Linda Paulson Adams
LDStorymakers , 2004. Quality paperback:
Suggested retail price: $16.95 (US)
Refining Fire is the second volume in a series that began with ProdigalJourney, reviewed by me in April 2003. I went back and re-read thatreview; my recollection of the storyline was rather weak given the passingof time.
As with the first volume, the heroine is Alyssa Stark, a young collegestudent forced to flee as a dictatorial U.S. government outlaws thepractice of religion amid the rampant spread of American Toxic Flu -- ATF-- a disease resistant to all known treatment. Utah has been allowed tosecede from the Union; other Mormon outposts have emerged as Latter-daySaints establish safe places for family and worship. Alyssa is not amember of the Church, but her life is affected by LDS friends, andcircumstances push her more deeply into the LDS fold.
While growing up, her family was very close to the Richardsons, converts tothe Church. Alyssa's mother, abusive and irreligious, forbade Alyssa fromconsorting with the Richardson family, despite a budding love affairbetween Alyssa and Peter Richardson.
As the previous book closes, Alyssa has had some remarkable experiences,including a healing event involving Jesus Himself. Circumstances bring herback into contact with the Richardsons, where she settles in as a permanentguest, all the while being influenced by the love and acceptance offered bythe family.
On another front, her friend Jonathan Pike is a budding physician. Debra,Alyssa's college roommate, is dating Jon. The national situation separatesAlyssa and Debra. Jon and Debra finally marry, although Jon has not hadtime to finish medical school. Nonetheless, he is called into duty whenATF arrives at their LDS outpost in the form of Margret DeVray, also afriend of Alyssa. Margret, dying and weak, arrives at Pike's complex. Hegets to work trying to find a cure for the disease.
If this all sounds a bit contrived, it really is. But when writingspeculative fiction, ostensibly based on a Mormon-like vision of the timejust before the Second Coming of Christ -- and when you're intertwining afinite number of characters, and writing a love story at the same time -- Isuppose contrivance is unavoidable. You have to work in the characterssomehow.
There are several instances where the story goes off track, into what somewould consider the "lunatic fringe" of the belief spectrum. The Prologuewas almost unreadable. Hired thugs holding a Temple-worthy Saint hostage.He hears words from God and sends the thugs into a flurry of confusion. Itwas almost laughable, written as if it were spoof, rather than a seriousconsideration of Divine power. I fervently hoped the rest of the bookwould not follow this pattern.
Happily it didn't. Once Adams gets started, she brings the story back toearth and continues the story begun in the previous volume. In this book,we get a better feel for these people. They emerge as genuine, with reallives and loves, with beliefs and doubts. Near the end, Adams brieflyreverts to this comic-book type of writing, but it's only a bit, tolerableuntil the beginning of the next chapter.
The issue of sexuality weighs heavily in this book. One segment isespecially reflective of LDS belief in this area: the Richardson house hasbeen blessed and set aside by one with proper priesthood authority. This,presumably, prevents Satan from directly entering the house. But onenight, Satan appears to Alyssa. She screams, Peter dashes into the room,and drives the devil out. Peter is confused -- how did Satan get into thehouse? Later, he learns that his brother Andrew had been viewingpornography on his computer. This sin, in effect, opens a door for Satanto enter the house and attack Alyssa. Yes, a bit preachy, but then againpreachiness is a big part of this story.
As the book closes, many issues remain unresolved. This surely means athird volume is coming. In my previous review of the first volume, Imentioned some holes in the story that I thought should be filled in. Thesecond volume does just this, and I was happy to see it. The unresolvedissues in this volume are consistent with a plan to round out the serieswith a third, perhaps final, volume.
This book will be enjoyed by the casual reader of LDS fiction. It hassomething for everyone -- a real love story, really bad people doing reallybad things, family tensions, governmental persecution, the display ofpriesthood power -- it's all there. And, in fact, this second volume isbetter than the first. I'll look forward to the third volume. If Adamscan decide which venue she wishes to write about -- the real problems ofreal people, or the comic cut-out world of Mormon speculation -- this nextvolume can be a winner.
Jeff Needle January 1, 2005
© 2005 Jeff Needle