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Benediction Denied
A Labyrinth of Souls novel
by Elizabeth Engstrom
Shadowspinners Press, 2017, $11.99, 189 pages
Published: June 2017

Adam Swan has come to the Congo to help engineer waterworks to deliver drinkable water to a village. His wife and three daughters have also come along, but after a summer they’ve departed for school and their first world existence while Adam remains to complete his work.

And then his world disintegrates.

Adam finds himself fleeing underground, struggling to survive in the dark, with a strange deck of cards and his memories: memories of a co-worker’s warnings of the dark and the local trickster god; memories of his family, of what each one of them means to him; of how love and betrayals, some subtle, some as direct as a blow to the face or a knife in the back, make up the fabric of his life. 

Adam’s intense longings for light, water, sustenance, hope, and freedom are so palpable that reading this story is a harrowing experience. Ultimately, the heart-wish that is central to his being is one that only the trickster god can grant; but what is the price?

The writing is masterful, extraordinary, as innocuous-seeming remarks peel back to reveal a grinning death skull; as monstrous encounters in the labyrinth turn out to have their origins in “ordinary” acts of mundane cruelty.  Adam is aptly named, an everyman whose weaknesses and strengths reflect our own. If we are able to see more in his plight than he sees, perhaps even a way out that he misses, maybe we can see with equal clarity the corresponding avenues in our own lives. ~~ Chris Wozney

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