The Talented trilogy by Rossano: a theology review

A friend on my Discord was telling me about her favorite book series. “But I’ve only read the first two books,” she said, “because I had to wait for the third one to come out.” I picked up a sample of the first book, liked what I read, and kept reading, all the way through three books.

BTW, if you are the author, click away now.

The three books in the Talented trilogy by Rachel Rossano

Since the summaries of the books are garbage, I refuse to use them and instead have written my own:

In a world based on Europe after the fall of Rome, a very Rome-inspired kingdom has the Talented and the non-Talented. This means that some people are born with psychic and telekinetic powers, and some aren’t. Seventh sons, in particular, have lots of powers, and the seventh son of a seventh son has multiplied powers. This is great unless the seventh child is born a daughter, because girls are only fit for breeding in this universe. The heroine, Zezilia, is seventh born and about to be introduced to society on her 15th birthday, when a talent trainer notices her insane levels of psychic power and takes her off to train her against her father’s wishes.

The highest mage in the land is the Sept Son, and his job is to train other talents and keep them from turning their powers to criminal use. Hadrian is barely old enough to drink and the seventh son of a seventh son, chosen for his crazy levels of power. He has to check Zezilia for powers and sparks fly. Bam, three years go by so now she’s eighteen and legally able to have romance, lol! Her powers are stronger than his. Since everybody in the kingdom wants Hadrian dead for increasingly hazy reasons, Zez becomes his bodyguard, except whoops, he already agreed to marry her sight unseen as the cost of training her. Cue the dramatic tension.


I have a weakness for psychic romance, and I thought it was interesting that the characters pray to the Almighty all the time. So I dove in. The psychic romance is very mild compared to, say, Firebird by Kathy Tyers. Psychic romance is very hot because of the intimacy without any physical contact. This author obviously tried to keep everything to a very mild T-rating. The characters barely kiss even after they’re married, snicker. The action is entertaining and the politics are kind of fun … at first. More on that later.

If you can’t tell, I’m building to a gripe about this trilogy. Surprise, it’s the theology.

I don’t know what denomination this author is, but the Christianity is very constrained, and by the end, I would say it’s very neutered. In book 1, the driving conflict of the plot is that the country nominally worships the Goddess, while the hero, Hadrian, worships the Almighty. And … uh … that’s about all we’re told, even though these characters pray to the Almighty literally on every page. What is the name of the Goddess? How do people worship her? Why are they threatened by Almighty worship? We’re never told. The high priest of the Goddess works very hard to undermine Hadrian and replace him … but why? By book 2, the high priest is randomly killed off and the Goddess thing is a non-issue.

We’re told that the Almighty hates sin and you have to pray to be forgiven and stuff, and the characters lug around battered copies of the holy book, the Revelation. But that’s all there is to the religion. They pray and pray and pray to this Almighty and receive in exchange a vague sense of peace. The Almighty never speaks to them, which is weird in a trilogy about psychic communication. You’d think somebody would get a message, or an emotion, or a picture, or some guidance of any kind. Book 2 has a character pick up the idiot ball and run with it twice because “apparently it’s so hard to figure out the will of the Almighty”.

By book 3, it’s apparent that the high priest of the Goddess had to die because the religion of the Goddess actually had more depth than the Almighty one. Instead, he is replaced by a political insurgent who uses abuse and sex to control people so you know he’s really the evil one. The constant praying to the Almighty slowly loses steam because the author has nothing else to say about him. He’s, uh, good or something. Even though the religion is used like a bludgeon (“You’re depressed? It’s because you don’t BELIEVE hard enough!”). There’s no joy, no reward, no relationship in this religion. The Almighty never intercedes for his followers. He’s just as distant and uncaring as the Goddess is said to be.

This really bothered me, because I’ve been writing very vivid relationships between my characters and the Divine. Since God, himself, is hard to fit into the human brain, I’ve been experimenting with metaphors, like Fith in After Atlantis, who is basically an elemental of fire and righteousness. He is present. He is terrible. He is good. And he shows up to chat whenever the heroes need him, usually with hard advice and lavish kindness combined. I was hoping that with this Christian psychic book, with intricate worldbuilding, would find a unique way to portray the believer’s relationship with God.

Turns out, I was wrong. I got to the end and was like, okay, so, what’s the deal with the Almighty? You could cut him and the Goddess out of the books and it would make literally no difference. If you made the hero black and the bad guys white, it would be the exact same conflict, and have the exact same depth. And by the end, it’s some kind of class warfare struggle anyway, because … apparently that was actually a deeper conflict to build a plot on than anything religious.

