Review

PUBLICATION DATE: OCTOBER 15, 2011

I

n 79 AD, a secret stash of artifacts was buried when Mount Vesuvius erupted.  Almost 2000 years later, an earthquake cracked open the lava concealing the repository which held this priceless treasure.  To reach the artifacts though, archeologist, Silvo and his grandson Juan Carlos, must first open a bronze door sealed by a complicated locking mechanism.  Knowing they needed an expert to assist them, Juan Carlos contacts his close friend, Dr. Amanda James, who eagerly accepts their request for help.  However, once inside the chamber, Amanda discovers more than any archeologist could ever hope for—a first person account of thousands of years of ancient history.  Taking the reader on a fascinating journey through ancient history, Wayward Son is a great addition to the speculative fiction genre.

I’m one of those people that sometimes struggle to overcome inertia, which is why I rarely read 500+ page novels from debut authors.  Unless it’s an author I know I love, I have to psych myself up to start a 500 page book regardless.  It’s a personality flaw that I readily own up to, but sometimes it keeps good books in the ‘to be read stack’ for longer than they should be.  Wayward Son unfortunately fell into this category.  Now that I’ve read it, I realize how silly I was to wait so long.

This book started out a little rough.  The writing was fine, but the characters were a little too squeaky and perfect for my taste.  Amanda’s character in particular felt unrealistic, since she seemed to be virtually flawless.  As a result, she was never a truly sympathetic character, but rather a conduit for the story.  However, I very much enjoyed watching Cain’s character develop.  Pollack didn’t choose the most likable person from the Bible to begin with.  After all, since I was in first grade Sunday school class I’ve heard the story of Cain and Able and let’s face it, Cain is not exactly a role model.  Additionally, early in this book he’s not portrayed in a very flattering manner.  To take a rather unlikeable character and turn him into a sympathetic hero is pretty impressive.  By the time the story ended, I found Cain to not only be incredibly fascinating, but possessing a depth that made the closing scenes acceptable and enjoyable.

The structure of Wayward Son could have used a little bit more work.  It worked, but the spacing between the past and the present events was at times awkward.  For the first 80 pages everything takes place in the present, then the reader is transported to the past, then for some reason two days prior to the present, then back to the past, etc. and interspersed with flashbacks for different characters.  Everything does come together, but the flashbacks felt like they served only to make a token effort at establishing a future event.  It felt a bit random at times, almost like the present storyline was no longer truly important, but was still needed to close the book.  The telling of Cain’s life by far took center stage and it’s obvious that Pollack put a tremendous amount of effort into this portion of the story; this may be the reason the rest of the book felt a little slighted.

This is a speculative book and as such it’s highly unlikely every reader is going to agree with all of the material or the presentation of that material.  It also opens the door for knit-picking, since anytime an author attempts to fictionalize part of the Bible, they’re opening themselves up for theological debate.  With a couple of exceptions, I was pleased with the speculative aspect of Wayward Son.  One instance that didn’t sit well with me could have been avoided with a little more creative maneuvering.  However, in another case, I’m not sure there’s much of anything that could be done.  Regardless, this is a speculative novel and there is some suspension of preconceived ideas that is necessary to enjoy it.

Like I mentioned earlier, Pollack had to work pretty hard to turn Cain into a hero.  When he does accomplish this feat, it’s in a very impressive manner with an excellent spiritual message.  The title of this book, Wayward Son, is so appropriate and when it’s finally tied into the story, it’s with a grace and elegance worthy of the moment.  While redemption is one of the central themes in this book, there is another one worth mentioning—God is a righteous judge.  Since most of this book took place in a time where numerous gods were worshiped, I commend Pollack for slipping this little fact into the story.

I had my doubts when I started this book, but by the time it ended, I had come to really like it.  It’s not without flaws, but it a highly enjoyable novel.  My compliments to Pollack for starting with such an ambitious project, but I do think it was a successful one.  The ending to Wayward Son is left open to the possibilities of a sequel.  I’d be interested to see what could come next.