"The Unsaintly" by Lisa Vasquez

August 4, 2015

 

“The Unsaintly” is a work of historical fiction, but with the first portion showing a brace of disputes between God and Lucifer. The first dispute is a friendly argument; the second, a war in Heaven reminiscent of Milton’s “Paradise Lost”. And having been cast from Heaven, Lucifer vows to harm God however he can.

In Jewish folklore, Satan may be the enemy of mankind, but he does so as the servant of God. It is the Christian view that Satan is the enemy of God.

However, the meat of the story is not about God or Lucifer, but about Isabel, daughter of the king of France. First, her childhood friend, Marco, is attacked by another boy. When Marco kills him in self-defense, he is sent away. Later, Isabel is betrothed to be married but her suitor betrays her. And then, after being to a nunnery, the young girl begins to begins to suffer stigmata—the mark of Christ’s suffering. Through all this and more, Isabel has visions of demons and vile creatures attacking her.

Watching over future-Sainte Isabel is the angel Marciel, disguised as a monk within the nunnery. His guardianship is tested by his growing attraction to her… and the knowledge that Lucifer has sent one of his agents as well!

God and Marciel hang out from time to time, not really doing anything. God reminds Marciel to write Isabel’s story, but vanishes without telling him what to do about Lucifer. Other times, God and Lucifer pal around together and murmur fears about something called the Void.

So would anyone not Catholic get anything out of this story of a historical saint? There’re some humorous bits, with angels and demons squabbling. Not unlike the gods in the Iliad, they supply comic relief.

In “The Unsaintly”, Lucifer pulls a sword and charges God, thinking he can slay the creator of the Universe. And seemingly God thinks that Lucifer might succeed, for he seems afraid and surrounds himself with bodyguards. The scene is unintentionally comical.

Still, it’s aimed at a Catholic readership. Those readers will get the most out of the story, though some Catholics might quibble over theological matters. Fans of history might enjoy the medieval setting and customs. There are some very good creep-out scenes of demonic possession for horror fans. It certainly builds to a dramatic conclusion.

“The Unsaintly” could have used a final proofreading due to some misspelled words cropping up. Throughout the book, but especially in the first few chapters, the narrative within a chapter suddenly jumps from one scene to another without a break. That’s a bit jarring at times, but these problems are not so bad as to ruin the book.

Also, Vasquez drops in chess moves like Nb1-c3, Bc8-g4, which are utterly meaningless to most people, even those who play chess non-professionally. It’s also anachronistic because that method of recording chess moves did not exist in the 13th Century. Better to describe the move in the narrative so everyone can follow the action.

Still, if you’re into stories of demonic possession and battles between the forces of Good and Evil, you will enjoy “The Unsaintly”, the first book in a planned trilogy.

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