Saturday, January 26, 2008

Review of The Book of Joby

Now that it is 2008, I have found a book published in 2007 that is above all the others I read last year and would have been on my favorites list if I'd read it before the end of the year. That book is Mark J. Ferrari's debut novel, The Book of Joby, a modern-day retelling of the biblical story of Job including elements of the King Arthur legends. It is not a part of a series but rather an actual stand-alone novel.

When Lucifer hears that God and the angel Gabriel are sipping lattes in a coffee shop in New England, he drops in on them to make a bet with the Creator. Over the years, the devil has placed "that same stupid bet" with God - that he can make one of his people willingly turn to evil - even though he has only been able to win two previous bets: Eve and Judas Iscariot. This time the stakes are high; if Lucifer is able to corrupt God's chosen candidate, all of God's creation will be destroyed and redesigned according to the devil's instructions.

Nine year old Joby loves to pretend he is a knight from the book on King Arthur given to him by his grandfather. He even forms the Roundtable Club at his school and encourages others in the group to do good deeds and help out the other children. The future appears bright until Joby begins to have problems with school and his parents. Joby's life only gets worse as he gets older and God is forbidden to help him no matter how much Joby pleads.

The Book of Joby was one of those rare books that immediately drew me in and was hard to put down after the second page or so. It did drag for a little while in the middle, but it picked up again almost as soon as I started thinking it was getting off track.

The story may not sound original since it is partially based on two very famous stories, but these well-known tales were intertwined in a way that formed an imaginative, unique fantasy. Certain parts of the story were predictable; however, this did not bother me since I felt that these occurrences were supposed to be clear to everyone but the characters. It did not feel like a case of the author thinking "Aha! I am so clever and nobody will guess what I am doing!" while all the readers are thinking "This guy thinks he's being so smart but any moron would be able to tell where this story is headed." I did not care that I was not shocked when the characters were surprised at new knowledge but just enjoyed watching events unfold and reading about how they reacted.

On the subject of the characters, I loved Joby, Laura, God, Gabriel, Michael, and even Lucifer, whose interactions with God and his angels were highly entertaining. The characters were well-drawn, and developed as the story moved along, even some who may be expected to be pretty static at this point after being alive for so long.

This was not a fantasy story that had sword-fighting, a medieval setting, elves, or any of the other tropes commonly associated with the genre. It was about one man's struggle against greater odds, the ways in which the Creator and Lucifer tried to outsmart each other, and the hard decision's some of God's people/angels had to make with a little bit of philosophy on free will thrown in. The Book of Joby is a diverse book that will make you feel anger, joy, or despair at times, but keeps you smiling with the bits of humor that are weaved throughout the book.

The prose was fairly straightforward but it contained a larger vocabulary than a lot of books I've read recently and had several turns of phrase that made it quite enjoyable.

I would highly recommend The Book of Joby to anyone who enjoys a good book, especially if they are tired of reading generic, mundane fantasy and would like a more thoughtful story to read.


Other opinions on this book:


Tia Nevitt said...

I think your review was right-on. I loved The Book of Joby and I think it was one of the most unique books I've ever read despite, as you pointed out, its use of familiar stories. Just goes to show that no idea is ever new!

I found your site at Jeff's index; sorry I missed it before!

Kristen said...

Thanks, Tia. It was a very engaging story and I will definitely be getting Mark Ferrari's next book!

Anonymous said...

Hi Kristen!

I just found your blog through Goodreads, actually. Thanks so much for such a lovely review of my novel. Now that I've found you and bookmarked your site, I look forward to checking out your other reviews!

:-) Mark Ferrari

Kristen said...

Hi Mark!

It's a little late now since I did not receive the usual email reminder about having a new comment and only saw your comment just now. Thanks so much for stopping by! I loved The Book of Joby and am looking forward to reading your next novel.

Anastasia said...

