I first came across Alexander Preston when he advertised this novel in one of the Facebook Christian author/reader groups. I was intrigued by the description and the topic. I offered Alexander an Author/Novel spotlight post in this review blog to highlight the themes in the novel and why he wrote it. This gives a very good insight into the novel and the various influences that it is based on.
One of the very first things that I noticed about this novel is how well it is structured and written. Preston has a competent and confident command of the English language. It is not just the words he uses but how he includes them into his sentence structure. I have not read a novel like this before in this regard. I had to read the same sentence or paragraph twice in some instances. I used the dictionary feature of the Kindle also many times on each page and you appreciate this feature when you read a novel such as this. There were so many words that I have never come across before. When you discover their meaning you can see how masterfully Preston uses them to his writing advantage. This has led me to see how the English language can be used to progress a novel above what we commonly see. By saying this, I am not saying that other authors who do not write like Preston have written mediocre or substandard novels.
I find that when an author describes the body's physical reaction to a severe, even horrific situation, it needs to be exactly what the human body experiences as the reader can then relate. They may have even experienced the same or similar. It should not be depicted as something foreign or that the reader might think "what?". Preston's depiction of having Caster experience a physical reaction that only affected his bowels when seeing many horrific scenes seemed to me to be a bit unrealistic. I would have expected a few more physical symptoms such as diaphoresis (sweating), pallor, elevated heart rate (tachycardia and palpitations), dizziness, to name a few, but not all in every circumstance. Here are the examples,
"....he was aware only of a gnawing, cavernous feeling in his bowels....."
"It did nothing to dispel the hideous sensation that rose up from inside his bowels..."
"Caster felt a cold tightening of his bowels which sent a near-nausea climbing up the back of his throat..."
"His bowels gurgled in protest, and he was forced to divert his gaze and clench his teeth."
Preston wrote these examples in such dire, horrific circumstances, but I could not relate to this as a single physical occurrence to this stressor! I can overlook this as it is not a major flaw and does not detract from anything relating to the plot or the author's message. He at least showed that the circumstances Caster were in evoked a strong physical reaction to a severe/horrific event. This type of inconsistency can be easily fixed in his future writings. It is his first novel after all, and I understand what a minefield authors go through when composing a novel and getting it right, albeit for the first time.
Preston has developed the entire plot very well. There is good cohesion between the events with the suspense and horror of the killings. This is balanced with suspense and intrigue from the manipulation of science, the evilness and corruptness of the scientists involved and those in the corporations pulling the strings. It more than keeps you reading and coming back for more. Amongst all this, Preston has developed the main characters well, especially Philip Caster. I was instantly rooting for Caster as he was so masterfully framed for murder and his determination to prove his innocence and bring all to justice. Preston shows how military training can form the basis of this determination or enhance it when it is part of his character (as in personality, not character as in a novel). This manipulation of science brings up the themes that undergird the message of this novel. In the Author/Novel spotlight mentioned previously, I asked Preston why he wrote this novel and he replied,
"Harvest of Prey has been written as a kind of “modern parable” to illustrate the moral implications of certain contemporary ideas, primarily the more radical wing of environmentalism and the value (or lack thereof) it places upon human life. At the same time, it also touches upon the ethics of genetic modification as well as the philosophy of science itself (primarily the different approaches implied by atheistic materialism vs. Judeo-Christian theism). These have all been featured before in fiction, but few have explored their full potential for a powerful story. I’m hoping to break new ground by introducing a gripping, visceral theme of Good vs. Evil that can reach the moral imagination of readers across a variety of faith (or agnostic) backgrounds."
Preston achieves this very well in this novel. His presentation of these themes through the plot and characters clearly defines the issues at hand and the ethics involved. It was quite an education that added much more layers of information to the little that I knew of these issues. His solution to these issues is brilliant and shows a depth of research and much thought out and applied reasoning and logic. From this, I am reminded from the same Author/Novel spotlight of the influences that shaped Preston's writing and ideas, including the novels that these authors have written on similar issues or inspired him. These include:
State of Fear by Michael Crichton
Merchants of Despair by Robert Zubrin
Watchers by Dean Koontz
Monster by Frank Peretti
Rainbow Six by Tom Clancy
When I read why Preston wrote this novel, I was expecting some Christian/biblical themes or portrayal of faith in the main characters or minor characters. But there is none. Preston has deliberately omitted this in this novel and plans to do so in those novels that follow in this series. He has reasons for doing so, which I have no choice but to accept. He offers some explanation as to why this is so,
"Harvest of Prey is not, strictly speaking, “Christian fiction” but rather “fiction written by a Christian”. I’ve taken this approach for several reasons. The primary one is that denominational boundaries (and their accompanying doctrinal disagreements) can make the term “Christian” a dicey one. It’s fully possible to place two self-described “Christians” in the same room and have each of them deny the other’s right to that label. Calvinist Christians, for example, have fundamentally different views on salvation from, say, Roman Catholic Christians (incidentally, I myself embrace neither of these two doctrines – I belong to a little-known denomination with precursors among the Anabaptists and Mennonites). Also, Harvest of Prey, although it discusses faith (at length, in a few places), is not concerned with the protagonist’s attainment of personal salvation – I’ve omitted that particular element for the prior doctrinal reasons (I intend to use it, however, for a future historical fiction series set during the biblical era)."
Despite accepting these reasons, I am disappointed somewhat. The consequences of omitting Christian/biblical content, (specifically the protagonist's attainment of personal salvation and not constructing this as Christian fiction due to "....denominational boundaries and their accompanying doctrinal disagreements making the term Christian a dicey one") just reduces this novel (and any other novel for that matter for the similar reasons) to a clean read. While there is nothing wrong with this as such and on its own, there are novelists out there who are not Christian who also create clean reads. For me, due to Preston's reasons for this omission, places Harvest of Prey on the same level as these other clean read authors. I just question whether a Christian novelist should let obstacles such as these, stop them from basing their novel solely on Biblical principles, themes or doctrines. However, Preston does plan to include the "...issue of personal salvation" in a "...future historical fiction series set during the biblical era". I am looking forward to this.
I am by no means attacking or undermining the author by these comments, just giving my perspective.
Moving on from this, I regard this novel as a well-written, masterfully constructed, full of action and adventure, mystery and suspense, with controversial scientific and environmental themes dealt responsibly and intelligently.
Even though it is not written as Christian fiction as such or written from a Christian worldview, I highly recommend this novel. 5 Stars.