Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Review: 'Into Captivity They Will Go' by Noah Milligan

I have been on a major true crime kick lately, largely inspired by my devotion to the My Favourite Murder podcast. I share a fascination of cults with one of the hosts, which means that when I saw the blurb for Into Captivity They Will Go I was gripped immediately. Combining two highly controversial topics, family and faith, I had very high expectations going into Milligan's novel. I'm glad to say he lived up to all of them. Thanks to Central Avenue Publishing and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 10/1/2019
Publisher: Central Avenue Publishing

Set in rural Oklahoma, Into Captivity They Will Go tells the story of Caleb Gunter, a boy whose mother has convinced him he is the second coming of Jesus Christ and that together they are destined to lead the chosen into the Kingdom of Heaven. Believing the Seven Seals detailed in Revelation have been opened, he and his mother flee their home to join a tongue-speaking evangelical church and to prepare for the end of the world. But after tragedy ensues, Caleb must rebuild his life without the only support he has ever known—his mother and the church. An exploration of familial bonds and extremist faith, this is a whirlwind bildungsroman that reveals the fragility of a child’s identity. It is at once a study of guilt and redemption and a book of how shattered trust can lay the foundation for an entire life.
As I wrote in my review for Sonja Livingston's The Virgin on Prince Street, religion and faith are difficult topics to write about. Whereas Livingston took a very personal and autobiographic approach, Milligan's approach is personal in a very different way. His bio reveals he grew up in the Bible Belt and his theological knowledge does shine through in the novel. In Into Captivity They Will Go he chooses a fictional approach to the the dissection of faith. Many aspects of the novel's plot will remind the reader of sensationalist news pieces and the less savory aspects of devout religion. The novel's title itself is taken from the Book of Revelation (13:10), which is hardly standard fare for many Christians. What Into Captivity They Will Go really shows is faith can become extreme and dangerous, and how far people are willing to go for what and who they believe in. Religion isn't the only focus, or even the main focus, of Milligan's novel though. Family and childhood are just as crucial. The vulnerability of children to their parents, the endless burden of shame and guilt, and the difficulty of overcoming abuse. These are heavy topics, but Milligan handles them carefully and directly, resulting in a compelling read.

Into Captivity They Will Go is split into three "acts": The Book of Genesis, The Book of Judges, and The Book of Revelations. Without giving too much away, the first act shows us Caleb Gunter's start in life as an ordinary boy, with an admittedly quite religious background. In the second act we, and Caleb, are confronted with tragedy. The final act, 'The Book of Revelations', finds his adjusting and coping to a world suddenly strange to him. As the name of each act suggests, Caleb goes through major emotional and psychological upheaval during these times. Milligan masterfully crafts Caleb's character throughout these three acts. On the one hand he sounds like a normal boy who wants to play with his friends, who loves his mother, and who cares deeply for those around him even if he can't quite verbalize that. On the other hand Milligan always makes the reader aware of this shadow that clings to him, that heavy weight of "something" that he can't quite shake. It's a difficult balance to strike but Milligan does so brilliantly. It's not just Caleb that is written with insight, though. Milligan's own childhood growing up in America's Bible Belt shows in his portrayal of the cast of characters around Caleb. The way religion inspires people, supports them in their day to day life, but can also lead them astray, is shown with a sharp kindness in Into Captivity They Will Go.

I hadn't read any of Noah Milligan's writing before, but I had heard of him. As such, I had high expectations of Into Captivity They Will Go. As I wrote above, I was amazed by his portrayal of Caleb. he captures the awkwardness, determination and confusion of growing up. In the middle section of the novel, many pages are dedicated to the theological underpinnings of the Book of Revelation, and therefore the Church of Seven Seals Caleb now belongs to. I found this fascinating myself, although it may not be the same for every reader. Milligan also excels at describing Caleb's surroundings, which means that the more action-packed scenes are riveting. There is a slow ratcheting up of tension during the second act which, upon its conclusion, leaves Caleb and the reader floundering in the final act. The question of 'Now what?' hangs over him and as he slowly comes to grips with what happened the reader find themselves once again engrossed by his story.

I give this novel...

5 Universes!

Into Captivity They Will Go is a fascinating read that engrossed me. It is a highly compelling and immersive read that tackles some very challenging topics without ever loosing its way.

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