Book Review: Downfall by Caleb Ward

“Downfall” by Caleb Ward is a Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Fiction novel. I would recommend this book for adults with some background in the church and its theological debates.

“Downfall” is about three teenagers: Joshua, the only son of the judges of mercy, Namid, the only daughter of the judges of justice, and Dedecus, an orphan outcaste. They are all from a space settlement, Fides village, founded 300 years ago by the New Life Separatists from earth to create a new spiritually perfect world. One day, these teenagers find something called the creativity stone when exploring a cave. When Dedecus eventually takes it and unleashes his wrath on the village, his friends are left to pick up the pieces.

I found the plot of “Downfall” interesting and the characters compelling. The book is an easy read that propels you on. There is no dead parts and the various characters are unique from each other. I would have loved more descriptions of the world, the village, the clothes, and food. I felt that the author missed an opportunity to really maximize the fact that this is a new planet. Still, the story is fascinating.

I do have a reservation with this novel that makes me recommend it for a narrow audience. The discussion of God’s justice versus his mercy that is central to the plot is a very in house discussion for adult Christians experienced in the church. I have typically found that teenagers and those unfamiliar with the church deal with very different questions about God. The passionate polarization of this village between these two points of view maybe difficulty to relate to if one hasn’t wrestled with this issue in their own lives. For those familiar with this debate, the polarized village will look very similar to many unhealthy churches.

Also, having experienced churches who lean very hard towards each extreme, I see how this novel is trying to present a better picture of God with a third option: the complexities of Jesus. This message maybe lost on some readers who see the judges of justice as the bad guys and the judges of mercy as the good guys. The book repeatedly states that both sides are wrong, but really struggles to show the flaws of mercy without justice. The flaws of justice alone is taken in this novel to the extremes of abuse and even stoning a child (which is another reason I recommend this for adults), but mercy alone is only shown to be cowardly. In reality, mercy without justice leads to both universalism (everyone goes to heaven no matter what) and denialism ( they didn’t do anything wrong) which enables self-destructive behaviors and being unable to fully understand forgiveness. What I mean is that justice tells us what is right and wrong while mercy takes the costs of wrong (the natural consequences of self-destruction) upon one’s self. You have to acknowledge that a wrong has been done to be able to forgive it. I think the author knows this and may even full explore this in future novels in this series, but it isn’t completely explored in this volume.

Other than those reservations, “Downfall” may really minister to those who have been hurt by the church. The struggles of the various characters do feel authentic and varied. There are many theological reflections without being overly preachy. This book does resolve certain plot points, but is left very open to be continued in a next novel. I wouldn’t call it a cliffhanger (which I hate with a passion), but the story does not end with this single book. Therefore, I expect many of the spiritual issues brought up in this book will be developed more in the future novels.

So, in conclusion, this is a mostly clean book (no sex, cursing, gory violence). The main exception is the multiple cases of extreme child abuse being the main violence. For me, violence in battle is less disturbing than descriptions of child abuse and as a teenager I was unable to read multiple novels to their conclusion because that issue bothers me so deeply. If this doesn’t bother you (it most certainly does NOT condone abuse), than this book should be fine for you. I recommend this book for adult Christians or former Christians who would enjoy a creative exploration of mercy and justice in a new world with very compelling characters.