A Review: Haunt of Jackals (Day 2)

April 2000–Zalmoxis Cave, Romania
She was free, for now. The first step . . .

With dagger in hand, Gina Lazarescu faced the cave opening where the sounds of scuffing feet seemed to mark the presence of another. A Collector? One of Jerusalem’s Undead?

Bleeding, she stood still and waited.

Haunt of Jackals opens where I presume Field of Blood left off: in a cave where Regina Lazarescu (“Queen of the Resurrected”) has slain an ancient vampire and torn herself free from thorny bonds; where she is weak, losing blood, and still hunted; where a fight plays out as it has for thousands of years between Good and Evil, between the Alive and the Undead, between Those Who Hunt and Those Who Resist.

The book’s story unfolds as Gina rejoins Cal Nichols, an immortal who has been walking the earth since he was brought out of the grave at Jesus’ crucifixion (read Matthew 27:52-53 for the account). Cal was once one of the Nistarim, a select group of men and women who carry the world’s burdens on their shoulders. If one of them slips before another can replace him, it will bring about Final Vengeance, the revenge of the evil Collectors, demonic spirits who once rebelled against God. Although Cal’s place among the Nistarim was lost when he fell into sin with the beautiful Nikki Lazarescu, he continues to fight the Collectors by finding and training those who are destined to join the Nistarim eventually — and by thwarting the plans of the Akeldama Cluster, a particularly nasty group of Collectors who are not just demonic, but undead. Raised from their own graves when the blood of Judas Iscariot fell upon them, the Akeldama Collectors are physical, immortal, and relentless in their pursuit of Final Vengeance.

Haunt of Jackals follows Cal and Gina, his unwitting daughter, as they seek to protect a child whose destiny lies with the Nistarim. At the same time, Cal is determined to find and destroy a particularly terrifying vampire, Natira, before he can carry out plans of his own. The book also spends a good amount of time in the heads and plans of the Undead, using the point of view of vampires, werewolves, and various possessed creatures.

Haunt‘s plot is complex, taking us across the world from Romania to Oregon to the wasteland of Kerioth in Israel. It delves into the past, present, and future of Gina Lazarescu, exploring her heart as she attempts to overcome an abusive childhood and reconnect with her father, identify her own role in the fight against the Undead, heal the wounds of losing a child to death and a husband to divorce, and figure out whether or not she’s willing to put her faith in “the Nazarene” — Jesus, whose blood she wears in her jewelry as protection against the Akeldama Cluster and as the door to salvation if she ever decides to drink it. It delves into Cal’s life and past as well, with plenty of action scenes and drama. It takes us into the homes and hearts of the Undead and shows us horrifying things (some of them graphic and stomach-turning).

In all of this, “the Nazarene” is often mentioned, yet I found him strangely absent. And here is ultimately why I disliked Haunt of Jackals. In monster lore, superstition dictates that power lies in artifacts, and Wilson hasn’t particularly changed that. Gina kills an ancient vampire by using the knife that Peter wielded in Gethsemane. The Collectors can be dispatched by a metal tent peg driven through the temples of their host body.  To banish a Collector to the abyss, a drop of Christ’s blood will suffice — and all Gina needs to do to be saved is literally drink the same blood.

If Haunt of Jackals was an allegory, I could see value in all of this — but it’s not. It’s an adventure set in the real world, albeit with lots of speculative dimensions, and in this adventure, all you really need to defeat evil is the right artifacts, self-discipline, and good combat training. Cal declares at one point that “We battle not against flesh and blood,” yet his methods of battling are decidedly physical. Vampires are killed with blades, blood, and tent pegs, but never once is a demon vanquished by the power of Jesus’ name or by the power of faith in His blood.

It is here, not in the violence, sexual innuendo, and anti-established-church attitudes, that I felt Haunt of Jackals failed as a distinctively Christian voice in a subgenre saturated by occult ideas and superstitions.  The book upholds Christian morality and lauds the Nazarene as the Savior and head of Those Who Resist, yet the power and presence of Christ as the Bible reveals them to us seem replaced by the power and presence of Christ as the source of ritual, artifact, and victory in combat.



