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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

"The Book of Joby" by Mark J. Ferrari

Official Mark J. Ferrari Website
Order “The Book of JobyHERE
Read Excerpts HERE


Despite a great love for fantasy literature (J.R.R. Tolkien’sThe Hobbit”, Ursula K. Le Guin, Orson Scott Card, Lois McMaster Bujold, John Crowley, T.H. White, et cetera) and writing, Mark J. Ferrari instead pursued a career as a professional artist, doing freelance illustration for such clients as Lucasfilm, Lucas Arts Games, Industrial Light & Magic, Electronic Arts, Tor, Ace, New American Library, The Science Fiction Book Club and so on. After seventeen years working as a fantasy illustrator, Mr. Ferrari decided it was time to embrace his other passion as a writer, completing his marvelous first novel “The Book of Joby”, which, with apologies to Patrick Rothfuss’The Name of the Wind” and David Anthony Durham’sAcacia”, could be the fantasy debut of the year…

While the Old Testament’s Book of Job has been modernized before—Robert A. Heinlein'sJob: A Comedy of Justice”, James Morrow’sBlameless In Abaddon”, David Adam Richard’sMercy Among the Children”—it’s a story that never gets old, and Mark J. Ferrari’sThe Book of Joby”, not only does the original justice, but it adds its own spin to the mythos. For those unfamiliar with the classic tale, Job was a prosperous and righteous man whose faithfulness in God was tested by Satan who stripped Job of his wealth, family and health. In Mr. Ferrari’s debut, the story takes place in a contemporary setting, but follows a similar outline—God and Lucifer make a bet on the virtue of humankind with Joby the unfortunate candidate; Lucifer and his minions are given free reign, short of death that is, in trying to force Joby to renounce God, and proceed in making Joby’s life a living hell. Of course the author has taken some liberties with the story, such as God and Lucifer being quite active in the affairs of man, even going so far as disguising themselves as everyday people and ‘shooting the breeze’ in restaurants or bars. The bet itself is apparently a common occurrence, having taken place over ten thousand times before, but this one is a little bit different as the stakes have been considerably raised. In short, if Lucifer were to win the wager, then all of creation would be remade according to his instructions. The biggest departure from the original tale however, is the strong Arthurian theme that runs throughout “The Book of Joby” and the way King Arthur, Lancelot, Guinevere, Mordred, Merlin and the Holy Grail are integrated into the whole “Heaven vs. Hell” plot is quite clever and entertaining. Throw in a charming coming-of-age tale, a heartbreaking love triangle, archangels, demons, a magical hidden town, stimulating philosophical/moral explorations of faithfulness, justice & free will, and a compelling portrayal of the human spirit and you have the basic recipe for Mark J. Ferrari’s fine debut.

As interesting as the story is though, I have to say that I was most impressed with the writing, in particular the characterization and Mr. Ferrari’s prose. While the book is obviously Joby’s tale, the viewpoints rotate between a bunch of different characters—Joby, Ben, Laura, Lucifer, Gabriel, Solomon, Hawk, Michael, etc—and the author does a wonderful job of distinguishing each personality. Dialogue is especially sharp, most notably the witty banter with the interactions between God & Lucifer having the best repartee in the book. Also well done are the different emotional states that Joby & company go through, including happiness, compassion, love, despair, rage and so forth, which are all vividly captured. In fact, don’t be surprised if you find yourself bursting out in laughter one moment, and fighting back tears the next. “The Book of Joby” after all, is quite an emotional roller coaster made all the more potent by the author’s gift for conveying what his characters are feeling. As far as the prose, Mark J. Ferrari reminds me of a cross between Neil Gaiman, Philip Pullman and J.K. Rowling with some Guy Gavriel Kay mixed in, but to be honest, I’m not sure that’s an accurate description. Basically, the author’s style is quite accessible, but mature, and seems to shift from being whimsical to humorous to solemn with surprising dexterity. On top of all that, “The Book of Joby” possesses a fairly swift rhythm, and despite weighing in at almost 640 pages, it’s easy to finish the novel in a short amount of time.

