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Clarion Review

Beyond the Fire
Dewayne A. Jackson
West Bow (Jul 28, 2017)
Softcover $24.95 (556pp)

Beyond the Fire blends elements of fantasy and reality to examine faith in an unusual and intricate way.

Beyond the Fire by Dewayne A. Jackson is an epic and contemplative family tale centered around faith and love.

In a faraway land, Destry Cotton grudgingly agrees to travel to Amity to spend Christmas with her husband’s family. Once there, a blizzard sweeps in and prevents them from leaving. To pass the time, the family patriarch, Bill Cotton, settles down and tells the story of Amity and its heroes, including members of the Cotton family. In between Bill’s narration of historical events, Destry’s son unveils a secret that puts her faith into question. In now-departed Shingmar, wondrous events inspire hope as terrible wars rock the land, and people refuse to give up their faith. The historical legend blurs with the present-day situation and threatens to upend Destry’s life. Shingmar and Amity’s world shares little resemblance to Earth, yet it has a deeply ingrained belief system identical to Christianity. The connections are confusing. An unclear time frame makes it hard to ascertain if the belief system is an analogue for modern Christianity, or simply a similar religion in a different land.

The story’s settings are original creations, blending elements of biblical fiction and medieval fantasy. The Cotton family and Amity are at the center. From the Amity’s origins to the family’s current struggles, everything is fully fleshed out and detailed, with faith as a key element of both tales. A question arises that applies to both the past and present timelines: whether it’s more important to blindly believe, or to have proof beyond a doubt of something larger than yourself.

The past and present connect in an unexpected manner that betrays its buildup. Cotton claims firsthand experience of the historical story, but aspects of it beggar belief. The sheer number of characters and events makes it difficult to easily follow any thread other than Destry’s.

The prose benefits greatly from polished writing including strong characterization, a rather large background cast, and lively dialogue. Characters, while they are numerous and difficult to track, pop from the page with individualistic traits and tics and realistic actions. Dialogue interjects much-needed humor, especially in Destry’s sections.

Destry’s portions of the story are the highlight of the book. Her relationship with her in-laws is rocky, a fact that unfolds as Destry finds herself drawn into their community. While the ending feels rushed and forced, it reinforces the importance of family and faith.

Beyond the Fire examines the importance of faith in an unusual setting through an intricate family history that blurs the line between fantasy and the everyday.

Kirkus Review

by Dewayne A. Jackson

Jackson’s debut is a sprawling, enthralling fantasy epic with Christianity at its core.

Long ago in the land of Shingmar lived Josiah Stafford. Shingmar was overrun by idolatry, but Josiah was a believer in the one true God, the Word who was there at the beginning. Josiah’s true belief, however, ran him afoul of the king of Shingmar, who threw Josiah and his followers into prison and labor camps, where they languished until they were led over the mountains to freedom in the new nation of Amity. No sooner did they arrive than Shingmar was engulfed in a deluge, God’s judgment arriving in a wall of water. Jackson’s new fantasy is the story of Amity, a kind of semi-Christian nation beset by perils from without and within. Stafford’s religion is decidedly biblical, but the world of Amity is not our own, and its history is driven by an intriguing thought experiment: what would the Christian Word look like if it were preached in another world? Jackson says that his influence for Amity—and for the Beyond trilogy—is J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Like Tolkien’s books, this new work began as a series of short vignettes sent by Jackson to his nephew, who was serving with the military in the first Gulf War in the early 1990s. Jackson’s other obvious literary forefather is C.S. Lewis, whose own fantasy realm of Narnia is built on the foundation of Christian tales and teachings. Like both Narnia and Middle Earth, Amity is a deeply fascinating new land that begs for our exploration. And like the works of Tolkien and Lewis, Beyond seems like the tip of an iceberg. It feels as if for every tale of Amity, there are 10 that remain untold. Jackson writes with remarkable clarity and insight. His characters are convincing and compassionate, and his narrative decisions are decisive. Further, he manages a tangle of storylines deftly, never letting complexity give way to confusion.

A skillful, thrilling new spiritual saga.