I finished the trilogy happy for the ending the characters got, but frustrated with the shallowness of the theology. I expected deep moral issues, and any kind of a portrayal of God. What I got was some kind of tract. You’re taught how to join this religion, but the religion itself is nothing I’d want to be part of. It was dead and awful. And I’m sorry to say it. As a Christian, myself, I’m deeply disappointed in this portrayal. It misrepresents everything about true faith and how God’s will actually works.

Anyway, this was a lot of space to rant about a book trilogy that I nominally enjoyed. Here is the Book a Minute of the trilogy:

Zez: I have powerful powers.

Hadrian: I am cruelly overworked.

Zez: Let’s kiss.

SOMEONE TRIES TO KILL HADRIAN

Hadrian: Sorry about that. Let’s kiss.

SOMEONE TRIES TO KILL HADRIAN

Zez: That sucked. Let’s kiss.

SOMEONE TRIES TO KILL HADRIAN

REPEAT 1000X MORE

THE END

Wildflowers in the desert

With all the rain we had through July and August, the Arizona desert is lush and blooming. It was slightly cooler than usual this morning, so I went for a walk with my husband and took pictures.

Morning glories

We have morning glories everywhere. I didn’t know what they were and I’ve been ripping them out. Now I feel bad!

Moonflowers/desert thorn and morning glories

Little gardens have sprung up in every corner of every yard.

Arizona poppies
Barrel cactus?

The desert was so clear and pretty, I was able to get some long views.

Kitt Peak with the observatory

The desert here is mainly creosote bush and coyote bush, with the occasional cactus or mesquite. The distant desert sloping up the mountains is very green.

The butterflies are amazing. Driving up the mountain, I thought there were leaves blowing out of the back of the car ahead of me. Then I realized it was butterflies. They are yellow, white, orange, black, and green. The air is just full of them. It’s like those pictures you see of a monarch migration, except these are just native species.

I’ve lived in Arizona eight years, but I always lived in the city and never got to experience the desert like this before. I’m constantly in awe.

Moonflowers in the desert

We’ve had a ton of rain this summer in Arizona. I’ve been frantically chopping weeds, but I let some of them grow to see what they would do. Particularly these broad-leafed things that I hoped would be flowers. They’re starting to bloom, and here’s what they look like:

According to PlantNet, the app I use to identify plants, these are either moonflower, or desert thorn flower, which are in the same family. They look identical to me! These flowers only open in the evening, after sunset, and close up again in the morning when the sun touches them.

We have an abundance of insects right now, especially butterflies. Last month, I noticed that there were caterpillars everywhere, and figured that by August, it would be butterfly city. And it is! Bright yellow butterflies. My husband was driving down the road and one got stuck in his windshield wipers. The thing is, the stupid butterfly was still crawling out of its chrysalis! In fact, the chrysalis was what got stuck on the car. The butterfly was already flying around. It eventually freed itself and flew away, despite the moving car. Desert bugs are tough.

Of all the things I expected to find in the desert, butterflies and moonflowers were not one of them. 🙂

A stroll down the arroyo

An arroyo is a stream bed that only fills up during a flash flood, when the desert gets more rain than the ground can absorb. We’ve had so much rain this year that our little arroyo has deepened by at least a foot. Let’s check it out.

Here is the entrance to the wash, where the water crosses the road and flows between the yards.

To an apartment-dweller these past 15 years, this a magical place. The trees on either side are mesquite, acacia, and Palo Verde.

My daughters join me as we enter a green tunnel. They’re telling me how mosquitoes sound when they buzz around your ears.

Some variety of cholla cactus, these suckers are nasty.

This acacia is so green and fluffy! It hide the thorns that lie in wait on every single twig.

Thornless prickly pear. These are worse than regular prickly pear, because each of those dots are fine hairs that stick in you by the hundreds. A flamethrower is pretty much the only way to deal with them.

Thanks for coming with me for our little walk down the wash! One more weather pic:

Jumping cholla flowers

A walk around the wilderness yard

We’ve now lived in our new house almost six weeks. Due to hot weather and persistent rain, we haven’t been able to do much with our blank slate of a yard. The wilderness has decided that it needs to reclaim the whole thing. Each morning, I go out and do battle with it.

Unchopped broad leaf weeds of unknown species

I don’t know what these weeds will become. Probably they will grow ten feet high and have obnoxious allergy-laden flowers.

