Review: Four Dominions by Eric Van Lustbader
By Hope C. TarrJuly 19, 2018
Four Dominions by Eric Van Lustbader is an action-packed, globe-spanning new entry in the Testament series that explores religion, politics, and civilization.
With Four Dominions, veteran author Eric Van Lustbader gives eager readers another installment in his supernatural Testament series.
Braverman “Bravo” Shaw is the head of the Gnostic Observatines, a secret Catholic society dating to the 1300s. As “archeologists of an alternate history,” the modern-day Gnostics are dedicated to hunting down and recovering ancient artifacts of Christian and occult provenance.
The latest artifact to come into GO hands is the Book of Deathly Things, the Testament of Lucifer. The unholy ancient text appears blank to all but Bravo’s sister, Emma, who accidentally spills lemonade on the pages, revealing the otherwise invisible print. Emma keeps the revelation to herself, with catastrophic consequences.
Aiding Bravo and Emma in their work is Ayla Tusik, recently discovered to have been fathered by Bravo and Emma’s paternal grandfather, Conrad Shaw. All three possess paranormal powers. Ayla has “Farsight,” presumably inherited from her mother, an Immortal. Bravo and Emma each possess an eidetic (photographic) memory, a power that proves both a blessing and a curse, especially for Emma.
Dedicated to thwarting them are the Knights of St. Clement. “Cat’s-paw to the popes down through the ages,” the Knights have evolved into a lay society over the years (as have the Gnostics), but they remain deeply conservative and wholly committed to upholding Church orthodoxy, which disavows all mysticism and magic as heresy. Those who pursue such, namely the Gnostics, must be hunted down and stopped—wiped out—at any cost.
While it would be beneficial to read the prior books, Lustbader does a creditable job of catching us up, picking up where The Fallen leaves off. As Four Dominions opens, the rivalry between the two societies has exacted a terrible toll. Among the Gnostics, Bravo’s father, Dexter, and grandfather, Conrad, are dead, as is his beloved mentor, Fra Leoni. Emma has only recently recovered her sight after being blinded in the explosion that killed their father. Ayla has lost both her mother and adoptive father to the violence. Their sacred Reliquary in Alexandria, Egypt, the repository for centuries of artifacts, has been destroyed.
The Knights are likewise licking their wounds. Their fortress on Malta has been razed by fire, incinerating the ancient castle and all within. Presumably, the Gnostics are to blame. Or are the true culprits the Fallen? Demon minions of Lucifer, the Fallen are known to possess mortals’ physical bodies and obliterate their souls, most recently Emma’s.
The portal between the physical world and the Underworld holding Lucifer and his Fallen Angels is weakening. First breached by King Solomon’s alchemists, subsequent sorcerous acts have caused cracks in the metaphysical boundary. Now, more and more of the Fallen are finding their way through. To save Emma, and the world, Bravo and Ayla must enter the Hallow Lands—the netherworld between the physical world and the Underworld—as Conrad Shaw did a century earlier. Success hinges on tracking down four artifacts—the Four Dominions—fashioned from Solomon’s occult gold and using them to reverse the process, sending the Fallen back to their prison and sealing the portal between realms. If they fail, Emma will be lost to the Darkness and humankind will live in eternal servitude to Satan.
Flashbacks to 1918-19, the immediate aftermath of the Great War, where the origins of the Gnostic quest carried on by Conrad Shaw are fleshed out. Here, Lustbader deftly interweaves historical fact with fiction, notably introducing real-life Irish poet and philosopher William Butler Yeats. Based upon Yeats’s canny descriptions of the metaphysical in his poetry, Conrad concludes the Irishman must have the Farsight. (Yeats’s lifelong fascination with and pursuit of the occult—reincarnation, seances, mediumship, and Oriental mysticism—is well-documented as is its influence on his work). He recruits the poet to be his companion on an expedition to the Levant (Ethiopia), an entry point for the Hollow Lands. A century later, Yeats’s poems hold vital clues for Bravo, Ayla, and Emma.
New characters are introduced into the present timeline as well—notably Elias, the mysterious orphan boy living alone on Malta amidst the rubble; Obarton, head of the Knights’ Circle Council and perhaps the only purely evil character apart from the Fallen; and newly minted Knight, Lilith Swan. The sole female on the Circle Council, Lilith is both a zealot to the Cause and an assassin par excellence, pairing extraordinary physical abilities with gadgetry worthy of a Bond villain. When the 13 men of the Council, including Obarton, vote to kick her off and return to all-male leadership, she dispatches three of the ringleaders in rapid, gory succession.
Biblical references abound, notably nods to the Book of Genesis. Lilith is a reference to Adam’s first wife, who—unlike Eve, fashioned from Adam’s rib—was created at the same time and from the same dirt as he. The apple tree on the Shaws’ Surrey, England, estate beneath which Conrad Shaw is buried represents the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden. In a dream, the deceased Conrad offers a perfectly ripe red apple to Elias, urging him to eat, disappearing only after Elias has demolished the fruit to its core. Is Conrad serpent or savior? Or a bit of both?
There are plot twists aplenty as well as unlikely alliances, including a romance between a Gnostic and a Knight possessed by a Fallen. In some cases, villains are redeemed and heroes revealed to be deeply flawed. We also learn more about the Shaw history and heritage, information that casts Bravo’s, Emma’s and Ayla’s unique abilities in a stark new light.
Can we look forward to a fourth installment in the Testament series? The final pages of Four Dominions strongly suggest that we can:
For the moment, at least, the war to come was far from his (Bravo’s) mind. It had to be for him to regain his equilibrium and keep his sanity. In the back of his mind he knew that though they had won a great battle, they had gained only a brief respite. Even now, the enemy was regrouping, considering alternate strategies, planning the final strike that would send them headlong into the world of humans, and thence to Heaven’s gates.
If so, we can almost assuredly count on the death toll continuing to climb, yet another “Holy Grail” to quest after, and another epic battle to set the world to rights if only for a while. And, once again, readers like me will sit up into the small hours, furiously flipping pages.