Best known for her widely popular novels involving vampires, witches and mummies Rice leaves the Goth behind her and explores the mysteries beneath the childhood of Jesus Christ in her newest novel, Christ the Lord. At age seven, Jesus and his family leave Egypt to return to their home and find themselves caught in the middle of a revolution after the death of the first King Herod, then ruler of the portion of the Roman Empire that included Israel. Rice does a fabulous job developing and weaving layers of historical detail. From political upheavals to Jewish ceremonies to proper weaving technique, I was quite surprised by how smoothly she creates the atmosphere of the times.
Although the historical and cultural details are authentic and well done, it is the character of Jesus that drives this novel. Jesus feels like a typical seven year old boy, but he’s a boy suddenly discovering abilities no one else possesses. With but a thought he brings clay birds to life, makes it snow, and even resurrects a dead playmate. Strangely….and as a comics fan I mean this in the best possible sense…this concept reminded me more of X-Men comics than anything else. There’s many a mutant hero who bumbled through the early days of his or her power, and that unique form of self-discovery is always full of possibilities.
Stunned by these odd happenings he turns to Joseph and Mary for answers. When they are not forthcoming he’s forced to hunt out clues through local legends, rumors and a strange spirit who visits and taunts him in his own dreams. Told in the first person from Jesus’s point of view, the strength of the novel weighs heavily on Rice’s ability to make him believable both as a child and as the son of god and she does a winning job with it. The wisdom of all things religious fills Jesus completely, but he’s naïve of day-to-day events. It’s almost charming when he can’t understand why a young girl he used to play with suddenly prefers at age twelve to learn about weaving and raising children. Fully developed and likable, Rice’s version of Jesus is not only believable, but probably her most memorable character since Lestat.
My only complaint about the book would be her use of language. Her prose style is very plain, very direct and lacks a certain poetry I’ve seen in some of her other work. That said, it probably makes it more accessible to a general audience. It’s difficult to say how well this book will do for her. Many of her vampire fans may not follow, because the subject matter lacks a lot of the flashy, gothy glamour many of her other works have. But breaking out into a different area widens her audience, and since she handles the story with a sense that’s both bold and reverent she just might pull it off.