Princess Queen

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,

Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’

William Shakespeare: Hamlet, Act 1, scene 5

Imagine a world where the eternal battle between good and evil is fought among us. Imagine the forces of darkness possessing human beings, working their evil will, and the collateral damage that would surely cause. Imagine collaborators trading earthly pleasures, and power over others, for their eternal souls, wreaking destruction and terror on the innocent. Best of all, imagine a mighty, Godly hero vanquishing unimaginably powerful evil.

True heroism requires not only bravery and skill, but sacrifice. Who is heroic unless their life is on the line and unless they willingly, knowingly risk it? But how much more valiant is the hero if their soul hangs in the balance?

Such is the world of Princess of Wands and its sequel, Queen of Wands, books by John Ringo.

Ringo is a prolific author, focusing primarily on military fiction and military science fiction. Due to his background, which included a stint in the 82nd Airborne, Ringo’s descriptions of weapons, tactics, and their employment tend to ring true, unlike many writing fiction these days. There are no “semiautomatic revolvers” or wild bursts of full-auto fire delivered one-handed with a general purpose machine gun, instead, an MP5SD appears early, and appropriately, in the novel. Perhaps the author closest to Ringo in style was Tom Clancy, though Clancy tended to focus more on subplots than Ringo, who tends to default to grittily realistic action sequences.

I stumbled onto Ringo quite by accident, chancing on a paperback copy of Ghost, in of all places, WalMart. It is the first book in his “Paladin of Shadows” series that thus far has six books. I suspect–hope–that this series and the series that is the topic of this review will soon intersect as Queen of Wands actually suggests. They do share many central conflicts, plot elements, and a wicked sense of humor and irony.

In Ghost, we are introduced to Mike Harmon, former Navy SEAL medically retired, working toward a history degree in a sea of mindless, politically correct college liberalism, when he happens to be in the right place at the right time and witnesses the kidnapping of a coed. He follows the kidnappers to their lair and quickly dispatches all but one of the bad guys, who turn out to be terrorists advancing an evil plot: kidnap young American girls and torture them on TV to force the US to do their will. Ironically, the President of Syria is behind the plot. Surely such a swell fellow wouldn’t truck with terrorists in reality, right?

Harmon hitches a ride in the wheel well of an airliner carrying coffins loaded with stripped and drugged girls and ends up at a chemical weapon facility in Syria where, in short order, he kills the Syrian president, Osama Bin Laden (in fiction, Al Qadea isn’t on the run and all but defeated like it is in Obamaworld), and the evil scum torturing the many nude American girls on television.

It’s grand male fantasy stuff, well written and paced. Any red-blooded American male will find himself thinking: “yeah, I could do that, and I would if I had the chance!” One of the recurring plot elements of all of Ringo’s works is the presence of strong women. No shrinking violets, Ringo’s female characters. As I am very fond of strong women, Ringo speaks to me. Yet at the same time, Ringo is not at all shy about accurately portraying the significant differences between the sexes. It is his ability to portray women enjoying all of the fruits of liberation feminists once claimed to want, yet now often reject, that gives them glorious, vibrant life. In Ringo’s works, men are men, women are women–through many are really formidable women–and they complement each other, which some might suggest is what they are supposed to do.

Harmon and the liberated women, still naked–only a few sets of clothing stripped from guards Harmon eliminated are available–hold off determined assaults by Syrian commandos, with the help of a beautiful girl who translates her softball pitching skills into becoming a human grenade launcher. Harmon quickly resembles a bleeding Swiss cheese, but with the help of the girls holds on until the SEALS–you’ll love how they manage to get there in the nick of time–and Rangers show up to save the day. For icing on the cake, the president–and this is how we know it’s fiction–drops a small nuc on the facility, turning it into a smoking, radioactive hole and tells every terrorist in the world that’s their fate if they tick off the US of A.

And that’s only book one of the novel. In book two, Harmon, millions provided by a grateful nation richer, is recovering and living on a small yacht in the Caribbean. Two coeds spend significant time with him and his darker side comes out. This is something Harmon struggles with constantly. It is his darker side that gives him determination and strength in battle, and he mostly keeps it under control, allowing him to do enormous good. There is some joyful S&M, and unabashed sex, which Ringo writes quite well without the “thrusting turgid manhood” common to much of contemporary fiction, and particularly writes from the female perspective. Ringo is a man who plainly likes and respects women, and it shows.

Ringo’s vacation with the coeds is interrupted by his nation’s call to thwart the detonation of a nuclear weapon, which happens to be nearby, and he saves the day but is again turned into Swiss cheese and meets–sort of–two stunning proficient female Marine helicopter pilots that will figure prominently in future books. And that’s not all–I’m only touching on the action high points, and there is a third book in the novel–but let’s return to the mystical world.

In Princess of Wands, our hero is the female version–sort of–of Mike Harmon: Barbara Everette, thirty-three year old soccer mom of three, seriously–but not annoyingly pushy–Christian, martial arts expert, crack shot, beautiful and strawberry blonde. She’s also big-breasted, but not as a stereotype. They’re essential to her personality and to the dynamic development of her character. Barb’s skills were hard won over many years as the daughter of a military father that traveled all over the far-east. Constitutionally strong-willed, but philosophically subservient to her mostly oblivious and around-the-house but emotionally absent husband, she does not work and is a stay at home mom, devoted to her kids, who keeps up her skills in her spare time.

