I just finished reading Behold, An Ashen Horse, written by Lee Boyland with Vista Boyland. This is the second in a trilogy written by this husband and wife team, which they have titled Clash of Civilizations.
This is a singular, extraordinary and amazing piece of literature, one that the authors identify as “alternative history.” I do a lot of reading. I’ve never before come across a novel quite like Behold, An Ashen Horse.
This novel might be described as apocalyptic. But it is more than that. It is insightful. But it is more than that too.
In and of itself, the title of the novel is not all that indicative of what the reader is about to experience. By comparison, the title of the trilogy is far more revealing.
Clash? Check. This novel is about a consummate clash. Civilizations? Check. The question is, how many?
The dictionary defines civilization as “the stage of human social and cultural development and organization.”
So, Behold addresses a clash of at least two, and probably three, sets of civilization, the western world versus the eastern world, Islam versus Christianity and conservativism versus liberalism, the latter political school perhaps more realistically labeled progressivism in today’s anything but progressive (i.e., advanced) society. While conservativism versus progressivism might not intuitively be characterized as “civilizations,” given the extreme polarization of these two clashing ideologies in the United States today, civilization might indeed be a more apt label than ideology.
In Behold, a fool who would be “caliph” releases a video warning the west that he will imminently detonate five (count them!) nuclear bombs in five major U.S. cities. Remarkably, his threat proves true, in no less than 24 hours. New York, Boston, D.C., Chicago, and Atlanta all but destroyed. The immediate death toll: 2.5 million, and climbing.
The progressive U.S. president is killed in the D.C. bombing. So are the next seven in the constitutional line of presidential succession. (And virtually all members of Congress, the Supreme Court and the president’s cabinet.) Only the eighth in succession, the administration’s token conservative cabinet member, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, on a fortuitous trip out west, survives and becomes the all but self-anointed new U.S. president.
In a second video the caliph calls for a worldwide Jihad, not only to finish off the Great Satan (the U.S.) and to destroy the Little Satan (Israel), but to brutally mass murder all of the human race unwilling to submit to Islam.
The result is indeed an unparalleled clash of the civilizations, west versus east, Islam versus Christianity, progressives versus conservatives.
Not only is Behold page turning entertainment, if such a story can be called entertaining, but the questions it raises are also . . . profound. Beyond its terrorist extremists, are members of Islam generally peace-loving as they claim? Or is that a myth as much a part of fiction as much as Behold is? How will the ultimate cataclysm between progressives and conservatives play out when extreme measures are required to save the (western) world as we know it? Is Behold a harbinger of things to come, and the price to be paid, if the western world continues to turn the other cheek?
Are the Boylands ultra-conservatives or do they just know how to spin a great yarn? Reading Lee Boyland’s non-fiction writing will shed some light on the answer to this question.
Speaking of spinning a great yarn, Behold’s president bears a striking ideological resemblance to a certain real world president we all know. That said, however, Beyond was written long before our current president ever announced any political ambitions.
Either way, Behold, An Ashen Horse is a fascinating tale and glimpse into . . . alternative history. And the Boylands are perfectly well suited to tell this story. If you like Tom Clancy’s The Hunt For Red October, and Mr. Clancy’s technological proficiency, you will love Behold, An Ashen Horse. Want to know all about conventional and nuclear ordnance? Behold, An Ashen Horse is your ticket. Want to know everything there is to know about Islam? Behold, An Ashen Horse will tell you how it is. Maybe.
At a minimum, Behold, An Ashen Horse is an engaging tale that will keep you reading well into the night. With the lights on! More than that, however, it will give you pause to question just where our world is heading. And whether there’s still time for us to change course.
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