Author John Mark Reynolds and I have something of a strange history. At the age of 17, I was invited to join the Torrey Honors Institute that Dr. Reynolds had begun at Biola University. I declined the offer, because at the time I did not want to spend my entire college life reading (I know, I was an idiot). Later, during my senior year at university, one of his students asked me to adapt a play Dr. Reynolds had written into a script for a senior project. And I did. Very poorly. The doctor made that known to my friend rather than me, and he was right to do so (I was, after all, not really his student). After this, Dr. Reynolds and I saw each other very little and years later crossed paths when we I was working at Biola. We chatted briefly, and that was that.
When I began to do legwork for Stronghold, I learned that Dr. Reynolds had released a novel. After reading the description, I assumed the book was above me and did not seek to read it. But when he announced earlier this year that a new edition was being released, I reached out to him for a copy, which he graciously provided.
I will admit that I was skeptical of the premise of the book, but Dr. Reynolds’ work quickly earned my admiration. In fact, Chasing Shadows: Back to Barterra has become one of my favorite books of the year. A blend of the supernatural and the scientific, entrenched in fantasy yet anchored to reality, the novel is thrilling and engaging from its start to its close. Dr. Reynolds has bookended the tale with a compelling preface and intriguing epilogue, each of which makes the reader question all the book contains (similarly to C.S. Lewis’ afterword in Out of the Silent Planet). In the end, Chasing Shadows: Back to Barterra left me with a very invigorating thought: given the power of God, it is very conceivable and highly likely that reality is far more grand, complex, and–dare I say–in a sense “magical” than I have allowed myself to believe.
The novel has that effect. As one whose beliefs align with those of the author in many ways, I was moved by his language and nuanced understanding of phenomena beyond the world we see. Certain books connect with us for very specific reasons, and I think the reason that Chasing Shadows: Back to Barterra had such an impact on me is that it bears the fingerprints of so much I already cherished, but it has made those elements coalesce in a new type of work all its own. I could pinpoint moments of inspiration wrought from Joss Whedon, J.R.R. Tolkien, as well as the aforementioned Lewis, and I adored Reynolds’ willingness to wear these and other influences on his sleeve while still maintaining a unique voice unto himself.
Which I suppose important part of recommending any novel, the style and story of the work. Chasing Shadows: Back to Barterra features an array of interesting characters including dark lords, aging professors, evangelists, and dragons–all drawn into a conflict that stretches across two worlds. I do not want to speak too much regarding the plot, as I fear I may spoil developments that I found surprising but fitting (many of them led me to “of course” moments of realization), but I will say that the novel is well-written and will likely contain a something of value or connection for nearly any adult who reads it.
But I feel this description does it little justice. Indeed, Chasing Shadows: Back to Barterra is hard to discuss without revealing too much, and this brings to mind an old adage in the filmmaking industry: great movies make poor trailers. I would have to say the same for the book. A brief summary cannot capture the awe, the wonder, the reverence, and the thrill-ride encapsulated in this novel. I had a wonderful experience reading Chasing Shadows: Back to Barterra, and I fully intend to read it again.