Authors: Ted Dekker & Tosca Lee
In Forbidden, best-selling author Ted Dekker teamed up with Tosca Lee for a post-apocalyptic sci-fi/fantasy concoction that offered loads of promise for the trilogy to come. Mortal, the follow-up and second leg of the journey, is no less stirring a piece of popular fiction than its predecessor, expanding the mythology and upping the ante on action for an equally memorable read.
A quick recap on backstory: 400 years in the future, scientists discovered a way to bind human emotions, and through genetics, created a race of humans incapable of feeling emotion, with the exception of fear. In Forbidden, an artisan named Rom Sebastian received a mysterious parcel which contained blood and the mysterious message that to drink it would bring life. Upon quaffing it, Sebastian found himself capable of emoting, but also immersed into a covert plot to restore emotion to humanity and overthrow the ruling powers. When the novel ended, Sebastian had discovered a young boy named Jonathan whose blood was said to contain—through transfusion—the power to restore emotions. Jonathan was also the true Sovereign, or ruler, of Byzantium (modern-day Rome), not Feyn, the woman named as ruler. At the novel’s close, Feyn forsook her claim to the throne, agreeing to sacrifice herself and keep her body in stasis until Jonathan began to rule upon his 18th birthday. Her brother Saric, however, coveted the throne, and sought to take it for himself before being driven away and presumed dead.
Mortal begins nine years later, with Sebastian closely guarding Jonathan among a group of people called the Nomads. Jonathan is days away from turning 18 and coming of age to rule when Saric returns from hiding, slaughters members of the ruling council, frees Feyn from stasis and forces her to drink from his blood, thus enslaving her to him as her Master. In one fell swoop of breathtakingly efficient narrative maneuvering, Dekker & Lee establish the major conflict for Mortal. Saric and his army of Dark Bloods (an army of non-emoting humans) seek out Jonathan, Rom, and Roland, leader of the Nomads. While on the run, Rom seeks to discover a way to persuade Feyn to break free from her devotion to Saric and yield the Sovereign title to Jonathan. One complication: according to law, if she dies, the title passes to Saric, her brother.
As conflicts go, this one’s a doozy, of the epic Gondor vs. Sauron variety. On one side is the selfless band of undermanned freedom fighters hoping to create a better world; on the other, the uber-powerful super-villain with a God complex. What makes Saric so tantalizing as a baddie is his psychological realism. He genuinely believes in the validity of his cause, so he has no reason to surrender, choosing instead to press on to the showdown at the novel’s climax.
Within this major good-vs-evil conflict, sub-plots abound, most notably Jonathan’s coming-of-age. As the boy-who-would-be-king, his character arc peaks compellingly in the novel’s final act. Mortal again dips into rich philosophical territory, raising questions about faith and the seeming folly of following a course despite all evidence of its worthiness, a dilemma faced by Rom when Jonathan’s smooth path to the role of Sovereign faces some bumps.
Mortal takes the splendid opening of Forbidden and raises the stakes in every way, offering more dramatic action, psychological nuance, and philosophical meat. Based on this triumph, Mortal gives every indication that by the time this trilogy is through, it will be a truly memorable ride.