Black by Ted Dekker (Book Review) ~ BitterSweetLife

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Black by Ted Dekker (Book Review)

I picked up Black, the first book in Ted Dekker's Circle Trilogy, and watched as the pages flipped effortlessly under my fingers as if the volume's spine doubled as a camshaft. Translation: I read it cover to cover in about three hours. However, calling a book a "pageturner" can be kind of like saying "she's a sweet girl"--an ambiguous statement that in some cases becomes a backhanded compliment. And in the case of Black, I'm afraid it does.

However, there's a reason that Dekker's Circle Trilogy has sold thousands of copies and launched a massive fan website. What Dekker achieves in Black is essentially this: He creates a plot device--a story-shape, if you will--that is intriguing enough to quickly drag the reader through over 400 pages of fairly average writing. The concept: A man's dreams act as a medium between two, equally real, worlds. When he "falls asleep" in one, he "dreams" in the other. And visa versa. And in some elusive way, the two worlds mirror and affect each other.

Black's characters are not very nuanced (good-looking martial arts expert, anyone?) and the dialog is a little too real, complete with those "Seriously?"s and "Shouldn't we get back to our job, now?"s that make non-fictional conversations so predictable. Throw in some very unsurprising romances and painfully sentimental God encounters (and overly "romantic," in an Eldredgeish sense), and you'll understand why my eyebrows jerked painfully upward at regular intervals as I read.

However, Ted Dekker's dual-reality concept is a very strong one. That is why I finished Black and will eventually make my way through Red and White. I want to know what happens in the two worlds, and, more than that, why this particular guy is being shuttled back and forth via his dreams (there had better be a good reason). Also, there's the minor question of whether he can sustain romances in both worlds at the same time. Would that really be fair?

Using my new, three star rating system, I give Black one star: * Meaning, it has its points. If you're in the mood for a quick, pulpy suspense/thriller, pick up a cheap copy.

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Lindsay said...

Kudos for being able to finish Black. Last year I taught high school English and all the kids were reading Dekker's trilogy, so I decided to give it a shot. It was so bad, I gave up after 100 pages.

I look forward to reading your reviews on the others (mostly so I know what happens without reading them).

Will Robison said...

I've always said that the most important thing about a fiction book is the world that you create (not the characters, plot, dialogue, or anything else) because if you create a compelling enough world, people will fill in the gaps with their own thoughts and feelings. This sounds like the sort of "book" that has a real interesting world (not very original mind you, since I'm sure the idea has occurred to just about everyone who's ever written a story before). Please finish your reviews, so I don't have to read it.

The General said...

I'm more intrigued by your rating system than Dekker's book. Why did you decide on three stars? I have a friend of mine that introduced me to a very intriguing way of rating film, books, people, or whatever else you might want to rate. I can't remember exactly what it was called, but essentially it's a bell-curve scale from 1 to 10. The book you just read is placed on the bell curve with every other book you have ever read in your entire life. So, the greatest book you ever read would be a 10. For instance, I would give G.K. Chesterton's "Orthodoxy" a 10, because it is arguably the best book I ever read. You may ask how something could "arguably" be my favorite, and the reason is that I argue with myself. A choice few books would be given 9's, a few more would be given 8's. This would mean that most books you read would fall in the 4 - 7 range, and a few atrocious books would fall below. So, in the case of "Black", it sounds like he had a somewhat original idea, but for the most part the writing was mediocre. I would wager that ,placed on a bell curve with every other book you've ever read, "Black" would get a 4 or a 5.

An alternative rating system would be to place the book on a bell curve with all books ever written, but then you would have to speculate about all books you've never read. Since there are romance novels produced by the 10's of thousands every year, most of the books you read would probably be shifted into the 8 - 10 range.

Ariel said...

It's so heartwarming that I'm being urged to read the other two books so you don't have to... ;) that would take "serving your readership" to a whole new level. I'll see what I can do, though.

I've always said that the most important thing about a fiction book is the world that you create

C.S. Lewis made a similar point about the writing of George MacDonald--although I think the similarity ends there, where Dekker is concerned. Lewis' point was that some stories have "mythic" qualities that grasp our hearts and stir us, even when the writing is not great. I would say this is true in regard to MacDonald (read Phantastes)...but not Dekker. With Dekker, the plot is a clever device, not a great myth.

I'm more intrigued by your rating system than Dekker's book.

Thank you, sir. That's a compliment, although not a monumental one. ;) Your rating system is intriguing... I adopted the three star approach for simplicity and clarity, and to emphasize what I actually say in my reviews. Gotta admit...your bell curve would be fun to try.

Maybe I'll give it a shot in the future, just for fun. Yeah, that's it--I'll have a simple, clear three star system--balanced and accessorized by a sophisticated, complex bell curve approach. Perfect...

So at the top of my bell curve would be several books: Orthodoxy, (kudos to both of us), The Lord of the Rings, and several C.S. Lewis works, including Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce.

Against such competition, Black scores a 5: average.

Regi G said...

Dekker would get a five on a list like that? That's not too bad, then, is it?

I've been wondering, because I saw his books at the bookstore the other day. I love Peretti and saw that they teamed up for one.

I have to admit, I haven't always read with a great critical eye, but I did have my favorites, whether for a certain quality of writing or sheer cleverness in the plot (JK Rowling), even when the writing wasn't great.

I think Christian fiction has some of it's stars, obviously the classics, but also Bodie Theone (loved her older stuff) and Francine Rivers (who I've not read, though others raved). Yet, I think the genre needs to be taken back up a few notches...and I need to read more.