Baby mesquite

This is a mesquite tree. I have about 5000 of these coming up. They send down a taproot that is impossible to dig out, so I’m chopping them as fast as I can. I already have multiple mesquites that I’m grooming to be shade trees, and I don’t need 5000 more.

Jumping cholla flower buds
Sweet acacia beginning to bloom
Silky mesquite beginning to bloom
Mud holes where mom tried fruitlessly to dig out a mesquite make for fun places to play.
A horned toad who visited to eat our 10.3 billion ants

Our wilderness yard has no end of things to look at and blog about. Look forward to plenty more updates as we try to tame the wilds of Arizona.

Just a fun Final Fantasy fanart post

I’ve been playing Final Fantasy 14 lately for a change of pace. It’s an MMO like World of Warcraft, and it’s kind of slow and relaxing. I’ve been drawing the adventures of my character Jayesh. Here’s a few:

Jayesh in Conjurer starting gear

I’m getting a bit burned out on Destiny, and I need new clothes and costumes to draw. Final Fantasy has a satisfyingly large amount of both. Plus it’s so dang pretty. Destiny is many things but it’s not exactly pretty.

Various commissions and their painting progress

Had a couple of commissions over the last few weeks. I’m happy with how they turned out. Here’s a peek into the painting process.

Three science fiction warriors on a hilltop in front of a science fiction white city.
Dreaming City Fireteam, commissioned by Wolfram-7

This was a tricky one because it had three characters in complex gear, plus a background I had to paint. I’m not good at architecture (more things to study!) so I had to grab screenshots and meticulously trace them. The rocks and trees were impressionistic painting, just a few colors and shapes to imply trees and rocks. You’re not supposed to look at them, anyway. 😀

(These are both based on the videogame Destiny 2)

Four pictures showing the progress of the science fiction warriors picture, from sketch to painting.
Fireteam painting progress

This pic took a long time to do, and I’m happy with how it turned out. So was my client, which is the best part. 🙂

Next up, another commission. This client gave me the basics of how his character looked, and told me to pick a pose and background myself. I wanted to try drawing the current game season’s TRON look, so I tackled that.

Pretty black girl science fiction warrior uses advanced tech to hack a TRON world.
Hacking the Matrix with a splicer gauntlet
Four pictures showing the hacker girl from sketch to painting
Progress of the splicer gauntlet painting

This one was fun to do because it’s just so colorful. Also, I really love drawing people of different ethnicities. The features, hair, and skin tones endlessly fascinate me, and they’re just so pretty. 🙂

Adventures in monsoon season

Here in the American Southwest, we’re right in the middle of a robust monsoon season. Yesterday it was cloudy all day, giving us a break from the 100+ degree heat.

That afternoon, I stepped outside for a look at the sky and saw a huge dark storm heading toward us from the east. It was dark clouds and a solid wall of rain. What was even more fun was that my poor husband was due to be driving home from work. Nothing to do but wait it out.

Soon the rain began, quickly flooding our little desert landscape. The river in the top left used to be our road.

Over the course of an hour, visibility dropped. We could barely see out of our windows. It was like being submerged in an upright ocean.

The rain slackened, and we began looking around to see what had changed. First thing we noticed was bugs pouring out of holes in the ground. These mayfly things were pouring out like smoke and flying away. It was weird and creepy. I tried to get a picture, but it didn’t turn out. We also saw at least one centipede come out.

Then we started seeing spadefoot toads started popping out of the ground. I’d read about them coming out of the ground in the desert after a rain, but seeing them just appear was amazing. They instantly started catching bugs with their tongues. They must have been very hungry after their long hibernation. My kids went crazy trying to catch them.

The water came down from the high desert and flash flooded our little neighborhood. Our tiny wash out back became a raging torrent. So did our street.

The flood branched off and flooded into our already flooded back yard.

Amazingly, the flood abated in just a few hours. My husband came driving up in water up to his hubcaps, but he finally made it home. He said that the water was rushing across the road in multiple places, and there were cars just stopped and waiting for it to go down. It took him an extra hour to get home.

So that was our adventure yesterday! I’m a little concerned about what storms we might have the rest of the weekend, since we have more in the forecast. We haven’t even lived in this house a month, so it’s exciting!

Moving sucks but we did it

Two years ago, in September, I discovered that baby number 7 was on the way. We were living in an 800 square-foot apartment. I looked at my husband and said, “That’s it. We have to get a house, now.”

