Review of 'The Mark of the Lion' series by Francine Rivers
Since being given ‘Redeeming Love’ by Francine Rivers as a gift, reading it and falling immediately in love with it – I’ve been keen to read some more novels that she has written. I have read ‘The Last Sin Eater’ which was fascinating and somewhat dark.
When Koorong had a big sale before Christmas, my darling husband suggested I purchase some books for my Christmas present from the rest of the family. I settled on ‘The Rose Trilogy’ by Beverly Lewis and ‘The Mark of the Lion’ series by Francine Rivers.
The three books of ‘The Mark of the Lion’ series were large and in a cool box – so I was excited to crack the first one open and devour the pages with my hungry eyes ratcheting back and forth across the words. My very first reaction to the book was distaste. It begins in Jerusalem, which is under attack from the Romans. There’s lots of bodies, death, disease and illness. Francine, in her very gritty way very ably sets the scene for her first character, Hadassah, to be introduced.
We follow the story of Hadassah, sold as a slave to a wealthy Roman household with two grown children, one of whom is a womanizer and the other a self-centred and spoilt girl. Hadassah is given to the girl to be her personal slave. Thus began one of the longest and laborious reads of my life! From when Hadassah becomes Julia’s slave, right through to the end of the novel, I was appalled and sickened by Julia and her actions. It grew repetitive in the second half of the story.
She is tolerated by her father, mother and older bother, Marcus and her actions are disastrous. It was painful reading about her and I really didn’t like her story. But what saved the novel was the incredibly dramatic ending – a climax of drama involving Hadassah, a man who is well above her situation and Julia, with her selfishness and cruelty.
In the first novel we are also introduced to a Germanian warrior who is captured in battle and sold into becoming a gladiator, Atretes. I had to stop and work out how to pronounce his name at first! His story gently weaves through Hadassah’s experiences with Julia and her family. Somehow, his tragic and horrible story is more bearable than Julia’s relentless stupidity.
In the second novel of ‘The Mark of the Lion’, we follow the consequences of Julia’s selfish and deluded actions. It’s the story of Marcus and Hadassah and Julia again, but focusses more on Marcus and Hadassah. It’s a powerful and compelling narrative which had me hanging on to the final pages! Atretes is once again woven into the story, his connections with the main characters strengthening. I was relieved to enjoy the novel and once again enjoy Francine Rivers’ swift prose and intriguing plot. She masterfully builds tension and passion to seemingly impossible heights without leaving the reader hanging too much.
The third and final novel of ‘The Mark of the Lion’ was, in my opinion, Rivers’ best. Atretes is the focus of this novel and we follow him after he earns his freedom and journeys home to Germania. It’s passionate and enthralling as Atretes and his companions journey through dangerous and enticing Rome, up through snow-capped mountains and down into dark, thick forests. Atretes is told the entire Bible by one of his companions, which Rivers includes very skilfully.
The constant theme through Rivers’ series is the story of the early Christians – the narrative is set about 40 years after Jesus’ resurrection. Many of the characters become Christians. It is fascinating to read about Christians who have no Bible, no regular church, very few Christian friends and only rely on prayer to stay close to God. ‘The Mark of the Lion’ helped me strip back my faith to what it is, essentially – and inspired me to follow Jesus’ teachings, not what people say Christians should or shouldn’t do. I was particularly inspired by the character Hadassah, who wins people to Christ by her humility and graceful example. People are drawn to her because she’s different. She has a peace that they can’t explain. Hadassah is a great example of godly womanhood.
Rivers has obviously done meticulous research and an appendix is included in each novel. In my view, the series is perhaps more historical than romance or adventure – but evidence of all three genres is clear and enjoyable throughout. I would include ‘The Mark of the Lion’ series on my ‘Must Read’ list for good, solid Christian entertainment. Although the first novel may be a bit of a laborious read in places, the following two novels are absolutely brilliant, full of rich history, passionate, sweeping romance with some adventure and of course, wonderful examples of godly people and Biblical truths.
How about you? Have you read the series? What did you think?