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Daybell, "Evading Babylon:Times of Turmoil, Book One" (reviewed by Jeffrey Needle) Options · View
Posted: Monday, August 27, 2012 4:59:11 PM

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Title: Evading Babylon:Times of Turmoil, Book One
Author: Chad Daybell
Publisher: Spring Creek Book Company (www.springcreekbooks.com)
Genre: Fiction
Year Published: 2012
Number of Pages: 159
Binding: Trade paperback
ISBN13: 978-1-932898-96-5
Price: $14.95

Reviewed by Jeffrey Needle for the Association for Mormon Letters

I suppose it will come as no surprise that we have yet another Mormon end-times novel in print. This is one of the most popular genres in mass-appeal LDS writing these days. Next to tear-jerking romance novels, the apocalypse seems to draw the most attention from LDS readers.

So, two questions. One: why another book, indeed another series? And two: does this title add anything to the bulging corpus of ink-filled pages already devoted to this subject? My answers follow.

First, why another book? Frankly, I don't know. It's difficult to imagine that any writer thinks there's a lack of such material in the Mormon fiction world. A quick trip to any LDS bookstore will verify the abundance of such titles. And those not available at retail outlets can easily be obtained from on-line sources. Clearly, the author, who is also owner of the Spring Creek Book Company, believes he has something to say.

And it isn't as if he hasn't said it before. In a previous series, titled “Standing in Holy Places,” he approaches the same subject material. But, as he states in his “Author's Note,” “Standing in Holy Places” covered a wider swath than the current series. He wanted to “add many details” to his end-times scenario, details based on events that have arisen in national affairs that were not available when he wrote his first series.

Having said all this, and acknowledging that Daybell believes he has something to say that, perhaps, hasn't been said before, let's move on to the second question: does this book add anything to the conversation? This is a more difficult question.

Let's start with a brief summary of the plot line.

Nathan Foster is a recently returned missionary who finds himself in the right place at the right time when, following the promptings of the spirit, he saves a General Authority, Elder Smith, from a mad bomber. Injured in the explosion, Foster ends up in a hospital where he has a strange dream, which he deems a vision.

All around him, Nathan's world is falling apart. The U.S. government has begun implanting chips in the hands of its citizens. Mormons are advised to refuse the chip, but resistance is becoming more difficult.

And now the time has come for faithful members to flee Salt Lake City and take up residence in camps in surrounding areas. Nathan finds himself at the center of the exodus, as part of an elite team recruited to full-time support work for the Saints.

To complicate matters, Nathan reunites with an old flame. She has become inactive, and is on her way out of town to explore an exciting job opportunity. Her presence in the story adds a dimension, not just to the story line, but to Nathan's angst over the rapidly deteriorating national scene.

By now you've figured out that there isn't much new here. This is pretty standard stuff for Mormon end-times stories. But there are some differences.

First, this is a compulsively readable book. Readers can cover the whole thing in two or three sittings. Without making any assumptions about Daybell's intended audience, it seems to me that anyone, from mid- to older-teen to seasoned adult, will enjoy this book. It's a fast read, and makes few demands on the reader.

Second, the author knows how to keep the story moving. There are no dead spots, no dwelling on background, no deep meditations on the meaning of life. Of course, there are drawbacks to this approach. Characters only dimly emerge as real people – you never get a sense that you know these people very well. You see only chalk outlines of the living. In this book, this is especially true of the General Authorities. They speak mechanically and piously. And they all sound alike. People have more depth than that, and authors should make every effort to give their characters that depth, enriching the read and enlivening their stories.

To be fair, Daybell does a better job of framing his characters – at least the main characters-- than other writers of this genre. Character development in Mormon end-time fiction is generally abysmal. But the problem remains – although I like the main characters, I'm not sure I know them as well as I'd like. There are a few side stories in the book that help us fill out our vision of these characters. I wanted more.

So, did this book need to be written? Nope. But this is true of about 90 percent of what has been coming from LDS presses in recent days. The needed books are few and far between. And when they appear, we all rejoice.

But am I glad that Daybell is writing this series? Yes. And I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the series as it's released. Despite my desire for a fuller and more detailed view of the main characters – a lack that may be remedied in future volumes – I like the main characters. And that's very important to me as a reader and as a reviewer.

If I were to offer any advice to the author, future volumes will be better if they take more risks, if they go off the reservation a bit. Give the characters more, well, character. Add some dimension and depth to the General Authorities. Give your story a little more complexity – make us work a little as we take in your tale. Readers enjoy being challenged. There aren't any real challenges here.

And, given the foundation laid in this volume, there are all kinds of possibilities as to where the stories can go and how the characters can behave. Daybell is a good writer. But he's tackled a stale subject. And if these books are to have any impact, they need to breathe new life into this theme. Daybell can do this. I look forward to future entries in this series.

Jeffrey Needle
Association for Mormon Letters
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