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by Charles Williams
Published by Pellegrini & Cudahy, 1931
Amazon.co.uk: hardcover, paperback
Amazon.ca: paperback, audiobook
Amazon.com: hardcover, paperback, audiobook
Recommended by: Ross Pavlac
Note that Charles Williams' novels are not in a series, and may be read in any order. His writing style is dark and complex, and heavily laden with atmosphere and symbolism; thus, his books are not to everyone's taste.
Strictly speaking, Williams' books do not form a series. They can be read in any order, and do not depend upon one another. However, this book comes as close to being a sequel as any of them, since it includes one character who also appears in War in Heaven. There is also some thematic similarity, in that both books relate conflicts over holy relics with "magical" powers.
In this case, the holy relic is the crown of Solomon, which contains a stone with some remarkable properties. Those properties cause many people to want to lay hands on it, some for legitimate motives, and others due to greed or pride. The task of protecting the stone falls to two people: Lord Arglay, the Chief Justice, and Chloe Burnett, his secretary. This is a much less dark book than War in Heaven, and therefore much more accessible. However, there are still some theological problems. None of the central characters are explicitly Christian. During the course of the story Arglay and Burnett come to decide that they will believe in God, but that is more a matter of setting themselves apart from their opponents than a conversion experience. Then, too, the reason they are able to fight off the attacks of the villain is not so much due to a relationship with the God of Solomon, but the purity of their characters, which is given as a pre-existing condition. Thus, there is not so much of a sense of them being saved by God's grace, as of them choosing to be on God's side because it's the right thing to do. This will be less disturbing to Arminians than to Calvinists, but even strong Arminians may well find God to be somewhat absent from the story.
Still, this is a satisfying story in that evil is defeated and good triumphs in the end. And, for those readers who can cross the bridge between the object and the person, Arglay and Burnett each, in their own way, model appropriate attitudes to take towards God: commitment to truth above all, and submission to the will of God, rather than attempting to "use" Him to further one's own ends. — Greg Slade (February, 2004)
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