William D. McEachern
AuthorHouse, 363 pages,
(paperback) $23.95, 9781491842447
(Reviewed: March, 2014)
Casting Lots is a swords-and-sandals epic with a spiritual twist. The story combines an affecting adventure that spans ancient Rome and Greece and covers a crucial moment in Christian history.
In 54 AD, Lucinius, a Greek enslaved by Romans, is ordered by his master to seek out the Roman centurion, Cornelius, who was present at Christ’s crucifixion. The master wants the story of the “wonder worker,” and threatens Lucinius with his life if he fails to come back with the information. Cornelius agrees to talk to Lucinius and pays Lucinius’s master to take the slave along on a voyage over land and sea. During this adventure, he tells many stories, but not the one Lucinius most wants to hear. They struggle over the matter, and Cornelius ultimately relents.
The novel is told in short chapters; each interweaves details of the pair’s travels with Cornelius’s narratives of ancient Rome and his eventual employment with Pontius Pilate. Author William McEachern repeats himself when it comes to Lucinius’s joy in travel contrasted with the knowledge that he’s not free, but such passages offer us a sense of his character (such as when Cornelius tells Lucinius a story about 8,000 murdered slaves, and Lucinius thinks, “Romans seemed to be obsessed with slaves, and being one, I was not particularly interested in the subject unless it dealt with freeing slaves, in general, or freeing me, in particular”). The colloquial style makes the story easy to follow, while the setting descriptions keep it grounded in its historical period.
The story’s end reveals that both Cornelius and Lucinius played significant roles in biblical history; one of these revelations comes as a surprise that places the book in a new light, and it’s quite artfully done. Casting Lots has much to recommend it to fans of ancient historical fiction, and the message of faith at its heart is a pleasing bonus.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.
William D. McEachern
Four Stars (out of Five)
Two lost men find their way together after being touched by Christ in very different
Had the Gospel writer Luke kept a diary, it might have read like Casting Lots, a debut novel by William D. McEachern. The book is a richly detailed first-century land and sea journey.
McEachern begins with a foreword that purports to tell how he translated the scrolls of
Lucinius, or Luke, into modern, conversational English. The forward, the scrolls, and the entire novel are, in fact, fiction, though historically and biblically based. That Casting Lots is not an authentic journal could have been explained more plainly. However, approached purely as a novel, it’s still interesting to envision Lucinius’s story and that of his traveling partner, an aged
Roman centurion name Cornelius.
Lucinius is a young, highly educated Greek who was sold into slavery by pirates. He once aspired to be a physician and to marry the love of his life, but concedes that both of those are now unlikely pipe dreams. McEachern paints Lucinius as elite, having “more than a working knowledge of Latin as well as Aramaic, and he seems to have learned at least some written Hebrew. At times his writing can be lyrical, including poetry so transcendent that some claim it rivals Shakespeare’s.”
With the consent of the young Greek’s slave master, Cornelius takes Lucinius on a lengthy journey.
The two men go by boat and by foot, through cities and wilderness, from Caesarea Maritima in Judea, across the Mediterranean Sea, to Rome, and ultimately to Greece. Along the way, Cornelius tells the story of how he led the Roman soldier detail that crucified Christ. The experience soured the rest of his life. Cornelius shares other stories as well, often in great detail, about current and past Roman leaders and events. Lucinius initially finds Cornelius’s ramblings tedious and doesn’t grasp their collective importance in illustrating a miracle until the journey is almost complete.
Casting Lots is an archetypal novel of personal growth over the course of a long trip; by the time they arrive at their destination, both men have attained new personal and philosophical heights. They have in common, they ultimately understand, lives wrenched by pain and a desire to find peace.
For readers interested in the history and geography of the Roman Empire, the story proceeds, literally, like a road map. It takes an easy-to-follow, circular trek through a succession of ancient cities while discussing in intricate detail the course of Roman politics and happeningsin the centuries leading up to the birth and death of Christ, often correlated with where on the road Lucinius and Cornelius are.
Casting Lots is, in the end, an inspirational tale about those whose lives were so transformed by even brief interactions with Christ that they committed the rest of their days to the work of spreading the Gospel. It will grab readers as the story of two lost men finding their way, together.
McEachern, William D.
$31.99 hardcover; $23.95 paperback, 3.99 e-book
ISBN: 978-1491842461; January 27, 2014
McEachern blends history, religion and fiction in his debut novel, presented as a translation of an ancient scroll written by a slave.
Lucinius, a slave, was charged with the task of recording the stories of the centurion Cornelius, following him throughout Rome and Greece during a period which Christianity was just beginning to spread throughout the region. During Cornelius’ military career, he served under Pontius Pilate and led Jesus to his crucifixion. While witnessing Jesus on the cross, he was knocked unconscious by a small earthquake; he experienced a vision in which he recognized Jesus as the Son of God and thus became an early convert to Christianity. With this revelation, Cornelius was also able to recount recent historical events in vivid detail, a skill he used to regale (and often bore) Lucinius with many stories of Rome and its leaders. Lucinius was at first skeptical of Cornelius and his beliefs, but as their travels continued, Lucinius began to see his guide differently, eventually coming not only to love Cornelius, but also to embrace his religion and become an important part of its growth. McEachern isn’t preoccupied with providing a plethora of historical detail; instead, the narrative focuses on framing his own characters as well as famous historical figures to make them more relatable. The novel’s preface, written as a translator’s foreword, suggests that readers will be tempted to see parallels to modern life, though it warns against letting the similarities “blind us to the differences, to the detriment of our learning.” Many of the stories told by Cornelius focus on the various betrayals and grudges that shaped the empire, providing a contrast to the values Cornelius held as a soldier and those held after his conversion.
A poignant reimaging of an important era in Christian history.
Would you like more information about this book?
Please fill out the form below so that I can add you to my email distribution list.
I thank you in advance for your interest!