When she decides to take a weekend for herself and heads for Florida, she ends up stuck in a small bayou town in Louisiana, a town taken over by a demon. One thing leads to another and Barbara Everette discovers that she is a warrior of God, given the power to destroy the demon and its acolytes. This, of course, lands her in a psych ward, because there are no such things as demons, until a super secret organization that fights mystic battles comes to her aid, and Barb begins a journey of training and supernatural battles as God continues to give her “gifts” that greatly increase her usefulness to Him and her powers.

As it turns out, her weekend for herself wasn’t her idea, but God’s call that changes her life, and the world. God does that sort of thing, whether people choose to believe it or not.

As with Ghost, Princess of Wands is divided into several books, several adventures with the same characters. Among the most interesting is Doris Grisham, known by her Priestess of Freya name, Janea. Janea is a tall, busty, beautiful mystical warrior who is far less powerful, but more schooled and experienced in the supernatural than Barb, and quickly becomes her mentor and partner.

Ringo skillfully plays on the differences between the two women. Where Barb is neat and tidy, low key and dresses conservatively, Janea, an exotic dancer and high-priced call girl, is a beautiful slob who dresses very provocatively and engages in frequent, joyful sex, which is a sacrament to the Norse goddess that gives her power. Yet Janea is also a powerful warrior, a deadly shot, and the kind of person anyone would want around in a fight, particularly where souls are on the line.

This is where Barb’s physical attributes and beauty enliven the development of her character. Janea flaunts her looks and enjoys the effect of her feminine wiles on men. Barb knows she is beautiful, but doesn’t seek that kind of attention and deflects it, sharply, if necessary. She sees vanity as a sin, and fighting sin in her own life, is a constant struggle.

It is the jeopardy of human souls in these books that makes them stand out from all similar fiction. The expression and consequences of free will are often displayed and discussed. God is real, as is the Devil. Demons, angels, spirits, Norse and Asian and Indian gods, all wield influence and battle not only for souls, but for worldly dominion. This allows Ringo to paint on a much larger and more colorful canvas, and he is not shy about discussing theology. He does not slight or downplay Christianity–through Barb, he portrays it as the most powerful force for good in the world; imagine that–while touching on the failings of mere mortals trying to practice it faithfully.

Some more prim Christians will find these books astonishing, and surely at odds in some ways with their doctrine, but it is, after all, fiction, and there is no doubt of Barb’s devotion to God. That is where she receives her power, the power to do His work in the world, and in Queen of Wands, the power to actually save the world. Her devotion to living a Christian life is her central motivation, and actually converts several confirmed atheists, not by “church lady” hectoring, but by her convincing and real example.

Yet, Barb is not a saint. She struggles with very human emotions and like Mike Harmon, anger. In fact, it is her barely harnessed anger, her “bad Barb” side that allows her to be so effective in battle, whether taking out a brace of demonic followers hand to hand, or slicing and dicing ancient monsters and demonic private school Stepfords with an ancient katana with a soul. In fact, Janea tells one of their FBI partners in “Special Circumstances” investigations that if she is a mystic hand grenade, Barb is a nuclear weapon, a very large one.

And there is another area where the humanity of Ringo’s characters comes alive: sexuality. Harmon is not shy about expressing his desires, in fact, post-Ghost, he has a harem of teenage beauties (read the books–it makes sense and is not at all the lecherous, poorly-written swamp one might imagine). While he occasionally allows his bad side to come out, he is generally very considerate, caring far more for the pleasure of his lovers than his own.

Strong women understand that decent men would do anything to please the women for whom they care. They also know that good men are compelled to protect women and children that cannot protect themselves, something Harmon does with an Errol Flynn-like vengeance. Making women happy, seeing them smile, is enormously satisfying to such men. Less than decent men are another matter entirely, and Harmon–though probably actually demon-possessed–is so strong willed that he is able to suppress those influences, and is always, in one way or another, the salvation of women. In a very real way, the eternal battle between good and evil is played out within Harmon, whose devotion to his troops, to honor and duty, and yes, to America, are unswerving.

On the other hand we have Barb, whose sexual life with her husband seems to have been restricted to producing their three children. In both books I found myself wanting to slap him and yell “wake up, moron!” He’s married to a magnificent, loving, faithful woman, and all he seems to care about is that she makes meals on time and takes the kids where they need to go.

There is a very strong sense that Barb’s sexual powers are as strong as her martial arts prowess, but like a good Christian, she suppresses those urges. However, at the end of Queen of Wands, we discover why her husband is so neglectful, and that discovery has the potential to open up new and very satisfying story possibilities, which should, if the prolific Ringo is on track and is following the clues he has left, include a Special Circumstances visit to the dominion of Mike Harmon. They need each other, and Barb may just be free to act on her needs instead of saving the world, or probably, while saving the world.

In these books, Christians can rejoice in a Godly Christian hero who not only resists the temptations of contemporary society, but unashamedly and righteously destroys evil when the time is right. She’s a role model not only for young women, but for any Christian. Those looking for well-told tales of action and adventure that expand the boundaries of action movies and novels will find satisfaction as well.

Me? I’m looking forward to the next book in both series.