The Second Coming
This was an exciting read. The plot was tightly crafted and well-structured, the characters felt fully realized, and the setting also came quickly to life. I probably would have enjoyed it more if I’d grown up in a Christian family. As it is, the story is clearly focused on Western, Abrahamic religions -- specifically Christianity and Islam. Still, while it made me uncomfortable to read at times, the plot itself was enjoyable and thrilling.
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Overall, as I said earlier, the characters felt fully realized, especially towards the beginning of the novel where they were introduced. However, once the characters begin to follow Jiao, they also begin to lose some personality. Before following Jiao, Gina and Henry for example had very strong narrative arcs. Their backstory and goals were clear. After following Jiao, it felt as though that backstory had become meaningless. Without distinct and discrete goals and problems, they lacked the implicit characterization that had made me love them in the first place. This became especially true from Chapter 20 onwards. Thankfully, the strength of your plot kept me interested, but I wish I had been invested in your characters throughout as well.
This may be because you aren’t allowing your characters to make mistakes based on their personalities. All of your characters are making the best available decisions at any given time. If they make a mistake, it’s due to a lack of information rather than to a character flaw. Because of this, they did not feel flawed, and they felt false and generic.
After a while, they all began to sound the same to me. Normally, distinctive characters have distinctive voices. Here, they all sounded fairly generic. They don’t sound like themselves; they sound like you, or like Jiao, or like a cardboard cutout of whatever ideology they’re espousing.
In theory, if you delete everything except the dialogue itself, and if you show the dialogue to a friend, the friend should be able to guess who is saying what. To do this without stereotype, however, is difficult.
Some of your dialogue felt unnatural as well. Assign characters to your friends and have them read it out loud. Fix it if it seems unnatural, and ask yourself if you would accept it from a movie, or if you would discard it as being too clichéd.
One of the problems, I felt, is that there’s simply no time to make the side characters as complex as the main characters, but you’re trying to do so anyway, and failing. It’s acceptable to simplify (although not to stereotype), especially for this genre.
Greyson, Gina, Cael, and Jiao were clearly the most developed characters. I felt that Cael, especially, stayed in character even after following Jiao. Many of the minor characters, however, felt underdeveloped. Michael, Melanie, Cidalia, and Hakim, for example, didn’t feel very developed to me -- especially Cidalia.
The relationship between Greyson and Cidalia felt false because of this lack of characterization for Cidalia. I feel as though I know nothing about her other than her job. She doesn’t exist as a real person. She’s cute, but cute isn’t a personality trait. She feels created for the specific purpose of being Greyson’s love interest.
Because religion is so important to this story, I expected to learn how each character felt about religion before meeting Jiao, and to see how that changed after meeting him. I have no idea what Gina believed before meeting Jiao. I have no idea what Henry believed, either.
Many of your characters feel too easily swayed by a single conversation. In chapter 18, I saw this with Missy’s conversation with Melanie, where I honestly did not believe Missy would even be slightly convinced -- Melanie’s arguments were far too Christian-oriented, and you mention that Missy is Jewish. Similarly, in the interview in chapter 32, I couldn’t believe that the interviewer would be so easily swayed. Everyone’s heard someone say that God is love, at least in America, and anyone unswayed before should still be unswayed when hearing the same from Jiao.
The only thing I know about Hakim is that he’s Muslim, and as he’s the only non-extremist Muslim we see, I would have liked him to have more complexity.
A lot of the Muslim extremist dialogue sounds false. It sounds like the extremists are the Christian conception of a Muslim extremist rather than actual human beings. People are not robots. Please don’t make them sound like robots.
Overall, as I said earlier, the narrative is heavily focused on Abrahamic religions, specifically focused on Islam and Christianity.
Early in the narrative, for example, Greyson believed that eternal damnation was a punishment for non-belief in most major religions. This is simply not the case. In fact, I would say that Christianity and Islam are the exceptions rather than the rule. Hinduism, the third largest religion (which is surprisingly absent from this work; it’s mentioned indirectly once), for example doesn’t have a strict afterlife at all, and allows for what Christians call atheism within the confines of the religion. In short, it is possible to be both atheist and Hindu. Some forms of Judaism allow for the atheism as well. Buddhism doesn’t have a concept of God at all, and many mainstream forms of Hinduism (such as Advaita) don’t either.
