Let’s see: They’re both very long, with lots of characters with lots of names, doing lots of things over many years. So yes, A Crown of Life is indeed like War and Peace. But this reader means a little more, in a good way, in this review just posted on Amazon. See for yourself:
I really, really enjoyed this book. It starts somewhat slowly but has a great scope and depth, while still being readable. I agree with previous reviewers who pointed out that the characters really do not act like 21st-century Westerners plunked down into a historical setting– which a HUGE pet peeve of mine vis-a-vis historical fiction. I think this is pretty much the first book of its kind (except maybe Harry Turtledove’s “Ruled Britannia”) which did not fall into this trap. I rather rushed through the book because I am due to have a baby any day now, and wanted to make sure I finished it! But I’d like to give it another, slower read sometime soon. While it is sometimes slow, and often philosophical, I felt that there was plenty of action to keep the story moving and I had a hard time putting it down.
The dialogue was sometimes a little wooden (everybody seems very ready to describe their personal philosophies in paragraph-long monologues), but even for that the characters felt very real to me. I enjoyed seeing the one character, Marcus, really struggle with “temptations of the flesh”– and he was not one of the Christian characters– and how he as a man saw himself in that area. Fascinating insight into ancient ways of thinking, both Christian and philosophical/pagan. Only other minor critiques– there really were a lot of characters, and many characters had a lot of names. Also, military history is just not my thing, so I found myself skimming over a lot of the descriptions of one character’s military career, the battles, and most of the political intrigue. Even with that I was able to follow the story. And it is a wonderful story, with human failings and follies but a real sense that there is a higher, more pure way of living, which is worth seeking out and striving after, even if it is difficult and you don’t always succeed. For example, [minor SPOILER ALERT]: I loved the passages between Marcus and his spiritual father after he discovered that Makrina was still alive. Most modern authors would have had them have an affair and justified it, and honestly I would have had a lot of sympathy for them. But the advice the priest gives it is so beautiful. I think the author really does a good job of providing moral instruction, without making the characters seem unrealistic/asexual/perfect.
The various relationships and how they played out over the span of ten years were compelling, like a soap opera but with SO much more depth. I was reminded of “War and Peace.” There are many interesting characters and relationships, both romantic and platonic. You get to see what it would have been like as a Christian living in times of persecution, but there are also many non-Christian characters and it’s fascinating to see their various reactions (both political and personal) to the persecutions.
Finally, I wanted to note that although the book is mainly about persecution (that is, torture and executions), there are no overly graphic scenes (same goes for the romantic storylines. The author, a deacon, does not cause a stumbling block for any of his readers.) Horrible things happen, and not always “off-stage,” but there is no sense of reveling in horror or gore like in, for example, the “Song of Ice and Fire” series. I appreciated that. All in all, wonderful read; I wish there were more books like this one.