Title: As Sure as the Dawn
Author: Francine Rivers
Series: Mark of the Lion, book 3
Major Themes: Ancient Rome, Ancient Germany, Early Christians
Synopsis: When Atretes decides to take his son and head back to Germania, his homeland, he doesn’t count on the widow Rizpah putting up a fight against him taking “her son”.
One of the first books I read in 2022 was A Voice in the Wind. I’d heard of Francine Rivers for years and was familiar with some of her titles, but that was the first one that really got me into her writing. I couldn’t stop reading there, of course—that book ends with a terrible cliffhanger—so throughout the rest of the year, I slowly made my way through the series. I finally finished reading As Sure as the Dawn near the end of the year. Several people told me that it wasn’t their favorite of the series, and while I can tend to agree with them, I also think the trilogy feels incomplete without this book. It isn’t as strong as the other two, but since the main character, Atretes, appears frequently in the first book in the series, it was only right to have the conclusion to his story.
Angry, and bitter against everyone, Atretes spends his days sulking around his empty, prosperous-looking home or wandering the hills, trying to vent his rage on anything he can lay his hands on. His life was turned upside-down ten years ago when he was captured in a battle in Germania and shipped off to Rome to be trained as a gladiator. Now that he has won his freedom and is out of the arena, he should be happy—but instead, he’s trying to deal with the crushing grief inflicted upon him by the betrayal of a wicked, wily girl he once loved. He wants to leave the Roman world forever, but one final obstacle stands in his way: His illegitimate son, who is being cared for by a Christian woman, Rizpah, after his initial rejection of the boy. He brings his son home, but the boy refuses to be cared for by anyone other than his adoptive mother. For Rizpah, being in this fearsome warrior’s house is the last thing she wants to do. She is still trying to find her feet in her new faith—especially after the loss of her husband and child—and now she is challenged by this barbarian’s anger and the forced distance separating her from her church family. More than that, can she allow a barbarian to take her son, stripping him of any chance of learning about her Lord? Can her faith stand the test? Will Atretes be able to find hope and healing?
As Sure as the Dawn was an intriguing story, and one I enjoyed reading, but I doubt I’ll ever read it again. Compared to the first two books, the plot didn’t feel quite as strong, which I was disappointed about. I know Rivers can write good stories; this just wasn’t one of her best. I’m not sorry I read the story, though—it’s good to have Atretes’ story wrapped up. I think one of the biggest disappointments to me was, oddly enough, the faith element. I appreciated the characters’ faith, but there were several striking scenes that I felt could have been handled differently—that they were there more for the added drama than actually serving the story as a whole. I can’t say I’m sad they were in the book, but by the time I was two-thirds of the way through the story, it was starting to feel contrived, and that was disappointing. There were also several heavily sensual scenes, which I struggled with.
Overall? This is an okay book. As a picture of what it may have been like to be an early Christian missionary, and what it means to live our faith, not just talk about it, I think this book might have something to teach us. It wasn’t all my cup of tea, but at the same time, I was able to finish the story and mostly enjoyed it while I read it. I can’t fully recommend it (see the warnings for details), but it wasn’t the worst book I’ve ever read, either.
WARNING: Language: Accursed, curse, cursed, swear, swore, oaths, and other similar words appear in nearly every chapter in the book, if not every chapter (and often multiple times in each chapter). Also, occasionally, there is a mention that a character uttered “a foul word.” “By the gods” or a variant is used in ch. 1 (twice), 2, 4 (three times), 10, 17, 19, and 25; Zeus is used as an exclamation in ch. 1; “thanked the gods” is used in ch. 2; “in Hades” or “black Hades” is used in ch. 6, 12, 22, and 26; bloody is used as an expletive in ch. 6, 12 (twice), 18, 19, 21, and 26; “for heaven’s sake” is used in ch. 12; “by the fates” is used in ch. 15 and 18; and there is lying in ch. 4, 11, 24, 41, and 46. Roman or German gods or goddesses are referenced and prayed to occasionally, as in ch. 4, where a man says he is going to “pay [his] respects to the goddess.” There’s a mention of a woman’s past as a thief in ch. 7 and 24.
Violence: Several times throughout the story, Christians fight other people and wound or kill others. According to Matthew 5:22 and 5:44 (amongst others), I don’t believe this is Biblical. Also occasionally, there are mentions of people who have been killed or died. There are multiple descriptions of fights or battles, remembrances of the arena and people who were killed (sometimes somewhat graphic memories), a few mentions of suicide, and human sacrifice is mentioned a few times (along with, occasionally, other references to evil “worship” practices). Some of the worst or most gruesome violent scenes are in ch. 10, 15, 24, 29, 36, 42, 47, and 54. In ch. 39, a woman curses someone, prays to the demons, and mixes a potion that included her own blood to create an evil spell (all described somewhat in detail; very gruesome).
Romance/sexuality: S*x or the marriage bed is alluded to many times, as the setting is a generally promiscuous culture, and harlots or mistresses are referenced occasionally. Some of the worst passages I noted were in ch. 2, 30, 42 (this was too descriptive for me), 45, and 49. I noted multiple times where women’s bodies were studied in a desirous, sensual way, and there are a couple of sensual descriptions of false gods. Unmarried people touch or kiss each other frequently—the worst places I noted were ch. 6, 13, 17 (including a man curling up with a woman he isn’t married to in order to warm her up), 21 (including a hint a man wanted more), 25 (a man carries a woman to a couch), and 30. A woman tries to seduce men, but especially one man, frequently near the end of the book, in ch. 38, 43, 52 (a very sensual scene), and 53 (this includes another very sensual scene, and a woman kisses a man). Married people touch, hold, or kiss each other in ch. 30 (somewhat sensual descriptions), 31, and 38.
Other warnings: Drinking and drunkenness are recurring themes in the book. “Laying a baby out to die” is referenced in ch. 1. There are miracles or supernatural visions (not all of God) in ch. 13, 29, 32, 34, and 54. Nudity is occasionally mentioned, but not generally described.