Review of The Pray-ers: Book 1 - Troubles by Mark S. Mirza9:12 AM
Do you ever feel like prayer is an awkward task that must be fit into your day to remain faithful to God? I get it. I sometimes am a bit unsure how to incorporate authentic conversations with God that don't feel scripted or forced. I do talk often to the Lord, but I lack in the quality of my words sometimes. I really do think it's because I struggle with this with all the relationships I have (as an introvert.) This month, I had the chance to read a new Christian historical fiction book, The Pray-ers / Book 1 Troubles written by Mark S. Mirza and published by CTM Publishing Atlanta. What did it teach me about prayer?
First, I should point out that I rarely read Christian fiction. It's not that I don't like it as a genre, but I'm picky. I prefer nonfiction overall, learning about facts and figures and perspectives. If I do read a Christian fiction book, it is usually historical. This book attempts to bring to life characters of the past through fairly realistic encounters. The book follows the lives of characters in the 1st century, 19th century, and today. As they deal with common problems, they also face darkness -- played out as demons characters -- and turn to God in prayer. The book specifically lays out both their prayer struggles and a sort of "action play" for putting prayer in the limelight again.
While the book did read like a story, it also felt a bit like a reference book. The novel made reference to some pretty compelling prayer resources, including the Wesley Family Prayers Book, a nineteenth-century title that really existed and is expected to be republished by CTM Publishing Inc. later this year. I did feel like so much of the story "stopped" to review questions from this resource, and that was both a good and bad thing. If read more as a reference book, The Prayer-ers is thoughtful and full of guidance. If read purely for entertainment, the action of the book suffered a bit from these long pauses to go over review questions. I think that you get the most out of it if you remember that it is more of a study itself than a tale.
One word about subject matter in the book: This is written mainly for adults. While there is nothing in the book that I wouldn't let my older teens read, it's just not going to be that interesting for them. There is lots of dialogue that seems more familiar to grown-ups -- especially married couples. References to sleepless nights or the struggle of a parent will just be more relatable to adults. It think that most kids will just not be all that concerned with the subject matter.
Another thing to point out is the use of "demons" in the storyline. I'm personally not that bristly at the idea of supernatural content in my books and films. God, after all, is supernatural. But I know that some people are sensitive to the use of demons and anything fantastical, so be aware of that. I think the author does a good job of explaining in the forward that there is a role to be filled by some type of character that challenges the goodness of God and seeks to usurp our relationship with Him through prayers. Demons seem as a good of a vehicle for this chaos than anything, so I appreciate that this has been well thought out and that the background for the character development is given to the reader in advance.
Finally, I did really like the appendix material in the back. After traveling through three very separate timelines, experiencing so much drama, and meeting the characters and demons of the plot, it almost seems necessary at times to stop and review the role of everyone. There is an nice explanation of the timeline in the back, as well as a list of characters by era, and how Bible verses are referenced. As a data junkie, this fed my need to tie everything together, although many people may not even use this feature (and that's fine.)
Overall, this is an engaging read, but not like anything you've likely read before. I'm a big advocate of groundbreaking writing methods, and I think that The Pray-ers fills a very niche gap that nothing else is even trying to do right now. There will be another book in the series soon, so if you like this one, there is much to look forward to! Even if Christian fiction isn't your cup of tea, you'll get something out of this read, and it all comes from a writer with what I can tell has a great heart for equipping followers of Christ with tools that are hard to come by these days.
As the Church changes, fragments, and moves in directions where we look to a variety of resources for our spiritual growth (not just the pulpit) I think these types of literary experiments will become more and more important -- and relevant! Mark S. Mirza is more than qualified to lead that experiment. I'm quite happy he took the risk to do something bold about it.
Learn more about the book at the official Facebook and Twitter accounts!