Note: Because this book is the conclusion to a trilogy, my review contains (very mild) spoilers for the first two books. If you are considering starting the series, I would recommend reading my review of book one, instead.
- Author: Katherine Barger
- Publisher: Anaiah Press
- Available Now
- Synopsis: Separated from her exiled friends, Nyssa remains with Omri as his dream interpreter, but wields little influence with the leader.
- Disclosure: I received a complimentary eARC of the book from the author. Opinions conveyed are my own.
He said, ‘I have had a dream that deeply troubles me, and I must know what it means.Daniel 2:3
Dream interpretation plays a significant role in the series, and I also like that this verse is from the period of the Babylonian exile. While I could have selected a verse about God’s sovereignty, or about redemption (see Luke 4:18, emphasis on “freedom for the prisoners”), this one was fun because it also fit the subject of the narrative.
See also Isaiah 49:17!
Book three of the series is inspired by the historical return of the Jews to Jerusalem, which we see happening in the biblical accounts of Ezra and Nehemiah. Based on previous conversation with the author and a quick survey of these books, I don’t think Return to Maren is meant to parallel the specific moments of the biblical narrative. However, I will say that it does provoke thought as to what it looks like to be an exile and, in so doing, provide a stronger point of connection for readers who are reading about the Jewish exile. For this reason, and because Barger’s book provokes interest, I could see it included in a home/Christian school unit about the Jewish exile.
Likewise, I appreciate that the trilogy, as a whole, deals with the theme of exile, as the Bible makes it clear that God’s heart is deeply turned toward those who are being oppressed. I think this novel can give readers a clearer idea of some of the real struggles that people in our world are experiencing.
Nyssa continues to grapple with her newfound faith in God, as she and her friends face continuing danger and persecution. She wonders about His seeming silence and detachment from the situation. Ultimately, the message of His Sovereignty is revealed.
As a Christian reader, I think I would have enjoyed a little bit more of an “exclamation point” on this theme– that is, a stronger, clearer emphasis. We spent a lot of time with Nyssa in her doubting, and I would have enjoyed a bit more “payoff” in terms of the revelation that God really was in control. However, I think that the subtlety works in terms of gently offering a different perspective to readers who aren’t Christians. And, I think that the author’s amount of emphasis does work, in terms of what we see in Scripture. In the book of Esther, for instance, we see people praying and then celebrating deliverance, but God’s Name is not used. So, my point is. while I have a slightly different stylistic preference, I think Barger’s presentation works, too!
What I Liked
Book three was a strong conclusion to the series and one that I thoroughly enjoyed reading. I had so much trouble putting the book down when I was reading before work, yesterday (after getting up at 5:15 to read. It did help me get up, which was a blessing!).
The pacing was fantastic and the excitement was heightened, for me, since I knew that the series was wrapping up. There was a good number of plot twists and it was just really fun to be reading from Nyssa’s perspective, again. Along the same line, I felt that the plot was well-executed. There weren’t parts that felt “too convenient.” In fact, there was at least one part from back in book one that turned out to be significant, so it was fun to see how the author had planned ahead.
I feel that the romance was well-executed: included as necessary in the earlier chapters without overwhelming the plot, then blossoming as the series developed. And it certainly was a sweet romance, which went beyond temporary feelings.
There was a character named Calvin and his last name starts with an O apostrophe. Knowing that the author is a big appreciater of Madeleine L’Engle, I willingly interpret this as an A Wrinkle in Time reference to Calvin O’Keefe (Admittedly, I didn’t observe any other similarities between the two characters).
I really enjoyed the repetition of a certain Latin expression, throughout the book. In addition to the fact that the translation was meaningful, the recurring use of the words played powerfully into the narrative. I think that was one of the best parts of the book!
This is a pleasantly “clean” book, which I would be happy to recommend to its intended, young adult, audience. There is a little bit of kissing, but nothing overly intense. One of the characters uses the term “God-forsaken,” but it’s immediately explained that he really feels that God has forsaken the object in question.
Return to Maren is an excellent conclusion to Barger’s Exiles trilogy. I’m happy to recommend it on the basis of interest and wholesomeness. However, I strongly recommend starting with the first two books in the series and working through chronologically. This is a book that does not read as a standalone.