I finally read this book last night. Almost all in one night, too. I'm afraid I didn't love it the way you did. For one, it's sooo long. When Joby came to Taubault, the story actually slowed down, and then went on and on. I would have preferred it to get darker, but I guess it's Job - he never entirely forsakes God. Except it can't be God, he's never a real Christian, he never forsakes his own meek, accepting nature, and that made him rather boring to me.

To watch a soul's descent into darkness and then back up can be very interesting. That's what made Berg's Transformation and Restoration, Lowachee's Cage Bird, Friedman's Feast of Souls, and other books in that vein so interesting. Didn't really happen here. I didn't love Joby himself. I didn't understand how Laura could continue to love and to want him (to date for 3 combined years without as much as an open-mouth kiss? how is that possible?!). The twists and turns of the plot got a little cartoonish in the latter half. Also the religous aspect was a little strong for me.

It was a well-written book, and kept my attention for 4/5th of the length, I'm glad I read it, I only wish that, 1) it were shorter, 2) Joby young adult life and his failures, his struggles and the gradual sapping of his spirit were shown in better detail, then 3) by the time he gets to Taubault, he really is at the end of his wits, 4) the Taubault section is significantly shorter and snappier.

Kristen said...

Anastasia - I'm sorry you didn't love this one, but I am glad to hear that you don't have any regrets about reading it! It wasn't quite as dark as most of the books I like that much, either. I do like to read about higher powers trying to manipulate humans, though, and that was probably a large part of the appeal for me. Younger Joby was more interesting to me than older Joby, too.

Apparently, I need to find a copy of Cage Bird since I loved the Rai-Kirah books and Feast of Souls.

Anastasia said...

Here's a book you might enjoy:

"Mortal Coils" by Eric Nylund

From Booklist

Orphaned twins Eliot and Fiona have been raised by a repressive grandmother, whose more than 100 rules have assured that nothing interesting has ever happened in their lives. But when they turn 15, a surprise visit from an uncle brings the revelation that their parents are a goddess and Lucifer, Prince of Darkness. The twins, whose supernatural powers are just emerging, become sacrificial pawns when the league of the gods sets up three heroic trials to test their worthiness to stay alive and join the family. Meanwhile, the Infernals, or fallen angels, determine to learn whether the twins belong with them by tempting them three times; to pass this test, they must survive all three enticements. A hair-raising tale ensues, in which the twins’ powers grow as they face the six life-or-death ordeals. The immortals are shadowy yet dimensional characters, but the finely crafted characterizations of the twins sustain the story. The ending encourages thinking a sequel may be coming. Suggest this as a read-alike for Mark J. Ferrari’s The Book of Joby (2007). --Sally Estes

I came across it on, it looked interesting (I always meant to read this author's hard scifi) and it made me think of you.

Kristen said...

Anastasia - That does sound good and I've never heard of it (or the author). Thanks for bringing it to my attention. I've added it to the mile long wish list.

Did you see we each won a book signed by Catherine Asaro? I was very excited!

Anastasia said...

Wait, what, where?

Kristen said...

On the blog that did the interview.

Anastasia said...

I see now. Thanks, Kristen. I wrote to the blog admin and said that I already have "Diamond Star" in hardcover, so you'll probably get to read it soon.

It's funny though, when I first read your message "we each won a book autographed by Catherine Asaro," I thought, "It's too bad I already have all of her books." Last year I caught a bug, and hunted down all of the Skolian books in hardcover. I'm missing the mmpb's for the most recent 2 releases, but I've been really lucky in that I stumbled upon a few autographed ones, 4 I think.

I haven't read the fantasy though, so I'm looking forward to that.

Kristen said...

Anastasia - Yes, I did hear that I was going to receive a copy of Diamond Star. That was one of the three books in the series I didn't have yet, so I was very excited about that. Especially since it was signed - I have wanted a book signed by Catherine Asaro ever since I read Primary Inversion and The Radiant Seas last year.

Let me know what you think of the fantasy book! April sent me the first one in the series for Christmas and I read it earlier this year. I didn't think it was nearly as good as the Skolian books and had quite a few issues with it, yet I found it extremely readable anyway.