Full disclosure: I've never read any of the titles in the Left Behind series and I am not a fan of futuristic fiction. That said, I am delighted to share that I really enjoyed SILENCED, the second volume in Jerry Jenkins's "Underground Zealot" series.
To me the premise of this series is more interesting than that of Left Behind, and it's also more relevant. After all, we can't possibly know when Armageddon will happen (hush out there, all you Rapture predictors --- you haven't proven anything yet) --- that's God's decision. But the idea that religion might become regulated by the government, or even outlawed? That's affected by men. We can't predict when that would happen, either, but we certainly can see that it's a danger in today's sociopolitical climate.
That's the situation in which readers find Paul Stepola, who was an agent of the new world order in the first book (SOON). After the catastrophic drought in Los Angeles that affected all unbelievers, Stepola had met a man who changed his life and gave him the New Testament; Stepola also learned that his father had been an underground Christian.
Now catastrophes are affecting some of Europe's most important cities. In order that the new, secular world government defeats a world-class terrorist, Styr Magnor, Stepola is sent in undercover to infiltrate the Christian underground in Europe. Headed by the charismatic and aloof Frenchman, Chappell Raison, these Christians have been living with the kind of fear and danger not seen in the West for centuries. Stepola needs to make them trust him while maintaining the trust of European authorities and his father-in-law --- who, unbeknownst to him, busily is manipulating Jae Stepola to spy on her husband.
While the suspense aspect is interesting in itself, Jenkins ties in not just Paul Stepola's faith journey, but also his wife's, and this adds to the urgency. Will Jae, at first shocked and appalled by the idea of her husband's Christian heritage, care enough to investigate Christianity herself? What actions will Paul take, guided by his Scripture readings? Again, given the historical precedent for religious persecution, the premise of this series seems very real and very immediate, which makes the supernatural elements more plausible.
Jenkins is a seasoned pro at mixing in the mundane (dinner details, children's roughhousing) with the sublime, so that this plausibility is maintained. Some of the dialogue is a little stilted --- but perhaps the author realizes this weakness, since when the talking gets rough, the characters get going; they're off into a new action before the reader has time to be distracted. The end of this novel came up quickly, yet leaves a lot for the next installment. Stay tuned. . .
Reviewed by Bethanne Kelly Patrick on February 23, 2005