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26 responses to “A Review: Haunt of Jackals (Day 2)”

  1. […] blog. Rachel took part in a blog tour for Eric Wilson’s book Haunt of Jackals. She reviewed the book and started an interesting conversation about dealing with God in fiction, which carried on in this […]

  2. Rachel Avatar

    Kevin, thanks for joining in with your perspective on this debate! I like your closing line: “I think the book takes us to more truths than we realize as far as that goes, and our comments about these things only proves it.” Certainly, the book touches on many deep truths and should get readers thinking about them in one way or another!

    However, in answer to your statement that the debate is based more on our “religiousness” than on literary criticism, I’d say that my original review at least wasn’t meant to look at the book as a self-standing piece of literature, but to look at it as it relates to truth as revealed in the scripture. I don’t have any problem with symbolism regarding Jesus’ blood any more than I do with crosses on church walls — I take communion and worship Christ as “the Lamb of God,” acts that involve heavy symbolism.

    Where I take issue with a symbol in literature is where I feel it may obscure or even twist truth rather than shedding greater light on it. But I do realize that I’m a subjective reader like all the rest of us, so other readers may (and I hope they do) find Eric’s symbolism more revealing than obscuring.

    That said, I believe Christian authors and artists of any kind must see their creative work as fitting into the greater tapestry of God’s work — creation, salvation, and continuing on — and as people who claim to hold truth, should be careful in the way we portray it. I don’t believe in the absolute autonomy of art.

  3. Kevin Avatar

    Can I sum this up? I believe that the book really does expose religion. These reviews seem more of a debate based on our religiousness more so than actual criticisms about literature. It seems like if we commented on famous pieces of art because the images in the artwork didn’t really fit into our ‘theology’, rather than noting the purpose or even the techniques used in the art-work itself.

    I think the book is successful in that it does stir up the things in us that cause us to put Christianity in our nice neat little packages. We don’t like symbolism in regards to the blood of Christ, but yet, we put crosses in our churches. I think that is heavy irony.

    I think the book takes us to more truths than we realize as far as that goes, and our comments about these things only proves it.

  4. Rachel Avatar

    Actually, I’m sometimes surprised that Lewis’s fiction doesn’t get censured more than it does. It seems like once something has snuck into established favour, we’re less likely to question it down the road.

  5. Eric Wilson Avatar

    Thanks, Rachel. I understand better what you were thinking, even though it’s never what I meant to imply.

    Strangely, my non-Christian readers never seem to have a problem with metaphor and allegory. I’m not sure why that is, but of course C.S. Lewis and his centaurs and dryads would probably face some serious complaints in the CBA market these days, if we didn’t already know of him.

  6. Rachel Avatar

    Eric and Melissa, yes, I like how you’ve said that as well. The marriage analogy works very well.

    Eric, you said, “Our salvation comes through that alone (which makes me wonder why you and others had a problem with the “just one drop” part).” Actually, the idea that just one drop is enough was never a problem for me. I agree that Christ’s blood is that powerful.

    I think what it comes down to is that as a reader (read: from a subjective standpoint), I didn’t think the allegorical element in “drinking Christ’s blood” pointed clearly enough to the reality behind it. In other words, “just one drop” wasn’t a problem for me; “just drink” was. What came through to me was a message that “you can get saved by drinking blood and then working really, really hard forever after at dying to yourself.” The reality of who Christ is, how grace and faith work, and WHY His blood is efficacious didn’t come through, and I’m not sure that nonchristians would understand that drinking blood is an allegory or how they can apply that in their own lives.

    However, I have a feeling that this message might come through much more clearly in the trilogy as a whole.

    Eric, I will be giving a lot more thought to the role of blood in salvation, communion, and Jesus’ words re: drinking His blood. Thanks for inspiring deeper thought on these very important issues :).

