Book Review // Icon: a novel
It's been a long time since I've had a novel I no kidding could not put down. It's been a while since I've had a book come and abandoned everything I was currently reading to finish it in one sitting. It's been a while since a prayer moved me to tears. Icon did all of this.
Forget your old name. Forget your parents. These are the things Euphrosyne’s grandparents and counselor tell her. But if Orthodox Christianity is a lie, why did the icon so dramatically save her life? And what can she do to get the icon back? In a post-Christian America, where going to church, praying, or owning holy things means death, a twelve-year-old girl searches for the truth. Finding it may cost her everything.
What I liked
- Eurphrosyne! She was the POV character, and the only one who's character was really explored (it being 1st person), and she was so well done. She's 12, and all the confusing and conflicting emotions were so familiar, so real. She acted completely her age. I loved that she was a mess of contradictions, and I really, really related to her struggle of trying to do the right thing and failing constantly. Honestly, there were a lot of similarities between me and her, in our thought processes and reactions. According to my friend she even looks like me.
- How near to home the dystopian world was. I guess this could be consider a good thing or a bad thing. With most dystopian novels, you get a world that's almost totally different. Yeah, it's often commenting on something going on in socity today, but it's so far in the future and so removed that the sense of "this looks like home" is often gone. But this had Walmart. And McDonalds. It looked like home. Kids had cell phones - all the technology was the same. Everything was the same - except Christianity was persecuted. The whole "tolerance" movement taken further along the direction it's going. It was honestly unsettling. Like, I could see it happening a whole lot more easily than I could see something like Hunger Games happening.
- Feeding off of that, I loved how it showed the implications of totally getting rid of Christianity, yet still trying to keep the semblance of holidays and such. Christmas became Winter Holidays, etc. Which is funny, because "holidays" is a contraction of "holy days." But to get back on track, everything was shallow. Eurphosyne talk about it a little, how there was no depth to anything. It looked pretty, but that was it.
- Saints and miracles play a large part in this, too, especially in the inciting incident. I won't say more here, because spoilers, but it was done in an absolutely beautiful way. One scene in particular reminded me of a picture one of my little brothers' picture books.
- The prayers. There were prayers and hymns littered all throughout the book which really added to the story. In liturgy, I was able to chant aloud what was written, because I knew it. The Nativity hymns were familiar, even if I couldn't remember the tones. When Eurphosyne prayed Psalm 50 (51 for everyone without a Septuagint), with the way the plot had gone at that time, I found myself praying it desperately along with her, my mind filling in the gaps when she forgot the words. At one point, there was a cliff hanger, then before you read the resolution there was a set of prayers I personally had never seen before, but several sentences in I started realizing what they were and started sobbing. I think there's probably still tear splotches on my book.
What I didn't like
- The ending. Probably part of it was I cried all the way through, but [highlight to see white text with spoilers] I'm generally very, very wary of anything that has to do with angels in fiction, what people guess it'd be like and everything. I'm cool with actual real, historical stories of angels showing up and doing stuff, because they actually happened, but "head-canon" type stories always put me on edge and pull me out of "I'm deeply immersed in this story" mode. I was honestly really disappointed to find this in the first really Orthodox speculative fiction I've read. Also, I knew exactly how I wanted the story to end, what I thought it was leading up to, and it didn't, so I felt a little, cheated, maybe?
- While I realize the limitations of the story and the audience that it was intended for, I still found it unrealistic how the only Christians in the entirety of the book were Orthodox, except for maybe some of the kids that showed up at one point. In a near future American where Christianity is severely persecuted, I'd imagine that there'd be quite a few Protestants and Catholics, and it wouldn't be that hard to work in. At one point there is a man who sings Silent Night on a stage as part of a "winter holidays" program. All the way through the song I honestly assumed he was Protestant, before he leaned into the mic and said "Christ is born" before being dragged away, something I've only ever heard Orthodox say.
All in all, though, those two "eh" things were not enough to detract from the amazingness of this book. It gets a full five stars from me.
I'd definitely recommend it for any Orthodox teenager, probably 12 and up. There are some rather intense, persecution related scenes that you wouldn't want to read to younger people.
While I really, really want to say "everyone should read this!", I really can't. Saints and miracle-working icons are weaved throughout all of this, and honestly it'd probably make most Protestants uncomfortable. So give it a go if you want - it's really good - but it's also very Orthodox.