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Book Review: The Hidden Flame by Davis Bunn and Janette Oke

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The year is 35 A.D. The beautiful Jewess Abigail lives in Jerusalem within the despised community of Christ-followers known as the Way. In her role as helper of the poor, Abigail tries to keep a low profile. But it is only a matter of time before she becomes the sought-after prize of both a Roman soldier and a Jewish merchant. With her guardian not heard from for two years, will she be able to hold them at bay? Or will she be forced to marry someone who opposes all she believes in and holds dear?

In The Hidden Flame, Davis Bunn and Janette Oke have written a story based on events from the early chapters of the Bible book of Acts. Though the book’s main characters are fictional, this story has us rubbing shoulders with Martha, Peter, Stephen, Saul and other New Testament characters in a risk-riddled and action-packed story about the early church.

As a work of Bible fiction I enjoyed it as much as any I’ve read. Familiarity with the Bible story did make me privy to certain upcoming events, but instead of spoiling the story, the knowledge ramped up tension (much like when you’ve seen a character commit a murder and you know who did it but none of the other characters do). The book of Acts is full of miracles, signs and wonders. I felt the authors handled the tricky presence of the supernatural well – managing to keep the integrity of the biblical account while making the events seem plausible.

There was one place, however, where I quibbled with the way the authors plotted one of the main events. Linux’s life-changing epiphany, experienced as he and Jacob are returning from arena, seemed to come like a bolt from the blue:

“Linux was filled with a shame so bitter he too began to falter as he walked. His only defense against life’s bitter dregs had been a cynical quip and a sardonic smile. Now even these were being stripped off.
Then, between one step and the next, it all fell away.
Not that his troubles vanished. But their ability to grip him, to clench him and blind him and choke his heart, all this had simply dropped from his soul…” p. 287

This sudden and unexplainable change of heart puzzled me and seemed like a bit of plotting laziness on the part of the authors. To be sure we have accepted all kinds of unexplainable events from their pens. But this seemed  like cheating.

 The setting felt authentic with detailed descriptions of Jerusalem at various times of day along with the sights, sounds and smells of city life. A knowledge of the city’s layout made the action feel rooted in reality. The portrayal of the lifestyle, customs and religious observances of these first century Jews made for a rich reading experience.

I enjoyed the way Bunn and Oke expanded and fleshed-out Bible characters like Stephen, Ananias and Sapphira. The authors brought the fictional main characters – Abigail, Ezra and Lunix – to life by presenting each one’s part of the story from her or his point of view. I found the historical and fictional characters alike interesting, complex and thoroughly explored.

The writing style is brisk and vivid despite its somewhat formal feel and the sometimes archaic word choice:

“The road traversing the Mount of Olives was still crowded with the people wending their way into the city. Linux and Jacob joined the silent throng and let those about them set the pace. For Linux, it was a decidedly odd sensation to be enveloped within a Judean crowd that paid him no mind… In truth he did not mind becoming mired within this motley group…” p. 286

Each main character grapples with the question Who or what of God, self, fear, ambition, bitterness, faith etc. controls my life? Forgiveness is another theme that keeps reappearing.

All in all The Hidden Flame does a great job of bringing the Bible book of Acts to life. It is Book Two of The Acts of Faith Series. Centurion’s Wife (2009) is Book One.

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About Violet Nesdoly