Book Review Wednesday – Fallen Kings

Fallen Kings by Sarah Witenhafer

Amazon Book Description:

Christian Speculative Fiction set in ancient Babylon.

As her father’s only heir, Naamah has been taught how to succeed in a world ruled by men. Despite her ability, she’s powerless to choose her own husband. When the wrong man is chosen for her, Naamah calls on the goddess of love and war to intervene.

Lord Prince Raheil, Keeper of the Sixth Gate of Heaven, arrives with his army in a glorious show of terrifying power. He vies for Naamah’s hand, promising to make her father the earth’s first king and to raise their city to legendary heights. To Naamah, he offers immortality itself.

Only one man stands against the prince and his army – Keenan – the man Naamah’s father first chose to be her husband. He alone can understand the prince’s strange language, and knows Raheil was not sent from the heavens. Pledging all to save the woman he loves, Keenan vows to expose the secret plans of darkness and defeat a warrior sent from the gods.

*The Review Contains Some Minor Spoilers*

I originally picked this book up in July because the summary promised a fight between good and evil and I don’t see many books set in Ancient Mesopotamia especially with fantasy or speculative elements to them. I had intended to review the book in July but I ultimately DNF the first time around. So, I resolved this week to make myself read this book.

Plot – B

The promised plot was that of spiritual warfare and a struggle between good and evil. However, I was ultimately disappointed in how the plot was executed. While there was spiritual warfare, for most of the book, it feels as though it’s a spiritual blitz by evil with no real relief from that which is good. The bad guys are winning due to sheer numbers and the narrators chosen do not do well in establishing a relatable character for the reader to really root for and connect with during the story. In fact, I found myself wanting to backpedal from the narrators and especially the situations they are in.

This plot had great potential but an oppressive darkness overwhelms and smothers the good in this book. I wanted to see Keenan (whose name doesn’t mesh with anyone else’s for some reason) be a strong warrior for God and fulfill his vow as related in the summary. The way the plot turned and twisted didn’t truly fulfill this promise and potential. Naamah…ugh, Naamah is one of the WORST narrators I’ve encountered. She is shallow, selfish, belligerent, and too infatuated/in lust with Raheil to see the truth. Every time she catches glimpses of his true nature, she immediately flits to the frame of mind that he’s gorgeously beautiful and glorious and did I mention beautiful in addition to her later thoughts coming around to how can she make sure he’s not angry with her. Naamah’s brother is mentally handicapped with the mind of a five year old and at first Naamah is very protective of him, almost making her tolerable, but later her protectiveness is wrapped in an arrogance that makes her cruel in her interactions with him, which was unfortunate because her caring for her brother was pretty much her only saving grace. In the middle of the book, we abruptly jump from Naamah narrating in first person to Luralamar (her father) narrating in third person then to Serug a minor character who I could understand as being a narrator then to Keenan who I would have expected to be the secondary narrator and then to another minor character who I sincerely wish had been cut as narrator because he didn’t actually contribute anything to the plot in his scene.

The plot presented in this book didn’t feel as though it fulfilled the promises made in the summary. The ending could stand on its own in addition to leading into the next book with the epilogue. But it wasn’t very satisfying.

Content – F

Content is always the most subjective category for me. However, the content and the execution of said content is a key factor in my assessment. I was extremely disappointed in both areas with this book.

Violence is definitely present. People are injured, beaten, and killed. A woman has a clay tablet thrown at her head and it hits her but she’s able to walk away from it. The most gruesome deaths involve sexual violence toward women who are raped and then torn apart. However, these are described in the dialogue instead of being shown outright. There is a death involving stoning as well but that one was relatively bloodless and short.

