Thursday, September 9, 2010

‘Priceless: A Novel on the Edge of the World’ by Tom Davis – Book Review

Buzz this

As humans – and it seems even more so, as Christians - we often find it easier to ignore the ugly things in this world than to face them head on. That is not the case with Tom Davis, the author of ‘Priceless: A Novel on the Edge of the World.’

Here is the synopsis of this novel:

American photojournalist Stuart Daniels has found purpose in life. After enduring the fallout of a tragic assignment, Daniels has rediscovered his faith while helping a young African orphan. Now his photo works carries a greater mission: to educate people about social injustice happening around the world.
Daniels’ next assignment carries him back overseas and into the heart of Russia, where an old friend persuades him to help save two girls from a desperate situation involving the Russian mafia. Soon, he becomes a key player in a dangerous campaign to rescue helpless girls trapped in the sex-slave industry. What Daniels encounters during his journey will shake his faith, test his courage, and even threaten his life. Yet as Daniels travels deeper and the stakes become higher, he discovers that hope can be found in even the darkest of places.

Here is the biography of the author:

Tom Davis is the president and CEO of Children’s HopeChest, a global ministry that empowers individuals, churches and business to care for orphans in Africa, Russia, India, Latin America, and Eastern Europe. He is the author of ‘Red Letters,’ ‘Fields of the Fatherless,’ ‘Confessions of a Good Christian Guy,’ and 'Scared,' the first book in the ‘Novel on the Edge of the World’ series (this is book two of three). Tom and his wife, Emily, live in Colorado with their seven children, two of whom they adopted from Russia. He has a website devoted to the topic of this book – the sex slave industry/human trafficking – at

Here is the book trailer for ‘Priceless’:

The main character in this novel is Stuart Daniels, a celebrated and award-winning photojournalist.  He has grown weary from seeing horrors all over the world.  However, his life was forever changed in his adventures in Swaziland (as shown in ‘Scared) and his encounter with a little orphan named Adanna. Here is Stuart reflecting back on how his life was profoundly changed:

Adanna may not have meant much to many in this world. But meeting her was the beginning of life for me. It changed the way I saw God. It changed the direction of my life. She taught me that the small things I do matter. My decisions today can save a life tomorrow. That’s why I’m here now. (p. 88)

Stuart’s assignment is in Moscow. Tom Davis paints such a vivid portrait that I felt as though I was there with Stuart:

Gold and silver church domes appear majestically behind the walls of the Kremlin as if holding true control of the country, like the wizard behind the curtain in Oz. There are seven churches including the Cathedral of the Annunciation, the church of Moscow’s princes and tsars over the centuries. I step out onto the cobblestone road leading down the middle of the square, bracing myself against a cold that’s harsh and exhilarating.
Every time I walk in this square, I think the same thing: I’m walking on centuries-old blood. If the stones under my feet could talk, they would tell violent stories of riots, assassinations, and war – of all the blood that’s been spilled here over the centuries. The Lobnoye Mesto, a platform where the tsar would address the people, sits directly ahead. It’s also a place where many men and women lost their heads. Literally. (p. 41)

I had never really considered the fact that human trafficking is prevalent all around the world – and the United States is not immune. The characters in this book decided to do more than sit back and lament the problem; they took action to make the world a better place.

Here are some statistics on human trafficking:

·         8.4 million children are sex trafficking victims
·         2 children are trafficked every minute
·         Up to 300,000 prostituted children live on the streets in the U.S.                                              

The main character is based on the life of a real person. Stuart Daniels is inspired by the life of Kevin Carter, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer who was so haunted by the images he saw in Sudan that he took his own life. Stuart saw many haunting images in the first book in Swaziland; fortunately, he met the Lord while he was there, or he may have had the same fate. 

Another main character in this story is Marina Smolchenko, an orphan whom Stuart met years earlier when she was a little girl. She is featured prominently in the story, as Stuart learns that she is now one of the many children who is enslaved in the sex trade.

One of the most insidious characters I have ever encountered in a novel is Father Alexander Shapov, an Orthodox priest who leads the parishioners at the Lady of Kazan. Here is how Stuart describes his first encounter; the conversation is between Stuart and his good friend (and orphan rescuer) Katya:

“Man, did he give me the stink eye when my cell phone went off when you called during the service. He doesn’t look like any man of the cloth I’ve ever met. Eyes like a snake.”
“That’s why I wanted you to get out of there. He is not a good man. In fact, on bolnoy chelovek [he is a sick person].” (p. 73)

In this same conversation, Stuart learns the fate of Marina:

Katya points to one of the girls in the picture with the priest. “Do you recognize that girl, Stuart?” She’s as tall as the priest, with long blond hair loose, hiding half her face. Her skirt is micro, barely there.
I take it from the wall to look more closely.
“Is that? Oh, God.” I look at Katya’s face, and I know. It’s Marina.
“This is what I wanted to talk to you about, Stuart.”
I can tell she is trying not to show emotion, so I keep my face turned away. She loves Marina, the first orphaned child that squeezed Katya’s heart. Katya would give me reports about her over the years as if she were a proud aunt. (p. 73)

Katya explained how Marina fell into the abyss:

