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in debut YA novel
A Brief Review of
Traitors and Tyrants:
Joshua McHenry Miller
Paperback: Blue Ink Press, 2016
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Reviewed by Alicia Smock
With the mass proliferation of dystopian novels and paranormal romances, young adult readers might seem to have a limited palate when it comes to the stories they will read. Though these stories do sometimes carry messages of hope and light in the darkest of times, actually writing a story that is primarily about hope and light can be a challenge. New writer Joshua McHenry Miller took on this challenge by writing the first novel in his young adult series that not only has hope and light, but also belief and faith.
The Israelites and the Philistines are on the brink of war, and Niklas dreams of taking part in the impending battles. What fifteen-year-old shepherd boy does not dream of fighting and becoming the hero of the land? His dream becomes a reality as he makes a covenant with a mysterious judge who gives him a mission: “Find the traitor hiding within Israel or our nation will be enslaved and your hometown slaughtered.” With a seemingly impossible mission thrust upon the shoulders of a reckless young schemer, will Niklas be able to discover the traitor and save his family and country from destruction?
Miller has made his way into the writing world with this memorable debut, Tyrants and Traitors. He created not only a fun story about light and hope, but also an insightful work of fiction with religious underpinnings. While many may not give any text with a religious focus much of a chance as a fantasy or romance story, Tyrants and Traitors is one such religious story readers young and old will want to pick up. It is the first in The Lion’s Dynasty series, and what an introduction it is. Miller’s world and characters are brought to life through his superb writing, stirring the imagination of any reader. He uses just the right amount of detail to paint a vivid picture within the readers’ mind; however, his true strength lies in the dialogue and development of his characters.
It is amazing what Miller does with his characters, for while his main focus is on his teenage troublemaker, there are so many other characters woven throughout the story. Each of his characters has been carefully crafted, and each plays an important role, with his or her own personality. Most of the characters are clever, realistic, and snarky; traits that contemporary readers, especially the young adults toward whom the story is geared, will be able to relate to. Miller’s realistic portrayal of his characters renders them especially likeable.
In the Bible, many of the figures one follows seem calm, cool, and collected. (Granted, not everyone, but many are). With everything that biblical figures endure, one would think they would be freaking out at the task God had given them. Miller succeeds in showing this “inward freak-out” through his main character Niklas, a clever and snarky troublemaker. Of course he is a troublemaker, he is just a kid. At first, he is very excited to know that he will become the hero of Israel; however, that excitement does not last long as he realizes that if he fails to find the traitor, Israel will fall and all of his family will die… certainly not what an aspiring fifteen-year-old shepherd-turned-hero wants to hear. He is the definition of an underdog and is a young man who teenagers can aspire to be like. His story is also a fine example of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth “The Hero’s Journey.”
Although Tyrants and Traitors wrestles with themes of faith, it lacks the cheesiness of much religious fiction, and instead portrays its characters as deeply realistic humans. Being an underage underdog, Niklas believes in God, but has his doubts (as everyone does at some point in his or her beliefs); he encounters times of failure and doubts his abilities to keep pressing onward, but does so rather than giving up (as everyone should); and at every obstacle he faces, he feels as if he is alone, but he is never truly alone (whether it is family, friends, or God who accompanies him in his struggles.)
Tyrants and Traitors is a new book by a new writer that is sure to captivate readers of any age, regardless of the story’s intended YA audience. With a realistic cast of characters and an inspiring religious message, it provides an excellent introduction to a promising new YA series. Miller accepted the challenge of creating a story for young adults that housed light and hope and has succeeded in that challenge, giving younger generations not only a reason to hope, but also a reason to give talking to God a try.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com