This book has been on my "to be read" list for years. I finally got my hands on a copy this year, and it's not at all what I expected. On the basis of the title, and the plot synopses I had read, I was expecting the kind of story you find in lower quality "end times" thrillers. In short, I read this book in for the sake of completeness, not because I thought it was going to be any good.
Well, I was wrong, and I'm big enough to admit it. Yes, Bayly does introduce surveillance technology, and plays with it for a little bit, and yes, he does have people checking their clothes for tiny bugging devices, and yet still making telephone calls without taking any precautions at all. But pretty soon, he stops playing around with gizmos and gets down to the heart of the story. And the heart of the story is what both makes and breaks this book.
This is a wonderful book which makes me profoundly uncomfortable. Bayly refuses to play any of the games which so many authors resort to in order to please the clientele in Christian bookstores. Nobody gets converted, nobody falls in love, and there is no happy ending. Nor are Christians (not even "the right kind of Christians") portrayed as fearless, flawless, jut-jawed heroes. In short, almost nobody comes out looking good in this book: Christians display cowardice, rationalise evil things perpetrated by society (as long as those evil things don't apply to them), falsely accuse others, swear... in short, they're human. If the mirror Bayly holds up to the reader is unflattering, at least it's accurate. I have been saying for some time that what Christian fiction needs is fewer books which aim to "evangelise" non-Christians who would never be caught dead reading them, and more books which challenge Christians to do better in our Christian walk. This is one of the few books I have ever found which would qualify as the latter.
Unfortunately, the very qualities which make this book such a refreshing change, and so important for Christians to read, also make it uncomfortable. Some readers can't handle it, and criticise the book over nit-picky details, to avoid facing up to the central challenge in the story. I could pick nits, too, but the fact of the matter is that the weaknesses in this book are trivial, while its theme is vital. In the past, I have criticised Christian publishers for not having enough commitment to publishing fiction outside the romance category, but four different publishers have seen the value in this work, and yet sales have driven it out of print three times now. It's time for us fans to face up to the fact that the publishers have been taking the risk, and now it's our turn to show that we're ready for Christian fiction to grow up.