This Christian bias occurred especially in the conversation in chapter 18, where Melanie essentially tried to convert Missy to Jiaoism. The entire paragraph beginning with “Of course, you would have to meet him and listen to him” is, quite frankly, offensive. You’re telling a Jew to imagine having converted to Christianity, saying “But others did. Jews. They changed their preconceptions and became followers,” implying that Christianity is the correct version of religion and that people who did not change their preconceptions were wrong. You’re trying to be egalitarian, but the viewpoint here is too Christian to be egalitarian. And somehow, Missy has “a crack of doubt” in her own convictions because of this speech? Somehow, Missy believes that Judaism was on the wrong side of history? Because Melanie definitely does. I only mentioned a couple lines from that paragraph, but really nothing in the entire paragraph would appeal to a Jewish view.
Similarly, earlier in the same chapter, Missy has the thought “We Jews don’t believe in Jesus, never mind a Second Coming.” Again, subtly, you’re setting up the idea that Christianity is the norm, which is true for American society as a whole, but wouldn’t necessarily be true for Missy herself, who grew up in a Jewish family. Instead of saying “We Jews don’t believe in X,” try “I don’t understand how those Christians believe in X” or something similar. Does that make sense? The thought should spring from the character’s psychological schema, and thoughts shouldn’t make the characters feel alien to themselves.
Please do not confuse Hinduism and Islam. While both are prominent religions in South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh area), they are very, very different, and have gone to war over those differences. Sriram, the name of Jeep’s nephew, is a strictly Hindu name, referring to a deity in the Hindu pantheon, and this name would never be used in a Muslim family. Patel is typically a Hindu/Indian last name, but Patel also said that he believes in Christ, so that confused me as well.
In chapter 22, the only three non-Abrahamic gods you mention are Vishnu, Ram, and Ra. In Hinduism, Vishnu and Ram are essentially the same (Ram is one of several incarnations of Vishnu on Earth), and neither of them is the single main god of Hinduism. I’m not sure why you mention Ra, since no one really practices ancient Egyptian religion anymore, but he’s not the single main/most powerful god in Egyptian mythology, either.
I would have liked to see a non-extremist, non-Jiao-denying Islamic point of view other than Hakim. Hakim is part of a nonviolent majority, but he doesn’t feel as though he’s part of a majority. Every other Muslim character is extremist.
I do think you need more than one Muslim sensitivity reader to go over this, especially to check all the Islamic extremist dialogue and Hakim’s point of view. I also think you should have one or two Jewish sensitivity readers as well, to go through all the conversations with Missy. I’m not an expert on either religion, and while I’m doing the best I can to catch everything, I probably failed.
You keep repeating the idea that we are somehow too advanced to believe in nonsense, and that therefore anything we believe is true. This just didn’t make sense to me. People believe what they believe in, and if science doesn’t fit that belief, they ignore science. Belief always comes first, no matter how “advanced” the society is. I mean, I know this girl who believes Jews have horns because there are pictures of Jews with horns in her Bible. Cults still exist and aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. If anything, technology and advancement has caused people to cling more firmly to their beliefs and become more polarized rather than more rational. People believe what they want to believe. But then again, that’s my opinion and not yours, and the novel is yours and not mine. It just seems like a very dangerous belief system, to believe that every decision society makes is rational because of how “advanced” we are.
For this section, I’m going to try to go through chronologically so that you can spot things more easily.
You say “not since Osama bin Laden had an individual been able to engage so many followers from across so many borders and cultural boundaries,” but the core al-Qaeda group wasn’t actually that large. They just had the ability to incite the common people to do what they wanted. Other religious cult leaders have amassed more people, if you look at it.
I couldn’t take it seriously when you said that all the religious leaders supported Jiao and wanted him to have professional protection. Maybe that’s cynical of me. I don’t know.
I never understood why the Islamic extremists were so focused on Jiao, either. I mean, there are plenty of people who call themselves prophets/enlightened/etc, and most of them aren’t targeted today. Why Jiao?
When I read your descriptions of technology in chapter 5, I instantly envisioned you as a fifty-year-old man. I have no idea if that’s true or not, but that’s what it felt like to me.
The description of the ad in chapter 5 was unclear, and I didn’t see the purpose in it.
