Sunday, March 29, 2009

Last of the Nephilim

The most powerful of all the Nephilim rises from the dead, but whose side will he be on?

That is the question that is posed to the reader on the back of the book. (At least in the first edition. The recap was changed for the second printing, and perhaps this also changed.) What’s puzzling is that, once we meet this Naphil again, the question of his loyalty is never addressed.

Last of the Nephilim is one of those books that, on first read, appears to be weak. It struck me as a place-holder between the wonder that was Enoch’s Ghost and the sure-to-please finale, The Bones of Makaidos. Part of what irritated me in the first read-through was that I felt cheated. One of the major events in Tears of a Dragon, book four of Dragons in our Midst, was that the dragons and anthrozils had the opportunity to lose their dragon essence, and with the exception of at least two, all did so. In this book, several of the characters regain their dragon traits.

At least, I felt this way after the first reading. I have read it twice since then, and now I think I must not have been thinking straight. This book is far more than a place-holder; it is a fascinating adventure filled with conflicts between good and evil.

In my post on book two, Enoch’s Ghost, I focused on one particular theme of the book. With Last of the Nephilim I found this harder to do. There is so much packed into this novel that there is no way I can begin to address it.

I suppose I shall begin with one conversation from this book that caught my interest each time. Ashley, Walter, Abigail and Thigocia have arrived in the Bridgelands and are told by Glewlwyd that they must cross the bridge – the one Elam crossed in Enoch’s Ghost. (Eventually they arrive in Second Eden.) The bridge represents faith. When Elam trusted in the bridge, when he crawled and held as tightly to it as possible, the bridge did not let him fall. But when he counted on his own ability to cross the bridge, the planks were liable to give way. In the passage I quote below, Glewlwyd is the first speaker.

“The bridge, however, will never let you fall as long as you are a follower of Christ.”

“Even if you jump?” Ashley asked.

A sad frown wilted the old man’s face. “I have no answer for that. I cannot imagine anyone wanting to leap into the chasm.”

“Just asking. I’m an analyst, so it’s hard to imagine a bridge having a will of its own. It really can’t keep you on it if you don’t want to be there.”

“I will not argue the point, young lady, but again I warn you to beware of assumptions that arise from your earthly understandings. Perhaps the bridge would allow an insane fellow to leap from its grasp. I cannot say … But as long as you hold on with all your might, the bridge will never let you fall.”

It should be fairly obvious what doctrine has been addressed here. Mr. Davis has raised the question of whether or not it is possible for a Christian to lose his salvation (jumping to one’s death into a bottomless chasm), but he makes no attempt to answer it. He leaves it to the readers to think about and draw their own conclusions. Ultimately, though, the question of whether or not a person can jump is irrelevant. The point is that if a Christian has faith, then God will not let him go.

What appears to me to be the initial and most important conflict in Last of the Nephilim is something that is so commonplace in our reality that the average person would think nothing of it. Angel, one of the inhabitants of Second Eden, is trying to sort her thoughts together after losing the man she thought could be her Adam. A deceiver takes advantage of her and plants a seed of doubt in her mind. The deceiver tries (successfully) to persuade her to change a word in a song that Paili is supposed to sing, asking Angel to use the excuse that Enoch commanded it – an obvious lie.

This would not be Second Eden’s first rebellion. We learn in this book about a man known as Flint, one of Abraham’s students and someone who was very close to the Prophet. He grew prideful and rebellious, and when he openly went against Abraham’s authority, Abraham had no choice but to pronounce one of two sentences: either be exiled or be put to death by stoning. Flint had the option to choose either one, and he chose exile.

This rebellion introduced evil into Second Eden. While the proper human inhabitants did not lose their innocence because of this act, Flint’s rebellion catalyzed a change in the landscape. Some animals became fierce, and the altered tribes appeared.

Abraham knows that another act – a lie – would permit even more evil to enter his realm, and he does not want this to happen.

Angel’s lie creates the point of highest tension in the book. With this false word the Nephilim are able to swarm upon Second Eden, launching a memorable battle between good and evil that includes the regeneration of several dragons.

Then, in a moment which echoes a pivotal scene in Enoch’s Ghost, Abraham has to sentence Angel. That is all I wish to say on that matter.

By the end of the novel, the characters are being drawn to Second Eden. Billy and his father enter early on and are two of the regenerated dragons, and two other dragons join them. The rest are in hiding or gearing up for the ultimate battle which is sure to come in The Bones of Makaidos.

One thing in particular I liked about this book is that we are introduced to an “altered tribe” we can associate with. The shadow people were little more than shells of men, incapable of being understood. Greevelow, Mantika, and Windor are a family introduced in this book, and, while their kind appeared in Second Eden as a result of sin (I assume they are in fact "altered"), they should not be understood as the inhuman monsters that were the shadow people. This is a group that can interact with Abraham’s people, even to the point of raising orphaned children.

Last of the Nephilim is one of those books that I will re-read many more times and not grow tired of it. I strongly recommend it.

1 comment:

Galactic Overlord-In-Chief said...

Hi Kriegel,

My thoughts are much like yours when you first read it. I still think the story ended up weaker than all the other books, though I may change my mind when I read it again. I felt the story was overcrowded and unfocused. I thought a better title should have been "The Gathering" as that's what seems to be happening the most, with all these characters coming together in Second Eden. I don't even remember the titular Nephilim much.

But it was really the whole Angel subplot that I thought was weak. First off, I thought the whole arc was too telegraphed in advance. We had the whole scene with Abraham talking about the prophecy of the liar, how he'd want to dissuade someone from lying, etc, etc. That just set up what I figured would happen: that a good character would be talked into lying, mayhem would ensue, and said character would be subject to justice for his/her actions. That just killed the suspense.

Plus, it made Angel's story seem too contrived. It seemed like she was being herded into doing this. Her companion conveniently goes silent after trying a few times to dissuade her, then she talks to Enoch, who just sighs and says "do what you have to." That's it? He obviously knows something's up, but he keeps silent. Then, when Angel shows up with Elam and the others, now she's stifling her companion, which is suddenly very talkative. And no one at the gathering knows how to handle Angel's change of words, so it's a fata compli what's going to happen. It didn't help that the subject of lying comes up elsewhere: between Angel and Emerald, and then with Flint and Abraham. There was no subtlety at all, it made getting involved in the story hard. You've probably heard the expression "less is more." I think it would have helped here.

The dragons-regaining-their-traits thing seemed like a case of "hitting the reset button," though I didn't really disapprove of it. I liked seeing them all again.

- Jason