Book Review & Interview: Hope of Ages Past by Bruce Gardner

hope of ages past bruce gardner book review

The synopsis on the back of the book: 

AD 1618 — Post-Reformation Central Europe is on the verge of a cataclysmic new religious conflict—the Thirty Years War—that will ultimately lead to the deaths of eight million and the dramatic alteration of European civilization.

When Peter Erhart, a young German Lutheran, comes to the aid of a frightened Catholic boy named Hans Mannheim on the day of the war’s outbreak in Prague, he embarks on a life journey that will severely test his courage, humanity, and faith. A decade later, Peter, now married and pastoring in Magdeburg, Germany, sees this test begin in earnest when powerful rivals threaten his career and the war engulfs the city.

As the Catholic imperial army approaches, Peter encounters Anna Ritter, a peasant girl of uncommon beauty and wit who has secretly adored him for years. Each must fight bravely for the survival of their families and friends when local villains invade countryside cottages and the army, led by an awe-inspiring Black Knight, besieges the city.

At the pinnacle of their trial, unthinkable tragedy unites Peter and Anna and links their fates with Hans, now a grown man with a reputation to prove. Will faith and forgiveness prevail over despair and death when the three face together their ultimate test in the siege’s horrific aftermath? 

  • Genre: Christian Historical Fiction
  • Published: 6/18/2018
  • Pages: 518
  • Goodreads Rating: 4.88 Stars
Book review hope of ages past bruce gardner
When hard trials come your way - as you know they surely will- always remember this: God loves you. He’s always watching over and caring for you. He’ll never forsake you, Peter. Even in your darkest hour, when all your hope in him seems lost. That is the most important truth about life in Christ I could ever wish to impress upon you.
— Dr. Weber

Why I Chose This Book

The author's publicist reached out to me to review Bruce first book. I have never learned too much about the 30 years war so it was something I was definitely interested in. 

First Initial Thoughts

First off, it took a good 100 pages for the story to pick up. It was a little slow at first, but I think that was needed to set up the story later on. 

Peter Erhart is a young man who desires to be a Luthern priest. He was very devoted to his faith and his new family. I found him to be very optimistic in the beginning. But he wasn't also oblivious to the growing issues between the Protestants and Catholic's. He knew there was trouble brewing and was determined to keep his town and family safe. 

Anna Ritter is a peasant girl and her family is struggling financially. His father drinks a bit too much and often gets in trouble with the two men who collect the rent. One day she sees Peter preach in her church. She grows an immediate attraction but soon her heart is broken when she learns Peter is already married. I found her to be very devoted to her family, loving, and accepting of other people's beliefs. 

Setting

Bruce brought the 17th century Germany to life. I didn't really know much about this time period, and how people lived, before reading this book. The author did a great job in describing daily life and what life was like back then. Bruce also did a good job in portraying the religious turmoil of this time. 

The pain that you’ve been feeling, can’t compare to the joy that’s coming.
— Romans 8:18

Final Thoughts

I do not think you have to know too much religious history prior to reading this book. But it would be useful to know the difference between Protestants and Catholics and their beliefs to get a better understanding of the story. I recommend this article, HERE, if you are not too familiar with the subject.  

With that said, Bruce did a tremendous job in helping the reader understand the war and why it happened. I vaguely remember learning about the 30 years war in World History (which was an elective class- nerd I know ^_^) but I don't think it's often taught in public schools today. 

There are a lot of characters in this book, and it took me a little while to remember everyone. But I think a lot of characters can be good in a story. It creates a diverse story. Also, at the end of the book in the author's notes, he does give a little snippet of what happened to some of the non-fictional characters after the story ended. 

Also, a lot happens in this book. I would not recommend skimming or skipping around in the book. Both Peter and Anna face and learn a lot about themselves throughout the novel. Anna experienced multiple traumatic events and that shaped her greatly. Peter, oh my, he went through a lot. His faith was tested a lot in this story.  He never let go of his faith in God and I admired that. 

I really liked that Bruce emphasized the brutal and short life people experienced during that time. With war, life wasn't guaranteed. It was definitely a difficult and tumulous time. I thought that the book was well balanced and I liked that not only did he cover the war but also the mundane details of life. I think this made me more emotionally invested in the story. The story really inspired me to keep my faith in Christ, even through the most difficult of times. 

Would I Recommend? 

Yes. However, this book does have mild violence so if you are opposed to that, this might not be the right book for you. 

Author Interview

bruce gardner

What was your hardest scene to write?

Judging by the amount of time I spent debating in my mind (plus getting “sensitivity input” from my wife!) about how to portray things, the hardest scene was the one where my second protagonist “Anna” and her family are accosted in their Magdeburg city home by the Croatian mercenary soldiers (Chapter 34).  The challenge in writing this was to strongly convey the absolutely horrendous (and factually representative) violence of the scene without losing focus on Anna’s response—both physical and emotional—as the primary point for the reader to take away.

