“You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me.”—Exodus 20:5
I’ve never been a fan of blaming future generations for the sins of the fathers, but it’s a popular trope with certain gods, villains, and really pissed off ex-lovers. One of the problems with setting the revenge-cycle within a Christian milieu is that if you use the Bible as a source, you can’t really mess with what it says. So, for example, if you’re going to blame future generations for Adam and Eve’s apple-theft, then you have to allow that Jesus cleared that slate at crucifixion. Even if you stick with the pre-Christian Judeo tradition, you have God only going for three, four max generations of blame.
Nicholas Blackwell has no idea he is supposed to fulfill a destiny. All he knows is that he draws trouble like a magnet. Orphaned at seven when two demonic men killed his parents, he copes with the strict rules of his new home, St. Christopher’s academy, unaware that he has been the real target for the killers and that his guardian angel has saved him in the nick of time. And now, his problems are only beginning when a mysterious serpent lures him into the woods and tricks him into a demonic ritual that will unleash the Seven Deadly Sins to destroy the humankind. Nicholas has no choice but to correct his mistake–or die trying.
Aided by Amy, a shy but determined girl who seems to know more about his task than she should, Nicholas’s quest is to travel into the City of Demonio and defeat the Seven Guardians of Sin. To succeed, he must confront demons, monsters, and lost souls, learn the mysteries of the Chapel of Dreams, discover the true meaning of friendship and love, and face the darkest secret of all: the Blackwell Family Secret.
- Title: The Blackwell Family Secret (Book One: The Guardians of Sin)
- Author: Jonathan Ferrara
- Genre: YA Fantasy Quest
- Publisher: Dragonwell Publishing
- Date of Publication: December 5, 2014
- Number of pages: appr. 196
In his debut novel, The Blackwell Family Secret, author Jonathan Ferrara neatly sidesteps the sins of the father/original sin issue by having Lucifer as the source of the generation-bashing Blackwell Family Secret. The target of all this inherited angst is sixteen-year-old Nicholas Blackwell. As a small child, he witnessed his parents’ murder. Since then, he’s been raised in a remote boarding school run by strict nuns and priests. Unsurprisingly, this hasn’t had a positive effect on his character. When we meet him as a teenager, young Nicholas has cultivated a bad boy rebel role with which he attempts to hide his basic insecurities and loneliness. Unfortunately, his whining, smirking persona only comes off as Rebel Without A Clue. Particularly unimpressed is the beautiful new student, Amy.
But when Nicholas is tricked into eating an apple that repeats Adam and Eve’s original crime, the seven deadly sins are again freed. With Amy’s help, Nicholas attempts to fulfill his family’s destined role as Guardians of Sin Basher by going to Demonia (Hell’s bitchy cousin realm) to round up those seven deadly Sin Guardians.
There were many things I admired in this story. The writing is descriptive and often humorous. The world Ferrara builds is complex and interesting. The premise was certainly intriguing, and there is a twist or two at the end that neatly wraps things up. I liked the various incarnations of the Sins, as well as each one’s opposing virtue. Only… it’s all a little too neat. After an inspired beginning where a bewildered child watches his parents get murdered and his world collapse while the bad guys eat the cookies left out for Santa, the next page flings us forward nine years. Following a lightening quick intro to Nicholas as the obnoxious teenage troublemaker, he and Amy are off to capture sins.
For me, that pace was almost too fast. I know I’m usually the one complaining when writers contort a book into a series instead of wrapping up a story arc. But in this case, it could have been more satisfying if there was a series where where Nicholas had to really scramble to capture one or two sins in each book. We could have watched him grow as he struggles to discover and embody the necessary virtue to weaken each sin. As it was, there was a trick he learns accidentally with the first sin, and after that the others pretty much didn’t stand a chance. And to top that off, he has help at just about every stage along the way. For example, the first creatures he meets in Demonia are able to supply him with almost all the information and assistance he needs. Then not only does Nicholas bump into every Sin Guardian he needs to find, but he pretty much defeats each one without much struggle.
I was also troubled by several aspects of the theology or at least its application. First of all, at least Adam and Eve had some sort of warning about the fruit they stole. But Nicholas is literally tricked into it. And to top that off, despite him being in high school at a Catholic academy where he’s spent his entire academic life, somehow the story of the Garden of Eden is a complete surprise to him.
But for me, the two biggest issues were plot and character development. The ‘Star Wars Meets Harry Potter’ plot could have been the outline for the Hero’s Journey. That’s not a bad thing in itself—there are only so many plots out there, and the Hero’s Quest is one of the best—but even the best plot in the world is not the story. It’s only the engine that drives the story. It’s not enough to be an orphan who has to fulfill a quest: we have to actually care about the lonely little boy sent to wizard school, or the teenager in a galaxy far far away whose entire family has just been massacred. The plot has to back them into tight corners and beat the tar out of them. Those regular doses of character-building trauma have to…well, build character until the young protagonist is ready to face the ultimate evil. In The Blackwell Family Secret, there was a detailed, linear, and active plot. But because it didn’t really impact the characters, it became little more than a travelog detailing one event after another.
And when it comes to character development—the single most important element to me—there was next to none. We are introduced to Nicholas’ roommate, but instead of turning out to be Ron Weasley, he actually has no particular role to play in the adventure. Nicholas changes between pages from a child to a not-too-likable teenager and improves only marginally over the course of the story. There is a Dobby-like substory, and a tepid Hermione love interest, but none of them really change or develop in any way.
I’d give The Blackwell Family Secret three and a half stars for premise, pacing, and plot. There were some great descriptions, world-building, and humor. I would have liked to see the characters develop, and actually have to stretch for what they achieve. But don’t get me wrong. As it stands, it’s an adventure story that would satisfy a younger audience. And in future books, if Jonathan Ferrera manages to slow things down enough to let his characters speak for themselves and grow, he’ll definitely be a writer to watch.
**I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.**
CONTACT AND BUY LINKS:
Interview with Jonathan Ferrara
1. Star Wars, Star Trek, or Firefly? I would defiantly have to stay with Star Wars. In all fairness I haven’t watched a great deal of Star Trek or Firefly, but I grew up with Star Wars and collected all the toys (I used to pretend I was a Jedi). I was also part of the 1% who actually liked Jar Jar Binks!
2. Worst movie ever? Trolls 2! It’s awful. It’s just so terrible. Trolls 2(which is not a sequel to any movie) is one of those movies that are just so bad that you have to watch it. RECOMMENDED!
3. As a child (or now!), what did you want to be when you grew up? Since I was fourteen years old I knew I wanted to tell stories. That was just something I knew I couldn’t live without doing. Whether it be through writing books, scripts, or directing movies, it didn’t matter to me I just knew I had a story to tell. I love writing books most of all. It has become such a part of my every day life that to stop writing would be like stopping watching television, or eating at all.
4. Are the names of the characters in your novels significant? Actually, yes. Even most numbers are usually my family’s birthdays, other such special dates, or the age I was when I wrote the book. My main character’s name is Nicholas, which is my Baptism name. My brother’s Baptism name is Christopher and St. Christopher’s Academy is where Nicholas goes to school. Also, one of the character’s names (I don’t want to say who because it could ruin one of the secrets in the book) is an anagram which spells out a secret.
5. What are you working on now/what is your latest book? I’m currently working on the sequel of the Blackwell Family Secret series. Let’s just say I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Almost there!