I never understood the point of Trinity. Is it like Chromecast, except synced to a smart TV? Also, the term PDA is dated; they’ve been superseded by smartphones. Vid Bits seems almost exactly like Vine, except Vine had a limit of 6 seconds and went bankrupt after the fad died.
You say people stopped typing and started using video instead. I can’t believe that. After the telephone was created, the first thing we did was enable SMS and email to avoid actually talking to each other. Texting is convenient because you can have multiple unrelated conversations at once, and because it’s relatively private; no one around you can see what you’re texting. There’s a reason teenagers use earphones to listen to their music. There’s a reason teenagers text instead of call.
I also can’t believe that anyone would ever post their entire life online through video. The entire point of the internet is that you can create a persona and separate your online life from your real one, or remain anonymous if you choose. A “perpetual reality program” sounds like a nightmare for anyone my age or younger. I don’t want to livestream my life. I can livestream exactly what I want to livestream already, by choice, whenever I want to.
Apple doesn’t allow anything not safe for work on its app store, and I can’t see it allowing the app Gina uses as a camgirl.
Overall, I just didn’t see the point of Trinity. Everything Trinity does has already been done.
In chapter 9, I suggest you get someone who speaks African-American Vernacular English to check your AAVE. AAVE has distinct grammatical rules which native Standard English speakers do not know (even if they think they do). I’m not familiar with those rules, so I’d advise you to have someone else check your AAVE.
In chapter 23, you describe Jiao’s outfit in exquisite, terrible detail, and all I could think about was Jiao’s terrible fashion sense. You keep describing his clothes as though you think they’re fashionable, and maybe from Greyson’s point of view they are, but Greyson works at some talent agency or something and he should really know better. This occurs elsewhere, too, but the instance in chapter 23 made me write this down.
In chapter 25, I was convinced Cidalia thought Greyson was gay, and it would have been hilarious if you’d played that up more, but alas, I was disappointed.
The death/rebirth at the end felt pointless. I understand that it’s trying to mimic Christ’s resurrection and also to bring us back to the beginning, when everyone thought that Jiao had died, but it didn’t feel weighty to me. With Christ, there was a purpose (to cleanse humanity’s sins/act as a sacrifice/something else -- I’m not exactly sure; I haven’t read the Bible), but here it feels meaningless. Why did Jiao die?
The beginning of chapter 1 reads like a textbook, although a very interesting textbook. Try to integrate information gradually throughout the work rather than collect it all in one place. Trust your readers to figure things out.
Your writing style tends naturally towards the sparse, and some of your similes felt as though you were trying to force your writing towards a more ornamental style. It felt unnatural. Sometimes, simpler is better.
Almost as soon as we met each character, you would write a page of introduction and backstory about said character. There are other ways to introduce character backstory, and honestly I’d like to see more experimentation there. The current method felt overused. It detracted only slightly from my overall enjoyment, though.
In some scenes, you would switch constantly between dialogue and summary of dialogue. Pick one or the other, and try to avoid summary unless necessary. Switching back and forth jars the reader out of the story.
There’s no need to explain every aspect of the technology. Have your characters use technology casually, and readers will grasp it through intuition. It’s more elegant, and you won’t have to worry about making your work (or yourself) feel dated.
Many of the scenes throughout are treated as though they are scenes from a movie rather than scenes from a book. This is also linked to a shaky point of view, which I discuss in the next section. You would switch between these movie scenes to summary and back again throughout the work, as though you were trying to move a camera lens to the characters you wanted to focus on. Novels aren’t movies. Stop trying to make this novel into a movie. If you want a movie, write a screenplay; I’m sure it will do well.
The point of view was occasionally shaky and switched in the middle of a scene. For example, at the end of chapter 8, you switch from Winger’s point of view to Patel’s. This occurs so smoothly that I’m not sure you’re even aware of it. Traditionally, it’s best not to switch point of view in the middle of a scene. If you must switch, use a line break in between to avoid jarring readers out of the story.
There were a lot of typos throughout. I suggest you get a proofreader. In fact, once you revise, I do think you should either get a professional editor or start querying to traditional publishers/literary agents. I’ve tried my best to point out everything, but you do need a good line edit. Overall, it’s very close to publishable, though.
And please, if you have any complaints/critiques of my review, let me know. I, too, am looking to improve. Thank you.