The language and general vulgarity present in this book took me by surprise because not one review mentioned it. The first appearance comes from Naamah where she snaps at a panicking couple to “Crawl under the table and p*** on yourselves if you wish.” (Paperback, pg. 56). Considering she is supposed to be the leader in her father’s absence and she has purportedly been trained to interact on the level of diplomacy, I really struggled with how her crassness and belligerence is supposed to give her panicking people someone to look up to in a time of crisis. “Damn” is used several times, only once in a sense of spiritual damnation. Then we get to pages 184-185, which offers up the following: “What monkey’s p***er has dared to haul me from my bed and leave me waiting for two damn hours?” and “How it is the Commander just called his lural a monkey’s – what did you say, Zakar? – ‘a weewee?” Then from the next page is “Does that mean you’d watch my back or you favor your own a**?” I don’t know if the last two were meant to be humorous or not. But, for me personally, they weren’t funny. They were crude and really unnecessary. P***er also shows up again where one brother insults another brother. A** is used frequently after that and not in the context of Balaam’s ass/donkey. Keenan, the resident “good guy,” shouts “God, what has me?” (pg. 189) and “God, this thing hurts.” (pg. 190). Pig’s dung and rat dung are also used in name calling but that’s mild compared to the rest as is the part where one man says “Hang the bastard.” (Paperback, pg. 267). Did people in Ancient Sumer and post-Flood curse? Oh I’m sure they did. However, I am not in favor of writing out curses, especially when it feels anachronistic and too modern for the setting.

Under the same umbrella of vulgarity and language is the sexual content. There are constant references to whores. Naamah calls one woman a slut because she was Keenan’s former mistress (although he did repent of this and set her aside). There is a particularly disturbing scene told through the eyes of Garta (the unnecessary minor character narrator I mentioned before) involving a brothel. The language used is extremely vulgar such as when the eunuch asks him where he “wants to screw your whore in” (pg. 227) and discussing the smell of sex. I had absolutely no desire to read this muck but I waded through it because the impression was given that it would lead to something important and I didn’t know exactly when the important piece would be reached so I couldn’t just skip the next several pages. The important information that the secret tunnel between brothel and tavern was invaded by evil? THAT had already been made clear when Keenan talked to his former mistress after she begged him for help. There was NO justifiable reason for the brothel scene to be included. It was vulgar and gratuitous because it didn’t really contribute to the story. I wish that the author had stayed in Keenan’s POV and just entered the inn bypassing the thirteen pages involving Garta, his wife (who had been pressganged into prostitution), and the brothel.

Naamah is consumed with lust for Raheil. She’s obsessed with him and too many times the descriptions of these two making out toe the line of lewdness. Naamah wrapping a leg around Raheil’s hip and then a description of Raheil’s tongue in her mouth are just some of the examples. I could have lived without that. Concubines sliding their clothes off to enter a bath are handled with less detail. 😐 There is continual reference to bedding women and Raheil refers to Keenan’s prayer interrupting his “coupling” with Naamah. Naamah’s father is seduced by an evil spirit disguised as his wife while in his bath. As mentioned before, Raheil’s soldiers rape many women. Two of these incidents are related through dialogue. And there is a lot of sexual violence throughout. We also see the aftermath of a drunken orgy where Naamah describes one of the concubines as being pinned beneath the man who had used her and Naamah also taunts her. Between the language, general vulgarity, and the sexual content, I almost quit this book multiple times.

On the spiritual side, this is supposed to be a tale of spiritual warfare. But it’s very one-sided and dark and full of despair. Eber and his son Peleg, the ancestors of Abraham, have a brief appearance and appear to only escape death because they’re in the genealogy. There is an angel who saves Keenan twice and Keenan is able to stand up to Raheil as well as understanding the “heavenly” language. HOWEVER, when the demons overwhelm the story and the good guys are picked off like flies, I struggle to see the goodness of God in this book. Naamah prays to Inanna the goddess of war and love to send her a suitor other than Keenan, which is what basically opened Eridu to the coming of Raheil and his soldiers. Probably the biggest thorn for me is the fact that El (God) is set up as a liar in this book. He promised a character that he would marry the girl and have twins and a long line of descendants. The character believes El keeps his promises and is told by someone else that El keeps his promises. We get to the end of the book and this character is sentenced to death through Raheil’s machinations and the character tells the girl that even this other guy is going to be the father of the twins, it doesn’t matter because “In the end, somehow in a way I cannot see, the legacy El has promised to me will be fulfilled.” (Paperback, pg. 390). That was a “Huh?” moment for me and then this character compounds it by stating that if “his promises do not come true…I want you to know it is my failures which prevented them.” (pg. 392). But then El uses the girl to tell him that he is not a failure for focusing on keeping his gold. So the weird and very unfortunate impression I came away with is that El lied, He changed His mind, and His will is thwarted by His chosen people’s shortcomings. That’s not what happened with Abram when he failed to fully trust God regarding the prophesied son and being a father of nations. I just don’t understand how that character’s promise is truly justified in its detour? Rearrangement? I came away asking just who was in control here because it didn’t feel like it was El (God).  I also struggle with the attempt to link the character’s death to Christ’s death because the character didn’t really volunteer. He was boxed in and then forced into surrendering to the planned substitution. His death doesn’t really impact the remaining characters either. There’s some twinges of guilt but they’re easily shrugged off by the characters as Raheil gets them excited about building the Tower of Babel. One character in particular is more concerned about another character’s humiliation than the fact that this character is going to an undeserved death. There was no real point to the character’s death and the parallel to Christ’s death is tenuous at best. The long author’s note at the end wherein Witenhafer basically sets out the entire gospel message does not make up for the offensiveness of her content or the spiritual confusion stirred up regarding El’s promises.

