With a title like Maximus, who wouldn’t be interested and want to pick up and read this book? Yet, when a reader reads the synopsis of this story, he or she may be put off by the content of the story. Indeed, this is a religious piece of fiction and many readers know that religious fiction is a hit and miss genre, but readers should not ride off this book just because it focuses on one of the most well-known stories about Jesus in the Bible. When it comes to religious fiction, it seems many readers read it just so they can find faults in the story. But these types of stories are not written for that purpose and the debut story by Richard L. Black is an excellent example of this purpose.
Maximus takes place during the time when Jesus of Nazareth was preaching and performing miracles all the way up until his tragic death upon the cross. The reader, however, follows a Roman General named Lucius Fabius Maximus and his second-in-command Lartius Androcles who are assigned to travel to Judea on an assignment to discover whether or not the prophet known as Jesus is a threat to the Roman Empire. Upon embarking on their mission, the two warriors end up discovering more than they ever believed to be possible and must decide which of two worlds they wish to live in.
Sounds like a simplistic storyline, right? To a reader’s pleasant surprise, this story contains more complexity than the summary shares. One would think Maximus would be conceded given that he is the General of an army belonging to one of the most powerful empires of that time and then is turned towards the ways of God as the story progresses, but no. Black wrote Maximus in a way that shows a General who has fought for far too long and is exhausted both physically and mentally and is more interested in answering the many questions he has about the world, specifically about the religious beliefs of the gods of Rome as well as the God of the Jews, once he and Androcles embark on their mission. On top of discovering information that fuels his curiosity, Maximus finds an alternate life that could be his that has nothing to do with war, but rather with love and with a family. With everything the General and his second-in-command experience on their mission, both begin to think that there may be more in the world for them than just fighting.
The characters, as aforementioned, seem to play a bigger role in telling the story to the readers than many other aspects of the book as a whole, such as setting or the actual Biblical tale intricately woven into these characters’ lives, and that is a true fact. Maximus and Androcles really carry the story along and are the main two characters the reader follows throughout the book’s entirety. Though Maximus can be stubbornly indecisive at times and constantly at war with himself, this really brings his character as a General to life. Not only is he at war with enemies of Rome, but he is also at war with his inner emotions and thoughts that are going against everything he has learned to be true. And with him being so indecisive shows the true nature of human beings. We, as humans, are extremely stubborn and incredibly indecisive about many things, no matter what stage in life we are at. Androcles is viewed as a Herculean figure and is unsure about how his feelings towards religion throughout most of the book and this, in turn, shows the side of humanity who is unsure about what they truly believe in. Actually deciding what one believes to be right and wrong is quite a journey that varies in difficulty and length of time from person to person. No one person is the same in learning what he or she believes.
Stepping away from the characters, the way Black intermingled the Biblical story of the life and death of Jesus with his own work of fiction was truly enchanting and must have taken much research to have all of the ideas, both fictional and fact, flow together so nicely. One of the most interesting aspects of how Black wrote Jesus in his story was that he gave the Messiah no dialogue until he was brought before the prefect of the Roman Province of Judea Pontius Pilate. The lessons and inspiration given by the son of God through speech is left entirely to the imagination of the readers which is, to be honest, a breath of fresh air when it comes to religious fiction. Writing dialog for such a monumental and historical figure is tricky even for the most talented writers. With Black leaving it up to the readers to decide what exactly Jesus is saying to his people, this gives the readers’ imaginations a chance to take flight and think of how they themselves picture Jesus and, if they were standing before him at that time, imagine what he would be saying to them.
What made this book so unique was that, though it focused on one of the most difficult moments in Biblical history, it was the main focus of the story, but it also wasn’t the main focus at the same time. There is no surprise at the end as to whether or not Jesus lives or dies, everyone knows how that story goes, yet reliving once more the unjust accusations and the tragic death of Jesus is still just as emotional as if one were watching The Passion of the Christ. The reader also does not know what happens to Maximus and Androcles in the end. What is their true role in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ? For his first novel, Black has taken a risky, yet successful step into the published world. According to a note he wrote at the beginning of Maximus, he informs his readers that he is not trying to make them believe in things they may or may not believe in. Rather he is simply trying to tell a story that has been bursting at the seams of his mind for some time. Now that it has finally been published and is out for the world to read, fans of religious fiction as well as readers who simply wish to experience a religious piece of fiction here and there should give Maximus a read. Though it may not be a famous piece of fiction, it is surely a story that one will not soon forget.