The Alliance

The AllianceThe Alliance by Jolina Petersheim
Series: The Alliance #1
Genres: Apocalyptic, Contemporary, Mennonite
Published by Tyndale Publishing on June 1, 2016
Pages: 384
Also in this series: The Divide
Also by this author: The Divide

 

About The Alliance (from the back cover):
When Leora Ebersole sees the small plane crash in her Old Order Mennonite community, she has no idea it’s a foreshadowing of things to come. Once the young pilot, Moses Hughes, regains consciousness, they realize his instruments were destroyed by the same power outage that killed the electricity at the community store, where Englischers are stranded with dead cell phones and cars that won’t start.

Moses offers a sobering theory, but no one can know how drastically life is about to change. With the only self-sustaining food supply in the region, the Pacifist community is forced to forge an alliance with the handful of stranded Englischers in an effort to protect not only the food but their very lives.

In the weeks that follow, Leora, Moses, and the community will be tested as never before, requiring them to make decisions they never thought possible. Whom will they help and whom will they turn away? When the community receives news of a new threat, everyone must decide how far they’re willing to go to protect their beliefs and way of life.

I am a big fan of Jolina’s work, so when I heard she had a new book coming this year, it immediately went on my wish list – when I heard the premise of the story – about the loss of technology and its rippling effect on an Old Order Mennonite community, I couldn’t wait to read it.  In The Alliance, Jolina brings her knowledge of the Mennonite faith, while bringing in the element of societal collapse.

There are some moments of danger and action, but readers expecting the typical “end-of-the-world,” apocalyptic tale might find a slower pace due to its more introspective, character-driven nature.

The story did unfold in a totally different way than I was expecting, but that is in no way a bad thing. It is about the ramifications of this catastrophic event for the Mennonite community, especially in regards to how they would interact when the outside world appeared at their gate. There are some moments of danger and action, but readers expecting the typical “end-of-the-world,” apocalyptic tale might find a slower pace due to its more introspective, character-driven nature. I think this set up is perfect for starting with a strong, unpredictable beginning with the next book.

Told in alternating chapters from both Leora Ebersole, a young Mennonite woman, and Moses Hughes, an outsider whose plane crashed inside the community, the story is both about the danger of the outside, as well as the question of how far she and the community are willing to uphold their beliefs despite the potential risk to their very lives. Leora’s life up to this point hasn’t been easy, and even before the outside world begins to collapse, she has already been having doubts about her way of life and what is expected of her as a Mennonite woman. Once things begin to happen, she is forced to face these doubts and make decisions based on feelings that she hasn’t truly come to terms with yet. Moses is probably the more secretive of the two; the allusions to his past are general enough that he keeps readers at arms-length, but with enough specifics to leave me with a strong wish to learn more in book two. There is a bit of a love triangle, which I usually don’t like, but in this case, it felt right and gave another layer to the plot.

I love books that make me question myself, especially when I’m challenged and humbled by the initial direction of my thoughts, and The Alliance definitely did that for me.

Because it was so focused on Leora and Moses, sometimes I did want a bigger picture of how things were in the community as a whole, however, it also made it a very personal, though-provoking read – I wondered the entire time whether or not I’d do what Leora or Moses was choosing to do – if not, what would I do? I love books that make me question myself, especially when I’m challenged and humbled by the initial direction of my thoughts, and The Alliance definitely did that for me. I’m not sure if this was on purpose or not, but I often felt frustrated by not knowing just how bad things were outside of the community, then I realized that must be exactly how the characters felt. Despite them choosing to continue their lives as usual – other than an alliance with the stranded Englischers, of course – there was an overall atmosphere of foreboding because they didn’t know what was happening, who might come for them or when.

I was enthralled with The Alliance, a story both similar and different from Jolina’s previous books.

I was enthralled with The Alliance, a story both similar and different from Jolina’s previous books. It has the Old Order Mennonite connection, with the unique premise of how they would react in the event of a widespread breakdown of society. I eagerly await the next book to see what becomes of Moses, Leora and her family, and the community as a whole. I feel that The Alliance has just scratched the surface of what they are willing to sacrifice to preserve their way of life and what they are willing to let go and wait with great anticipation to find out what comes next.

–Beth


I have been a little late in joining Jolina Petersheim’s fan club. She entered the Amish scene around the time that I was getting a bit burned out and took a break from it. In spite of my desire to move on to a different genre, I couldn’t escape the glowing reviews of Jolina’s debut novel—especially those written by people who wouldn’t normally touch Amish fiction—and finally listened to both The Outcast and The Midwife on audiobook. (Sidenote—Tavia Gilbert is an amazing narrator. She could probably recite the dictionary and make it sound riveting). Her books are not your typical Amish fare, so if you’re in the same boat as me and a little tired of the standard plots found in this genre, I’d urge you to give Jolina Petersheim a shot. It’ll be worth it!

