In a previous post, I recommended the West Brothers series for Catholic teens by Theresa Linden. While the first two volumes in the series are wonderful, I felt that the third book Battle For His Soul was outstanding and deserved a more extensive review.
Before we start, I would like to say that this novel mentions pre-marital sex and the use of marijuana.
Archaeologist Ignatius West is worried about his oldest son Jarred who got his girlfriend pregnant, bullies his brother Roland and generally seems to be on his way to hell. The battle for Jarred's soul takes place on the New Mexico ranch his father spent his youth at. Ignatius hopes that sharing the beloved place and his old friends with his son will turn Jarred around towards a better life. But new temptations are waiting on the ranch, a beautiful girl,a pot smoking ranch hand and a mystery to solve.
Linden uses a different point of view in Battle for His Soul than in the first two books. She alternates between straightforward narrative of the West brothers adventures with passages making visible the invisible powers battling for their souls.
Troubled Jarred West has been giving in to his chief tempter Deth-Kye all his life thereby all but immobilizing his guardian angel Ellechiel. His brother Roland has a well-formed conscience and a strong and mobile guardian angel who can easily fend off the demonic temptations attacking the boy at times.
Linden describes the angels and demons as warriors.The handicapped Ellechiel has no permission to engage in battle with the demons. He wears long restricting garments and his wings are immobilized. Roland’s guardian angel wears a short battle tunic along with a shield and sword and agile wings to fight the demons tempting his charge. Demon Deth-Kye, Jarred’s chief tempter, changes shapes from large armored monster to a stealthy, slithering snake.
Demonic and angelic powers may not have bodies but, make no mistake, the battles for our souls are real. I was somewhat apprehensive when I read the synopsis of this book. I could not imagine how the visualization of the spiritual world would work. When I read the book, I was impressed. Linden made this unusual endeavor succeed. It works. The portrayal of the angels and demons is not surreal or ridiculous as I had feared but fascinating and eye-opening.
One may object that angels and demons are incorporeal spirits without bodies. However, Linden’s descriptions clarify the way these spirits work, how the guardian angels are empowered by their charges’ virtues and weakened by their sins.
In making angels and demons visible, Linden is following an ancient tradition. Her way of acquainting us with the invisible realm of God’s creation has already been employed in Scripture. Think of the three angels representing Our Lord in His Trinity visiting Abraham at the oaks of Mamre, or of Saint Gabriel appearing to Our Lady at the Annunciation.
Artists have portrayed angels in human shape from the earliest times. Byzantine iconography in particular shows angels in magnificent battle armor which we find echoed in Linden’s descriptions. Her demons are also modeled on representations in Christian art. They occur as distorted, subhuman creatures, as reptiles or as snakes. Saints, Padre Pio for example, have been granted visions of their guardian angels in human shape.
The way Linden describes demonic strategy, reminds me of one of Bishop Fulton Sheen’s talks: The Devil and the Diabolic. He tells us that while Our Lord warns us not to sin but will always be willing to lovingly receive us back after the sin has been committed, Satan will encourage us to commit the sin and become our most cruel accuser afterwards driving us to despair. We see Deth-kye, Jarred’s demon, acting exactly this way.
I was particularly impressed by how Linden brings the power of prayer for others to the reader’s attention along with the value of sacrificial love which empowers and delights the angels. The most important merit of this story, I believe, is how it traces the impact of grace generated by a teenage prayer group. When Jarred’s guardian angel is fettered by the boy’s sin, the prayers of a group of faithful teens strengthen his guardian angel in a critical moment of demonic attack. Kids can easily be discouraged because they cannot see the effect of their prayers. This book will make them aware of the grace their prayer will bring to others even though they may never discover the recipient. The power and glory of the Eucharistic presence and its devastating, blinding effect on the demons also comes into the story.
The term diversity is one of my pet peeves. When the phenomenon described by this word occurs in this book, I will use the proper term, catholic, meaning complete, universal, diverse, including everyone. I especially like one member of the prayer group, a girl with blue hair who does not conform to conservative standards of dress and behavior. She is one of the non- WASCs (White Anglo Saxon Catholics) accepted by this catholic prayer group.
Last, not least, there is humor. There is a funny scene when guardian angel and demon tempter jump into Jarred’s car together at the last moment before he speeds away in anger. In his moment of triumph, Deth-kye, the demon rides shotgun!
“What a great book for teens,” I thought. Then, the next morning, as I went shopping in town, I had an ugly thought about a person I met. Suddenly I envisioned a disgusting demon whispering to me and my guardian angel receiving a punch.
This book is not only for kids, dear parents.
Blessings and thank you for visiting!