  7. Melissa Avatar

    Eric–“I think it’s wrong to present to new believers the idea that if they just accept Jesus into their hearts everything will be hunky-dory. The honeymoon ends and then the reality sets in that we still have natures that try to rise up in us. The already-present disease of sin is in our veins, and as believers we are cleansed of its affects, unless, as in the book, we give the enemy an opening.”

    I don’t want to sidetrack the conversation, but I love what you said here. Salvation is the beginning of our walk with Jesus, not the destination. I do wish more books, churches, Christians, Christian media, would point this out. Punching our ticket to heaven is not the end, it’s the beginning of a journey.

  8. Eric Wilson Avatar

    Rachel, thanks for clarifying a few of your issues with the book.

    I understand what you’re trying to say, that our salvation comes through Jesus’ sacrifice alone, not our own. I agree. Jesus died for us. He alone could pay that price. Our salvation comes through that alone (which makes me wonder why you and others had a problem with the “just one drop” part).

    But…after that act of faith and salvation, we must work out our salvation, not by any goodness on our own part, but as a continual dealing with our fleshly natures. We are told to “take up our cross daily and follow” Jesus. We are to our sins and alive in Christ, yet we all struggle with sin each day. This is why we must die daily. Not to earn salvation, but to keep lines of communication open between us and our Savior. I think it’s wrong to present to new believers the idea that if they just accept Jesus into their hearts everything will be hunky-dory. The honeymoon ends and then the reality sets in that we still have natures that try to rise up in us. The already-present disease of sin is in our veins, and as believers we are cleansed of its affects, unless, as in the book, we give the enemy an opening.

    Even in my marriage (19 years now), my wife and I must die to our own desires daily. We are committed to each other. We are in love. None of that is in question. But we must work out that relationship on a daily basis, out of a desire to truly be one. That’s how I feel in my walk with the Lord. I don’t die daily to earn anything, but to be in communion with Him.

  9. Rachel Avatar

    Eric, thank you so much for your gracious, thoughtful response. I struggled over whether to share my thoughts and feelings at all because I knew you’d likely read them, and truly, I hate to be critical of any living author! I decided that I should because, as tour bloggers, we’re required to give a review of each book we read — and I thought it fairer to readers and to you to give a reasoned response and hopefully inspire conversation rather than present a vague “I didn’t really like it.”

    So first of all, may I say that I appreciate your missional stance a great deal? I don’t question your heart, and I’m not surprised to hear that readers have been positively affected by your work. If the Holy Spirit is alive and working in you, then He’s going to use you, and I praise Him for that :).

    I do still feel the way I feel about the presentation of salvation in this book (and again, as I’ve said elsewhere, this is the only one I’ve read — so I don’t have the whole picture).

    So if I may respond to a couple of your comments specifically:

    “For me, as is shown in the books, the power of salvation, healing, and protection in Jesus’ blood is a daily reality. It’s not a symbol. It’s the real thing. Jesus told His disciples to drink His blood, and many left because of it.”

    Yes, the power of salvation is in the blood. But what did Jesus mean when He told us to drink it? In the book, Gina literally drinks it to be saved — but no reader will ever be able to do the same thing. The apostles didn’t drink Jesus’ blood; Paul didn’t; you didn’t when you got saved. You put your faith in it, and I believe that’s what Jesus meant by the phrase.

    That’s where the blood felt more like a talisman than like a biblical reality to me. If the book was set in a fantasy world, I probably wouldn’t have the same problem; the allegorical element would be clear. But because the book is set in this world, I found the lines between allegory and non-allegory muddied. (Becky Miller has blogged more about this.)

    So yes, in this the depiction of Christ felt pagan to me — more like a fountain of eternal youth than like faith in the Living God I know. That said, I’m very, very glad you’ve stopped by to give us an inside look at your work, just as I’m glad for all the commenters who’ve argued with me. I don’t want my readers to only get my viewpoint on this!

