By Geoff Ryman
Author: Geoff Ryman
Publisher: Angry Robot
- ISBN: 9781915202758
- Published: December 2023
- Pages: 366
- Format reviewed: Paperback
- Review date: 07/12/2023
- Language: English
People like to read for differing reasons. Some like to be entertained, whilst others like to be challenged, if you are lucky, you will get a book that will do both. Taking on an alternative history of the New Testament is challenging enough, but making the main protagonist a woman who says that they are a man is even more so, but controversy has never put Geoff Ryman off before and Him may just be the author’s most daring book to date in which Avigayil becomes Yeshu.
Maryam finds herself with child, having not lain with a man, but rather than already being together with Yosef, they are instead forced together in exile. Her for her pregnancy, him for his outspoken views. It is in this exile that Avigayil finds themselves being brought up. The child never felt like others and after a tragedy they decide they are no longer girl, but a boy whose purpose on this Earth will become known as they grow older. We will come to know them as Jesus.
Any retelling of a biblical story courts controversy, just ask Monty Python, but it seems that Ryman is hitting several hot button topics of the day about gender and religion. From the outside it seems like the book will be dominated by the gender topic, but it is only infusing a larger story. For Yeshu themselves it is not the biggest issue, it is those that surround him that carry the weight.
This is not a story told from the perspective of Yeshu, but his family, particularly his mother Maryam. This is not the Mary that you may know. Maryam is a complicated character who does not know her place in her own life, or that of her child. Avigayil is born to look so much like her, almost a clone. As Avigayil moves towards becoming Yeshu, Maryam is torn between fearing for her child's safety, but also being proud that they vocalise what she has been unable to say herself for years.
The book is set during the time of the bible and has a good sense of history to it. It is more grounded and realistic than the stories you would have heard in assembly. Yeshu’s upbringing was not easy, and you get a better sense of this, and it helps informs his teachings in later life. The book will benefit from a knowledge of the bible. Names and places are given the titles of the era so it can be tricky to know who or what is being talked about. A memorable parable will pop up on occasion, but not in the form you may think.
Him is not the easiest book to follow, but it is very intriguing. It has a different feel and tone to it than most books you will read. Is it Alt History, Urban Fantasy? It depends on how you reflect on the bible itself. It seems well-researched, but I am no expert on the subject matter. I found myself compelled to follow the story because the characters were so interesting. Maryam, the mother, is flawed and you get a sense of the unvarnished truth she has for her children, her husband and even herself. I would recommend this book to a reader who likes to read stories that challenge the traditional way of seeing things. It is controversial, but a balanced and informed story.
Written on 7th December 2023 by Sam Tyler .