I read Bastard in the Promised Land, by Helen E. Davis, in just one sitting on April 18 after staying up very late the night before and not getting much sleep. And that’s a good indicator of how much it interested me because I was literally lying flat on my back in bed with the book propped on my stomach, ready to fall asleep at any moment (which is what I was expecting), and the book was engrossing enough to keep me awake to read it straight through in about five hours.
I discovered Bastard through an online friend’s blog. Though the blog mentions that the author is the blogger’s mother, let me be clear about my own involvement: I paid for a hard copy (and shipping) just like anyone else would, I was not asked to write a review, and everything I say here is my own opinion. And anyway, I’m not the type to sugarcoat something just because I know someone who knows someone.
Bastard in the Promised Land is the story of Dutch, a young boy who lives in the ghetto of a large city in space and longs to get off his rock and make something of himself. When he finally manages to get assigned to a ship, he meets Lucan, a Catholic priest who takes a liking to him immediately—and who Dutch immediately dislikes—who turns out to be his legal guardian. He accidentally falls into Free Spacer society and has to learn to navigate there and deal with all of Lucan’s prejudiced family to boot. As he learns more about his guardian and Free Spacers, Dutch discovers that not all is what it seems and what he remembers about his guardian may have changed since he saw Lucan last.
Here’s just a taste (which also can be found in the description on the page to buy the ebook):
Dutch shrugged. “Hosea told me it was written, ‘The sheep shall pass beneath his skirt, the goats shall be cast upon the fire, and the llamas shall find their homes in their fathers’ arms.’ Where is that in the Bible?”
“God Almighty,” Father Owen swore out loud, and people all around him turned to look. He hastily lowered his voice. “Smiting shepherds and llamas at the judgment! Look, child – read the Bible! Read for yourself! Don’t let these fools lead you wrong!”
Dutch and Lucan are really well thought out characters and they really came alive for me when I watched their interaction. Dutch deciding he wouldn’t eat strawberries because they weren’t yellow (the only color he’d ever seen them while growing up) made the story realistic even though it was also clearly science fiction. There’s also a lot of dealings with street preachers and Catholic priests, but the story is set up so that they’re not the bad guys necessarily—or the good guys necessarily—they’re bad (or good) independent of their religion, even though their religion informs their decisions and they attribute their blessings and trials to God in one way or another. The characters are complicated, and that’s a good thing.
I really wish Dutch’s mother and Lucan’s family were more fleshed out because I wanted to know more about them, too. The ending wasn’t surprising (at least the part involving Dutch and Lucan’s relationship), but it was satisfying. The novel feels complete in and of itself, but I can also imagine it being the first in a trilogy or series.
I don’t know much about Free Spacer writing (is it a sub-genre of something?—science fiction, obviously, but besides that? maybe it would be considered a space opera?), but Bastard reminded me a lot of Sunhawk’s Ion Arc (which, if you decide to read it, you should know is based on the anime Gundam Wing) in the sense that they both involve kids (who have been) in dire straits who manage to make something of themselves despite everyone else’s assumptions and prejudices. Oh, and because they’re both set (at least partially) in space.
There were a few typographical errors I noticed in the second half of the book, as though the editor (quite possibly self-edited) got tired and wasn’t checking as thoroughly as the first half, such as two periods were there should’ve been one (or three) or a missing closing quotation mark, but the errors were never the same twice, and even in the second half I only found five or six all together. Not bad, but not great for a published piece of work.
Overall, Bastard in the Promised Land was a great read for the price, and I’d recommend it to science fiction readers, especially ones interested in the role of religion in the future (and in space!). Hardcopies are available from Lulu.com for just $11.99 plus shipping, and the ebook version from smashwords.com is just 99¢—a steal for any well-written book, including this one.