Princess of Wands
When you find a book about a Christian paladin in the modern world, and it bears the name of a Tarot card and quotes from Alistair Crowley at the very beginning... it might be a little bit syncretic.
I love Baen Books. I love those folks dearly. But sometimes they are a little bit weird over there. Probably comes of having a Libertarian publisher and a Trotskyist editor.
And John Ringo, God love him, is one of the foci of current Baen weirdness. Good storyteller, odd little quirks. The extended and bizarrely inaccurate riff on menstruation in There Will Be Dragons, in the same book in which he fanboyed all over Heather Alexander. The love of seemingly pointless amounts of gore. The creepiness of even just the sample chapters of Ghost.
And yet, he does improve with every book. Noticeably. As long as people keep on him.
He's not someone I dislike. He just makes me beat my head slowly against my desk while mentally whispering, "What do you think you're doing?!"
So okay, I really wanted to read Steve White's new book. (So shoot me. I love Steve White. He's probably never going to be great, but he's consistently good.) So I bought the January 2006 Baen ebook pack, which also included Ringo's new book Princess of Wands.
It's a new take on the old urban fantasy ground covered by Bureau 13 -- a secret organization of paladins, clerics, and faith-based mages is out doing law enforcement on Evil From Beyond Our World. In a cynical yet highly successful marketing move, this organization (at least in the US) is largely made up of various stripes of neopagan. And Opus Dei.
*pause for maniacal laughter from all Third Order and Lay Apostolate folks*
In a less normal move, the paladin who's the main character is an evangelical Episcopalian soccer mom. (Of course, since this is a Ringo book, she is also trained in the use of every weapon and Special Forces tactic known to man or woman.) However, she is one of but a few Christians in the organization in the US. (Even though the Catholic Church donates a third of its operating funds.)
*pause for maniacal laughter from anyone on a parish finance committee*
The thing is, Ringo is dead right about how most neopagans and occult-types (at least in fandom) tend to behave and think, and so that part of their organization rang true. (Except the part where it hadn't actually fallen apart in several messy feuds. But we'll take self-preservation as an explanation.)
What he never actually comes right out and says, though, is that their way of thinking is precisely the sort of thing that doesn't work for any stripe of Christian. It would mess a Christian up seriously if they bought into it, or even tried to wrap their heads around it very long.
If you don't believe that God is the God, and that God's power all comes from God and not from his worshippers, then you don't worship God. You worship a minor Semitic god with a certain amount of popularity.
The other thing is that it's obviously kind of stupid to ask the opinion of pagans as to whether doing magic is permitted by God. People who don't actually worship God don't get a vote on that sort of thing. You could consult them on matters of natural law, but not on religious law. (Unless, of course, you were asking a scholar of religious history for a historical overview. Advice, no.)
I'd also like to say that St. Michael the Archangel has absolutely nothing to do with Mars, Frey, or any similar concatenation of wargods, except in that he could kick their butt any day of the week. As he will no doubt explain to certain people at the end of time.
Finally, Mr. Ringo introduces a perfect example of a scantily clad chick who tells the world she has high esteem and a devotion to Heinlein. The more the unclad women protest how high their self-esteem is, the less I tend to believe them. I've never met anybody yet who dresses like that who doesn't have even more issues than the average geeky fan; and dressing like that helps them create even more horrible events to have to deal with. This doesn't make them bad people. It makes them badly confused people. Badly confused people shouldn't be confused and enabled further by books like this.
However, I did find it psychologically true that such a woman would strive to dig deeper into berzerker anger.
I do commend this book as an excellent adventure and a great evocation of fandom, particularly in the convention scenes. But as in fandom, the Christian is left scrambling for footing and thrown back upon her own resources. She rarely gets to encounter anyone else with even roughly similar views, and is constantly forced to re-invent the wheel.