“Foundations of Faith” is the first in the “Brother Thomas and the Guardians of Zion” series, and is my first Catholic based fantasy read. I went to a Catholic High School but am not personally Catholic myself, so reading Chrobak’s story was both educational, and a nice trip down memory lane to my religious retreat with my school. The book starts with Thomas on retreat, where he is hounded by dark forces, forcing him to question his faith. After an illuminating discussion with Father Dominic, Thomas returns home deciding that he wants to become a priest. He’s so excited to go home and share the news with his family, and then his life gets turned on its head, and the newly awakened faith in God he’s found, gets tested, and tested, again and again.
The fantasy elements in this book are very, very mild compared to the other epic fantasy books out there. There is no magic, no mythical creatures of lore, and no sword wielding knights to be found. If you go into this book thinking this particular book in the series is going to explore creative ways of meshing fantasy with Christianity, you’ll be disappointed. It seems that most of the traditional fantasy elements (the Order of Zion and their quest) will make an appearance in subsequent books. That aside, I really enjoyed how Chrobak explores youth ministry, and how Thomas comes to terms with all the terrible things that happen, and how that tests and shapes his faith, and the man he wants to become.
“Foundations of Faith” is such an endearing story, one that had my chest clenching at times as it brought up memories of the Kairos retreat my school went on, and the deep questions of what faith and God meant to me at that time. I honestly think this would be a great book for kids who are about to go on such retreats to read before those weekends start. It’s a nice way for kids who are perhaps more shy about their faith, to maybe start thinking about what they believe, and what they are searching for. I don’t know if the other books will follow a similar vein, especially if the later books do have more of a fantasy element, but THIS book is very appropriate to be assigned class reading before retreats, or maybe even Sunday school teachers.
The one thing really keeping my rating back was some of the characters interactions with each other and how Thomas referred to the kids on retreat as “teens” or “young people”. By the end of the book, Thomas is only 20, he’s hardly an old man, and yet the way he views the world felt like he was 20 going on 60. It isn’t the worst thing in the world by any means, but as it happened often and consistently enough to bring me out of the flow the story put me in, it became jarring enough to where I personally couldn’t ignore it. Regardless, as someone who is not as religious as the author or even Thomas, I really liked this story, and look forward to the next book in the series, so I’m giving it a solid 4 stars!
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