The Kingdom of the Wicked Paperback
Who, I ask you, wants to drag his bones out of the earth, reclothed in flesh which, in some foul magic of reversal, is regurgitated by the worms, in order that his eyes may see God?
Who, I ask you, wants to live for ever? Sadoc son of Azor, a retired shipping clerk lying diseased and dying on the outreaches of the Roman Empire, sets down for future generations a tale of epic proportions: he is charged with recounting no less an event than the birth of Christianity. And what an account it is - the story of a religion of love, born into the cruelties of the kingdom of the wicked. The Kingdom of the Wicked is one of Anthony Burgess's most ambitious novels.
Its ancient setting, recreated in vivid and meticulous detail, is rendered new in this stunning account of the Roman Empire and its clashes with Christianity.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 606 pages
- Publisher: Allison & Busby
- Publication Date: 23/02/2009
- Category: Historical fiction
- ISBN: 9780749079642
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Review by simplicimus
The novel covers about 40 years from the resurrection of Jesus Christ to the destruction of Pompeji, recounting the spread of the Christian faith against the backdrop of Roman Imperial history. In a novel with this scope, one can’t complain that most the characters are somewhat flat, with the notable exceptions of the apostle Paul, the emperor Nero and few others. Being somewhat familiar with the Acts of the Apostles, for me it was great being told this story by a different voice, with some of the religious and historical background that is not always provided in the original account. It’s done brilliantly, the facts never weigh down the story. Also, the appalling cruelty and sometimes madness of the early Roman emperors is well shown, with the right amount of detail, though the “Roman” part of the story sometimes felt a bit sketchy. However, there were some issues I had with this novel. It is clearly the account of a sceptic, and though I did appreciate the author’s staying clear of pathos and sugar-coating, a few things were lost as a result. There’s quite a lot of conversion to, and also defection from, Christianity, but it just happened, no inner development of the persons, no plausibility. It might just as well have been the other way round. For all the erudition of the author, I found it strange that part of Paul’s message in this book was the popular misconception that if you live a good life, you will go to heaven when you die, whereas the evildoers are destined for the fires of hell. In fact, if you read Paul’s letters in the New Testament, the essence of his doctrine is <i>sola fide</i> and <i>sola gratia</i>, meaning that good works alone won’t do, but the way to forgiveness is always open. And ultimately, the Christian faith appeared to be somewhat anaemic and very weak, all but collapsing under the first persecutions. If that had been so, I think Christianity wouldn’t have outlived the Roman Empire.