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God's Fires Hardcover – April 1, 1997
"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Pre-order today
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God has fallen to the Earth. Angels are sleeping with women. There is an immaculate conception, and lights are seen in the heavens. Heady stuff for the small village of Quintas, located in Portugal about the time of the Inquisition. While the pragmatic Father Pessoa struggles to keep the strange goings-on hidden from the eyes of the inquistors, the simple King Alfonso has decided that the stricken alien ship is God Himself. And God has let Alfonso in on a secret: the Earth orbits the sun. Unfortunately, the inquisitor-general is on his way to straighten things out. There will be no easy answers.
On sixteenth-century Portugal falls a star from heaven with three strange beings aboard. Are they angels or devils? That is the burning question--literally, for the Inquisition is active, and the lives and deaths of several people depend on the answer. The strange creatures are almost peripheral, however, and Anthony's story is one of faith and humanity and how the unknown is forced into the habiliments of the knowable. The childish king Alfonso, the Jesuit priest Pessoa, the inquisitor Monsignor Gomes, as well as the poor villagers who are the immediate witnesses to the star's falling--all have their lives changed, and in fantastic ways. Anthony's depiction of life, death, and legal procedure is nothing short of masterful in this superb book that departs far from the usual, well-trod trails of speculative fiction but deserves high praise in spite of that, or, perhaps, because of it. Dennis Winters
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The aliens remain at a distant, known through vague and illusive visitations and in the end, are in the end as mysterious as they were when first mentioned. The Jesuit hero, the man who assists the inquisition despite his own sins and inner thoughts, is as real as any character I have ever encountered. His lover is an altogether different person but incredibly attractive in her own right.
The portrayal of a society mired in mysticism, ruled by an Iron Fist of religious zealotry, is intimate and just - even fair. The lives of people below the surface, beyond the public utterances of loyalty and fealty and devotion, is what attracts one to the many varied characters. The young Father Bernardo becomes a foil for all that is right and wrong with the Church of that age.
The parallel story of the retarded King Alfonso and his brother Pedro meshes beautifully with the tale of aliens and unrelenting persecution by the Inquisition. In a brilliant move, the living machine of the aliens (the "acorn") imbues this retarded prince with advanced scientific ideas that he feels compelled to share. The ending finds one breathless with anticipation and dread, hopeful yet at the same time resigned to the inexorable chain of events that must happen. There is no intervention - either military, divine or alien. Things play out to a horrible but strangely satisfying conclusion. This is an incredibly vivid work, soaring and shocking and in the end, meditative.
Don't get me wrong, though. This woman can write! If I had picked up the book expecting only a story about the Inquisition I would have loved it, even though it was sad. The human characters are all well developed and the story rips your heart out, but... I was looking to see what aliens landing into the middle of the 16th century would make of us. Nothing, as it turns out.
If you decide to read this, I suggest you forget about the science fiction angle and take it for what it is. A fine historical novel.
If all her other novels are like this then I've decided I'm not going to read them. I was looking for a sci-fi novel and didn't get it. Left me feeling empty.