I talked myself into buying a complete works of Jane Austen the other day, though, which I plan to read with my stepmother, who can't read as voraciously as she used to. I also finally got my Christmas wish, complete works of O. Henry. Planning to read those, or Edgar Allan Poe soon? Rereading CS Lewis? Hey, is there a "Complete Works of CS Lewis" somewhere?


Ariel said...

Great comment, Regi, you bring up all kinds of talking points.

Dekker would get a five on a list like that? That's not too bad, then, is it?

Well, I'd say a five is very average, and Dekker's clever plot device earns him that. But no, I don't really intend a "5" to be very high praise.

I think Christian fiction has some of it's stars... Yet, I think the genre needs to be taken back up a few notches...and I need to read more.

I couldn't agree more. I was telling a friend recently, the downside of reviewing mostly "Christian" books is that there isn't a lot of good fiction to read. A few exceptions are Walker Percy, Bret Lott, Graham Greene, Marilynne Robinson, Robert Morgan...we need more.(I did read Bodie Theone back in the day--my sister loved her--and I've also heard good things about Francine Rivers. Lindsay actually has a Rivers book on Ruth she is supposed to read at some point...hint hint)

I also finally got my Christmas wish, complete works of O. Henry. Planning to read those, or Edgar Allan Poe soon? Rereading CS Lewis? Hey, is there a "Complete Works of CS Lewis" somewhere?

Great reading list. I'd read a Poe short story any time, given the slightest provocation and I'm always in the process of rereading C.S. Lewis. :) I've seen very thick, massive volumes of Lewis' "collected works," but I don't believe any of them are really comprehensive. Given the choice, I'd buy the individual volumes anyway, since they're so much easier to read (and look at) that way. But that's just me.

Let me know what you end up reading.

Regi G said...

I'm reading the Poe stories in order. I've already read "The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfall," and next is "The Balloon Hoax."

I think I will have to continue shopping for more CS Lewis. I will let you know, the next time I buy one of his books, which it is. I'm definitely more interested in starting his sci-fi, upon your recommendation.

You know what I find really sad? I've fallen down on my reading in such a way as I didn't recognize a single one of the other Christian authors you mentioned. *crocodile tears*


Regi G said...

Poe stories in order? What order, alphabetical, chronological? No, I'm reading the stories in the order they appear in my book, which may happen to be in one of the ordered lists previously mentioned, but I doubt it.

Sorry for the lack of clarity. A lot of things happen in a single moment, in my house. Usually, these converge on the moments of my needing to concentrate.


Anonymous said...

Pro- I could write on this forever but for your reading sake I'll keep is somewhat short. First off the constant action and suspense that Ted presents to us kept me thinking about it all the time. I could not wait to read it again. It actually kept me off the X-box long enough to read it. Another thing that I absolutely adored about this book is how he portraid heaven(the colored forest), and how he could actually make you feel the innocence in every living being there. But the absolute best part of the book is when Tom finds Elyon in the lake. This is amazing how he could take experiencing finding Christ to a whole new level. (El Elyon is another name for God) I don't think I've cried over a book any harder that I did this one. I always did get choked up when someone gives there life to Christ at church but this was beautiful. Just simply beautiful.
Con- The only thing that I didn't really like but secretly did, was how he ended it. Wow, wow, wow. Right when your getting pumped up to experience another adrenaline filled scene he cuts it. Just like that.
I can't get enough of Ted's book. In every single one he always can portray the struggles of good vs. evil in an even better and unique way that the last book. The only bad thing about Ted's books are that right when you think you've read them all theres three more waiting for you. A few more good vs. evil experience waiting for you to find the good of God in each one. Thanks Ted.

Fire said...

I don't know why you think so poorly of Dekker. Maybe if you had bothered to finish the series you would have seen that his idea is extremely original - the plot twists and turns and just when you think you have it figured out, another sharp twist leads you in a totally different direction. If you read the entire series you would discover that each detail is carefully thought about and is connected to another part of the Circle series, and suddenly you find that everything is connected in a big network that is, truly, the work of a genius. And the emotion crammed into the books reaches out to the reader and grabs their heart, like Elyon himself is speaking to you. Or that's what it feels like to the people who actually HAVE hearts, unlike you who completely ignores how phenomenal Ted Dekker is and how RIGHT he is about life - which he shows in his books.
Maybe read them again with a more OPEN MIND and you MIGHT see what I, and millions of others, see.
Also, in regard to your three star rating system, I would give him ten stars. I would love to see you try to pull off the same standard of work - that would be a major first.

Anonymous said...

I don't know what your talking about I've never read a book that better portrays heaven and God and Satin and all that, you obviously have horrible taste in books. It actualy Gives you an amazing picture what you think all that stuff could look like. I don't think you deserve to read the rest of the books if were ragging on this one so bad

Crystine said...

I actually recently discovered and read this book and I'm currently on the fourth. I have to say that the writing isn't the best but it definitely isn't rubbish, as earlier implied by an English teacher.

It's very imaginative, vivid in imagery and it has a unique spin on Good and Evil as literal, tangible entities. I actually did enjoy this book quite a bit though I found myself less interested in the present and more interested in the "Other Earth".

I can tell you the story gets more complex as the books progress and in book 4, where i'm about 3/4 way through, it does take quite a political spin. It's not just good vs evil anymore, it's the sheer politics of good against the politics of evil... more so it shows us how easy it is to question faith and doubt as time goes on and that it is easier yet to be seduced by the bells and whistles of evil and false prophets. It's really good spiritual reading (the books as a series)and I did enjoy them.


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