This month’s CSFF Blog Tour feature is a rare science fiction novel, written for adults and published by Marcher Lord Press. Numb by John Otte, a Christy Award finalist, is a stand-alone, though some reviewers believe there is room for a sequel, should John care to revisit this world again. I admit, I love the universe he imagined, but this story seems well-ended to me, and I don’t have any particular need to see these characters again. But since I’m already opinionating, I suppose I might as well get right to my review.
The Story. Crusader is the perfect assassin: dedicated to the cause, loyal to the authorities over him, determined to complete his missions, and completely numb. He doesn’t feel emotion and he doesn’t feel pain. What’s more, he believes God has gifted him with this numbness so that he can take up the sword of judgment and wield it against those his superiors have marked as deserving of death—heretics, infidels, traitors, and the like. Above all, Crusader is good at what he does. In fact he’s the best the Ministrix has.
Imagine the uncertainty, then, when Crusader discovers, first, that he cannot complete his latest assignment—to assassinate an engineer named Isolda Westin—and second that some Ministrix agent has set him up and intends to kill him.
His inability to plunge the knife into Isolda’s heart is perhaps the most troubling thing Crusader faces. Something within him refuses to follow what he knows he must do. But why? And why is he, the most loyal, most accomplished Ministrex agent, now a target of the very leaders he has served these past ten years?
With these questions at the heart of the plot, Numb jumps into a tale of intrigue, suspense, action, and romance.
Strengths. There is so much to like in this story, but I think my favorite is the worldbuilding. It’s a little rare, I suppose, to put the element that most often fades into the background as the aspect of the story I liked best, but for me, the sense of place, without being bogged down by a lot of techno terms or details I didn’t care about, made the whole story more enjoyable. I thought there was just the right amount of science/technology mixed with the right amount of facts about the governments that dominated the populated universe to give me a feel for what the characters had to contend with.
Furthermore, the inventiveness seemed believable—a logical outcome of the way technology is advancing and of the way governments are behaving today.
I also thought the central theme was wonderfully woven into the story. Nothing seemed forced. The characters themselves, as a natural part of who they were and the predicament in which they found themselves, dictated the theme. It was never delivered in a heavy-handed manner, though I guess you’d say the “faith elements” were overt.
I liked the characters as well, though I have to admit, when Isolda appeared in chapter three, I felt quite relieved. I wasn’t sure about spending an entire book in the head of a numb assassin, no matter how justified he was in his own mind for doing what he did.
The plot was exciting, built as it was on intrigue. There were fight scenes, chase scenes, betrayals, rescues, hypocrites acting hypocritical and spies acting nobly. There were plenty of twists though the plot never became convoluted. Important elements were properly foreshadowed, so little felt as if it didn’t belong.
But that brings me to the next part of this review.
- SPOILER ALERT
Perhaps the only part of the story I didn’t find believable was the sudden attraction Isolda had to first one assassin, then the other. To her credit, she didn’t realize that Balaam, who appeared to be her rescuer, was actually there to kill Crusader and kidnap her. But here’s the thing—she showed definite signs of attractions to a complete stranger. Then when he is killed, she quickly shows interest in the agent who defeated him—the one who she knows is there to kill her.
This tendency to be easily won over to a man could have been a character trait of Isolda’s, except she had no such response to the one guy she actually had known for some time and the one she had shared experiences with and who seemed quite willing early on to protect her.
In short, the contrast between the way Isolda reacted to Gavin and to Balaam, then Crusader, made her actions a little hard for me to believe.
- END SPOILER ALERT
Apart from that plot point, I had no problems with this story. The writing was straightforward, the characters well defined, the surprises plentiful.
Recommendation. I’m happy there’s a quality Christian science fiction novel to go along with the growing number of excellent Christian fantasies. John Otte has done a wonderful job giving readers an enjoyable story that also provides sufficient meat to chew on. I highly recommend this book to all readers. It’s a must read for fans of Christian science fiction.
As it happens, all John Otte’s books, including Numb, are discounted at Marcher Lord Press. However, these prices are only good through April.