Q: How does this book differ from The Sword? How is it similar?
Bryan: The Gift ramps up the narrative scale. It’s a “bigger” story. In particular, the grief and suffering the characters experience are more intense. The low point of the three books occurs in The Gift.
Another difference is that The Gift is “Ana’s story” like The Sword was “Teo’s story.” While both characters have significant character arcs, Ana’s is more extreme in the second novel. It is a book about a feminine journey whereas The Sword was a masculine journey.
The Gift is a quest story throughout. A goal is articulated early and becomes the focal point of the plot: to find the New Testament. The characters are “away from home” the entire time as they seek the goal of their quest.
Nevertheless the two books are similar in many ways, e.g., the rollicking adventure, the theological intrigue, the romantic chemistry, the over-the-top pagan villains, the church history ‘feel,’ the chivalry, the swashbuckling. In both books, the Bible is central to the plot.
Q: What theological themes are you trying to convey?
Bryan: The entire trilogy is Trinitarian. The first book was about discovering the one true Creator God. The second is Christological. The three acts center on the Incarnation, the Cross, and the Resurrection. At first, Teo is the Christ-figure who takes lowliness upon himself for the sake of another. Then there is a dramatic switch in which Ana becomes the Christ-figure. I want the reader to be jarred into understanding the nature of grace (that she can have an opportunity to be useful to God despite her errors), but more than that, to understand that the Cross is an extravagant gift that “goes all the way” and gives everything in love. There is a brief “descent into hell” in which the Devil is defeated. Then Ana becomes victorious and is “resurrected.”
A macro-theme of The Gift is the Christological point that God works through weakness. We expect him to achieve victory through our strength, but in fact he has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. We do not understand Jesus if we think of him as having Power that is somehow separated from Weakness. Rather, God’s power is seen in weakness. God triumphs on the other side of suffering and apparent defeat.
Q: Where does the story take place, and how does the setting influence the narrative?
Bryan: The Sword has a very Swiss Alpine feel. It is more simple and pastoral. The Gift takes place in three locations in Italy: northern Italy (the Alps and lake district); the Italian Riviera; and Rome. Numerous allusions to Italian culture or cuisine appear in the book. There is a glamorous aspect to the Riviera sequence. There is also a “classical” feel in the Rome sequence, coupled with a Roman Catholic overtone as the characters meet a papal figure and interact with a reconstituted Roman Church, centered in St. Peter’s Basilica.
Q: What does the title, The Gift, mean?
Bryan: It has multiple resonances, but mostly it refers to the gift of salvation in Christ. It can also mean the gift of God’s Word. Teo has a gift for daring deeds. Ana gives herself as a gift for Teo. He gives her a necklace that symbolizes their quest. Liber has a gift despite being a simpleton.
Q: What is the characters’ main goal in the story?
Bryan: There are two goals: to recover the New Testament and return to Chiveis with the good news. Plot spoiler: the first goal is achieved, the second is deferred. Along the way, another goal arises after Teo and Ana are estranged. Can they get back together again?
Q: What significant new characters are introduced?
Bryan: Since the novel is set in a new land, virtually none of the cast from Book 1 appears in Book 2, except Teo and Ana. Important newcomers include:
• Vanita Labella – beautiful aristocrat who betrays Ana but later becomes her best friend
• Marco – dashing pirate scoundrel with a heart of gold
• The Papa – a papal figure at the head of the Universal Communion of Roma
• Sol – wise mentor who helps Teo seek truth
• Liber – dull-witted giant who plays an important role in the overall story quest
• The Iron Shield – tall, powerful warrior villain who is possessed by demonic spirits
Q: Was the writing experience different for this book as compared to the first one?
Bryan: I’m a new fiction writer, so I was still developing my approach to craft in The Sword. With The Gift I had a greater understanding of my working method. I learned to plot out each chapter in detail so I didn’t write myself into as many dead-ends. It was challenging to think like a woman and get into Ana’s head. In The Gift I found my narrative voice, which emphasizes clear, vivid descriptions through precise vocabulary. I want my prose to get out of the way, not be noticed as “good writing”—story trumps style. I also think the dialogue is smoother now.