We all need a hero! Tell us about your protagonist(s)? Was there a real-life inspiration behind him or her?

Peter Erhart—assistant Lutheran pastor for a major 17th century German city church—is a young man who represents the archetype of someone who grows up in a loving family, honestly strives to live a life pleasing to God, but is struck down by the cruelest of life’s fates with a “Prophet Job”-like severity.  Peter must face the ultimate test of his faith and love for others:  to press on with the trust and hope he had previously proclaimed so boldly, or to (understandably) give in to fear and death.  For Peter and those who depend on him, there is no middle ground.  My “real-life inspiration” for Peter was drawn from several men I have had the deep privilege to know in my working career and in my church/ community ministry settings over the years … men with high personal integrity, humility, humor, intelligence, love of family and— most of all, enduring faith in the God with whom all things are possible.

What real-life inspirations did you draw from for the worldbuilding within your book?

Here are the ones I considered primary:

  1. The gripping real-life, personal accounts of the “Sack of Magdeburg, Germany” by the Catholic League Army in 1631.    
  2. My many experiences over the years sitting in church pews, listening and reflecting on certain sermons or worship experiences that struck me in a special way (positively or negatively), observing the manner in which these were “presented,” and how others besides myself seemed to be impacted … did they inspire positive change, or did they create unnecessary guilt or misunderstanding?
  3. The biblical account of the Prophet Job (this was a key theme that underlay the whole of my story)
  4. Observing our recent (especially last few years) USA cultural “breakdown” in terms of people’s refusal to listen rationally to other’s perspective without pre-judging their intentions and character, shouting them down, etc.  This “bad habit” continually rears its ugly head throughout the novel … both “extremist” sides of the conflict (Catholic and Protestant) were equally guilty.
  5. Although I didn’t consciously pursue it, I’m sure in retrospect my portrayal of some aspects of the developing relationship between the two main protagonists—Peter and Anna—had to be influenced by my own early interactions with my wife of 44 years, Nancy.  My wife’s natural beauty, “boldness,” and deep compassion for others; our initial “infatuation from afar,” our different educational backgrounds, our constant tension between “emotion vs. intellect” in talking and thinking about our life and faith experiences and hopes for the future—all these definitely seem to have found their way into the character traits and actions of Peter and Anna.

How do you select the names of your characters?

For the FICTIONAL characters, I researched German given and surnames prevalent in the 17th century and picked the ones that seemed to have a nice “ring” to them from standpoints of nice gentle sound (e.g., “Anna” , “Dr. Weber” …. two people that anyone would probably enjoy being around) and/or rawer emotional power (e.g.,  “Dietrich Ackar” … a villain if ever you’ve seen one!). 

How long on average does it take you to write a book?

This being my first novel, it took a little over a year to research and write the first draft, then three years of professional manuscript editing and styling, book contests, re-drafting, finalizing of a manuscript, etc. to produce the final product.   So, four years from start to finish. I’ve had many lessons-learned from the experience, and am planning to have my second novel out after a two-year (total) effort, God willing!

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

After making the decision to write Hope of Ages Past and selecting the first half of the Thirty Years War as my focus period, my research took off in earnest. I began by reading several authoritative history books and scads of supporting online articles (both English and German authors) that described the major war events between 1618 and 1632, as well as the motivations, major decisions and actions of the key historical characters in the novel. I then shifted to examining a number of obscure non-fictional books and articles in addition to a couple of contemporary fictional works for authentic descriptions of 17th Century German country and urban life, customs, theological thinking and religious practices. Historical fact-checking by those reviewing and editing the novel also proved quite helpful, in a number of instances catching places in the early drafts where I had forged ahead with some preconceived, mistaken notion (e.g., walls illuminated by gas lanterns before they’d been invented!).  If anyone is interested in seeing a partial bibliography of books and articles I found useful to the research, I’d welcome an email.

If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?

Now that I’m retired from 30-year aerospace engineering career,  I’d probably devote more of my historical fiction writing time (currently 80% of my waking hours) instead to … well …  researching and writing non-fictional historical articles in support of church and community ministry work.  Writing about military and religious history in some form or other has become an integral part of my retirement existence!

What do you do in your free time when you aren’t writing?

Church and community volunteer work, advanced placement math tutoring, recreational biking, travel, post-travel video creation

What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?

“The Silence” by Shisaku Endo  (1966 … made into 2016 movie by Martin Scorcese and co-starring Liam Neeson) … a terrific novel dealing with the suppression of Japanese Roman Catholics during the Shimabara Rebellion in 1637.)

Do you like to drink any coffee or tea while writing? If so, what kind is your favorite?

Gimme, gimme, gimme coffee (3-4 large cups per day) … plain old caffeinated Folgers Classic Roast or Starbucks.

 

I hope you enjoyed the interview! 

Do you also enjoy reading about wars that you didn't learn about too much in school? 

the caffeinated bibliophile

NOTE: I was provided this book to review by the publishing company. All opinions are my own.