We were packed to the gills in that tiny place, bunk beds with roll away beds beneath them, and a crib jammed in somehow. My husband had finally landed a decent job, and a house was tentatively within our grasp.

The baby was born in 2020, meaning that the year wasn’t a total loss. I knew that I couldn’t pack and move until the baby was a year old, because I wouldn’t be physically strong enough until then. So we decided to wait for our tax return and start the house hunt in March of 2021.

Between that and the Covid stimulus checks, which we saved, we had enough for the various fees and down payments that houses require. A home loan secured, we ventured forth into the housing market.

And oh, what a crazy place it is. In Tucson, Arizona, housing is in such high demand, people pay 25 to 30k over asking price, no matter what garbage condition the house might be in. And they’re paying in cash. Little fish like us are squeezed out of the running by the big, fat fish coming in from CA, New York, and other states. We placed offers on three houses, only to find out that there were ten other offers on the same house. We rode the emotional roller coaster of Yay! We made an offer! to Ultimate Bummer, we were outbid.

We really didn’t want to get a flipper house, but house flipping is very big out here in Tucson. Two such listings were passed to us by our realtor: nice sized double-wides that were “undergoing renovations”. Translation: being flipped as fast as possible.

Just when it seemed that we would never get a house, our realtor called and asked if my husband wanted to see one of the flipped double-wides. It wasn’t on the market yet, and they were still working on it, but they would entertain an offer. It was in our price range. It was in a good area, not too far from my husband’s work. It was a nice rectangle of a trailer house, almost exactly double the space of our apartment. We took a chance and made an offer. It was accepted.

Now we had dozens of inspections, disclaimers, contracts, and agreements to sign, and sign, and sign. Thank goodness they do it digitally now, because it was almost a nightly occurrence.

Long story short, we got the house. We probably shouldn’t have gotten it, and we still feel like we cheated, kind of. It still has some issues that the inspections missed, but home warranties are wonderful things.

When it came time to move, my parents chipped in to hire movers. Last time we moved, it was just my husband and me, and it took us four days. This time, the movers had the truck loaded in four hours, and unloaded at the house in thirty minutes. Those guys were beasts. I just watched in awe. I worked like mad disassembling furniture, then tried to keep up with them, and I just about died of exhaustion.

Anyway, we’re now settled in a much bigger, nicer space. My kids have a yard to play in. After years of dodgy apartment playgrounds, words can’t describe what a relief this is. If they leave a toy outside overnight, it won’t be stolen or destroyed by morning. Rabbits and quail use our yard as a highway, to our constant amusement. It’s like we left prison and moved to the zoo.

Hopefully blogging will be a more regular occurrence, now that my laptop is unpacked again. And drawing! We haven’t found a new routine, so creative things are still a bit hit and miss.

Repost: The strangely Christian meta-narrative of the Destiny games

I wrote this post back in 2018, back before a lot of the storyline had been revealed. It’s only proved my point even more. I thought it was time to repost this and update it a bit.


Hold on to your hats, folks, I’m going all literary analysis on you today.

So I’ve been getting into the games Destiny and Destiny 2. These are multiplayer online shooters where you shoot aliens and collect loot. Pretty straightforward and pretty fun (and often, just downright pretty.)

Bungie Destiny 2, Nessus: Landscape painting of a forest with red trees with human figure looking at waterfall.
Destiny 2 concept art: Nessus

But the game also hints at a deeper backstory that it doesn’t explain super well, unless you’re willing to spend hours piecing together tidbits scattered throughout the games. So I’ve been watching lore videos on YouTube, where other people take all those tidbits and string them together into a cohesive story.

I’ve been increasingly delighted with the meta-narrative of Destiny.

Like most science fiction, the story operates from a humanist worldview: mankind can become gods if we just put aside our differences and work hard enough. But then the metaplot comes into play, and it’s decidedly not humanist. In fact, it swings decidedly Christian. I wonder if the writers at Bungie realize what they hath wrought and its significance.

The big picture story goes like this. There is this alien-machine god-thing called the Traveler that looks like a small white moon. It’s power is called Light. It shows up in our solar system, grants humans the Light, and terraforms the inner planets and the various moons of the gas giants. Humans go live on these planets. Humans also develop longer lives, better tech, etc, and go into a Golden Age.

Bungie Destiny 2: Man in armor stands at railing, looking at thunderstorm over cityscape with Traveler in the distance
Destiny concept art

This doesn’t last, of course. There’s an evil force called the Darkness that chases the Traveler from place to place. Its weapons are four alien races that serve it, but all who crave the Light–or hate it. They stomp humanity, destroy their colonies, and ruin Earth.

