Thursday, November 1, 2007

THE BOOK OF JOBY by Mark J. Ferrari

THE BOOK OF JOBY by Mark J. Ferrari is a wonderful debut. It is funny, touching, gripping, infuriating and unforgettable. Did I sneak an "infuriating" in there? I think all good books are occasionally infuriating, and this book is no exception.

It begins with a wager that has taken place before. Lucifer wants to wager all of creation on the downfall of a single man. God has a caveat: he gets to choose the man. Or rather, the boy.

The opening chapters -- even after the wager goes into effect -- are joyous. Joby appears to be defeating all of Lucifer's best-laid plans. He forms a Roundtable club, based on King Arthur's roundtable, and all the boys in the school -- even sixth-graders! -- want to be a part of it. One girl, named Laura, gets in first as the Roundtable's Damsel in Distress (because she broke her arm spying on them), then as a full-fledged knight (because she took on the school bully, who is a demon in disguise). Joby even starts to take an interest in religion.

Laura and Ben are Joby's best friends. However, his ties to them go far deeper than any of them suspect.

Things start getting tough for Joby after the breakup of his Roundtable at the hands of Lucifer's minions. Lucifer then sets his efforts to denying Joby the greatness that he seems destined for. He fills Joby's life with pointless endeavors and ensures that he fails at just about everything he tries. High school has it tumults, and the three-way friendship between Joby, Ben and Laura turns into a love triangle similar to Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere's.

I would be very surprised if Ferrari were not a fan of T. H. White's The Once and Future King. I've mentioned this novel before; it is one of my favorite of all time. In White's novel, the rivalry between Lancelot and Arthur never fully destroys their friendship. I see seeds of that in Ferrari's novel.

Joby grows up and seems doomed to mediocrity. Despite Lucifer's best efforts, he does manage to get a degree in English. Then, he goes to Taubolt, where he finds a haven even from Lucifer. There, Joby becomes a teacher. Taubolt is the reason that we don't spend the entire novel mired in misery. It is a magical place, and the reason for its magic is clearly explained by the end of the novel. It is Avalon, although it is never called by that name in the novel.

The rest of the novel takes place almost entirely in Taubolt and the surrounding wilderness. There, Joby eventually has his confrontation with Lucifer. None of it is in the least bit predictable. This book follows no formula that I can recall. One truly must keep reading to find out what happens next. I went to bed late on more than one occasion because I wanted to read "just a little bit more".

And now, the nitpicks. One is that some of the characters occasionally made mistakes that seemed to serve no purpose other than to advance the plot. I know that people make mistakes, but some of them were incomprehensible. At one point, an angel seemed terrified of following God's clearly worded instructions, resulting in a mistake that played right into Lucifer's plans. To be fair, the demons made plenty of mistakes as well, so maybe Ferrari was just trying to be balanced.

Lucifer's last gambit seemed a work of desperation. I don't think it should have come even close to working. I kept wincing and thinking to myself, "Surely Joby's not falling for this!" However, Joby did fall for it. Given Joby's trusting nature (especially where kids are concerned), I suppose that isn't really surprising, but it didn't make it any easier to read.

Despite the above, the book hardly left my hands through most of last weekend. My husband was quite the book widower.

I think Christians will enjoy it, although it could not pass for a Christian novel. Ferrari uses the Christian themes as the seed for his story, but it contains no proselytizing message. Indeed, Joby hardly breathes a prayer throughout the entire book. God is portrayed as warm, humorous and occasionally wrathful. The three angels, Gabriel, Michael and Raphael, each have distinct personalities (although I wish I could have seen more of Raphael) and the demons are a delightfully evil, bickering, backstabbing bunch.

On the whole it is an imaginative work, crafted with obvious love. The ending was great -- just the sort of ending that I like. It was pure magic from cover to cover. It will take you away, but it never leaves our world. It is the type of book that will leave you thinking. And, it will leave you wondering what on earth the author could possibly think of next. Highly recommended!


Robert said...

Excellent! I'm so glad that other people are enjoying the book as much as I did :D

Tia said...

I think it would be very difficut to NOT enjoy this book!

Chris, The Book Swede said...

Ditto what Robert said! (I do seem to be "ditto-ing" Robert a lot lately, but I'm very glad you enjoyed it, too :)

Chris, The Book Swede said...

I've just got Mark to do a Quote of the Week, which was really fun, and Mark has given a great response :D