What Rough Beast, by Shawn J. Pollett (Word Alive Press, 2010)
It’s 253 AD, two years after the events of Christianus Sum. The evil Valerianus is back, and now he’s Emperor of Rome. He establishes his son, Gallienus, as co-emperor, and plans to manipulate him into annihilating the Christians.
Valerianus schemes to eradicate the Christians. But will internal strife destroy them first?
Many of those who denied the Christos under Emperor Decius’ persecution are truly repentant and desperate for forgiveness.
Some church leaders offer certificates of peace, affirming their reinstatement in the body. Others refuse. And understandably, these lapsi have great trouble forgiving themselves.
Damarra’s and Valens’ past suffering at Valerianus’ hands gives them high status among other Christians, and many lapsi come to beg for certificates of peace. Damarra writes them, Valens will not. He, who passed the test in the first book, can’t understand how another could falter—until he reaches his own breaking point.
Before that happens, a stranger comes from one of the Germanic tribes, with a message from the Christos: Valens is to evade the emperor’s clutches and lead a “clan” of 13 to an unknown event at an unspecified time and place outside of the Roman Empire.
The novel follows the assembly and journey of the clan, along with the military and political struggles of each of the co-emperors. The empire is under attack from many sides, including King Kniva from Christianus Sum.
The characters are well-developed, and their relationships add richness to the story. When good characters make bad choices, the reader sees it coming and understands why. Reader tension increases as we keep hoping the individuals will see the truth and turn back in time.
The lapsi make an interesting subplot. This is a new aspect of church history to me, and I can relate to both sides of the issue. Canadian author Shawn J. Pollett has done his research, and he brings the early Christians’ surroundings and issues to life.
The novel’s title comes from William Butler Yeats’ poem, “The Second Coming,” which trembles at the horrors that precede Jesus’ return.
What Rough Beast is book 2 of the Cry of the Martyrs trilogy, and a worthy successor to Christianus Sum. Watch for it in next year’s Canadian Christian Writing Awards.
Both novels are available through local bookstores and online, in print and eBook versions. You can find an interesting introduction to the “Cry of the Martyrs” series at Shawn J. Pollett’s website.