By Grace Gardener
One nice thing about social media platforms is being able to meet other Christians and talk about our favourite books together, even from across oceans. It’s very encouraging to me and it’s also helped me discover a lot of new books I never would have read otherwise. Many of these have only very small followings and have been written by indie authors. My favourite up till now is The Blades of Acktar series by Tricia Mingerink. If my fellow Christians hadn’t recommended them to me, I’d probably have passed it by (sorry but the covers are not that appealing). I’m so glad I didn’t!
The Blades of Acktar is set in a medievalish country called Acktar. It is ruled by a ruthless tyrant called Respen Felix. Keeping the people in line are his feared Blades: a group of assassins trained to show no mercy. When Third Blade Leith Torren is wounded during a mission, he stumbles upon the house of the very people he is supposed to kill. Instead of kicking him out into a snowstorm, they help him. It causes an early onset of midlife crisis in poor Leith, and he returns to his king in a state of utter confusion. This sets off a range of events in which we find out about rebellions, secret underground churches, and iffy plots. Respen is bent on murdering every last noble that dares to resist him, and Leith is caught right in the middle.
Books 1 through 3 (Dare, Deny and Defy) are where the main story of defeating Respen takes place. After that comes book 3.5 (Destroy), which gives backstory to a major spoiler character. It and book 4 (Deliver) have the most gory violence. Deliver ties up some plot lines and character arcs that were left dangling in Defy. There is also a very short prequel, Deal, about how Leith got into the Blades. Lastly, we have book 5: Decree. It finally resolves all main plot lines. Other than that, it contains short stories and more background to minor characters. Honestly, at this point it reminds me of when you’re done with a painting but you don’t want to stop, so you continue and ruin the painting with too many touches. The series should have been wrapped up in book 4. It’s slowly becoming Ranger’s Apprentice. And that’s a fine format, but it’s not the way the series started out. In fact, there’s two more books coming out. Personally, I say the author should leave well enough alone.
For an age rating I would definitely give this book a 16+ due to the violence. It’s about assassins and murders, and the depiction of wounds is quite realistic. You can expect burns, cuts, arrow and sword wounds, whipping, decapitation, throat-cutting, etc. Another reason for the age restriction is because of sexual content: the standards are all Christian, but – especially in Destroy – topics like rape and consent are dealt with.
Personally, I had some doctrinal differences with the books: first of all, the book claims God doesn’t do miracles anymore. Not to go too in-depth, but this belief comes from the fact that there are seven churches addressed in Revelation, and some people say these seven churches stand for seven different periods in church history. According to them, we are now in a period without miracles. I think this is a bit far-fetched. Also, I know many people, including my father, who have witnessed miracles. Another standpoint the book takes is the idea that once you’re a Christian, you will always be one. I don’t really know where this idea comes from, although I have some verses in mind which might be the reason. Either way, I disagree with this because it leads to people saying that folks who stepped away from Christ never were saved in the first place. This seems strange to me: after all, hadn’t they asked Jesus into their heart? Secondly, while nothing can separate us from the love of God, we still have free will to choose. If nothing can separate us from the love of God, then how come some people will be separated from it at the end? Because they chose to stay away from Him. I think the same counts for those who left God.
Something else that really annoyed me was how a main character, Renna, was portrayed. Mingerink herself said that she wanted this character to be weak, because so many characters nowadays are amazing at everything and sometimes you just aren’t. Sometimes you can’t do anything to change your situation. At first, I appreciated this a lot. I really related to Renna for the fact that she can’t fight. When all the girls I ever read about are great at defending themselves, it tends to make me a bit insecure. What bothered me, however, is that the author didn’t seem to realise that Renna wasn’t weak. Yes, of course, we are all weak without God, etc., etc. But. Renna literally had only one useful skill that nobody even talks about. Throughout the last half of book 3 and the first half of book 4, whenever anybody says anything nice about her, they do it by comparing her to the “scared, cowering” girl she was before. Even her little sister thinks she’s a coward! I don’t mind when authors show that all our strength comes from God, but she only showed it for Renna, and not for anybody else. Renna wasn’t good with leading, wasn’t good with speeches, wasn’t good with trusting God, wasn’t good at fighting, and wasn’t brave. Now, these are not my words, because honestly I completely disagree with the last one. Renna was incredibly brave, forgiving, and sweet, and the fact that that rarely got a mention was very unfair.
By now you’ve heard quite a few criticisms of the books and might even think I dislike them. This is actually not the case: the only reason I’m going so indepth on these issues is because I liked the books enough to spend so much time thinking about them. So, without further ado, let’s get into what I appreciated about the books. One of the most important things in a book – to me – is that I can relate to characters’ struggles. This was definitely the case, and it made me more emotionally invested in the story. The characters themselves seemed distinct and lively to me, and the romance didn’t feel awkward.
A difference between this book and other Christian fantasies is the religion system: most Christian fantasies create a religion system like Christianity. This book, however, has Christianity just like it is in our world. It was nice to just have a fantasy book that is straight-up about the Christianity, without a lot of allegory to dig through. Mingerink can skip all of that and go straight to asking difficult and relevant questions about evil, justice and hope.
Other aspects that people might like are the map at the beginning of the book and the detailed battle strategies. Personally, I don’t care either way whether there are maps in books and I’d rather skip all the planning and get to the fighting, but I know this is something that a lot of fantasy fans really like to see. The suspense was great, and when we did get to the fights, they were very exciting.
Respen, the villain, is given a backstory and motivations, just like the main characters. This is always a bit of a risky choice, because it can lead to excusing a bad character or making the villain seem like a decent person. Mingerink successfully showed that Respen also was a human with emotions, but made it very clear that he was not at all a good man and that his past experiences did not make any of his later actions okay. I did feel as if it the humanisation approached the line at certain points, but that might also be because we were seeing him from the perspective of a very forgiving character.
Although I clearly have some reservations considering The Blades of Acktar, I had a great time reading them. They were suspenseful and exciting, and Christianity was unashamedly a large factor. The characters were amazing, and I could relate to them. The character I first started relating to did get treated rather badly, and I didn’t agree with all the doctrines, but on the other hand everyone gets appreciated in the end and the overall message of perseverance and faith was put forward strongly and beautifully. If you want an amazing fantasy read which will also lift you up, you’d do well to pick The Blades of Acktar up.