Reviewed by C.J. Darlington
Illuminated by Matt Bronleewe
"...takes readers on a wild ride ... By the end of Illuminated you'll want to jump on Google and Wikipedia to find out what's fact and what's fiction, because Matt Bronleewe makes everything seem real."
Matt Bronleewe is a man of many talents. He’s an accomplished music producer who’s worked with the likes of Rebecca St. James, Plumb, Michael W. Smith and Leeland. He’s penned or co-penned a number of top-of-the-charts hits. He was a founding member and guitarist for the band Jars of Clay. Now he’s written Illuminated---a blockbuster thriller that could easily place him on the best-seller lists. With a National Treasure meets The Da Vince Code style, Matt blows out of the starting gate with this debut novel. “I love books,” he told me. “I wanted to write a book about a book.”
Like any good thriller, Illuminated immediately draws readers into August Adams’ world. A former archeobibliologist, he’s now a rare book scout who travels the world searching for valuable tomes. His thirst for adventure has led him into more than one scrape, and he’s just about ruined himself financially. On Flight 1213 far above the Atlantic ocean, he starts up what he thinks is a casual conversation with his attractive seat mate Xandria Muro. August tells her he’s on his way to New York to deliver his rarest find yet—a Gutenberg Bible. Single pages can fetch $20-100K, and a complete book has been estimated to sell for 100 million if sold at auction today.
Soon however, Xandria turns extremely unattractive. She believes the Gutenberg holds the key to a treasure hidden for half a millennium. Not only does she want August to give her the Bible, she needs him to decipher the beautiful illuminations found on its pages. If he doesn’t, Xandria makes it clear his eight-year-old son Charlie and ex-wife April (who is also an archeobibliologist working at the Library of Congress) will die.
And that’s only within the first three chapters. Full of facts about Gutenberg, his Bibles, secret societies, and murderous villains, Illuminated takes readers on a wild ride. It’s nonstop action from page one, but Matt doesn’t neglect to give us background characterization of the major players (albeit in small doses). “I wanted to make a thinking person’s film, but on pages,” Matt further clarified in our interview. And that’s exactly what he’s done here. Even before talking to him I thought Illuminated could easily be next summer’s blockbuster movie. Heavy on action and dialogue, it would translate well to the big screen. But it also works in book form. Sometimes you wonder if someone successful in one creative area (like Matt is in the music world) can succeed in another. This is one of those cases where the transition really works, perhaps because music and books are both powerful mediums for delivering truth.
Illuminated follows the path many Thomas Nelson novels have taken before—delivering a compelling story from a Christian worldview, but keeping things light on the spiritual side. There’s definitely a huge respect for Scripture in the novel (thanks to the Gutenberg), but that’s about as far as things go. Matt uses restraint when depicting some violent situations, but there is one scene involving a serial killer dismembering his victim that, although somewhat veiled, will unsettle some readers. The novel does wrap up rather quickly (a few threads felt somewhat abridged), but luckily we pick up hints of the sequel (titled House of Wolves according to Matt).
By the end of Illuminated you’ll want to jump on Google and Wikipedia to find out what’s fact and what’s fiction, because Matt Bronleewe makes everything seem real. Does the Library of Congress really have secret passageways? Does the secret Order of the Dragon society exist today? Could the Gutenberg illuminations truly have double-meanings? Hmm . . . One fact you can take to the bank: We haven’t seen the end of August, April and Charlie. A very good thing indeed.
C.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.