UK Christian Bookshops Directory: Christian Book Reviews: Wormwood
Wormwood Wormwood

G P Taylor
ISBN 9780571221509 (0571221505)
Faber & Faber, 2004

Category: Fiction
Subcategory: Teenage & Children's

If there's one word that could be said to sum up this book, it's ominous. G P Taylor is a master of purple prose, his sentences brimming with menace, leaving the reader in no doubt that evil stalks the land and fills the skies and rats are crawling under the floorboards.

Or perhaps that should be flawboards? Because there are no heroes in this story, only shabby, shallow and slippery characters living in similarly squalid conditions, either committing despicable deeds or dreaming them up... and even those whose lot is better somehow seem to defile the atmosphere with their self-seeking attitudes.

Rather than building his characters up, Taylor seems to be out to assassinate them. Blake, a self-attested scientist, is obsessed with a secret book of magic and can't distinguish science from magic. Agetta, Blake's maidservant and a petty thief, is as fickle in her friendships as a fly flitting from one dungheap to another — unaware of her own nature, uncertain about the dung. A mix of others, vigilante angels, demons and humans (dead and alive), all unstable yet unrelenting in their passions, combine with biblical allusions to show us humanity at its worst:

Blake felt the angel's hot breath blast his skin, pushing him backwards, as tongues of fire shot from the angel's mouth and engulfed him in bright orange smoke. 'The best that you can aspire to in your own strength is like dirty rags to us. Humanity has no goodness within itself — that is a delusion of the faithless, the blind that lead the blind. Your noses are so far into the dirt that this world is all you see and you tremble with fear when it is being taken from you. Open your eyes, you ape of Eden, and see what is really happening.' The angel suddenly lashed out at Blake with his boot and kicked him with a shattering blow to his backside. (p.260)

A Christian alternative to Harry Potter or His Dark Materials? Maybe. There's certainly some sort of Christian message struggling to emerge from the story, with plenty of biblical allusions, and even suggestions of grace. Overall, however, there's too much attention to the dark side for my liking. There are certainly times when the human race seems to be in need of a boot up the backside, and perhaps a few more Tayloresque angels are what's needed to help solve the world's problems, but I'm not convinced that humanity is as far gone as Taylor shows it.

That aside, it's a gripping yarn and what Taylor lacks in style he makes up for in pace. If you start this book, you'll have to finish it — if it doesn't finish you first. They're dangerous things, books, but not, it seems, as dangerous as angels.

Phil Groom, August 2004

Phil Groom is this site's Webmaster and Reviews Editor. He's a freelance blogger, writer and web developer who spent ten years managing the bookshop at London School of Theology alongside eight years writing web reviews for Christian Marketplace magazine before he came to his senses and went independent. You can find him on facebook or follow him on twitter @notbovvered.

Faber & Faber

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