    The second comment I wanted to respond to is this:

    “There is very real power in the sacrifice that Jesus made on the Cross, and that’s what is being pointed out in the story. I didn’t want it to be just a crucifix, as in the original vampire mythos, but the real, active, healing blood of our Savior. I try to make it clear throughout that it takes only one drop of that Blood, but it’s a day by day decision, a dying to one’s fleshly nature.”

    Now, here I realize that probably 70% of evangelical Christians are going to disagree with me, so it’s my turn to be highly controversial ;). (Also, I made that statistic up on the spot.) When in “Haunt of Jackals” the nature of salvation was clarified, it was in the way you describe here: as “a day by day decision, a dying to one’s fleshly nature.” I actually vehemently disagree with that description of what it takes to be saved, and even though so many sincere (and godly!) Christians believe it, I think it’s another pagan idea that’s snuck into the church.

    Do we have to sometimes “die to ourselves” to follow God? Yup, because He leads down difficult paths. Peter died to himself on the cross. Paul died to himself when he got his head chopped off, and also when he was beaten (nearly) to death, nearly drowned, nearly frozen, all those things. But salvation isn’t won by our death to ourselves. It’s won through Christ’s death for us. Peter and Paul and the other apostles died to themselves after they’d been saved purely by faith in an act they had nothing to do with.

    The idea that we are saved by dying to our fleshly natures every day is, I think, not a Christian idea. But again, I recognize that many (most?) Christians will disagree with me on this. Thanks for pushing me to take this conversation to another level. And again, thank you, very much, for coming by and adding to the conversation.

  10. Eric Wilson Avatar

    I’m sad to hear the “talisman” viewpoint that some have expressed here regarding the Nazarene Blood. For me, as is shown in the books, the power of salvation, healing, and protection in Jesus’ blood is a daily reality. It’s not a symbol. It’s the real thing. Jesus told His disciples to drink His blood, and many left because of it.

    I don’t believe in icons, talismans, or such. I do believe, though, that there is very real power in the sacrifice that Jesus made on the Cross, and that’s what is being pointed out in the story. I didn’t want it to be just a crucifix, as in the original vampire mythos, but the real, active, healing blood of our Savior. I try to make it clear throughout that it takes only one drop of that Blood, but it’s a day by day decision, a dying to one’s fleshly nature. When Gina finally makes that decision, she admits that she can’t do it on her own strength or good works, that she is not good, and there is only one who could pay that price.

    As for the “anti-establishment” angle, I am writing to reach those outside the fold, as it were, and they have many objections against organized religion. I was not trying to wave a flag for a certain camp, so much as to underline the truth of what church truly is: a gathering of Those Who Resist, two or three gathered in the Nazarene’s name, being a body not lone rangers.

    Please keep the dialogue going on all this, but I ask you, as a brother in the Lord, to not make rash judgments about this story being “pagan” and such. Please look at the story’s unveiling of the Master Collector’s schemes and the true healing and salvation in the Nazarene Blood before tossing it all out. In my own fallible way, flawed as it may be, I do believe there are deep truths from the Bible in this trilogy, and I’ve had some amazing emails from readers reflecting the changes it’s done in their hearts and minds already.

    I know Jesus personally. I love Him. When we see Cal reflect on meeting Jesus outside the tombs, I cried as I wrote it, because I want to be a man who is called by Him to help carry the weight of those around me, to point them to the only One who can save, and to the power in His Blood.

  11. sally apokedak Avatar

    Wow! Great conversation on this. thanks to all of you for educating me.

  12. Jennifer @ Quiverfull Family Avatar

    Well Rachel, I can’t argue with you there – I DID think the anti-institutional digs were tacky and tagged on – rather like waving a ‘here’s the camp I belong to’ flag rather than adding to the story.

    Great conversation :).

  13. Jill Williamson Avatar

    Yeah, that’s true. And the earring thing is interesting, but I hope to see much more than that simply drinking that blood when Gina finally comes around. The times where Cal speaks of the Nazarene are brief. I’ll be interested to see what happens with Gina’s character in book three. I hope it’s clear and powerful.

