The book begins with the friends' discovery of a belt and a compass. They believe the belt is "the belt of truth" referenced in Ephesians 6. The armor is very old and was brought over from Ireland. Although it is meant to remind us of God's power, two Christian archaeologists explain it "is not a magic thing that. . . has special powers, or some ridiculous thing. We are not talking about sorcery!" As the children follow the compass' leading and continue their search, they stumble upon a dead body in an abandoned well. Believing they are in over their heads, they tell their parents and the police what they have found. Although Elijah isn't a Christian yet, he is intrigued by Reece's faith and determination to tell the truth no matter the cost. Following her example means confessing to trespassing, lying, and sneaking out of the house. The investigation takes on a new tone as Elijah is grounded and the police are involved, but Elijah and his friends still have a big role to play.
Elijah and his friends are convinced Mr. Dowland, a retired minister who once served at the church where the armor was found, was somehow involved with the dead body. At one point, Elijah wonders just how bad a good person may have become. Elijah ended up killing Mr. Dowland's dog (in the first book) after he sent it to attack the children, and Mr. Dowland may have burnt down the church he used to pastor. It turns out, there was a land dispute because the church bought land with plans for expansion, but was unable to expand as membership shrank. When the church was unable to sell back the abandoned land, they went into foreclosure. However, Mr. Dowland's daughter fell in love with the banker's son before the deal went bad. After the dispute, rumors have it Mr. Dowland would not allow his daughter to marry the son of the banker. Imagine the town's surprise when the bodies in the well turn out to be a young girl and her baby.
Elijah and Reece confront Mr. Dowland about their belief he was responsible for the deaths of his daughter and her baby. Soon after, they witness the demise of Mr. Dowland, who never internalized the message "the truth will set you free." They also learn the belt is indeed from the early Middle Ages and includes the Hebrew word for truth. As he is making these discoveries, Elijah is also busy accompanying juvenile delinquent campers on a kayak expedition, helping his mom at the community Christmas Village bazaar and craft fair, trying to impress Reece and searching for his missing younger twin sisters.
In the end, some of the roughest campers help in the search for the missing twins and they are returned safely. Elijah gives Reece a cross necklace from the Christmas Village, which is just what she wanted and Elijah's mom and dad trust him with more responsibility as he remains truthful and respectful while being grounded. It is never quite clear whether Mr. Dowland was responsible for his daughter and grandson's death, or whether it was suicide, an accident, or murder by the banker's son. At least Elijah has learned the importance of telling the truth and, as he considers his new-found knowledge Reece has been praying for him, he takes a step closer to God.
What I Like: I really like Elijah's character. It is neat to see a Christian book written from the point of view of someone who is not a Christian yet. Although Elijah believes he had a vision and there is a special call on his life, he is confused about "Christian" things. When he attends church with Reece, he has a hard time following the "rules" (the order of the service, standing, sitting, etc. . .). He does, however, like the sermon as the pastor is explaining how many Indian names for God have biblical parallels, and Elijah has Indian ancestry. Elijah always notices when Reece tells the truth even though it would be easier not to. This is a good reminder for Christian readers. Our friends watch us more than we may think.
I also like the inclusion of Mei, a Japanese girl whose parents are here on a two-year work visa. We learn lots about her culture and even some phrases to say, without it feeling forced. Wood is a natural at characterization, and all of her characters are engaging and authentic. She does an excellent job showing Elijah shift from lying out of habit, to being aware of the truth, to trusting the truth really will set you free.
There is a neat page titled Ancient Truth at the back of the book which lists several Bible verses. There is also a page of Japanese phrases and pronunciations.
What I Dislike: Throughout my reading of the book, I felt like I had missed the beginning or had turned a show on in the middle. The Ancient Omen needs a prologue to catch readers up to speed on what has happened so far. We get several hints about the fire at the church, the mysterious armor, and the archaeologists who are examining the armor, but there are lots of loose ends both in the beginning and the end of the book. We only learn about the armor in disjointed bits and pieces, and the author assumes we have a better understanding of who Mr. Dowland is than we do. This makes the murder mystery aspect of the plot confusing. I also didn't learn why everyone was concerned about Reece's walking until the second half of the book when the author mentions she has a limp. I still never found out what the limp was from.
Overall Rating: Good as a stand alone, but probably very good if paired with Book One: The Severed Head.
Age Appeal: 8-12, but I would say 10 and up.
Publisher Info: Standard Publishing, 2005; ISBN: 0-7847-1590-4; Paperback, $7.99
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Special Note: There is a fairly gruesome description of Mr. Dowland's dog decaying. Also, the bones in the well include a baby who was conceived out of wedlock.