12 November 2010

Left Behind: the Mark

Read all my reviews of the Left Behind books!
1. Left Behind, 2. Tribulation Force, 3. Nicolae, 4. Soul Harvest,
5. Apollyon, 6. Assassins, 7. The Indwelling, 8. The Mark,
9. Desecration, 10. The Remnant, 11. Armageddon,
12. The Glorious Appearing, and 13. Kingdom Come

We've come a long way, folks. This eighth book is finished, and The Mark didn't disappoint for weirdness and stupidity.

The plot of the book, as usual, involves a lot of flying around and talking on the phone. But the current development is the Mark of the Beast, which the resurrected Antichrist Nicolae Carpathia is forcing everyone to get - it's a tattoo and a biochip implant. If you don't get the mark, they guillotine you.

The actual things that happen in the book are summarized easily: Rayford and his latest pilot buddy (quite a stable of pilots now!) rescue and convert Hattie. Buck goes to Greece and witnesses some bloody beatings and executions of believers who refuse to convert, and writes about it. And finally, David flees New Babylon, Nicolae's headquarters, and fakes his death and the deaths of several other believers (Mac, a new nurse character named "Hannah Palemoon," etc.) David's position as deus ex machina for the Trib Force is filled by an Asian computer whiz. And that's it.

Seriously. Pretty much nothing else happens. I guess I should be used to it by now, but it's just hard to believe that this entire book is about these four badly-written events. They're not even that complicated, but page after page is filled with worries and phone calls and discussions of which plane to take.

Nothing is even really advanced, except for Hattie's conversion. David is gone from New Babylon, but "Chang Wong" will be just as effective for eliminating any possibility of narrative tension. It's a lot like trying to read a WW2 history where Goebbels is secretly a Jew: as soon as any problem comes up, Hassid or Chang will just issue an order solving the problem. It kind of lowers any sense of approaching dread - the enemies can just be ordered to go sit in the corner.

Example:


“You convinced 'em, eh?”
“Totally. But I have to hand it to your friend. Not only does he have me on the international GC database with name, rank, and serial number, but he also has me assigned to this part of the United North American States. I'm here because I'm supposed to be here. I check out better than most of the legitimate GC personnel.”

I guess Hassid being replaced isn't too surprising. It has been a running surety that we can be assured that anyone who dies or leaves will just be replaced by a similar character - that's why there's a long trail of dead techies. As is best said by Tsion:


Tsion embraced her, weeping. "Praise God, praise God," he said. "Lord, you take one away and send one anew."

There is one big and surprising mistake: the authors seem to have forgotten that the bad guys knew it was Rayford who had a gun at the rally where Nicolae was shot. In The Indwelling, Rayford had to flee from Jerusalem and hide out from an international manhunt, changing his appearance dramatically. But it seems like they screwed up in an embarrassing way, because everyone on the planet (including the Antichrist) has forgotten they found Rayford's prints on the gun and that they looked for him for the duration of the entire last book.


“And,” Carpathia said, “where are we with the accomplice?”
“The nut with the gun?” Moon said. “We don't think he was Middle Eastern. Found his getup and the weapon. Matches the bullet. No prints. No leads. You're convinced they were working together?”

Whoops!

I finally realized what had been bothering me about the relationships in the books. It's not just that characters like Annie or Amanda appear out of nowhere to be love interests before being killed off in a cheap way to try to grab our emotions. I've realized that there are no transitions. All significant relationship developments happen offstage. The sole exception is Chloe's reconciliation to her father in the first book. Other than that, the other relationships are just written has having happened in between books or during the "15 months later" sort of period. Buck and Chloe, Rayford and Amanda, Annie and David, Hattie and Nicolae... their relationships occur offstage. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean it's really hard to care much about these relationships.

As an example, when Annie dies, we're told this about David's feelings:


David found some solace in Hannah's insistence that Annie would not have suffered even for a split second. But why couldn't the power that obliterated her nervous system and baked her vital organs also destroy the longing in him she could now never fulfill? No lightning bolt of any magnitude could extinguish a love so pure.

This is basically the first we hear about any longing or such a pure love, since it seems to have occurred in between books. Last we heard, they had a fairly jocular and casual little relationship eked out behind enemy lines. She was called his "love" a few times and he worries about her... but this soul-encompassing passion and pure love? It's bizarre and right out of the blue.

One more thing:


“I do feel that deeply, gents. Only I'm on the other side of it now, ain't I? I choose what makes sense. Man rises from the dead—he's got my vote.”
Isn't this anonymous fellow actually making the smart decision here, choosing to go with the Antichrist? Nicolae verifiably and visibly rose from the dead after three days, has united all the world and made Israel safe, and so on. He's fulfilling all kinds of prophecies and whatnot to these people's certain knowledge, so why isn't it reasonable to worship him? Ah, well, I guess God's not fair.


FEMALE CHARACTERS WATCH!
  • Annie - Dead, but a small loss since she was a believing woman and accordingly the authors gave her the personality of a grapefruit.
  • Leah - This nurse is deliberately and clumsily abrasive, to try to add some drama to the dynamic of the Trib Force. This tact is abandoned after one book, and she falls into line. Probably will die soon.
  • Hattie - Converted. Boring now. At risk of death, but less so because she probably has at least a full book's worth of being boring before they knock her off.
  • Verna - Dead.
  • Loretta - Dead.
  • Chloe - Converted early on, and subsequently married and now a mother. Has a very minor make-work role as the online organizer of the believer's trade network, but generally no longer matters except as someone for Buck to rescue. Probably certain to live.
  • Amanda - Dead.
  • Hannah Palemoon - Native American nurse and a believer. Accordingly boring. Probability of death unknown because of ethnicity.

Number nine is next!

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