The Book of Joby
Author – Mark J. Ferrari
Pages: 640 pages
Publisher: Tor Books
Release Date: August 21st, 2007
In the past, Iâ€™ve been pretty vocal in naming Patrick Rothfussâ€™ The Name of the Wind (REVIEW) as not only the Fantasy Debut of the year but also the Fantasy Book of the year. I was sure, even when I read it several months ago, that nothing would come along to supplant it from that lofty height.
I was wrong.
Mark J. Ferrariâ€™s The Book of Joby floored me, absolutely. The concept is novel: a modern day retelling of The Book of Job (one of the many books that comprise the hebrew bible) filled with characters both angelic and mundane, sprinkled with a healthy dose of humour, a large influence of ancient Arthurian legends and topped off with a death count that would make even George R.R. Martin jealous. Itâ€™s an ambitious mixture, but Ferrari manages to pull it off in spades.
The driving force behind the novel is the main character, Joby Peterson, who just so happens to be completely unaware that he is the pivotal figure in a bet between The Creator and Lucifer. On the line? All of existence.
We follow Joby through his childhood: a wonderful, charming period of his life that brought back many memories of my own younger days and left me feeling nostalgic for more innocent times. As the story progresses, however, and Joby grows into adulthood, the novel takes a serious turn for the darker side and weâ€™re soon enveloped in Jobyâ€™s tumultuous, angry life as events around him are spurred on and decided by Lucifer and his lackeys. Ferrari spends so much time early in the novel building up Jobyâ€™s character and his lust for life, that itâ€™s impossible not to feel your heart crumble as the Devil turns his nefarious attention to Joby and those surrounding him. Joby’s tale is sure to go down as one of the most memorable and thought provoking stories Iâ€™ve ever read.
I should set something straight, however. Iâ€™m not a Christian. Not even close. But that is part of what makes Ferrariâ€™s debut novel so effective. He has built a story around basic Christian mythology and scripture, even going so far as to retell a story from the bible, but the story never feels like Christian literature. The Book of Joby is filled with characters, Christian and non-Christian, who fall on both sides of what one could consider the Good/Evil line and it never feels like Ferrari is ever feeding the reader any religious dogma or trying to sway their opinion on religion either way. He simply uses it as a device and a backdrop to tell the story.
No novel is perfect, though and beyond some minor stumblings of prose that remind the reader that they are reading a debut novel, myy biggest criticism of the novel comes from how Ferrari handles some of the connections between the earthly characters and the heavenly characters. Early in the novel the direct interactions between the two of them are very sparing and this is where Ferrari shines. Heâ€™s terrific at handling the subtle, touching moments in Joby’s young life. It’s when Hellâ€™s occupants begin to more directly affect the lives of Joby and his friends that I felt Ferrari lost a bit of his subtlety and some of the more frantic action scenes near the end of the novel seem to fall against the grain of what Ferrari set up earlier on. Itâ€™s a small complaint, however. The end of the novel, while not quite as strong and emotionally resonating as the first half, is still a terrifically satisfying and heart-touching culmination of Jobyâ€™s life.
Much of the story revolves around a small town, Taubolt, and itâ€™s intriguing residents. Taubolt itself could very well be considered a character, second in importance only to Joby himself. What really tugged at my heartstrings about Taubolt was how much it reminded me of my own little community. Much like many of the characters in the book, I grew up in my own little piece of paradise, similar to Taubolt in more ways that I can count, and have spent the last several disconcerting years watching as the outside world has finally discovered the beauty that lives here. Ferrari does a terrific job of capturing the feeling of the lost innocence and character that comes along with the invading outside world.
I mentioned earlier that Ferrari brings a death count to the table that would make George R.R. Martin jealous, and I wasnâ€™t kidding. Curl up in your favourite chair, grab a warm mug of hot chocolate and a box of tissues, because once you start reading you (and the tears) wonâ€™t stop. Joby and his friends are endearing and every hardship in Jobyâ€™s life leaps of the page, grabs wrenching hold of the readers emotions and won’t let go.
Itâ€™s always a bold statement to say that one book was better than all others published in the same year. The Book of Joby is an ode to family, to love, to perseverance and to friendship and I feel confident declaring that it is the single most important and endearing novel Iâ€™ve read this year. Go buy it, whether you’re Christian, atheist, somewhere-in-between, or something different altogether. You wonâ€™t regret it.