The Phantom of April, by Heath Frye – Review

The Phantom of April is a 235 page novel written by Heath Frye.  The author’s description reads:

As an Evangelical Christian, Jacob Lumin has it all: a wife, a young daughter, and a promising career as an officer in the Army and part-time youth minister. When adversity strikes and a series of unforeseen tragedies befall him, Jacob begins a personal journey to find answers in a confusing world. From Evangelical Christianity, Wicca, and atheism, Jacob’s journey will take him on a path to truth. Rich in symbolism between the Bible, mythology, and 19th century German philosophy, the result is a discussion that transcends all religions. From Clarion Review: “Jacob is led on a journey of self-discovery and down a path to a truth that transcends any one philosophy. Coupled with his education—he holds two master’s degrees and numerous industrial certifications—the author’s knowledge of foreign cultures is evident in this novel that seeks to illuminate the tension between good and evil. The story is compelling, thought-provoking and meaningful, and would appeal to fans of philosophy and world religion and to readers who like books such as Jonathan Livingston Seagull or Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.”

Right off of the bat, this is a book that typically would not excite my interest.  I am not a very avid Christian book reader.  But because of my new found devotion to self-publishers, I’m beginning to find that reading books outside of my norm is actually very rewarding and eye-opening.  To sum this book up in one sentence, The Phantom of April is a riveting story of a realistic tragedy.  On to my long review.

The book starts out with a short prologue.  We’re following a girl into a book store, her heart is heavy and it is very obvious that she’s just had her heart broken.  Having had my heart broken a time or two before myself, I can really identify with the thoughts of this girl and Heath Frye does a good job of drawing the reader in with this realistic intro.  The rest of the prologue however, is very confusing, and I’m still scratching my head a little about what exactly happened in the rest of it.  There’s a confusing conversation that she has with an old man there that does make a lot of sense to me, but it’s not enough to dissuade me from continuing on, and actually encourages me to do so.

Chapter one begins with a man named Jacob Lumin.  I am going to sum up his character as best as I can without spoiling anything.  This guy is socially awkward and totally clueless, his philosophy is to do the right thing and happiness will come to him as a result.  Of course, happiness is not that easy as we all know.  He starts out believing wholeheartedly in God and practices his faith very enthusiastically.  Everything he goes through, good and bad, he sees God’s hand at work in his life, and it only serves to strengthen his faith in God, even when he is taken advantage of.  He is in the Army, and he has many friends who do not believe the same as he does, and there are so many conversations in this book between him and non-Christians that are absolutely fantastic.  I found the theology discussions superb.  There are many hard questions and topics regarding the nature of God that every Christian should be able to discuss freely and confidently, but like Jacob Lumin, any devout Christian will find those answers are very complex and difficult to provide an answer to, but no less worthwhile to explore.

As described in the author’s description, tragedy strikes Jacob.  I’m not going to spoil anything because when I read it I was absolutely shocked and I don’t want to take that experience away from anyone.  It’s very rare when I read a book and I don’t have at least a slight inkling of what’s about to happen.  But this is one of those that blew me away.  It really shocked me, and that’s great.  I loved that about this book.  This tragedy leads Jacob Lumin to question everything that he’s ever believed up to this point.  Let me tell you, this is where the discussions about God get really good.  Sadly, this is also where many Christians would stop reading this book, because there are no good explanations for what Jacob is going through, and many Christians might see this as an attack on their faith, rather than something that merits legitimate consideration.  I know that these questions will stump even the most theologically savvy individual, but truthfully, it is absolutely fantastic and worth continuing to read, even if you don’t necessarily agree with everything being said or every conclusion that Jacob Lumin arrives at, it’s definitely worth reading and appreciating the sheer depth and the gravity of the emotions that literally fly off of the page.  Heath Frye nails it.

From this point on, the book kind of goes off in a whole different direction.  I don’t want to spoil anything, but I do feel like I’m reading a different story now, which considering what the character has been though, isn’t surprising.  But it focuses less on theological discussion, and more on the character now.  It’s a few years in the future, Jacob is dealing with his horrible past the way that many people do, by becoming angry at everything, including God, or rather, especially God in Jacob’s case.  Now he is looking for a reason for it all, and this takes him on an exploration into Wicca.  This isn’t a spoiler because the author mentions this in the description.  The author doesn’t go into too much detail about Wicca though, not like he did Christianity in the first half of the book, but there are a lot of coincidences which happen and which fuel Jacob’s journey into the world of Wicca forward.  He meets someone in this later half of the book and the relationship between the two of them is not dissimilar to a relationship I once had myself, and maybe this is what made it difficult for me to read.  Jacob’s behavior in this part of the book made me want to throw it out the window the way Pat Solatano throws Hemingway out the window in the Silver Linings Playbook.  This too though, is very realistic and very well done.  Heath Frye, even though I now hate Jacob Lumin just a little bit, nails it.  The behaviors and the thoughts on the page are very realistic and once again, I don’t know what’s going to happen.  It’s one of those situations where we have an expectation of what the ending has to be, but because of what we’ve read so far, we have no idea if that’s how it’s going to turn out, and at this point, I wasn’t sure I wanted Jacob Lumin to have a happy ending, and I’m not going to tell you if he does or not, because that’s part of why this book is great.

The book ends with an epilogue.  Now we’re back in the book store with the young girl and the old man again, and once again I am confused with their conversation.  The meaning of the book is explained in a very hurried way, and I can’t help feeling that the way I feel after reading this is not the way that I’m supposed to feel.  This epilogue seems very rushed, and I can’t help but wish that there were at least a couple more chapters to explain it in more depth.  I felt like I read an entire book with so many layers all the way through, and the last bit was a very thin layer which left me wanting more.

Overall, even though I was slightly underwhelmed by the prologue and the epilogue, I was glued to this book the entire way through.  Everything this character feels is identifiable at some level with everyone, and the conversations the character has with people along the way are riveting and have a very real world application in my mind.  The evolution of Jacob Lumin I believe is a very realistic representation which could literally be anyone’s life.  At every stage I could identify with him, with his emotions, with his thoughts, and with his circumstances, sometimes a lot, sometimes a little.  This is not a fairytale, this is a book about life, and for that reason there is a surprise on almost every page that will keep you hanging on ’til the end.

I really did enjoy this book despite my mixed emotions concerning the character at different parts of the story, and the rushed ending.  The editing was also well done, I don’t recall seeing any misspellings or errors.  I will definitely be keeping my eye out for future works by this author.

I recommend this book to those with an open mind and to those who enjoy reading books full of surprises.  This book is available on Amazon through the link below.

The Phantom of April – Heath Frye

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