The subject matter of Jolina’s first two novels were pretty challenging and controversial—out of wedlock pregnancy and surrogacy—but The Alliance definitely takes it a notch higher. I wasn’t sure if I’d have time to review The Alliance, but when I saw the synopsis I knew I had to try to squeeze it into my schedule. How could I pass up a post-apocalyptic Mennonite novel? On the one hand, this mash up of genres sounds totally off the wall, but on the other hand, who hasn’t watched a post-apocalyptic film and not thought, “Well, we’ll be screwed if this happens, but the Amish will be sorted with their buggies and self-sustaining farms”? I’m actually kind of surprised no one has written about this before. It’s a fascinating premise.

The subject matter of Jolina’s first two novels were pretty challenging and controversial—out of wedlock pregnancy and surrogacy—but The Alliance definitely takes it a notch higher.

In spite of the chaos that occurs at the start of The Alliance, the majority of the novel feels pretty slow moving. Sure, a pilot has just crash-landed in Leora’s field, but their lives don’t change dramatically as a result of whatever has happened to the world. Leora’s Mennonite community are still pretty safe in their little technology-free bubble. Tough decisions need to be made about protecting their community and rationing food, but a large chunk of the book kind of feels like it’s spent waiting for something big to happen.

If you’re wanting a book that delves into the catastrophic effects of an EMP or the desperate levels people will go to in order to survive, this probably isn’t the one for you—although I do wonder if these issues will be explored more in the sequel. The Alliance is definitely more of a character study of how two very different people struggle to come to terms with their faith and convictions in the face of unknown dangers and a world that has rapidly changing. To begin with, Leora and Moses appear to be polar opposites, but as the novel develops we see how they’re actually very alike, in spite of their very different backgrounds.

The Alliance is definitely more of a character study of how two very different people struggle to come to terms with their faith and convictions in the face of unknown dangers and a world that has rapidly changing.

Leora isn’t your typical Amish woman, and I’ve seen some reviews complaining about this. Personally, I don’t think it would have been all that interesting to read about a Mennonite woman who refused to compromise on her beliefs in the face of a terrifying post-apocalyptic future. The fact that Leora does consider the possibility of bearing arms to protect her siblings, and is angry that she doesn’t get to vote on how the community moves forward just because she’s female, make her all the more fascinating and relatable. It’s easy to hold true to our convictions when life is safe and consistent, but not so straight-forward when we’re facing an uncertain and dangerous future. I got the impression that Leora had been grappling with parts of her faith before the EMP occurred, and this event was the catalyst that forced her to really reassess whether she truly aligned to the Mennonite belief system.

Moses felt a bit more distant than Leora, and I hope his character is developed further in the sequel. His backstory and beliefs are slowly trickled out over the course of the novel, but I felt like there was still more to know and understand about him. I appreciated that he helped to reaffirm Leora’s faith rather than dragging her further away from it, and challenged her whenever she suggested something out of character. Moses was definitely a bit more Alpha than I like my heroes, but I probably prefer him to Jabil Snyder. A few reviewers have claimed that there’s a love-triangle in The Alliance, but I’m not entirely certain if one exists. Jabil may be actively vying for Leora’s affections, but I never felt like she seriously considered him as a prospect. I appreciated the clear differences between Jabil’s desire to protect Leora, and Moses trying to balance keeping her safe and treating her like the mature free-thinking adult she is.

It’s easy to hold true to our convictions when life is safe and consistent, but not so straight-forward when we’re facing an uncertain and dangerous future.

A lot happens at the end of this novel, and I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about it all. The love-triangle (if you want to call it that) isn’t resolved, and I’m kind of glad about that as it’s actually pretty realistic to have a budding romance interrupted by disaster and action when your novel is set during an apocalypse, right? Still, so much happened at the conclusion of this novel and I may venture to suggest that maybe too much occurred all at once, especially given the sudden change of pace. A long-lost family member of Leora’s is thrown into the mix, along with a surprising backstory that kind of felt like it came out of nowhere. A subplot about Leora’s younger sister is cleared up a rather anti-climatic fashion. I will admit that I read an ARC, and maybe these two issues are woven into the plot better in the final version of the book? I also didn’t realise that there would be a sequel to this book, so I expected the story to wrap up at the conclusion, not ramp up into a cliffhanger, so I may have felt differently if I’d been aware that this was not a standalone novel.

It’s been a few days and I’m still kind of reeling from all the fast-paced action and tension at the end of The Alliance. Even if I didn’t find the conclusion to this novel entirely satisfactory, I unequivocally recommend this book to anyone who a) is intrigued by post-apocalyptic scenarios, b) wants to see something entirely different done with the Amish genre, or c) just wants proof that Christian novels don’t have to be cheesy and can actually be beautifully and skillfully written. I’m not sure how long we’ll have to wait for The Divide, but I’m intrigued to see where Jolina takes this community next.

–Rachel

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