Wow, this is my 100th post on Second Unit Reviews AND we just passed the halfway mark on the Obscure Books From Childhood blog series! Whoo hoo!
This is a story about a very ordinary boy named Josh Adams and a very strange adventure he had. Some of you may want to ask, “Is it a true story?” I can only say that a true story is not one that has happened, but one that could happen. If you are the sort of person who finds “real” people, such as Zachary Taylor, more interesting than Robin Hood, you had better stop here and find a “true” history book.
Okay, full disclosure: when I read The Chronicles of Narina by C.S. Lewis, I had no idea it was Christian allegory. In fact, it wasn’t until someone told me that’s what it was, years later, that I recognized that was what it was. To me, it was (and still is) a wonderful fantasy series. (At least until you get to The Last Battle. Then things got Revelation-levels of weird… and makes much more sense as Christian allegory rather than normal fantasy.) However, I recognized that The Seven Sleepers was Christian allegory only a few chapters into the first book, Flight of the Eagles. And if this was obvious to me as a moderately Christian middle-schooler, it’s is only more blatant to me now, rereading the series as an adult atheist.
That being said, The Seven Sleepers actually is a pretty fun little fantasy series. The main villains being called the Sanhedrin is a little too on-the-nose, and the raptures that the kids go through just being in the presence of the God-stand-in Goél are a little creepy, but if you can get past that, it’s a great series of quest adventures across an interesting landscape.
The premise is that Josh, along with seven other kids from different backgrounds are put to sleep in hibernation capsules just before the world is obliterated by a nuclear war. When they wake up, the world as they know it has changed. There are giants, werewolves, snakepeople, Gemini twins, dinosaurs, and various tribes and kingdoms that seem to have rebuilt themselves around different aspects of Old Earth legend and mythology. There’s Atlantis, Camelot, and many others. The world is under the thumb of an evil priesthood called the Sanhedrin (after the Jewish high priests who sent Jesus to be crucified), but there is a prophecy that Seven Sleepers will awake to help free the world and usher in a time of peace. During their travels, the Sleepers are aided and advised (usually cryptically) by a mysterious grey figure known as Goél.
The books are competently written and the characters, while essentially stereotypes, are still fun or interesting enough to care about. You have Josh, the awkward, gawky boy who never expected to be thrown into a leadership role; Sarah, his crush who has a close connection with Goél and is the mother figure of the group; Dave, the handsome boy who begins as a kind of Judas figure in the first book, is killed, and resurrected to serve Goél; Jake, the small red-headed kid from Brooklyn; Reb, the Southern Confederate boy with a vocabulary almost over-laden with metaphors and homegrown anecdotes; Abby, the beautiful spoiled girl who throws a monkey wrench into everything and acts as a rival to Sarah; and Wash, the thoughtful and soft-spoken boy with a lion’s courage… and the only person of color in the group. They have to work together, overcoming both internal and external obstacles in their quest to free Nuworld from the Sanherdin and bring the House of Goél into being.
Again, my main problem with the series is the almost unreasoning adoration that the children bestow upon Goél, as well as his apparent unwillingness or inability to help them. He has the power to raise the dead, but can’t defeat the Sanhedrin? I haven’t finished rereading the series yet, so I don’t remember the exact reasoning, but Goél works better as a character if I think of him as a typical fantasy-style god that has to work within certain archane rules rather than a stand-in for the Christian god. And in a world where illusion and mind control are common, the raptures when they see Goél and the complete trust in him, even when he doesn’t make any sense or asks them to do dangerous things without question, seems too close to mind control or emotional manipulation for me to be comfortable with. An argument could be made, I suppose, that Goél is just so good and pure and righteous that it sparks an immediate feeling of trust beyond anything normal humans would feel or evoke. But it’s still kind of creepy and I disapprove of the message of unthinking obedience to a higher power that these books do advocate.
But again, if you can kind of move past those aspects or rework them into a more traditional fantasy framework, then The Seven Sleepers series is an entertaining read with some fun adventures and landscapes to explore.