Book Review The Left Behind Series

Let me say, I’ve read every word of these books. I was interested, because this is a subject that holds my interest.

While it sold millions, and the writer of these books is very capable, it felt to me like… well… it’s the kind of books you read once. You buy all of them because the way it’s written, you want to know, “will they all live? Who will die?”

I just felt that… some books felt rushed.

First mistake – the attempt of Leonardo Fortunato. I’m really not going to call it a character. He was meant for comic relief. If you read the prequel books to the Left Behind series, Fortunato actually becomes more of a character. You grasp him immediately! I thought it was too much of a Poe joke, really.

Because if you’ve read Edgar Allen Poe, you of course know that Fortunato is the overweight alcoholic grasping opportunist who doesn’t care whose lives he destroys in his self promotion. He is the antagonist who is buried alive, walled up in a brick wall in “the cask of amontilatto”.

You had a great characterization present already in the Poe books. If you’re borrowing a character, great! KEEP that character, or ditch it. It cheapened the Left Behind books. He essentially is comic relief. ANd this series did not need comic relief. What it needed was pathos. Death Destruction, suffering – one of the major characters dies early in the series and because you are not SHOWN that death, it is… well, lost. There’s no sadness or grief. It’s like the author simply got rid of the character as quickly as possible to advance Rayford Steele. Trust me, very few people in the Tribulation will be joking and laughing.

Other people have commented on the character names – Rayford Steele. I don’t know if you were going for “Remington Steele” and changed the first name, or it just sounded good, because it…donesn’t. There’s very few normal names in the book. Chloe, Rayford, Hattie… people are willing to suspend disbelief only so long.

Another major flaw is that – Raford Steele assaults the Antichrist early in the books. I’m sorry, in reality, anyone assaulting the antichrist would find themselves dead immediately, or tortured long and slowly over a prolonged period until they expired.

What it is is that most of the heros at first are working for the Antichrist, if you’ve never read the books. Okay, if you’re setting this up, it’s quite simple. You don’t need the heros knowing everything the Antichrist is talking about! Really. There should be separation between antagonist and protagonist. Think how much more interesting the Left Behind series would have been without Steele knowing everything the Antichrist was planning! Think how much more realistic! People getting caught, and killed!

And then we go from Steele missing his wife, and mourning all the missed chances… to him remarrying to someone who went to the same church. Awkward. All character development dropped. And of course, since Steele is going to meet his wife again at the end of the books, wife #2 is in that awkward, “what do I say to her?” moment. this point right here created a lot of discomfort for me when I read the series the first time.

If you’re going to write Apocalyptic Fiction, understand this – it’s going to eventually end up very much like a Zombie movie, because people are going to be getting possessed left and right. There’s going to be death. Lots of it. When I read of 25% of the world dying, and you realize we’re talking of 1.8 BILLION people dying, I want to feel the loss. i want to see the tears, the agony. I want to know that someone’s wife, husband, child, brother sister mother died. I want to know who’s taking care of what must be countless dead bodies on the ground. How does that affect them?

All of this shoved aside in an instant to produce a minor subplot about the Antichrist trying to enrich himself by making a cellular phone service provider.

You need to portray the horror, the evil, as well as the uncaring attitude of the world, the cruelness of the average person, all reflected in the hero worship of the Antichrist, whose foul deeds are celebrated by the average person. They started out good in the Left Behind series in this respect, and it fell apart. I had little or no sense of dread, of horror, of fear. There was tension, but it was the “oh, no, they’re going to get caught and get in trouble” kind of tension from 1970’s television until the last three books, when they introduced a new character who apparently was Arnold Schwartzeneggar in the third to last book, but no mention was made previously about his size, and where he suddenly was trained in Schwartzeneggar “Commando” style killing abilities.

Four books in, I had trouble visualizing locations and scenes. This is fatal to a book. If you want something eternal, something people can read over and over again, they NEED to be able to visualize the surroundings. For example, the dark Babylon. Was it hot? Cold? Broken glass underfoot? nicely trimmed lawns? cars in accidents or run up on curbs? Or did they have valet parking?

Moses and Elijah. Okay, if you know nothing really about Judaism, but you want to portray them as steeped in Jewish culture, you need to spend a lot of time and RESEARCH it. It’s like some people I read putting guns in stories. THey look at a picture of a revolver, learn nothing about it, and have the antagonist putting a silencer on it. Um… doesn’t work. Not very well.

LEARN about what you’re writing about. That’s like rule 3 or 4 in writing – you have to research! Especially if you weren’t raised in that culture!

I think half of the problem is that Tim Laheye was trying to maintain creative control over the books, and Jerry Jenkins was caught between trying to write and trying to pacify LaHeye. And certainly, Jenkins was aware that another author had started the Left Behind series, and fired very quickly. So, Jenkins needed to bow to LaHeye’s directon, or get fired himself.

I personally would have had a meeting with LaHeye, told him my vision for it, asked if he was on board, and then told him, “You need to understand that very quickly, you’re going to lose control of this book. I’ve got the framework you’ve given me, now trust me to bring it to life.”

I’m sure that LaHeye would have told me no thanks, but if he wanted books that would outlive him, it was the sacrifice he needed to make.

If you’re interested in reading the Left Behind series… it’s in every thrift store and good will. Because most people read it once, try reading it a second time, and… pretty much stop.

Have you read the series more than twice? Leave some feedback!