Title: Hope of Ages Past
Author: Bruce Gardner
Publisher: Zino Publishing
Release: June 18, 2018
Though they are now largely silent, the voices from the seventeenth century still speak to us from the innumerable texts and images we are fortunate to possess. They offer a warning of the dangers of entrusting power to those who feel summoned by God to war, or feel that their sense of justice and order is the only one valid.
Peter H. Wilson – Europe’s Tragedy: A New History of the Thirty Years War
It’s 1618 and the Thirty Years War has begun in Prague. Peter Erhart, an accountant, witnesses the initial atrocities that ensue and the humiliation his friend Hans Mannheim suffers at the hands of the Protestant rebels.
Years later, we are transported to Madgeburg, Germany where Peter Erhart has gone from accountant to Lutheran minister; called to his holy duty after what he witnessed in Prague. The war is raging in Madgeburg and it’s citizens are stuck in the middle of it. Catholics, like Hans Mannheim from Prague, and Protestants, like Peter Erhart, are at odds due to the rise in Protestantism after the reformation. The Pope and the Catholic army are invading city by city and forcing the population to either convert to their ways or perish.
Unspeakable atrocities are forced on the citizens of Madgeburg and those that survive will learn the true meaning of Faith. Will the suffering ever end?
I asked Bruce Gardner what inspired him to write this historical novel and his answer did not surprise me. After a historical tour of central Europe in 2012, he found himself studying the Thirty Years War and asking himself:
what it might really have been like for German citizens of various “classes” to experience such incredible trauma and devastation. How did they live? How did they think? What was the basis and extent of their religious beliefs, their family and romantic interactions, their compassion for friends, neighbors, and strangers? Most importantly, when the war struck their cities and homes, WHAT was it that enabled at least some citizens to courageously fight back and endure their nightmarish trials—believing that survival was possible, and that a better day would eventually come?
These are questions I also ask of myself when I read about history. As an undergraduate I studied history as part of my minor and always wondered about the human element of historical experiences. What would this be like for me? How do people respond to such traumatic experiences?
Gardner went on to mention that one of his favorite novelists is Ken Follett, and having read both “The Pillars of the Earth” and “World Without End”, the reference to Ken Follett’s work had traversed my mind while reading “Hope of Ages Past”.
Now, getting into the quality of the story. Any book can be successful with well written characters, plot twists, and subtle drama. Gardner does an impeccable job of combining all of these elements in a historical setting. This feat is never an easy one and I found myself entranced in the story from the opening chapters.
There are intense battle sequences where you find yourself gripping the edge of your seat waiting patiently to see how it unfolds and who will survive the coming onslaught of the Catholic army.
The main characters are created with a sophisticated style and understanding that makes it easy to envision the dialogue taking place before your eyes.
Beside the elegant character development, Gardner writes masterfully about the power that Faith and ones belief in God can have on how we experience and perceive things that happen in our lives. Even though the characters have managed to survive terrible and horrific experiences, they are able to carry on through their belief that He is always with them. Although, they all struggle to get to this point of acceptance because it does not come easily.
I asked Bruce what he would want reader’s to take away from this book and his response mirrored exactly what I felt after reading it:
More than anything else, I would tell readers that this book’s story (and the real history undergirding it) strives to convey the certainty that when personal fears, devastation and loss threaten to overwhelm your life, there is ONE who will never leave you or forsake you—even in your darkest hour.
Now, my only criticism of this book. Yes, I do have one. I felt it was lacking significantly in certain imagery. Descriptions of settings sometimes felt rushed and missing critical elements. I continuously found myself lacking in necessary descriptions to fully envision certain settings which resulted in dream-like visuals where I couldn’t see everything going on. Thankfully, this did not take away from the story so much that I couldn’t keep up with the plot or dialogue.
In summary, I would have to say that Gardner’s writing puts him into my all-time favorite author category and I hope he has more up his sleeve for writing more books in the future.
I was provided an advanced copy of this book by Shayla Raquel for review purposes only. I was not provided compensation for my review.