a piece of Christian propaganda or simply the recitation of someone who's been brainwashed.

      Finally, in this day and age, I also think it's important to balance positivity about Christianity with fair criticism of the institution of the Church or Christians who are intolerant with their beliefs -- whatever works best with the story or themes. This goes back to the point about what many people find wrong with Christianity; acknowledgement and confrontation of these aspects will help non-Christians see the author as fair and reasonable, giving their messages about the goodness of Christianity more credence. It all comes back to establishing ethos.

      I'm not sure if I quiiiite answered your question, but I hope I could help! Thank you again for commenting (and reading all this XD)

      - Ellie

    2. Hello Ellie! So I won't respond to everything you mentioned - but THANK YOU. I'm saving this message so I can refer to it as I work on a WIP. As a Christian, I want to create content that is encouraging, loving, and points to Truth, but it's been so good hearing your perspective. I really appreciate your thoughts!

      So.... in the future, I might contact you about possibly reading a WIP and giving input, if you have free time to do so. ;) But even if you can't, just know that I was challenged by your words. Thanks for taking the time to share your heart, Ellie! ♥

    3. Thank YOU for caring enough to think critically about these issues and be willing to listen to other points of view. It means a lot that I could be helpful enough that you'd save this as a future resource! And of course, I'd love to read your WIP and give feedback :) thank you for taking the time to listen!


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