There are many spoilers in this article, and they are unmarked but very revealing. Ye be warned.
Black, the first book in the Circle Trilogy by Ted Dekker tells two stories that I have yet to connect as thoroughly as the hero, Thomas Hunter, comes to believe them to be. Thomas lives in two worlds: the present-day Earth, where he somehow becomes the center of a plot to release and a plot to stop a powerful biochemical weapon, and the utopia that Earth will become if that weapon is released, where God is very present, and evil is contained in the lower hemisphere.
Honestly, I kept hoping that Black would get better. Like Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and other apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic literature, the plot of Black is gripping. With the world dependent on the governments’ belief in one man’s outlandish dreams, the threat of a biochemical weapon that will eradicate the human population in three weeks, and (in Thomas’ dreams) the threat of demonic, oversized bats, it’s difficult not to race towards a conclusion, to be dragged along by the intricate plots and schemes of madmen, assassins, unlikely rescues, death threats, and deaths.
I have a difficulty liking novels that rely so heavily on such fear and danger because I feel like I’m being tricked into hurrying through the novel; I feel like the author has me by a nose ring and is dragging me along with them forcefully. I don’t read because I want to; I read because I have to, and I don’t like feeling forced and rewarded with nothing more than more danger, threat, and fear. (I realized as I wrote this paragraph that a) I may need to reevaluate my own style of making journeys more interesting, and b) Rick Riordan frequently uses the apocalypse coming plot, but he rewards me with humor, mythology lessons, and generally victory and so his books seem to rely less heavily on threat, and I consequentially love their breakneck pace.)
Further force is employed by the ending, which is perhaps the most precarious cliffhanger I’ve ever read (if, at least, I consider The Lord of the Rings a single book). If I want to discover which world is real, if the virus is stopped, who lives and who dies, I will have to complete the trilogy because the book ends with no conclusion and Thomas at gunpoint.
What Dekker does do really well in Black is bring reality to fantastical dreamscapes and less-fantastical fictional realities. It’s easy to question with Thomas which reality—the Earth as we know it, or the Earth of a hypothetical post-apocalyptic future—is “real.” With his description of setting and feeling—perceptions, emotions—Dekker creates the realities of these worlds.
As Christian literature—which it very plainly is, the future world’s plot being a retelling of Eden and the Fall—Dekker escapes some of my usual critique of being too “preachy” by placing God in a dreamscape where he manifests himself most as a small boy too wise for his years called Elyon. Dekker has some very interesting ways of describing God’s love for the world and for Man, but I don’t think that for me, personally, his descriptions were very illuminating. Perhaps that was his point: that it is impossible to fully explain or comprehend God, but that we can feel his love without fully understanding.
Dekker, Ted. The Circle, Book One: Black: The Birth of Evil. Nashville: WestBow-Thomas Nelson, 2004.
This review is not endorsed by Ted Dekker, WestBow Press, or Thomas Nelson, Inc. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.