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Book Review: The Watchers by Mark Andrew Olsen

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Abby Sherman is a young, blonde beach girl. She loves Jesus, goes on mission trips and knows next to nothing of spiritual warfare. She is about to encounter the forces of darkness in a way most people never imagine could happen to them. Why has this seemingly innocent young girl become the locus of rage for wealthy, powerful men worldwide? Something is awakening in her, an invisible force, a gift from God that must be squelched and violently annihilated, at any cost, as soon as possible.

In The Watchers, Mark Andrew Olsen thrusts us into the fray from his opening page. Readers are immediately confronted with the forces of the enemy upon the written page. While it’s not immediately clear who is orchestrating the attempts on Abby Sherman’s life, it is soon apparent that the thrust behind the attacks is demonic. After one attempt on her life fails, an elite assassin with his own code of morals is reluctantly recruited to complete the task. However, something seems amiss to Dylan Hatfield – how could this pure young woman be an international threat? Which side of this battle should he commit himself to?

Before I began reading The Watchers I believed this novel was a fictional depiction of spiritual warfare. I expected it to outline the invisible battle in the heavenlies, illustrating how prayer and other spiritual weapons affect the outcome of these struggles. While these spiritual battles are present throughout and provide an ongoing low-level background tension, they almost seem tools to further what is essentially an action/adventure story than the elements the plot revolves around.

Sadly, I don’t believe the depictions of spiritual warfare are accurate. While I did see characters praying for protection, rebuking demons and praying for healing, I also saw believers shooting demon-possessed men. Jesus cast demons out of men and led those delivered men to Himself, commanding his followers do the same. He never recommended their execution. Offering a man you’ve just conspired to kill salvation before he draws his last breath doesn’t excuse this behaviour. Attempts on believers' lives from the enemy – certainly believable and proven by history. Christians killing demon-beset men – now I have a problem.

I found these reoccurring incidents and wholesale slaughter extremely disturbing, particularly when the Bible makes it clear that while the battles before us are not physical, neither are the weapons we have at our disposal. It is this backwards way of waging war that led me to believe that the theme of spiritual warfare is merely a veneer, thinly applied to a typical action/adventure novel. Perhaps Olsen felt that spiritual warfare isn’t exciting enough without a few semi-automatic weapons thrown in; I disagree.

While Olsen may not write accurate spiritual warfare novels, his writing style does evoke a frenetic reading pace. The 416 pages sped by in a blur as Dylan and Abby dashed around the world, trying to stay alive and find a way to unite and strengthen a spiritual sisterhood of believers gifted with the ability to see into the spirit realm. I enjoyed reading scenes reminiscent of Pentecostal/Charismatic faith experiences. This is a worship style I’m personally unfamiliar with and these glimpses were fascinating.

Though Abby is clearly intended to be the main character Olsen — like many male authors — struggles to create a compelling female lead. Her male counterpart, Dylan Hatfield, is far more dynamic and likable despite his dastardly past. Olsen’s obvious attempts to create romantic tension between the pair fall far short of the mark, creating a forced, heavily plodding feel during these scenes.

Preconceived notions are dangerous, but difficult to avoid. Mine led me to a sense of disappointment and unease as I discovered that the author’s vision of spiritual warfare was completely at odds with mine. His conjecture in areas that scripture does not speak to clearly was undisturbing, but the apparent contradictions in those the Bible does speak to unsettled me. With Olsen’s gift for setting a break-neck pace and keeping readers glued to the pages of his novels there is certainly hope for the future. A book with a strong male lead and unabashed action storyline would best highlight his strengths as an author.

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