“It is appalling. When girls like Marina leave the orphanage, they are prime targets for kidnapping. Nobody misses them – and there’s no family to report them missing. Of course, I blame myself for her disappearance because I was out of the country when she left the orphanage…”
A wave of emotion chokes the rest of her words away.
“So they don’t exist. They’re nameless.” I scan the board again. “Is it mostly by force?”
“Sometimes. Other times, and this is what I think happened in Marina’s case, the girls think they are applying for legitimate jobs in Russia or abroad. These traffickers are very clever at how they trap them.” (p. 74)

It was interesting to see how the author imparted Marina’s story. He had filmed a documentary about her, and the transcript is interspersed throughout the book. Here is Marina sharing part of her story:

I can’t even repeat what happened next. Not just to me, but to all of us. No human being should ever have to endure that kind of torture. To get my mind off the pain, I thought about other people who have suffered. Like the people we studied in school who suffered more than anyone in the world. The Jews.
I thought about the Holocaust. About how those innocent people were taken from their families, beaten, thrown in prisons, and gassed in death chambers. What I went through, what the Jews went through, tells me one thing. It tells me evil is real and so is the Devil. (p. 145)

Stuart finds himself being pulled into a couple of situations where he is able to rescue some orphans; it comes with risks to his personal safety, but he understands the importance of the work. Later, he meets Sister Irina, a Mother Theresa-type figure, who has some words for Stuart about his future:

“…I have been given a vision from God about you, Stuart. Your work is not yet finished.” Then she turns, and we continue to walk.
I choose not to ask what she means. Frankly, I’d like to pretend she didn’t say it. (p. 233)

She goes on:

“I knew it from the moment I met you… Most people squeeze their eyes shut and pretend the Devil doesn’t exist. You know better, don’t you?” She looks directly into my eyes, and I feel as if she can see my soul. “They live their lives as if there were no problems in the world, no hunger, no orphans, no child sex slaves. They don’t do what God calls every single one of us to do, to redeem mankind.”
“What does that have to do with me?” I ask.
“It’s what you’re called to do. Pursuing Marina for example. That’s about much more than the redemption of one child. It’s about you establishing the kingdom of God in a significant way by finding freedom for the captives. All of this is the beginning of a new life for you.” (p. 235)

Sister Irina explains that there is a history in Russia of deception in the name of God:

“We’ve had a cast of characters throughout our history in Russia who have used the name of God to perpetuate the greatest of evils. Take Rasputin for example. A so-called mystic healer who was responsible for the fall of the Romanov dynasty and eventually the death of the entire Romanov family. This priest is another.”
“Why does God allow it?” I say this almost under my breath. It’s my greatest struggle.
“We live in the middle of a war, Mr. Daniels. If your experiences the last few days have taught you anything, they should have taught you this: Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light quite easily. (p. 240)

A feature in David Cook published novels is the section in the back entitled ‘After Words.’ This book features discussion questions, then a section where Tom Davis answers the questions from his point of view. I loved this question and answer:

Why (or how) is Sister Irina essentially “protected” against the evil of the bad men in the story?

Sister Irina is “untouchable.” This is playing on a physical and spiritual reality. Mr. M represents a very powerful man on earth who utilizes his power to see than nobody harms the Sister, lest serious repercussions come screaming down on their head. But this is also a spiritual reality. God takes care of His own. He provides serious heavenly protection to his sons and daughters who do the work of His kingdom on earth.
Evil can scare us, tempt us, and lead us astray, but Jesus came to “destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). This issue of sexual slavery is certainly a work of the Devil, and it can be destroyed. That’s why God sent His Son. But it takes people of God understanding this truth, believing it, and implementing it.

Priceless: A Novel on the Edge of the World’ is the second book in a series of three; ‘Scared: A Novel on the Edge of the World’ is the first book in the series (you can read my review here). This book, in my opinion, was darker than was ‘Scared’ (primarily because of the satanic elements). They were both equally compelling. In the ‘After Words’ section of the book, Tom explains what is in store for his readers in Book Three:

Right now, the third book in this Novel on the Edge of the World series looks like it will be a book set in Haiti. Stuart decides to take an assignment with the United Nations on the water crisis, because so many people die in that country from water-borne diseases. He is in Port-au-Prince on January 12, 2010, when a devastating earthquake strikes and he’s caught in the rubble of his hotel. I can’t wait to write this book!

And I can’t wait to read it! I love Tom’s writing style – and his story lines are always so intense and thought-provoking. He takes an important world issue and educates as well as entertains his readers with exciting and suspenseful plot twists.

You can order this book here.

This book was published by David C. Cook and provided by Wynn-Wynn Media for review purposes.


Jill Kemerer said...

Sounds like a powerful book. Great review!

Nyree-Dawn Wilson said...

Hi Andrea,
I am a new published author of a Christian Fiction novel and would love for you to review my book on your blog. Is there a process I need to follow in order for that to happen?

Nyree-Dawn Wilson, author of 'I Will Be Found By You'

Andrea Schultz said...

Hi Jill - thanks for the kind words. It is a great book.
Hi Nyree-Dawn -
Congratulations on your book! Please email me at andrealschultz[at]gmail[dot]com with more information on your book.
Blessings -

Clicky Web Analytics