Okay, recap of series so far: Rayford Steele fails at monogamy, Buck Williams is loaded, both men are JBJ's self inserts, Hattie is a total skank and fucking annoying, HEY STUPID THE RAPTURE HAPPENED, both Buck and Ray work for the Antichrist even though they hate it, author fails at keeping track of ages, WW2 got lost for most of book 2, Chloe Williams does ... um, what does she do? Tim LaHaye upgrades his self-insert from a black theologian to a Jewish theologian, and then ... EARTHQUAKE!!!!
So let's find out what happened to Amanda!
...Amanda who? Oh, right. Rayford's wife. Who had like, three scenes in as many novels. Who will be Ray's primary motivation for the next three hundred pages. Right.
Anybody got an aspirin I can borrow?
This time, instead of a quick plot summery, our first actual chapter is the last chapter of Nicolae. I actually like this better. There was a year or so between books when these were coming out, so by the time you got your hands on Soul Harvest, you'd forget the cliffhanger that made you want to set Nicolae on fire. It's a good idea that lasts about another two books. Anyway, Ray Steele watched Nicolae kick people off his chopper before he (Ray) bailed out after the earthquake ended. He wandered around the desert for a while. Buck drove through the quake without dying. Ford must love these books.
Our opening scene is Ray bitching about having to wear the Antichrist's uniform, and nobody cares because, once again, he agreed to do the job voluntarily. Enraged, he rips his coat off and beats it into the ground. Stomps on it. Jumps on it. Attempts to rip the arm patches off. Stomps on it again. Realizes his super-duper-uber cell phone (as of 1998) is still in the pocket. Good going Ray, way to demo your maturity under stressful situations.
So he calls his co-pilot, who hands the phone over to the Antichrist, who forgives him for screaming at him, landing the chopper in the middle of a desert with no warning, and bailing on his boss and co-worker so he could wander around the desert at night ten minutes after a global earthquake. This is pitched as being very condescending, but it must be said: We're given a choice between hating the world ruler who just forgave an employee for bailing on his chopper and abandoning him in the desert, or hating the man who just threw a temper tantrum after a global-scale disaster because the King of the World won't drop everything to go look for one individual. Admittedly in the previous book, we did see Nicolae kick frightened people off the struts of his chopper, FINALLY behaving like the antichrist, but that was one book ago. We're starting over from scratch here. Ray shows no self control whatsoever during the conversation, and Carpathia reveals that he knew about the earthquake all along. And even though Ray knows he's the antichrist, he acts surprised.
You know, if I were working for Satan Incarnate: The Knockoff Jesus, I'd assume he not only knows my shoe size and number of corns, he can predict what I'd have for breakfast next week. But that'd be, you know, smart.
Buck, meanwhile, is trying to dig Tsion Ben Judah out of the rubble of a church, and simultaneously is looking for Chloe. BTW this is the second time in two books that Buck's plot thread starts off with him trying to find his helpless female attachment. Right. He also finds the dead, crushed body of the third and final female character, Loretta. Who was also the only well developed, sympathetic female character in the novel.
Where's that aspirin? Can you double up for me?
Then he finds Donny Moore, the Trib Force tech guy, also dead. Jerry's gonna have to find a new source for tech porn. Rayford finds a quake survivor, begs Carpathia to come back and save him (because the leader of the world ought to do that, I guess. It's not like there are six billion other people in equal need of help and rescue ... oh, wait) and Carpathia refuses. Random Guy dies. Ray screams at God that he can't live without Amanda, the character who had less screen time than Carpathia's press secretary or that evil lesbian, Verna Zee. Who will never appear again, dead or alive. Buck continues to look for Chloe while Ray does hero stuff, in order to make him look good and pad the book. Finally, Buck gives up and gets Tsion out of the church before it falls on top of him, and Rayford starts preaching to his co-pilot, Mac McCullum.
You know, the reason I don't write Christian fiction is because I can't. It's very difficult to balance the demands of writing a good story with getting the message across. I have never read any author who could write good fiction without letting The Message overwhelm the story. Ever. However, a couple of authors (C.S. Lewis and Ted Dekker immediately come to mind) get pretty close to a good balance, and I am in awe of their abilities (Lewis wins double points for having a primary character literally beat the snot out of Satan's sockpuppet) Even I could do a better job than Jerry B. Jenkins, though. Any time anybody starts talking about God, cracks a bible or begins explaining eshatological theology, the book starts sucking lint out of the table cloth. When your main motive in writing is (theoretically) to get the word out, this is REALLY BAD.
