Barclay Books, 2001, $14.95, pp276
ISBN 1-931402-07-8

This reviewed first appeared in The Alien Online

Keith Rommel has kind of rewritten Paradise Lost for the 21st century MTV audience with ‘extraordinary revelations that will no doubt change the way you view the Kingdom of Heaven and Hell’.
Sadly, however, he’s no John Milton.

Travis Winter is a nobody killed in World War Two and selected to be the Spirit of Independence in the afterlife. He narrowly escapes the clutches of the devil thanks to the timely intervention of some celestial agents of the ‘other’ persuasion and discovers he is a new breed of angel developed by God to fight the good fight – and win it for all time. Satan is eager to talk to this new Spirit, however, and explain his side of the story.

I first read Paradise Lost whilst at university a, ahem, couple of years back, and it blew my mind: a 400-year old religious Star Wars was how I think I described it at the time, full of pyrotechnics, heroic speeches and sweeping, majestic panoramas.

Keith Rommel has somehow managed to drab down this fabulous story into a sort of pulp superhero ghost story, one whose cursorily sketched characters resolutely fail to inspire any of the awe or pathos that their pedigree really demands of them. To be fair, representing such basic archetypes as real existing characters is a difficult feat to pull off; but if you’re going to write such a story then you’d better make damn sure you have the tools at hand to do it with.

Surely the tale of the ultimate battle between Good and Evil – the supposed powers behind the veil of our mortal existence – deserves at least a modicum of grandeur and wild imagination in its telling?

The writing in Spirit Of Independence is wooden – a good solid wood with some occasional nicely turned phrases, but still wood overall. Despite each chapter being narrated by a different character, they’re all written in exactly the same underwhelming style, such that only giving the characters’ name at the start allows us to differentiate between them.

Amanda, one of the main characters, is, we’re told, a bit overweight (and I applaud Keith’s decision to use such a character), but this never affects her in the course of the novel; you’d never know she was overweight if you weren’t specifically told, and there are times when you’d think it would matter.

Someone should also shoot the proofreader of Spirit Of Independence because there are errors aplenty; apostrophes in particular seem to skip with gay abandon across the pages, never stopping in the same place twice.

Perhaps Keith Rommel is saving all his best writing for the next three projected (currently projected, that is) books in the Spirit chronicles, but this volume one is a big disappointment.

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