Here’s where it gets interesting. The Traveler actually battles the Darkness one on one. The game is very vague about this point, and the lore videos have multiple theories about what exactly happened. Point is, the Traveler won, but it was wounded and stopped terraforming and things.

Instead, it sent out these tiny robots made of Light called Ghosts. Each Ghost resurrects a single person, basically a zombie (or revenant, since they have their soul) powered by Light. They became known as Guardians. If one of these guardians is killed, they can be resurrected so long as their Ghost is unharmed. If their Ghost dies, no more resurrections for them, it’s lights out.

Bungie Destiny warlock: human figure in armor looks at Ghost robot
Destiny warlock by TDSpiral

See the metaphor going on, here? It’s super interesting. Almost a Holy Ghost thing.

Now, it’s not a perfect metaphor. In real life, the God is the source of all Light, and He was not only before the Darkness, he already defeated it. The Darkness itself has a name and a face. Once known as the Light Bearer, he has become the Enemy, and his sin was pride. “I will become like the Most High!”

Jesus battled the Darkness and overcame it, being wounded on our behalf. In Destiny terms, the Last City in the shadow of the Traveler might as well be built at the foot of the Cross, because the symbolism is so similar.

Now, it’s really too bad that Destiny clings to its humanist philosophy. In its lore, the Traveler gives Light without making any demands of humanity. No devotion to righteousness, no forsaking sin and Darkness. In real life, there are two sides, and we have to pick one. If that was the case in Destiny, then the battle between Light and Darkness would go beyond meta-narrative and become the personal struggle of every Guardian. The story of the Warlords–guardians who abused their power–would become even more vile.

Bungie Destiny 2 concept art by Jeremy Fenske: human figure stands before ring-shaped Vex portal
Destiny 2 concept art by Jeremy Fenske

If such a choosing of sides was possible, then redemption would also be possible for the four alien races who serve the Darkness, however unwittingly. It would be possible for them to abandon Darkness and serve the Light, too, thus becoming very interesting allies.

But Destiny keeps things very Tao, with Light and Darkness equally matched and no ultimate victory is possible. Mankind doesn’t have to seek righteousness and abandon sin in order to receive power. (Which, the more you think about it, is so strange. Why aren’t Guardians forced to pick sides? There are in-game stories of Guardians who joined the Darkness, so maybe, in a way, that choice is still there, just buried out of sight.)

So, that’s Destiny’s meta-narrative, a lot of Christian ideas underlying a humanist story. And it’s funny, because if you make the game more humanist (the Light is ours because humanity is awesome), then the battle between Light and Darkness falls apart, with no real difference between them. If you make the game more Christian, with the Light actually having conditions and everyone being forced to pick sides, then the story becomes much more profound.

Note from 2021: The storyline of Uldren/Crow has brought home this point even harder. Uldren was the prince of the Awoken (think space elves), and he was a pretty miserable, increasingly depressed guy with mommy issues. When the queen died, he went off the deep end and started murdering his own people and doing a lot of other bad stuff. Eventually, he killed a main character, and our player character hunted him down and executed him. He doesn’t even put up a fight, and it’s very unsatisfying.

Well, later on in the game, a Ghost finds Uldren’s corpse and resurrects him. He takes the name Crow, and has no memory of his past. He winds up being extremely kind and merciful to the alien races, particularly the Fallen, who once had the Traveler’s blessing. He has this wonderful redemption arc that has been as satisfying as his death was unsatisfying.

Top: Crow is offered friendship. Bottom: Uldren shoots Cayde-6
Top: Crow being offered friendship by the hero leader. Bottom: Uldren executing the best friend of the hero leader.

Maybe that’s one reason the story is intentionally left vague, scattered throughout the game in hints and tidbits. Breadcrumbs for those to see who can. I’m continually shocked at the Christian terminology these lore gamers use to describe these concepts.

I think it’s a good lesson for us Christian writers. Tell a good story and don’t be afraid to pull in delicious metaphor about the struggle between good and evil. It rings true for everyone.

Bungie Destiny 2 concept art: landscape under storm clouds with Shard of the Traveler
Destiny 2 concept art: shard of the Traveler

Have you noticed any other religious points I ought to touch on? I know I’d like to dig into the Hive, evil aliens who take Gnosticism to its logical conclusion. There’s also the story of Thorn and the Last Word, which is a parable about moral relativism vs. moral absolutes. This game is packed with brain candy.