This is a good book by an author I recently discovered. The story dances a line between mystery, horror and thriller, and does so in the best of ways. The Uncanny is a story about vocation, about freewill and fate, about evil and deception, all wrapped up in a well written intriguing plot about good people doing battle with evil. The good people, though, are like good people really are: complicated, sinful, and good. This state of being that Martin Luther called being simultaneously saint and sinner.
The plot revolves around an evil modern cult leader, who has discovered that a particular alchemist’s magic does indeed procure eternal youth. However, there are a few ‘catches’ the major one being that it must be regularly re-used and if it is not reused in time the user dies horribly. Now there are two parts to the system and the main problem is that a ‘blue crystal’ must be used for which the villain in this story only has a limited amount and no way of making more. This is because the recipe was lost… except that the recipe was preserved in a triptych of paintings that the villain is after. I refuse to go further into the plot because I believe that based on the plot alone, the book is worth reading. It is rather uncommon to find new authors who tell unique stories. By that I mean that if I can predict the plot and its major twists and turns after reading the first 10% of the book, I am greatly disappointed. In this case, the plot twists, but not for the sake of twisting.
The other main reason that I admired this book, and by extension its author was the accurate and well said portrayal of many foundational Christian beliefs. It is not uncommon for authors to write either without showing their knowledge of their faith (if they are Christian) or showing a lack of knowledge of their subject (if they are not Christian). Here, however, is a story that is almost apologetic in its depiction of mankind, evil, and faith. It shows beautifully or at least realistically several key doctrines. Also, for the sake of the fiction, it is important to note that this is done effortlessly, and without any pretentiousness from the author or out of character monologue from the character.
For one example, the book cuts to the text of a medieval manuscript written by a previous user of the alchemists system for indefinite youth. This sub character writes about the effects of the stone, and very poignantly about damnation. In his writing, essentially his last words, he reveals his knowledge that he is damned, and also his knowledge that with repentance, Christ’s sacrifice and love would redeem him despite his horrible crimes (and believe me, they are vile) and he rejects salvation, through pride and fear and loathing of God, and willfully chooses damnation. This scene shakes the reader, makes the reader tremble with the awfulness of damnation, and effortlessly shows the orthodox Christian understanding that humans damn themselves.
Lastly, the characters are deep, and yet the book moves inexorably like a train, barreling down full speed down the tracks of the uncanny. I do recommend the book, but not for the faint of heart. Although it shows nothing nearly as bad as some books (like Stephen King’s dark half) it implies many evil things. I think it does an excellent job showing evil as evil as it really is, without showing too much, or subliminally inviting the reader to participate in the evil. But still, the alchemist is very evil, and the book has an aura of frightfulness and, well Uncanny about it. It is not long, so go forth, buy, rent from the library, and enjoy The Uncanny, give it to your friends and there will be much to talk about. (There is a theme here for me, I think, perhaps the best books are the one that you not only really enjoy reading, but that you want to spend hours discussing later…)