by Ted Dekker
I've been trying to put a finger on exactly what it is about Ted Dekker's Immanuel's Veinsthat didn't quite work for me. I loved the premise of the book when I first read the blurb, and I've always enjoyed Dekker's writing in the past, but somehow this one didn't quite work for me.
I wondered whether it was because it was a vampire story, which was not at all what I expected when I bought the book. I don't think it's that, though, because I usually don't mind vampire fiction if it is of high literary quality. In fact, I'm quite a fan of Bram Stoker'sDracula, as well as newer works like Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian. And I always love an exploration of an older mythology that repackages the tradition for a modern audience. A work like Richard Matheson's I am Legend that introduces a real twist to older vampire traditions is usually pretty high on my list of good reads. Even when I realized it was a vampire story I'd gotten into with Dekker's novel, I thought it had the potential to be something similar to Matheson's classic, bringing a new twist to vampire lore, re-situating it into the niche genre of Christian fiction in a way similar to Matheson's settling vampires nicely into the sci-fi / dystopian future novel niche. Dekker seems to be exactly the right guy to tackle a project like this, but Immanuel's Veins just didn't seem to accomplish that rather tall order.
It crossed my mind that it was the meshing of Christian fiction with vampire fiction that didn't seem to work, but that's not really true.
Throughout vampire lore, the creatures are presented as personifications of evil who stand in opposition to Christ and his church. So, really, wouldn't Christian fiction be an appropriate place to explore this sort of legend? For me, it was not that I felt the topic necessarily inappropriate in Christian fiction, because I think vampirism is a powerful metaphor that could work in Christian fiction, especially as Christianity itself relies on such a strong thread of blood-related imagery, both in concrete and metaphorical terms.
After discarding both of these ideas as the source of my lack of enthusiasm about this book, it struck me that there are several reasons it just didn't work. One is probably the simple fact that there's been more than a little overkill with the undead in popular fiction in recent years, with much of it being substandard writing. I could not help but feel that Dekker's novel taps in a bit too much into the current fad, and there's a little too much of a Twilight – and not quite enough of a Dracula – quality to this particular text.
Another literary consideration that made this book not quite work for me was the occasional typo, which I don't expect to find in books released by a big press. Even more grating was the very ill placed use of the term "party pooper," which I suspect was not in vogue amongst Russian royalty in the 1700s. (Then again, I've not explored the etymology of the term, so I could be mistaken.)
As for the theological content of the book, it did have its strong points, but I felt it is in danger of being read as crossing a line that I don't think it advisable to cross. While I liked that it points out that Christ's redemptive power is at work in the lives of individuals who call on him, and how that power is channeled not through religious institutions but through the lives of believers, I felt that it could be read in such a way that smacks of hubris – as if it is the believer who is capable of saving the lost. I believe that a more generous reading would be in line with the notion of the church (i.e., all believers, not the institution) as "the second incarnation," or the body of Christ that performs his work and his will in the world today. That is a very profound doctrine. On the other hand, there is so much emphasis inImmanuel's Veins on the romantic love of the protagonist and his work of wooing that I think its metaphorical value gets lost, and can even come across as being more important than the redemptive power of the Christ.
All of this is worthy of discussion of course. That brings me to what was probably the main weakness of the book – it just takes too long to get to these things, and the section that leads up to this very interesting set of ideas is simply too long and too repetitive. On estimate, I think the first half (possibly more) of the book could have been condensed considerably, perhaps into two chapters. The repetitions and draggy action ("action" being used loosely here) made it so that it just took too long to get into the book.
That is a real pity, because I think the premise was a good one. If Immanuel's Veins had been tightened up in the structure and the writing, I believe it could have been a much more exciting read. If it had been tightened up on the doctrinal level as well, I think it would have been potentially a life-altering read. Unfortunately, that work of tightening it up was neglected, leaving at least this reader with a sense that the book is not all it could be.
reviewed by Shelly Bryant © 2014