Thursday 15 February 2018

Book Review - The Eli Diaries (various authors)

By Ian Acheson @achesonian
Those of you who have read any of my “best of” posts of the past few years will have seen my enthusiasm for episodic fiction where a story is developed over months/years, sometimes by multiple authors, by releasing individual episodes (novellas) monthly. Harbingers was a 20 episode series featuring five authors including one of my favourites, Frank Peretti.
Last year I discovered Bill Myers, one of the Harbinger creators, had produced another series based on one of his earlier novels, Eli. Once again, Myers has collaborated with a bunch of authors to deliver monthly episodes. I’ve recently finished the seventh and am keen for the next one.
The Eli Diaries is a story that explores the question: what would it be like if teenage Jesus turned up in 21st century America? And not just Jesus but his disciple mates and his Bethany family of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Oh, and no series would be complete without a teenage Mary Magdelene and Satan.
Like Harbingers, a different author voices a different character for each episode. The only real constant in all episodes is Eli Shepherd. This weird sixteen year old, who has a heart of gold, seems to discern things and events before they occur, and occasionally heals people. Eli works in his family’s surf shop.
We meet Benjamin the Pharistic youth leader who is is gunning for Eli believing he is leading his flock of youngsters down a dangerous path.
Some of the episodes have been a bit scratchy but the last few have been beauties. They deal with issues of youth: bullying, keeping up with the Joneses, beauty, brawn and brains, revenge and lust. Woven through most of the episodes are demonstrations of grace, mercy and love.
Once again, I’ve found the episodic style of story telling to be compelling (like a good TV series). I’m excited to read the new series that our own Narelle Atkins is involved in (A Tuscan Legacy) that launches soon that takes a different approach to episodic fiction once again. Eight weekly episodes, eight different authors, all with a Tuscan flavour.

Consistent Delivery
One of the challenges from an early readers perspective of an episodic series is there is a need for consistency in delivering episodes. I’ve started some episodic-style series where the first episode lands and another one doesn’t land for months. This is especially difficult when one episode ends on a cliffhanger and by the time the next episode lands you’ve lost interest and in fact forgotten there was indeed a cliffhanger ending.
So if you’re an author producing such fiction may I encourage you to only drop the pilot or first episode when you’ve got the next few ready or almost ready to drop.
I was fortunate that when I downloaded most of the episodes of The Eli Diaries they were only $0.99, however, I notice they’re now $3.51. But remember over 7 episodes it’s between 500 and 700 pages of reading. If you want to try it out perhaps start with Number 4 (Not Good Enough) that features Martha.
What episodic fiction series have you read recently and would recommend?

Ian Acheson is an author and strategy consultant based in Sydney. Ian's first novel of speculative fiction, Angelguard was recognised with the 2014 Selah Award for Speculative Fiction.You can find more about Angelguard at Ian's website, on his author Facebook page and Twitter


  1. Hi Ian, I'm intrigued by the concept of episodic fiction as it's not something I come across often in the books I mostly read in the romance genre.

    The Eli Diaries are currently available in Kindle Unlimited. I've added Volume 1 (books 1-7) to my KU list. An intriguing concept and fascinating story premise. The last book I read that was a modern day retelling of Jesus living in a contemporary setting was underwhelming. I'm looking forward to seeing how the authors interpret and translate the gospel story in this series.

    Thanks for your excellent review and the mention of the Tuscany series. :)

  2. I've only read one episodic fiction series (something by Ronie Kendig that I think you also read), and I'm not sure what to think of it.

    Yes, we've had episodic TV for decades, which should mean we're used to the idea of having to wait to find out what happens (and shows like Star Trek often used to end the series on a cliffhanger, so we should be used to that as well).

    But ... Netflix.

    My husband and I still watch episodic TV, but we're more likely to binge-watch - to let half the series play before we start, or to stalk closing- down video stores and buy an entire series on DVD for $10.

    In the modern Netflix world, episodic books almost seem like a step backwards. Except, perhaps, for the Prime reader who can wait for all the books to be available, then binge-read.

    (As for the last modern-day retelling of Jesus ... I think I read the same one Narelle read. Only I have up halfway through because the main character didn't engage me. That's some achievement: making Jesus boring).

    1. Iola, yes, we are talking about the same book.


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