  14. Rachel Avatar

    Jill, thanks for joining the conversation! Actually, my problem wasn’t at all with Gina taking her time about coming to Jesus. I can totally understand that, and I like it better than I would a story in which the main character just turns her life around with a snap of the fingers and a sinner’s prayer ;). And as Jennifer and KM pointed out, Gina’s struggle with sin is very well depicted.

    My problem is that I didn’t really see a Jesus for her to come to. Just a vial of blood for her to drink. Cal mentions the Nazarene a few times, but I never got a sense of Jesus as a real person, as a vital being whose life, whose character, whose sovereignty, whose actions offer salvation. Obviously Gina wouldn’t see Christ this way yet, but surely Christ could be depicted more clearly from Cal’s POV, or even from the Collectors’.

  15. Rachel Avatar

    Jennifer, thanks for your thoughtful comments! I admit I’m definitely poorer for not having read “Field of Blood” first, and your point about the parabolic elements is well taken :).

    I’m not a “big institutional church girl” either, but as much as I may see problems within it, I also believe that God is alive and well in institutional church people, so I found the remarks in poor taste. Especially so in a story that should be taking an eternal perspective.

    I remember the explanation about the relics not being powerful in and of themselves but only because they are symbols, but I didn’t find it convincing.

  16. Jill Williamson Avatar

    I totally understand where you are coming from when you say, what is up with Gina not believing in Jesus already!

    But I think Eric is writing this series for a non Christian audience. So, in Gina, he has a main character reluctant to come to Christ. A lot of Christian authors struggle with this. I know I do. We want to write books that share Christ with non believers, but many of those readers don’t know who God is, so we can’t expect them to get it quickly.

    If an everyday non believer was to read a lot of the CBA novels out there, they’d likely be turned off with the main character meeting Jesus in the first book. It’s like Paul preaching to the Greeks. The Gospel sounded like foolishness to them. Whereas to the Jews, the Gospel was merely a stumbling block, something to trip up the way they thought God was going to do things.

    Because of my past and how long it took me to come to know Christ, I can relate to Gina’s reluctance and confusion. I trust Eric to tell a good story, and really, these three novels are all one long book, so Gina will get there. She’ll meet Christ and then so will the readers, and I hope, they will be brought along in the story in God’s timing, it will all make sense, and they’ll consider a relationship with Christ in their own lives.

  17. Jennifer @ Quiverfull Family Avatar

    Thanks for such a thoughtful review Rachel! After reading Field of Blood first, I can say that Gina definitely has been struggling with her decision to accept Christ as her Saviour. She often decides to ‘go it alone’ through her own works and self sufficiency before finally surrendering to Him. In fact, her own efforts to hack out the roots of bitterness towards her mother (lodged in her neck) is part and parcel of her fight against her own sins – only to be resolved through placing her faith in Jesus. As I noted on my blog, the literal drinking of Jesus’ blood is definitely not going to go down well for some people.

    Not all believers are capable of putting their finger on their sin, or even be aware of calling it such when they come to faith. For myself, it’s only in retrospect that I can see the weight of my sin, and the misery I carried due to the burden of it, when I called out to Him it was out of desperation and with little knowledge of my status as completely lost without Him – the salvation experience certainly varies from person to person. Though Gina’s conversion is more reasoned, she still resisted His call before surrendering :).

    I did find the anti-established-church remarks a bit…tacked on, they were quite transparent (even though I’m not a big institutional church girl myself). I don’t go in for icons and relics myself, but didn’t lend much thought to that portion of the story, thank you for pointing out the inability of such superstition to deliver us from evil. I believe that Wilson stated however, that it was not any power inherent in the objects, but rather in the fear and hmm – emotional memories – that these objects represented for the Collectors.

    As to the allegorical nature of the story – while it isn’t a true allegory, it contains many parable-like illustrations in terms of sin, redemption etc.

    Wonderful review, I so much enjoyed reading it!

