Title: Long Road Out of Ur
Author: Joel Thimell
Genre: Adventure, Mystery, Historical
Description per Goodreads: Something is rotten in Mesopotamia. A troublesome priest has been murdered; the pagan New Year’s rites defiled; a royal tomb is robbed; and a would-be grifter, Lot, is in the wrong place at the wrong time. His father, grandfather and cousin are each likely suspects and Lot doesn’t know who he can trust. Everyone thinks Lot knows where the loot is hidden and someone wants it all–even if it’s over Lot’s dead body.
“Long Road Out of Ur” retells the familiar story of the calling of Abraham and Sarah to the Promised Land through the voice of Lot. Yes, that Lot–the one who barely escaped the destruction of Sodom with his daughters–his wife wasn’t so fortunate.This is not a Sunday school version of their lives, and they are not alabaster saints. Instead, it’s a lively coming-of-age adventure tale crossed with a murder mystery and a heaping helping of social satire. Think of it as something like “Huckleberry Finn” combined with “North by Northwest” but set in the Bronze Age.
Lot’s comical attempts to con his way out of danger only entangle him deeper and deeper in a web of greed, betrayal and murder. From the fashionable society of Susa through the murky waters of the Great Swamp to the stone huts of Elam, Lot tries to run but he can’t hide. Searching for any way out, he battles evil giants, fake princesses and blood-thirsty pirates but his greatest struggle is finding himself.
Can a two-bit con man change his spots? Or will his past destroy him?
Can a prodigal son and his prodigal father ever forgive one another? Or are some wounds just too deep to heal?
Book Review: I bumped into this most unique book through a comment by the author, where he described it as a Biblical thriller about Lot, Abraham, and Sarah. I don’t usually read thrillers, but this one sounded so intriguing, I offered to review it. And I’m very glad I did, as it’s easily one of the more unique books I’ve read in a long time. Here’s a closer look.
Narration: Four out of Five. The story is told entirely from Lot’s perspective, and he’s delightfully unreliable. He’s also cocky, rather full of himself, and an all around candidate for the “Most Scheming Character” and “Most Inquisitive Character” awards. He uses a mix of somewhat modern slang and ancient phrasings that actually worked, which is a first for me. (Usually, I can’t stand modern words in the mouths of character, but the laid back flair it gave really fit the character, and it’d be hard to know what sort of slang was used in ancient Mesopotamia.)
Also, I really like how the author wove in the worship of the God of Noah and tidbits from Biblical offerings and ceremonies, including the origin for Joseph’s coat of many colors. It really gave the story an authentic feel, though as far as we know, most of the ceremonies started with Moses, not Abraham and his father.
Content: Three out of Five. The plot was the most frustrating part of the story for me. The first half was splendid–a romance in the originally sense, with action, adventure, ceremony, and a wide variety of mishaps–but the second half was confusing, as the mystery aspect took center stage and displaced the adventure. The two were tied together, but I felt like the author wrote himself into a corner, where he felt obliged to explain what had happened before and create a climax that would somehow restore Lot to his family so he could travel with Abraham and Terah to Haran.
Characters: Three out of Five. I felt like Abraham and Sarah were underdeveloped, but the story isn’t really about them. It’s Lot’s story, about the many mishaps that took place while in Ur before he left with his uncle and grandfather, so people like Nahor and Haran were more important than Abraham and Sarah.
And most of the characters were well-drawn to the point where I wondered how on earth Nahor could end up with a granddaughter like Rebekah in later years. They did feel like they lacked complexity and depth, but they are filtered through Lot, so perhaps he was unable to see more than one side to those he met. I just wish the climax could’ve arisen more naturally from the characters themselves than from what felt more or less like “left field.”
Artwork: Subjective. The cover made me think of the Wise Men, or that the story would be more about the trip, like a Biblical version of the Oregon Trail. Also, it’s very dark, and the lens flare seems out of place for a scene that would’ve been viewed without glass (though perhaps that hints at the modern touch to Lot’s viewpoint). Still, it does hint at the location and time of the story, and I really like the golden font used for the title.
World-Building: Three out of Five. The first part of the story was rich in world-building, and I really felt like we had the pacing necessary to picture the towns, the fields and tents and palace ceremonies and tomb. And the description remained detailed and very effective, but the latter part became confusing.
I lost track of where we were and which palace person was angling for what, and I think part of this was due to spending so little time with the palace officials and dignitaries. If the story is ultimately about how religious and palace politics affected Lot’s family, then there really should be more time spent in those realms, getting to see how they work and the ways the machinations interact and play out. As it was, it felt like an afterthought or a part of the world that was hidden behind a thick curtain, only seen in rustles and sways.
Overall Response: 13 out of 20, or 3.25 overall. Despite the story’s faults, I really enjoyed the book, and it made me turn to Genesis for a reminder of what really happened. I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good adventure story (it isn’t preachy, save for a couple passages in the climax) and would like to read something with a strong, colorful narrative voice set in the ancient past, but after the time cave men and women.
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Copyright 2017 Andrea Lundgren
Cover used by permission from the author.