In the early 1800s, Samuel Taylor Coleridge defined skilled fantasy as writing to “invoke a willing suspension of disbelief.” The premier installment of the “Seal of the King” Christian fantasy series by Ralph Smith does just that—masterfully weaving human decency and truth into a tale of supernatural deceit and evil.
At the first crackle of air and explosion of light, David finally meets his beautiful Aurora, a young woman who is as appealing as she is a fierce warrior, an expert in archery with deadly aim (and reminiscent of Katniss Everdeen of “The Hunger Games”). David, a handsome young man, a simple farmer left alone after his parents’ mysterious fiery car accident, has dreamed of Aurora as she has dreamed of him. But it is when they share an iron clad bond of determination to find and destroy the Dark One that David’s true physical strength emerges: Simple as slicing butter with a knife, the guy can wield a dagger with decapitating force. Unknown to the other, their worlds have existed side-by-side, David’s world of Good and Light and Aurora’s world of Evil and Darkness. When Aurora first enters David’s physical earthly world, he saves her from pursuit of the Dark One’s army. However, he soon learns that his world does not protect them. Demonic forces have long ago invaded citizens of his own community.
With Aurora by his side, her true identify somehow masked in the aura of David, he is lead to free his father from a nursing home run by demons of the Dark One hiding in the bodies of healthcare attendants. David understands his own role in defeating the advances of evil when he learns the meaning of the strange markings in the family home. As the father’s condition improves and when David learns that Aurora has seen a female slave hiding during a battle that may be his lost mother, he has hope of regaining family. Seeing David with Aurora, his aunt and other relatives realize the fulfillment of the prophecy and decide to tell David the truth. As a descendent of the House of David, our David must lead the world’s battle against evil as the Dark One pillages his world and invades ours. The biblical parody that a chosen one is to defeat evil (sin) is not lost on the Christian.
The “Seal of the King” by Ralph Smith is a relevant story of the battle of good versus evil, purity versus destruction. David and Aurora return to the countryside, the place where Aurora first appeared to him in the flesh, and they re-enter her world. Traveling by carriage, wagon, or horseback from village to village, they rescue individuals and families from plunder by followers of the Dark One. Seeking the towns of Tartaros and Roktab, they work toward the Dark One’s liar, David soon understanding that the Dark One lies in wait for him, relishing the battle, his servants misguided in their attempts to halt David and Aurora’s advance. And when David first encounters the Dark One, the enemy is camouflaged.
David and Aurora are cast as star-crossed lovers of sorts, whose love is so pure that it is not immediately consummated even after an informal marriage—not that they had time to do so since someone soon tries to kill them. Who can argue with David that a place of purity (or a more relaxing trip) would make for a nicer honeymoon? At almost every turn of their journey, the whiz and sting of Aurora’s arrow distracts the enemy forces as David wields a deadly punch to those who will not turn away from the demonic hold of evil. The union of David and Aurora is for a much greater purpose than merely physical love or worldly pleasure. Each makes the other stronger.
Smith’s exceptional dialogue and detailed action scenes deliver danger for David and Aurora at every turn. Yet there is gentle humor in this Christian fantasy thriller. Practical warriors, ready for one war after the other, the two pack lightly for their perilous journey, having only an apple at one point to eat. Aurora presents the fresh apple to David, offering it as a meal cooked just for him from an old family recipe—doubt an Adam and Eve analogy here.
The Christian analogy of our David’s prophecy is clear: to risk and possibly sacrifice his own life to save the soul of mankind. Even the other characters admit this similarity. But unlike Jesus’ miracles to heal the sick and feed the masses, David must at a moment’s notice draw upon almost superhuman physical strength and skill to kill or defeat the emissaries of the Dark One, and this strike of power often startles the reader.
I found myself jotting down several jewels found in the dialogue of Smith’s characters: “We don’t become what we are fighting against.”—“Fear is a soulless demon.”—“Don’t borrow trouble from tomorrow.” However, it is Mr. Smith’s use of the English language, his descriptive phrase and sentence structure, that is the story’s growing appeal. The action moves swiftly and forcibly with an economy of words—without laborious or lengthy, descriptive passages. A scene where bones crack, blood spurts, or heads roll does the trick. Though crafting a fantasy, Smith makes it plausible that the star-crossed lovers would trot up unseen to nab rowdy barbarians in the act of threatening innocent children and their parents. The noisy distraction works well for David and Aurora, the star-crossed lovers, and remember, her arrows do not miss.
----- Darden North is the IPPY award-winning author in Southern Fiction of four novels, most recently “Wiggle Room.” www.dardennorth.com