Den (Blaze Series #2)

Reviewed by:

G. Connor Salter, Professional Writing alumnus from Taylor University, Upland, IN.

Title:

Den (Blaze Series #2)

Author:

Hope Bolinger

Publisher:

Illuminate YA (an imprint of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas)

https://shoplpc.com/illuminateya

Publication Date:

July 23, 2020

Publisher:

Paperback

Length:

286 pages

OVERVIEW

Danny and his three friends almost made it through their first year at King’s Academy without any serious problems. Then somebody set a dormitory room on fire with his friends inside. No one expected them to survive, certainly not the school principle who arranged the fire. Now, with summer over, Danny and the gang have to decide their next move. Will they press charges or just wait until they’re a bit older and people take them more seriously? Then things shift, and it’s possible that neither option is possible any more.

When writing about the previous book in this series, this reviewer noted that books based on Bible stories are deceptively hard to do well. Once again, Bolinger rises to this challenge, beating it in surprising ways. There are two particular things she does well throughout Den.

First, she picks a setting which fits the material well. A harsh private high school may not seem like the ideal setting for a story about Daniel and his three friends, but Bolinger digs into a side of high school like that few parents talk about but many people remember. High school can be a tribal place, with factions developing around different students and all kinds of threats, fights, and of course hate mail (physical notes and the digital sort) to whoever chose the wrong group (or didn’t join any of them). Rules and circumstances shift as people’s emotions slide from one end of the spectrum to the other. Add to that the sense so many teenagers have that parent are too busy with their own lives to be much help, and things can feel pretty stark. A sense of paranoia and chaos runs in the characters’ minds throughout the book, and that fits the material perfectly. Even if we leave out the fiery furnace and the lion’s den, Daniel and his friends must have had a pretty tough time. They were forced to leave their homeland and survive in a hostile pagan culture. Even with protection from the king (and we aren’t old whether Nebuchadnezzar always favored Daniel’s three friends), they would have met plenty of people who hated them for being different and tried to undermine them in one way or another.

Second, Bolinger gives the story a detailed world to inhabit. Many authors would simply come take the private school concept, insert events based on the Bible story, and produce a story where readers could see where everything was going to go after a few pages. Bolinger adds details to the school, from its administration system to its poor food service, and gives her characters interesting backgrounds and personal details that go beyond just making them this or that Biblical character thrown in a new setting. This careful development means that although readers see how the main events mirror the Biblical events, it’s often only afterward that the connections become clear. A chapter introduces a big plot twist and the reader feels surprised and then thinks, “Wait a minute – that represents this event from the book of Daniel. How did I not see that coming?” This allows Bolinger to hit readers with something many people miss going up in church: surprise at how the story twists and turns. So many people grow up hearing Daniel and the Lion’s Den or the Fiery Furnace over and over again in Sunday school. Eventually, those stories become collections of details to remember rather than stories with dramatic power. By crafting her story-world so carefully, Bolinger allows readers to experience the plot as an exciting story and by extension see how exciting Biblical events can be.

These creative choices, coupled with many other things that Bolinger does very well (including a great writing style, plenty of humor, and repeating phrases or images that give the story an extra thematic layer) make Den not just a good novel, but an exceptional one.

A rare sequel that excels at expanding and enriching what made the previous book so good.

ASSESSMENT

Rating (1 to 5 stars)

5 out of 5 stars

Suggested Audience

Readers who like Young Adult fiction based on Bible stories, as well as thriller novels set in high school settings.

Christian Impact

Bolinger takes the story of Daniel and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into a new context, helping readers contemplate the persecution and pain they went through. She also uses the contemporary setting to consider contemporary concerns like cyber-bullying and schools regulating religious expression.

Note: This book is the second in a trilogy. Readers who want to get the book’s full context should read the series in chronological order. To read ECLA’s review of the previous book, Blaze, go to:

Blaze (Blaze, #1)


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