So while Rayford tries to work out The Pitch, Mac starts in on Tech Porn. He tries to explain how Carpathia could build an underground earthquake shelter in the Iraqi desert and have this be a good idea. Then he tells Ray that Leonardo Fortunado, Nicky's right-hand man, died in the collapse of Antichrist HQ, and Nicolae had to go resurrect him by plagiarizing Jesus. Right down to "Leonardo, come forth!" And while this miracle story has many believing that Nicky is God, or the Second Coming, Mac doesn't believe it because Nicky wouldn't go back to rescue the Random Guy Ray found.
We also establish that Something Was Up with Amanda. This is the dumbest, most half-assed sub-plot in the whole series, and it almost pisses me off as much as the Verna Zee thing. Apparently, and just to fuck with Ray's emotions, Nicolae set it up so Ray would believe Amanda was a false Christian working for Nicky. The author set it up to give us something shiny to look at while the plot limps towards a climax, but because we never cared much about Amanda, it's not shiny enough to distract us. And now that you know it's there, I don't have to mention it again. Moving on:
Buck and Tsion keep looking for Chloe. They see the Global Community Peacekeepers (gag) setting up a solar powered cellular tower so that cell phones will work again. This makes perfect sense today, because we NEED cell-phones, and getting the network back up would help rescue workers co-ordinate more effectively. Back in 98, cell phones were luxuries, nice but not something we depended on. I think my dad, who needs his cell like he needs oxygen now, was willing to settle for a car phone and a land-line back in '98. So I guess this is to establish that the GC has fucked up priorities. Also, the Antichrist's phone system is called Cell-Sol. Say it out loud. I'll still be here when the vomiting stops.
Ray has to deal with Leon, who you probably don't remember. Too bad, he's a MAJOR character now. Ray eats, and we encounter this line:
He felt well-fed and suddenly logy..
...What the fuck is "logy"? Internet says it is a word that very specifically means "sluggish after overeating". Cool, but ... have you ever heard anybody say they feel "logy" IRL? And take it from me, word economy is NOT a concern in these novels. "Well fed and sluggish" would work just as well. Minor nit-pick I know, but "logy" makes me think of someone with a nose full of snot, for some reason. Moving on.
Carpathia informs Ray that Amanda probably drowned when her plane hit the Tigris. Ray refuses to believe him. He agrees to keep working for Carpathia (...why?) and talks him into checking on Ray's family (...WHY???) and sticking him with Mac for a few days to get trained on choppers. (I mean, seriously. THIS IS THE ANTICHRIST. WHY ARE YOU WORKING FOR HIM? WHY IS HE CHECKING ON YOUR FAMILY FOR YOU? WHY DO YOU WANT HIM TO KNOW????)
Buck and Tsion give up on Chloe for the night and head over to Donny Moore's house to let his wife know she's now a widow. They find her smashed under a tree. That description is much less brutal than the one in the book. I've read Stephen King novels less bloody than Left Behind. Tsion declares that if they can get rid of the body (and presumably, the tree) they can live in the newly vacated house. In the space of two paragraphs we go from Horribly Dead Person to "Let's move in!" I am supposed to find this pragmatic and sad. I find it sociopathic and horribly, horribly creepy. Then they get her out and bury her.
And it's beautiful. From the descriptions of what the tree left to the hymn Tsion quotes, it's the most gorgeously written passage in the entire series so far. It's a moment of such sheer brilliance and emotion, if I actually gave a shit about the dead woman I would be bawling. The problem here is not the writing but the MASSIVE cast Left Behind labors under. You don't care about the cannon fodder, even when you ought to. Mrs. Moore was never in the series before, and she gets the first isolated gem of good writing we've been able to find.
In the next scene even Rayford admits he's being immature, and Nicolae uses Leon's resurrection story to pitch his potential god-hood. Antichrist: The Knockoff Jesus has finally reared his ugly head. Ray asks Nicky to dredge the Tigris for Amanda's body. Nicky refuses and says that next Ray will be asking him to resurrect Amanda. Ray says "If you are who you think you are, you ought to be able to pull that off for one of your most trusted employees."
WHY WOULD YOU ASK HIM TO DO THAT???
