Bridge to Haven: An Underwhelming Story

bridge-to-havenThis review may contain mild spoilers.

Francine Rivers’s lastest book, Bridge to Haven, tells the story of Abra Matthews. Found abandoned beneath the bridge to the small town of Haven as a newborn, Abra spends the first five years of her life with the town pastor’s family. But after the pastor’s wife dies, Abra is shuffled to a new home in which she grows up, discontented and unhappy.

When a handsome young man comes to town and lavishes Abra with attention, she runs away with him, which turns out to be a terrible mistake. During her years in Hollywood, more than one man manipulates her for his own ends, and Abra eventually realizes that she will not find fulfillment at the end of journey to stardom. She makes bad decisions along the way until she at last returns to Haven, broken and weary. Abra must finally face those she left behind and choose to accept God’s love for her.

I have always loved Francine Rivers’s books. From A Voice in the Wind to The Scarlet Thread, her books draw me in, and I become emotionally invested in the characters. She tackles hard themes and situations that people face in the real world, and as her characters overcome by the grace of God, so she offers hope to her readers.

That said, Bridge to Haven was thoroughly disappointing. The characters did not ring true for me, the plot felt contrived and ripped off from several of her other books, and the writing itself is sloppier and far less than what Rivers is capable of.

Abra and the man who loves her, Joshua, are both fairly stock characters. Neither of them has a truly distinct personality or unique response to situations. Joshua and his father, the pastor, are the perfect Christian men with no human flaws or frailties. They wait patiently for Abra to return and promptly forgive her without struggling at all. Even when Joshua learns some of the darker moments of Abra’s years away, he responds with only love and reassurance, never any anger or distress. Honestly, he’s the type of man some Christian girls and women fantasize about, that does not exist because no one is perfect. I was not pleased to find that type of character in one of Rivers’s books.

I felt that several of the characters’ motivations were bizarre or lacking. The pastor allows his wife to take in the abandoned baby even though another family wanted her, despite knowing that taking on the burden of a baby would devastate her health. Lo and behold, his wife dies from the health problems, and the pastor promptly passes on the little girl to the family who wanted her in the first place. That whole chain of events is stilted and contrived. Abra struggles with the emotional damage through the rest of the book, yet the pastor is never indicted for his actions by any of the other characters. Even when Abra reconciles with him, the burden of apologizing and asking forgiveness is all on her. The pastor’s actions are never painted as anything other than positive.

At the end of the book, Abra’s struggles are far too easily resolved. Although she spends years in Hollywood, making one bad decision after another, culminating in a truly terrible moment where I finally felt sympathetic, once she returns to Haven, there are no consequences, emotionally, physically, or relationally.

I did enjoy the piano teacher forcing Abra to memorize hymns that came back to her at her darkest moments. Characterwise, I also like Penny Matthews, Abra’s sister, who is one of the most unique characters in the book, and a few of the people Abra meets in Hollywood.

Ultimately, Bridge to Haven covers no new thematic territory for Rivers. I was strongly reminded of her best seller Redeeming Love throughout the entire book, and occasionally of The Atonement Child. This book is by far not her best work.

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Steelheart: In Which Superheroes are Not Super

Steelheart

“I’ve seen Steelheart bleed. And I will see him bleed again.” Thus opens Brandon Sanderson’s Steelheart, a YA novel set on a post-apocalyptic Earth.

Ten years ago, Calamity appeared in the sky. No one knows what it is or why it showed up, but they know what it did: gave ordinary people incredible powers. These people are called Epics, and their powers range from illusion to invincibility to control of the elements.

But Epics are not superheroes, as protagonist David discovers in the book’s prologue. He and his father are at a bank when Steelheart shows up. David’s father shoots him, the only one to ever draw blood from the invincible man, and is brutally murdered for it. Steelheart then decimates the bank and everyone in it, except David, who manages to escape. No one will ever know of Steelheart’s weakness if he has anything to say about it.

That was the day Steelheart took control of Chicago, now known as Newcago. Across the world, Epics battle for domination of cities, destroying anyone who gets in their way. Supervillains abound, but not a single Epic uses his or her powers to be a superhero.

David makes it his life’s quest to learn Steelheart’s weakness and get revenge for his father’s death, and he finally has his chance. He joins the Reckoners, a guerilla group of ordinary humans who fight back against the Epics as best they can. They are reluctant to accept him at first, but when he shows them his notes on Epics and their individual weaknesses, his life’s work, they take him on.

The Reckners have been striking at Epics for years, but they have never dared touch the most dangerous, like Steelheart and his various underlings. David and his information gives them the push they need to take the next step, and in the end, they face Steelheart.

Sanderson turns the idea of superheroes upside down in this novel. Epics are all villains, and ordinary people have to step forward and be the heroes, the ones who fight back. Comic book fans will recognize that genre translated into a novel with Steelheart, the descriptions and plot itself leaping straight from the pages of a comic as inspiration.

The main characters are well-rounded, with layered motivations and complex emotions about the work the Reckoners do. Prof, leader of the Reckoners, struggles with a lust for revenge even stronger than David’s, and fights his own dark side every day. Megan, the token beautiful young woman, turns out not to be a token, but instead a strong character in her own right. David develops a crush on her, but rather than descending into teenage angst and mush, his feelings and her response form an subplot of the book that ultimately has an important effect on the resolution. Steelheart, his command Epics, and his minions are fascinating villains, with unique identities and powers.

Steelheart is tightly plotted, with the intricate worldbuilding he is known for. The Epics’ powers are less defined than his usual logical, orderly magic systems, but their powers have individual rules and limitations, and David even comes up with a classification system for them.

Although the book moves rapidly, there is a section in the middle where the pace sags somewhat, when the Reckoners are preparing for their final showdown with Steelheart. A lot of planning happens with little forward movement, but it does not last long before the pace picks up again, and then it is a race to the finish. Several of the side characters are fairly one-dimensional, with only verbal quirks or one to two defining characteristics, when as members of the Reckoners, the reader would expect to see them more fully realized. David himself is almost too perfect for reader credulity. Despite having little to no training in the skills the Reckoners use in their attacks, David keeps up with the experienced Reckoners and is often a crucial part of the plan, which is odd, given his lack of experience and skills.

The plot twists were nicely foreshadowed, but not so obvious that most readers would see them coming. I guessed two twists before they happened, but I wasn’t sure of the details and was still surprised by the end of the book.

Steelheart is a book worth reading for anyone interested in superheroes or an adventure packed YA novel. Although it does not end on a cliffhanger, the book leaves several plot threads unresolved. First in a trilogy, Steelheart opens the door on a fascinating world and asks the question: What if superheroes were evil?