Technical – D+

This book is plagued with typos and formatting errors. Much like the last book by Witenhafer I reviewed, Tamed, You’re is used several times when it should have been Your. Other noticeable swaps include “were” when it should have been “where” and “lighting” for “lightning” as well as “fowl mood” instead of “foul mood” and a horse letting out a great “whiney” instead of “whinny.” There is also a section where a family wants to send for “aide” (an assistant) when what they really wanted was aid/help. The most noticeable homonym error is “loose/lose” Every single time it should be “lose” for a wager or hand being lost “loose” was used. The sole time Raheil speaking unleashing or loosing someone like a bull from the stall  “lose” was used. It was VERY strange how that worked out. Consistent but strange. Sumer is misspelled once as “Sumeria.” There is also the fact that commas are used when they shouldn’t and not when they should. Several times there were quotation marks left off at either the beginning or the ending of a character speaking. Every time an opening single quote was used, the companion ending single quote was missing. There are ellipses missing the last period and once a period traveled down to the next line.

Several times Naamah resorts to telling, such as how she astonished the diplomats with her knowledge and hammered out a trade agreement. Why wasn’t this shown in place of the unnecessary scenes revolving around the brothel and various characters’ lust for each other and power? Anywhere from fifty to seventy-five pages could have been cut, which would have tightened up the plot and avoided the gratuitous vulgarity that plagued this book.

There are also several anachronistic word choices which didn’t mesh with the setting of Ancient Mesopotamia at all. “Manicured” is used to describe Raheil’s eyebrow and that particular synonym of “groomed” didn’t come into use until the 1890s. “Semantics” is also used and is also from the 1890s. Keenan’s former mistress describes herself as being “blacklisted” and while this word came into use around the 1600s, it feels too modern still and it probably would have been better to describe her as being banned or shunned. The most anachronistic word is used is “Transvestite,” which appears twice in regards to prostitutes, because that term didn’t surface until 1922. It has no business being in ancient post-flood Sumer. A good rule of thumb when writing stories set in any time frame before the Industrial Age is to check the word’s date of origin. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary has an app that can be used for quick reference when a word doesn’t sound right for the setting. The author indicates in her acknowledgements that she used editors but this book has so many issues that it is difficult to consider this a finished and fully edited book. Due to the length of the book, 426 pages, I cannot help feeling that the book is being rushed to meet a specific deadline and the quality is suffering because of it.

Final Grade – D- or 1.5 Stars

I’ll be honest, I found this book to be abhorrent. There was potential here but the content and execution of the content dragged this book so far down that I will never read another book by this author. The author’s note in the back makes me think that the author intends for this book to be passed from Christians to their non-Christian friends. If this were a secular book, I would give it the same rating and I would not pass it on to my friends. Because it is a “Christian” book, I would never pass it on to my undecided friends because it is full of worldliness to the point that godly principles are either smothered or undetectable and the spiritual confusion around the diverted promise. The material covered in this book is of an adult nature and dwells more on the darkness and evil winning than anything else. I would strongly encourage this author to add an adult content warning to her book. I cannot recommend this book to anyone in good conscience.

Fallen Kings is available through both Kindle and Paperback.


Next  –  The Land of Flames (The Karini and Lamek Chronicles Book 1) by Cynthia P. Willow


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