He's the Antichrist. He's the fucking Antichrist and it is HEAVILY implied that Leon is now a dead man possessed by a demon. Why on earth would a CHRISTIAN who knows what's going on ask the Antichrist to resurrect a puppy, let alone his dead wife? Especially when you believe your wife is in Heaven and life on earth pretty much sucks sand right now? Rayford, you are not only immature, you're a selfish prick with an IQ no bigger than your shoe-size.
Ray asks Mac to hook him up with black-market SCUBA equipment. And yes, he goes into the Tigris and yes, he finds Amanda. She's dead. And yes, it's anticlimactic and I don't want to bring it up again, either. The purpose of the SCUBA gear is to connect the Trib Force with Albie, a black market supplier who is not a Christian, but who is pretty critical to the plot. Eventually we get around to the Pitch to Mac, but it takes FOREVER. We've gone from padding the book to outright stuffing its bra.
Meanwhile Buck and Tsion discover another shelter behind Donnie Moore's house. How convenient! Next, Buck locates someone who might know where Chloe is. He finds a terminal with a list of survivors, MIAs and known dead, and takes the time to update the status of himself, Loretta and the Moores. A list the Antichrist has access to. Thus blowing his best chance to run. His shoe size must be smaller than Rayford's. The survivor tells Buck that Chloe ran away from their house and might be alive. He asks a doctor if she's at this shelter, unidentified, and yet again we're reminded of the ten-year age difference between Buck and Chloe. Jerry, ten years does not equal Child Bride. Get over it.We are halfway through the book.
Now, if I'm giving you the impression that the book is divided chapter-by-chapter between Buck and Rayford, I'm very sorry. It is divided scene-by-scene. This is to inject tension into an otherwise boring set-up, because every scene ends on a threatening note. A conversation with Leon or Nicky will end with a threat, and then pick up immediately after said threat has been defused somehow. Inserting a tense scene from a new POV between two boring scenes is a trick, and it's one I'll admit I've used ... on a chapter by chapter basis. This book is POV ping-pong, and because I'm trying for coherancy, you're missing that effect.
Anyway, Mac goes to Rayford and lets him know that he is saved. Rayford is estatic but scared, because he doesn't know if Mac is for real or not. Also, Mac has a weird smudge on his forehead. Except Mac can't see it, and when Rayford gets closer, he sees that it is a three-d picture of a cross. Oh, no, I'm sorry. It's a magic-eye jumble of lines that, if you look at cross-eyed or something, turns into a cross. Ray then calls Buck, and this exchange happens:
"This is not a secure phone, so tell me how everyone is without using names."
Now, it's been established that Nicky knows Buck is okay, it is HUGELY hinted that he knows where Chloe is, and Leon just came down on Rayford for knowing where Tsion is without telling Nicky. So one, it'd be really easy for somebody to work out who the code names are. Second, why the FUCK would you call attention to your skull-duggery by pointing out it's not a secure phone on a call that is probably being monitored and recorded? This is not a PAY PHONE, this is a land-line smack dab in enemy HQ. If you were in the CIA and you did this, would you make it anywhere near the front door?
Buck hangs up and finally locates a doctor who knows Chloe. After explaining that Chloe is alive even though a roof fell on her, the doctor reveals that Chloe is pregnant. Another random doctor has a smudge on his forehead. Buck leaves the hospital and notices that Tsion has a smudge on his forehead. It turns out the smudges are another of the Seal Judgements, specifically the one where God seals his kids to him. So now we have a fool proof way for Christians to tell who is on whose side.
And now we're going to take a break because my brains are dribbling out my ears. Obviously, it's taken me a while to get even this much of the Bitch done. This is the most boring book in the series so far (Oh, it gets better in the next one). The cast has gotten too large, the crazy has not kicked in yet (THE CRAZY HAS NOT KICKED IN YET. REMEMBER THAT. WE ARE NOT YET INTO THE INSANE PARTS OF THIS SERIES) and it's too hard to remember who died, let alone who is still alive. However, too many important things are established, and the scene that makes me go incoherant is yet to come.
Hattie is still pregnant. We still have to find out how Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye, obviously both pro-lifers, deal with having a primary character preggers with the Antichrist's baby. And whooo boy, does it make you want to gouge your eyes out with a spork. Tune in next time. For now, I'ma gonna go wash my eyes out with bleach.