  18. KM Wilsher Avatar

    I thought MTP was hilarious after a while 🙂

    Rachel-thanks so much for the conversation about this book and your review. Well done. It is so good to talk to someone who has read the book. And a believer in Jesus too. Thank you for your comments over at KMWilsher.blogspot too! I am pleased to be a part of the tour and to be able to connect with other Christian Speculative lovers!

    See your around the net!

  19. Fred Warren Avatar

    Nice review, Rachel. I was also disappointed at the way Jesus’ blood was handled primarily as a talisman or magic potion. There were a few attempts to go deeper than that in the dialogue, but they weren’t strong enough to overcome that dominant image.

    I had to chuckle, though, at the acronym MTP for “Metal Tent Pegs.”

  20. Rachel Starr Thomson Avatar

    Thanks, Keanan!

    KM, Eric Wilson definitely tried to cover a LOT in these two books. I’m not sure how well it worked, but good for him for trying. I did enjoy the scope of “Haunt of Jackals.” And he think he’s done a great job of showing the reality of sin, just not the nature of salvation.

    Elisabeth, tour members opt in or out each month, so you have to make your decision about a month in advance so you can receive the book in time. The tours run every month, not every week. It’s a great opportunity to read and discuss new work, and I’ve discovered some of my new favourite authors through it.

  21. Keanan Brand Avatar

    Excellent review.

    You brought up much of what I intended to discuss Wednesday, so I’ll just point folks over here if they want a coherent outline of what’s missing from the story.

    Salvation is more than the blood — it’s a surrendering of one’s life and one’s will to God, and confessing Christ is Lord. Simply ingesting the blood of Christ doesn’t accomplish that.

  22. KM Wilsher Avatar

    Thanks for the conversation, Rachel

    Posted on my blog and yours:

    Maybe so Rachel, but I don’t think Eric left that out on purpose. I didn’t notice that this was a gaping hole. I think he tried to incorporate a lot of the struggle with FAITH/SALVATION/SIN into both FIELD OF BLOOD and HAUNT OF JACKALS. That is where I think Eric missed the mark a little bit. Trying to encompass too many avenues and not being able to exhaust at least one or two of them.

    In the first book, FIELD OF BLOOD, Gina struggled much with sin and its punishment – her mom “bled her” as a child, cutting her with a knife, just in case she was sinning. (Jewish Folklore) She questioned her faith, the afterlife and Jesus. Maybe the second book didn’t cover it enough.

    I still think a nonbeliever would get plenty of opportunity for the Spirit to stir his heart. 🙂

    Just my opinion, and I do see what you are saying.

  23. Elisabeth Avatar

    Yeah, it sound like this book has some problems. Thanks for an honest review. Are these CSFF blog tours required of you as a blogger or do you participate whenever you feel like it? Are new books assigned to be read every week or month? (I don’t blog very much :-))

  24. Rachel Starr Thomson Avatar

    Thanks, Phyllis :).

    KM, I agree that Jesus’ blood was always there — but that’s where I had a problem with the story. How much was Gina actually asked to look at who Jesus was? Did she have to grapple with her sin and realize the love and mercy and justice of God in the sacrifice of Christ? Was she being called to a walk of trust and faith? Or did she just need to break open an earring and drink some holy blood so she could live forever? To me this echoes the idea that many people have that taking communion will guarantee them salvation — even if there is no personal repentance, faith, or relationship with Christ in their lives.

    Thanks for your comment!

  25. KM Wilsher Avatar

    Hmm. Jesus, the Nazerene, was there. His blood always near, if Gina would choose HIM.
    Some good thoughts Rachel.
    Great day 2 post! I am impressed.

  26. Phyllis Wheeler Avatar

    Since I didn’t finish the book, I didn’t feel free to say what you said in my partial review. But I also was wondering where Jesus is in this book. I have learned that the opposite of love is fear. How to vanquish fear? It isn’t with talismans. It’s with holding the hand of Jesus.

    Your review is right on, I think.

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