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I wandered around an art festival recently where a vendor was selling Nativity scenes – Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus and the wise men in Bethlehem – some of which were more whimsical than others. One scene, for example, had penguin figurines standing over baby Jesus penguin eggs.

I was thinking about that as I read Sean Leary’s new novel THE ARIMATHEAN. There is nothing whimsical about this book. It’s a book about Mary, Joseph, Jesus and the Magi, but it is NOT a religious book per se. There’s no sermon, no proselytizing. God is actually barely even mentioned. It’s good versus evil on whatever level works for you. This just feels like an adventure story.

A bloody, gory, fight-filled adventure story. The story imagines that the Magi were actually mystical ninjas from a secret society whose mission it is to protect Mary and Joseph on the road to Bethlehem to give birth to Christ. They are pursued by King Herod and Satan’s demons.

Every adventure like this needs a jaded ex-something-or-other pulled back into the fold, called upon to do what he does best despite his overpowering reluctance. THE ARIMATHEAN has that. The titular Arimathean is an ex-Magi with his own personal demons drawn back For One Last Mission.

There are parts of this book I read while eating lunch that I wished I had not read while eating lunch. This is not a book I probably would have written. Frankly, it’s probably not a book I would have picked up if I didn’t already trust Leary’s talents as writer. (Exhibit 1: Leary’s excellent short story collection EVERY NUMBER IS LUCKY TO SOMEONE) You would NOT hear this story in Bible study class. Lots of swords and axes, blood and pus, violence and torture. The Nativity penguins would TOTALLY freak.

BUT those who object to violence and blood in a “Jesus book” should consider what is actually in the Bible and real religious history. These were violent days. Leary just ups the ante with magic and demons thrown in.

Also, and here’s the thing, this book is UPLIFTING. Gross at times, yes, intense throughout, definitely. But it also has that feel good quality a good adventure story must have. Whether you take that as a “Glory of God” message or just a “it feels awesome to kick evil’s ass” message is up to you. The book puts no pressure on you to choose. Just enjoy the ride whatever way you want.

THE ARIMATHEAN is book one of a planned three-part trilogy. I, for one, am looking forward to this.

I’ve met Leary a couple of times. This is a gifted writer and a nice person. Take a leap. Buy this book.


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