Verdict: BRETHREN is an endlessly compelling, thinking man’s drama with fully realized characters painted against a vivid, un-romanticized vision of pre-Reformation Europe.
It’s 1517 and the Church-State rules with absolute power. Preying upon the illiteracy of the masses, they’ve positioned themselves as God’s middle-man, deciphering the Bible as they see fit and relaying the information retrofitted to their agenda. But a threat to that power has arrived—not in the form of an army, but in the form of the printing press. Kristina is one of a band of Christian reformists, whose mission is to utilize the printing press to spread literacy and encourage individual thought. Elsewhere, Lud is a deformed soldier who has little time for fanciful ideas in a world that’s constantly trying to kill him and the men under his command. One wields knowledge and the other wields a sword.
If a book can create a tangible world and flavorful characters to inhabit it, it’s already half-way home. Jeremiah Pearson, author, succeeds in both of these arenas. His characters are potent, whittled down into different shapes—some with sharp edges, and others merely dulled—by their environment’s unforgiving nature. Yet, while firm in their beliefs, they are often unpredictable in their actions—the truest sign of humanity is hypocrisy, after all. Of the many strong characters, I was particularly fascinated with Witter, a man whose survival mechanisms are at constant war with the lingering words of his dead father.
Reading the book, you can almost feel the mud between your toes and smell the foul stench of unwashed villagers. Pearson pulls no punches in his manifestation of 16th century Europe. In one scene, Lud’s platoon marches by a group of war priests, who are selling eternal salvation for discount prices. One soldier—fueled by ignorance and driven by fear—makes the purchase and is handed a small scroll, which he tucks into his tunic, as if, should he die, an angel would inspect his body, find the scroll and yell to the others, “this one’s good to go.” More than a grand monologue or pages upon pages of descriptive prose, a small character moment such as this can inform the reader everything they need to know about the world’s condition. Faith has been made a commodity.
While not always in the foreground, the printing press, described as “a sword in a heavenly fist,” pervades every page. It’s refreshing to find a story full of severed limbs, torture and hyper-masculine imagery that’s really about the power that comes from reading, study and having an open mind. We see this conflict of principles play out between the characters of Lud and his father-figure, Sir Dietrich, who is constantly imploring a reluctant Lud to learn to read.
With BRETHREN, Pearson creates an endlessly compelling, thinking man’s drama with fully realized characters painted against a vivid, un-romanticized vision of pre-Reformation Europe.
~Hunter Lanier for IndieReader