It can prove to be quite the challenge when it comes to writing theological stories for the young adult genre. From the recent stories that have been released, this genre’s audience has a limited pallet when it comes to the stories they will read. Dystopian stories and paranormal romance abound and, though these stories do carry messages of finding hope and light in the darkest of times, actually writing a story mainly about hope and light can be a challenge. New writer Joshua McHenry Miller took on the challenge of writing the first in a young adult series that not only has hope and light, but also belief and faith: Tyrants and Traitors.
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 an excellent debut. He created not only a fun story about light and hope, but also an insightful piece of religious fiction. While many may give any text with a religious focus as 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 excellent writing style. Each of his sentences flow smoothly into the next, creating a very nice experience for any reader. He uses just the right amount of detail to paint a vivid picture within the readers’ mind. His true strength, however, lies in the dialog and development of his characters.
Having crafted an excellent band of characters for the readers to follow, Miller truly brings each of them to life through the dialog they use as well as the development they endure. 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 at play throughout the story. Each of them plays a part and each of them has his or her own personality. Most of the characters are clever, realistic, and snarky; traits readers nowadays, especially the young adults the story is geared towards, will be able to relate to. What will make the characters so likeable is the fact of how realistic they become. In the Bible, many of the figures one follows seem calm, cool, and collected. Granted, this is not the case for all of the figures, but there are some who fit this mold. With everything Biblical figures endure, one would think they would, for lack of a better term, be freaking out at the task God had given them. Miller succeeds in showing this “inward freak-out” through his main character Niklas.
Niklas is clever, snarky, a troublemaker, and 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… 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 the perfect example of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth “The Hero’s Journey.”
Being a religious fiction, Tyrants and Traitors has an underlying message on having faith that everything will work out as it should. This message is commonly found in any religious text and it is easy to fall into the trap of becoming “cheesy,” meaning characters having long monologues on believing God will provide or conversations between the hero and villain of light triumphing over dark along with other happenings. Rather than in a “cheesy” manner, Miller focuses on these messages in a realistic manner. Being an underage underdog, Niklas believes in God, but has his doubts (as everyone does at some point in their beliefs); he comes across times of failure and doubts his abilities to keep pressing onward, but does so rather than giving up (as everyone should); 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).
Tyrants and Traitors is a new book by a new writer that is sure to captivate any reader of any age, regardless of the story’s intended audience. The story most certainly could have benefited from another run-through to edit the grammatical errors scattered throughout for a smoother read, but the story still reads strong as a whole. With a realistic cast of characters and an inspiring religious message, it provides an excellent introduction to a promising new young adult series. Miller accepted the challenge of creating a story for young adults that housed light and hope and has succeeded in that challenge, giving the younger generation not only a reason to hope, but also a reason to give talking to God a try.