Joshua McHenry Miller
The opening sentence of Tyrants and Traitors — the first title of the Lion’s Dynasty trilogy by Madison author Joshua McHenry Miller — sets the stage for a rollicking debut novel inspired by the biblical story of David and Goliath: “This was the first step toward revolution; an adventure bards would retell for generations. It was also, technically, stealing.”
With these words, Miller makes clear that this is no pious retelling of the epic conflict between the Israelites and the Philistines from the First Book of Samuel. The author is a Lutheran pastor at The Bridge Madison, but he realizes that most contemporary fiction fans don’t want to read a 275-page Bible tale based on an ancient conflict in a land that today is occupied by southern Israel and the Gaza Strip.
While the giant-slaying story of David and Goliath serves as the centerpiece of Tyrants and Traitors, published by Blue Ink Press, Miller creates a deep and ancient backstory in which the role of David is carried out by Niklas, a likeable Israeli lad with a large family, a mind for mischief and a cunning ability to think on his feet and crack jokes at just the right time — especially under pressure. Tyrants and Traitors introduces the shepherd boy at age 15 and concludes when he is about 18.
“Find the traitor hiding within Israel, or our nation will be enslaved and your hometown slaughtered,” a seer warns Niklas early in this story, sending the boy on the mind-blowing journey of a lifetime that doesn’t even peak with his slaying of Goliath, the giant Philistine warrior. Adventures with a voracious lion, Niklas’ tireless training to become a member of the Seraphim army of covert assassins within Israel’s military, and a climactic and cinematic battle for Bethlehem add to the book’s high-energy pace.
The boy’s encounters with Israel’s deranged king, his enviable friendship with the king’s son, and an evolving romance with the king’s daughter also create drama and intrigue.
Alternately bloody and violent, sharp and witty, and historical yet supernatural, Tyrants and Traitors rarely ventures toward the preachy. The book’s message is based on a belief in Yahweh, the Israeli name for God. But Niklas’ faith wavers constantly, and the book concludes with an emphasis on the young man’s ongoing yet uneasy relationship with Yahweh.
Miller’s influences include Jim Butcher (The Dresden Files, The Aeronaut’s Windlass), and his enthusiasm for this story, his amusing first-person narration as Niklas and his vivid battle scene descriptions make Tyrants and Traitors a thrill to read — even if you’re not necessarily a fan of the Bible or historical fiction.
Although geared toward the young adult market, Tyrants and Traitors will appeal to a wide range of readers in much the same way young adult novels by J.K. Rowling and C.S. Lewis extended far beyond their initial target audiences.
Tyrants and Traitors: Book One of The Lion’s Dynasty
Joshua McHenry Miller, Blue Ink Press