In conclusion, I had been looking forward to “The Book of Joby” ever since I first read about the novel, and as much as I was anticipating it, the book far exceeded my every expectation. It’s a shame though that the novel hasn’t enjoyed nearly as much fanfare as some of the other fantasy debuts that have come out this year, because “The Book of Joby” definitely deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Patrick Rothfuss’The Name of the Wind” and David Anthony Durham’sAcacia”. In fact, I strongly believe that Mark J. Ferrari’s debut has the potential to be very successful, especially in the long run considering its wide-ranging appeal and accessibility. Apart from a few choice cuss words, I would give “The Book of Joby” a PG-rating and feel that young readers will enjoy the novel just as much as adults. Best of all though, “The Book of Joby” is a fantasy epic that is resolved all in one book! While it’s sad to think that Joby’s adventures are over, I’m very satisfied with the way “The Book of Joby” ended and I’ve already set my sights on Mr. Ferrari’s next fantasy, which will be another standalone novel. Until then, let me once again say how great a novel “The Book of Joby” is, and I truly hope that readers will give the book a chance since it’s one of the more surprising and delightful fantasies that I’ve had the pleasure of reading in years…

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have been greatly anticipating this book as well. Seems like a superb premise, book has good lenth and a lovely cover and I;m always into teh heaven vs hell struggle as well as Arthurian Legends. I just ordered the hardcover off Amazon.

Robert said...

Well, I definitely don't think you'll be disappointed with the book!

I'm so impressed with the novel in fact, I've just spoken with Tor about setting up a giveaway for the book, which will start at the beginning of September, and the author has generously agreed to do an interview, so hopefully that will run sometime in the next week or so...

Thanks for the comment!

Tia Nevitt said...

Now I'm glad I waited a few days before announcing this debut. Thanks -- an excellent review, as always.

Anonymous said...

It would be nice to hear some more in the interview about what his next book will be about, and when he thinks it will come out.

Robert said...

I'll be sure to ask Mr. Ferrari about his next book :D And Tia, thanks for the mention on your blog. Hopefully you get a copy of the book. It's a can't miss!

Bija Babe said...

I have just returned from a book reading by Mark Ferrari, and could hardly wait to get home and get started...! The theme of the book is so captivating, his writing style is so engaging - all in all, it such an original and unique experience. Great!

Robert said...

That's cool you went to one of his book readings :) I'm glad you're liking the novel so far. Feel free to share your thoughts once you've finished it! And thanks for visiting Fantasy Book Critic :)

Anonymous said...

I also enjoyed this book very much, but I think that "PG" might be a little mild, as there was quite a bit of language. All in all, though, a great review!

Anonymous said...

I do not understand why this book recieves good reviews. First, its picking apart myth's and Christianity (and only Christianity, no real understanding of the Jewish point of the Book of Job here, and nthing about its meaning in the Islamic faith) from the author just looking up wikipedia entry's on Arthur. Second, the Joby character is bland, predicable and way too whiny. The rest of the charcters suffer from no originality. The Devil is the only who seems to have a personality, a easy out version of conman/salesman. The writing style is long, drawn out and uses three sentences to say one word. All in all...bad.

Carmen said...

To the last anonymous who gave a bad review-the author himself stated that the book is not a Christian fiction novel. That said-it does make some sense that there is not an understanding of the Jewish or Islamic meanings since there is not even the intention of the book being religious in base. One can produce art of any medium that contains figures that are of a religious concept without the art actually being based on a religion.
Also-since you stated that the author is "picking apart myths and Christianity" in a FICTION novel-why would you care if it was based on real research or wikipedia research?
I am inclined to think that the reason you are bothered with the long writing style is simply because you do not have the imagination to fully visualize the world that he is expressing.
I enjoyed this book beyond belief and have recommended it several people!

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PioP said...

This was a great read that really drew me in emotionally. I've never been moved to tears so many times reading a fantasy book like this. It was a refreshing change of pace from the other high fantasy I've been consuming. The story had strong Christian-centric elements but I found that really refreshing. This might shock or offend some folks from certain Christian denominations. I was almost hoping for a continuation of this story in a series, which was half the reason for googling the book a day after reading it.

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