Series: The Twelfth Imam #2
Published by Tyndale on October 18, 2011
Genres: Fiction, Christian, Thriller
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Retailers Choice Award winner, 2012The world is on the brink of disaster and the clock is ticking. Iran has just conducted its first atomic weapons test. Millions of Muslims around the world are convinced their messiah--known as "the Twelfth Imam"--has just arrived on earth. Israeli leaders fear Tehran, under the Twelfth Imam's spell, will soon launch a nuclear attack that could bring about a second holocaust and the annihilation of Israel. The White House fears Jerusalem will strike first, launching a preemptive attack against Iran's nuclear facilities that could cause the entire Middle East to go up in flames, oil prices to skyrocket, and the global economy to collapse. With the stakes high and few viable options left, the president of the United States orders CIA operative David Shirazi and his team to track down and sabotage Iran's nuclear warheads before Iran or Israel can launch a devastating first strike.
Iran has just successfully tested a nuclear weapon. The Madhi has begun consolidating the predominantly Muslim Middle East, with former dictators and kings laying their kingdoms at the feet of this mysterious leader and alleged messiah. Millions of Muslims are convinced that he will lead Islam into a new age; even Sunni Muslims who formerly scoffed at the Shi’ite prophecies about Imam al-Madhi are following sway to his charisma and charm. In a very short period of time, the balance of power shifts precariously as an individual dedicated to wiping the US and Israel off the map gains access to nuclear weaponry.
David Shirazi’s undercover work at the CIA has shifted from finding out about Iran’s nuclear program and the rising regime of the Madhi to full-out panic mode to find and destroy Iran’s nuclear warheads before they launch—or before Israel fires off a pre-emptive attack. Continuing fluidly from the end of The 12th Imam, The Tehran Initiative is the middle of Joel Rosenberg’s political End Times trilogy with an Islamic twist.
I’ve read all of Rosenberg’s work, including his non-fiction, and found it to be overall enjoyable. I especially love that his Last Days series was so eerily prophetic because it really shows how in tune Rosenberg is with the political turmoil of the Middle East. In many ways, The Tehran Initiative is a continuation of that. Ayatollah Khamenei has repeatedly stated that this shall be the century that both America and Israel falls and Iran seems closer and closer to becoming a nuclear power. Throw in some Islamic eschatology and its somewhat eerie and disturbing ties to Christian eschatology and Rosenberg’s scenario may not be too far off.
All that said, The Tehran Initiative should have been an intense, pulse-pounding read that never lets up and subtly intertwines Biblical teachings, political musings, and great storytelling. The 12th Imam had set the stage, introducing the characters and their histories, laying the foundations of both Islamic and Christian religious and political thought, and doing everything a first installment in a series should do. I was ready for The Tehran Initiative to remind me of what’s happened so far, then launch into its tale.
Unfortunately, it’s rather hefty 480 pages gets bogged down by repeating much of the same message as The 12th Imam, not in terms of plot, but in focusing on the theologies and politics behind the novel. Rosenberg makes it very evident that he has a religious and political axe to grind. The number of pages devoted to straight-up Bible prophecy teaching or evangelism is overwhelming for what’s supposed to be a political thriller. Instead of emerging naturally from the story, Rosenberg calls timeout to the action to preach through and to his characters, at one point quoting the entirety of Joel 2. While Rosenberg’s work is about Christian eschatology and conservative politics, I’ve always felt that in the past, his integration of these themes were more natural and less blatant and forced. That all goes out the window here.
Midway through the novel, the main character gets his come-to-Jesus (not a spoiler because it is a given in this stripe of Christian fiction) and the preachiness is toned down, but the political points, especially that of the President’s weak and cowardly stance on the Middle East just gets old really quick. In an effort to make a point, Rosenberg overplays his hand and lost much of my interest. The second half of the novel holds a bit more action and excitement, redeeming it somewhat, and ends on a grand cliffhanger. All in all, when The Tehran Initiative focuses on the story, it performs wonderfully and even gets its message across clearly. Unfortunately, Rosenberg seems to think it best to slap his readers across the face with his point and in doing so probably alienates the group of people who need to hear that message most.
I wanted to like The Tehran Initiative, I really did, but it took me about a month to read this and I only stuck with it because Rosenberg has earned my respect through his previous novels. It’s that respect for him that makes what is hopefully seen as fair and constructive criticism difficult yet necessary for me to say. It seems to me that Tyndale is grasping for a Left Behind of this decade and Rosenberg—with his potent combination of religious and political knowhow—has been deemed the successor. What The 12th Imam set up nicely, The Tehran Initiative made fall flat on its face. It’s not that I dislike the theological under (over?) tones—I have a degree in Religion and am quite intrigued by the connections between Christian and Shi’ite eschatology—but non-fiction preachiness does not make for a good fictional novel. I’m hoping the third novel redeems what I feel was a weak second installment.
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