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Review: Forbidden, by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee

Imagine a world, our world, where every person on the planet is dead and doesn’t know it. Not zombies according to the current literary fad, but rather a planet populated by people who are but shells of what they were created to be. A people devoid of all emotion with the exception of one – fear.

New York Times bestseller Ted Dekker and co-author Tosca Lee conjure up just such a world in Forbidden, a dystopian novel that is bound to strike a chord with many. This is first and foremost an entertaining read that will surely become another best seller. Dekker’s vivid imagination and at times almost maniacal focus on darkness and light coupled with Tosca Lee’s eloquence of prose is magical. Using complex and mesmerizing characters, the plot slowly builds to a riveting ending that will make it impossible to put the book down in the last hundred pages.

But it is the underlying theme and the questions it raises that makes this novel something special. In two pages we learn what has happened to the world from the present until 480 years in the future. Nearly five centuries have passed since a select group of scientists managed to manipulate humanity’s genetic code. Their discovery of a way to eliminate all emotions, save fear, paved the way to a unified world with ensured peace by the Order.

The result is what appears to be Utopia. The total population stands at one billion, there has been no war for hundreds of years, weapons are only known as display pieces in museums, and crime is unheard of. The entire world now anticipates the crowning of a monarch, a child of a long line of monarchs who have successfully made life meaningful and peaceful.

But then, on one seemingly uneventful day, twenty-four-year-old Rom finds his life altered forever. On a day as uneventful as all others, the unthinkable occurs: he witnesses a murder. As the old man who has been attacked lies dying, he gives Rom an ancient vial of blood that can grant something Rom did not even know he was lacking – life. Life with real emotions: love, hate, jealousy, betrayal, passion, joy, ecstasy, and despair. A life the world does not even know it is missing.

As with any fantasy or epic, there is a fairly large cast of characters. Central to Book One is Rom, the ultimate unlikely hero. With no frame of reference to understand the emotions he now feels, all he knows to do is to employ aid from the few friends he has. And he will need them, because someone else has discovered the secret of emotions as well. Saric has to be one of the most unsympathetic villains ever created. His discovery of emotion only proves what man’s heart is capable of when all boundaries are removed. Other characters of note include Feyn, the soon-to-be Sovereign of the world and the sister of Saric; Avra, Rom’s best friend since childbirth; and though only introduced late in the story, the boy Jonathan.

What makes Forbidden so appropriate for our day is the place fear plays in the story. The plot supposes world leaders making a deal with devil of sorts in order to finally escape the endless cycle of power struggles and war, simply remembered as Chaos. Eradicate all emotions, but the leave the one essential to keep the population in check. After generation upon generation living with only duty and dread of what might happens if one is not true to duty, mankind thinks it is vibrant while in truth, all are but among the walking dead.

We live in a generation of crisis and fear. Everything is a crisis. The twenty-four-hour news cycle depends on it. Ask if these are these are the worst time man has ever lived in, and you will get a surprising number of people who say yes. Whether it’s global warming, the economy, or a thousand other things, many live in bondage to the fear of what is bound to happen next. Admittedly is difficult to not succumb to the numbing drone of doom and gloom around us.

The question then rises: what price would some be willing to pay to be ensured all felt safe again? How many liberties are we willing to relinquish to get a good night’s sleep? And supposing there was some magic tipping point at which everything seemed peaceful again, what would we have left? I have no answers to offer, only questions. But after reading Forbidden, I couldn’t help but think the way fear is used in almost every political discussion. Political leaders and pundits have a way of making it seem if their proposals are not followed, all hope is lost. Sometimes I wish we could find some genius to tinker with the DNA of leaders where all they could do was actually lead.

Forbidden, by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee, is published by Center Street.

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