A Book That Almost Gets There: A Review of Pax Demonica
Pax Demonica (A Demon-Hunting Soccer Mom Adventure) by Julie Kenner (Julie Kenner: 2014)
Reviewed by Lee Duigon
I chose this book for review because on the day I checked, it happened to be No. 1 on Amazon.com’s Top 100 list for “Christian Fantasy,” and I was curious to see what that could tell me about Amazon’s conception of Christian fantasy. (At this writing, by the way, Pax Demonica is still No. 1 on the list.) After all, I’m always searching for fantasy novels that reveal and serve the Kingdom of God.
I didn’t expect much. I mean, really—“demon-hunting soccer mom”? Was this a joke? Author Julie Kenner is advertised as a best seller by TheNew York Times; and in point of fact, she is. Her books have also appeared on the USA Today Best-Selling Books list. And yet her demon-hunting soccer mom series, of which Pax Demonica is the seventh book, is self-published—which intrigued me.
My expectations for this book dipped even lower when I read that Ms. Kenner is also known from writing “erotic” (according to the cover copy) tales and “dark and sexy paranormal romances,” whatever they may be. She seemed a most unlikely source for Christian fantasy in any meaningful sense. Was Amazon.com pulling my leg?
So I girded up my loins, checked my supply of ammunition, and started reading.
A Miss Is as Good as a Mile
I think the saddest word in our language is “almost”—as in when King Agrippa says to Paul, in Acts 26:28, “Almost thou persaudest me to be a Christian.” The king had no inkling of the magnitude of the loss embodied in that little word.
Pax Demonicais almost a cracking good Christian fantasy/adventure story. Almost.
Because, you see, Julie Kenner is a highly-skilled writer: so adept, she makes it look easy. She gives you a fast, breezy, entertaining read, featuring well-drawn and realistic characters, convincing description that never gets bogged down in excessive detail, snappy dialogue, an engaging heroine, a lot of positive and loving family insights, and tons of fast-paced action.
But the theology that’s the foundation of the story is weak, and it gets weaker and weaker until it just collapses. Amazon’s notion of what constitutes “Christian” fiction is thus revealed to be superficial and ill-informed—kind of on a par with Hollywood’s.
A Startling Insight
To sum up the story, heroine Kate Connor “is your average, everyday mom with two kids, a husband, and one very big secret … she used to be a Demon-Hunter” (from the book’s promo copy). On a family vacation to Rome, she discovers a hard truth: once a Demon-Hunter, always a Demon-Hunter. Only now, in Rome, the demons are hunting her.
All right, we’ll go along with that and see where it takes us.
A passage on page 73 jumped out at me, and I must quote it:
“But I’d often wondered if my faith would have been so strong if I’d lived a different life. If I’d been another Kate growing up in the Midwest, going to church, playing on a farm. If I’d never seen a real demon and my fears about what might be hiding in the closet never came true. I liked to think that I would believe just the same, but I didn’t know if that was true. And whenever I met a person with true, deep faith, I knew that I’d encountered the heart of what made us all truly human.”
An insight like this almost makes the whole book worthwhile. (There’s that word again.) When our lives are running smooth and easy, even though the smooth and easy is the gift of God, we might take God for granted or even reject Him altogether. The children of Israel did: “When … they shall have eaten and filled themselves, and waxed fat; then will they turn unto other gods … and break my covenant” (Deut. 31:20). Is this not the very thing we see happening to our own Western civilization today—in spades?
So why “almost”?
Kate’s life is so different because she belongs to a secret Vatican demon-hunting unit, the Forza Scura, who took her in as an orphan child, raised her, and trained her to be a Demon-Hunter.
And I say “almost” because from here on in, the premise of this book gets just plain silly.
The demons, see, are in the world in human form, and the hunters send them back to hell by poking out one of their eyes with a dagger, a pencil, a high-heeled shoe, or some other sharp object—a technique not even hinted at in the Bible.
If the hunters don’t kill demons wherever they find them, more and more demons will get stronger and stronger until they take over the whole world and destroy it. One can imagine God wringing His hands: “Oh, I hope my Vatican team can stop those demons from overthrowing my whole created order!”
This is not Biblical. Indeed, it’s a sort of para-Christianity, cobbled together out of bits of The Exorcist and other movies, H.P. Lovecraft, and a passion for completely unrealistic, downright incredible martial arts. Just try throwing a knife at a demon while you’re rolling around on the floor, he’s dodging all over, and hitting him smack dab in the eye. Betcha can’t do it.
So the demons try to open various “gates of hell” so that whole populations of evil spirits can pour out into the world and wreck it. But the Forza Scura knows where these gates are, and squads of Demon-Hunters are always ready to rush in and slam them shut.
Sunk by Her Own Theology
In the end, Ms. Kenner gets carried away by her premise, and by then we know exactly what’s going to happen: the demons get their eyes poked out and once again Kate saves the world—this time with the help of her teenage daughter, her husband, and a long-lost cousin.
At least Ms. Kenner gives us an unwaveringly positive vision of the family, without being sappy about it. You certainly won’t find much of that in most fantasy fiction.
But it’s disappointing in that the book’s theological basis counts for almost nothing—maybe even less than nothing, if you find that sort of thing offensive. After all, misrepresenting Christianity can hardly help but be offensive to the Christian reader. This is not a book that is going to overturn a mature reader’s faith, or cause him to lose his grip on orthodox Christian doctrine; but I would not recommend it to a young adult, or to a child.
For “almost” turns out to be a big word, after all. The gap between Christianity and “almost Christianity” is more like the gulf between life and death.
And our culture is increasingly on the wrong side of that gulf.
Topics: Culture , Fiction, Media / Arts, Theology