LaHaye and Jenkins release a prequel to the best-selling series

There are few superlatives that could not be applied to Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins' Left Behind series it's the fastest-selling adult fiction series on the market; the best-selling Christian fiction series of all time; the most successful literary partnership ever. With sales of more than 60 million copies of the series and related titles, a seemingly permanent residence on bestseller lists and spin-offs that include major Hollywood films, calendars, greeting cards, audiobooks and a TV series, Left Behind has become more than a fiction phenomenon. It has become a cultural icon.

For the past 10 years and in 30-plus languages, fans have eagerly followed the exploits of airline pilot Rayford Steele, journalist Buck Williams, pastor Bruce Barnes and Rayford's daughter Chloe as they were left behind after the rapture; formed the tribulation force; battled the forces of the Anti-Christ, Nicolae Carpathia; and were ultimately hurtled toward the climactic battle of the ages at Armageddon before being swept up in the glorious appearing of Christ. There is no doubt that LaHaye and Jenkins have created a juggernaut series, and their legion of fans demand only one thing more, more, more! But what is an author to do when a series reaches its natural conclusion? Write a prequel, of course.

In The Rising, the authors trace the backstory of Rayford Steele and Nicolae Carpathia from their humble beginnings through their formative years, and into their ultimate callings. Once again LaHaye acts as the idea man while Jenkins puts the meat on the bones, fleshing out these two characters to give the reader a more complete understanding of why each reacted as they did in the rest of the series.

Steele is revealed as a gifted, yet terribly self-conscious young boy, very different from the cocky, self-assured airline pilot portrayed in the debut Left Behind novel. Athletically powerful as a child due to a growth spurt that propelled him far past his contemporaries, Steele later endures the fickle nature of popularity as his classmates first catch up and then exceed him in athletic prowess. Raised in a moral, but spiritually ambivalent home, Steele becomes first confused by and then antagonistic toward Biblical faith. The only thing that keeps him grounded is his desire to learn to fly.

Carpathia's story begins before his birth, with the seduction of Marilena Titi into the world of the occult. Possessed of a brilliant mind, Marilena marries her mentor, professor Sorin Carpathia, more for his mental prowess than any physical attraction. The union, while comfortable, is devoid of love and soon Marilena and Sorin settle into a routine of work, study and sleep. That is, until Marilena's biological clock starts ticking like a time bomb.

To take her mind off her yearning for a child, Marilena attends a lecture conducted by a clairvoyant, Viviana Ivinisova. Viviana displays an uncanny knowledge of Marilena's desire for a child, and when she offers her the chance to fulfill that dream, Marilena quickly accepts. Through genetic engineering and the intervention of the Prince of Darkness, Marilena gives birth to Nicolae Carpathia, the Anti-Christ.

Nicolae is given every conceivable physical, political and educational advantage. He is also steeped in the teachings of Luciferianism. Eventually he is tested in the same manner as Christ, but with a diametrically opposed outcome. After penning a dozen Left Behind novels, Jenkins could probably write the prequel in his sleep. To his credit, he continues to ratchet up the quality of his storytelling rather than sleepwalking to another paycheck. The Rising maintains a slow-burning intensity that compels readers to turn the page. The characters are as sharply drawn as they are in the other books, as are the values for which they will ultimately stand. The Rising is a compelling look at their lives before they were Left Behind.

Mike Parker has a B.A. in Bible and philosophy from Hardin-Simmons University.

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