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The Piaculum: a novel by Richard Gray

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Buy The Piaculum in the USA - or Buy The Piaculum in the UK

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pub: iUniverse. 207 page enlarged paperback. Price: £12.99 (UK), $14.95 (US), $20.95 (CAN). ISBN: 0-595-30301-3.

check out website: www.iuniverse.com

Whatever we may think about religion, it plays a huge role in our lives. Year after year, the Bible is the best selling book in the world. Countless other books link into Christianity, but the talents of those trying to add chapters to the Bible would be better used elsewhere.

Richard Gray's debut novel, ‘The Piaculum’, is set in a post-apocalyptic world where the desert-living survivors are grouped into two rival sects, the peace-loving Mones and the Kathe. The Kathe believe that only by the blood of a Piaculum, a white man kept alive on a metal cross, can they be saved from damnation. As a result, the few white-skinned mutants in the otherwise dark-coloured Mone are under threat by the Kathe on their 'Week of Blood'.

The Piaculum: a novel by Richard Gray

Cearl is one such marked man and, at an early age, he narrowly escapes being crucified and kept as a blood-slave, with the divine intervention of some lightning. Later, he grows up having to save his son from a similar fate and gives his life in exchange, becoming one of the Kathe's Piaculum. Encased in a metal crucifix, he begins working to free the Kathe people from their Priesthood.

The story of an outsider coming to be the saviour to a nation is a familiar one and though Gray writes it well, the parable style in which he writes makes the whole plot very obvious. The characters were fleshed out in a rather formulaic fashion and the setting, for a post-holocaust, is decidedly unadventurous. I was very disappointed not to see any revelations about the apocalyptic events or their effects. For all its fantasy leanings, this world could just have easily been a plain in Africa or desert in Utah. I would have liked to have seen much more originality on this end.

The lack of imagination on the setting is, for me, what lets down the whole thing. The initial premise is a good one and the parable style could have worked if it didn't feel like the whole post-apocalyptic element was just tacked on to avoid the inevitable Bible comparisons. Putting these characters into a Gaiman or Mieville-esque world and I could have been hooked.

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