Journey of the Pearl by AE Smith (Review)

AE Smith’s story Journey of the Pearl is an enjoyable work of historical fiction. There are some good characters here and anyone who appreciates history, or a good story should like it. Of course, it is a Christian story, so those who are Christian readers will definitely find much to enjoy as miracles happen. Some of these miracles are right from the pages of scripture: the story starts with the crucifixion of Jesus and includes Peter’s escape from prison in Acts. Others are merely a part of this story, for, after all, Acts tells us the disciples performed many miracles.

I really was able to enjoy the story when I began to think of it as taking place in an alternate reality. This was because there are references to things that did not exist in the first century. Though these references are minor, the reader with any knowledge of history will no longer be immersed when he wonders how first century Romans were playing soccer and chess or how they knew what a violin was. It is odd because Smith seems well verse in the history of the time and paints a pretty strong picture of what life in and around Jerusalem might have been like. He does a good enough job that I started to wonder if maybe I was wrong, and I had to look up a few things to confirm they did not exist then. Again, this is not detrimental to the book as it is fiction, but I think the story would have been served with a disclaimer that the author was taking liberties with history.

Along the same lines, some of the dialogue sounds way too modern. Early on Adas is discussing “faith and logic” and later they essentially posit Pascal’s Wager. A few characters question God in ways to make a modern atheist proud. It seems weird that these first century figures seem well-versed in contemporary apologetic and philosophical discussion.

Speaking of taking the reader out of the story, references to events in the Bible also seemed off. Much of the story takes place in the months after the crucifixion. It is not long after the crucifixion that Adas (the main character, by the way) is in Caesarea when Peter shows up and preaches to and baptizes the centurion Cornelius. In the Bible this is AFTER Paul converts (Acts 9) which is probably at least a year or so. There is a reference to Philip the Evangelist with the title “Philip the Evangelist” during Jesus’ life which is way too soon. James is mentioned as killed early in the book (which takes place in Acts 12), but the Epilogue speaks of Agabus’ prophecy that a famine would occur (which is in Acts 11).

It is a work of fiction, so its not a big deal. Except that people familiar with the Bible story will notice. This is not a story that takes place parallel to the Bible. We meet the soldiers crucifying Jesus and follow one of them as he experiences all sorts of events in Acts. I think footnotes or a postscript or something were needed.

All that aside, what about the story? Like I said, it is enjoyable and many of the characters are well written. But I really wonder if there was an editor. Many times, throughout the story, we read a character think of something and then there is a flashback. But there is no break in the page or no italics or anything, as is common in books. Some sort of transition was needed. Likewise, there are SO MANY flashbacks and characters speaking of things that happened years and years ago. Three of the main characters all learn shocking truths of their past. It seems like Smith almost was telling too much story. The best parts were when he focused on Adas and his friends and what was going on in their story now, not the skeletons in the closet of secondary characters.

Along with that, Smith writes as an omniscient narrator, which is not my favorite but is fine. Yet again though, he needs an editor. Some of the transitions were jarring as instead of saying something like, “Little did Adas know there was a man lurking in the corner,” he would just all of a sudden change to the man’s perspective (“Bob was watching and thought…). The most jarring was when a character revealed one of those skeletons from the closet of a character, then the narrator told us the story! So, the narrator knew all this but once the character mentioned one part of it, the narrator could say the rest. It just did not seem natural.

Finally, I need to mention the biggest irritation which almost made me not read the book: the actual book itself. It is so WIDE! I just finished reading three straight hardback 1000-page fantasy novels that are huge. But they are not as wide as this one. Its bizarre as no other fiction I have ever read is this shape, its more the shape of a children’s story book. It makes the experience of reading odd. I do not know what the thought process was here (bigger pages = less pages, so more people might read it?) but it was weird. That is more on the publisher.

Overall, there is a good story in here. Unfortunately, it is cluttered with confusing transitions, historical anachronisms and too many flashbacks.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

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