Judge gets off to something of a slow start, for a number of reasons – too much chit-chat, too many story tangents, too much treating the horse like it’s an interesting supporting character. Ela is still insecure, questioning, and fatalistic – it doesn’t seemed like she’s learned much from the events of Prophet (it also gets tiresome for the reader, who has a pretty good sense of how these things go – this is, after all, a trilogy).
The second half of the book is considerably better, however, as the plot finally meanders to its destination. Siege, famine, persecution – these books do better the more serious and the more grim they get. And yet Larson has trouble juxtaposing the horrific events in the book with the PG rating she’s imposed on the story, and she always errs on the side of the latter. And while it feels that Larson takes the path of least resistance with the story (one that leads in a decidedly cheesy and feel-good direction), there’s some truly suspenseful and compelling writing here.
All things considered, Larson does an impressive job of telling a story of this sort without being too preachy (mostly) and in keeping some of the outcome uncertain. However, whereas in Prophet, Larson adopted the general prophetic mode of the Old Testament to tell her own story, in Judge, she appropriates OT stories and story elements more explicitly. She borrows extensively from the story of Jeremiah, which works well enough in her framework, but she also takes the vast bulk of the Jonah story and Elisha’s floating axe head. R. J. Larson, please stop doing that.
In short, it’s got some problems, and it plays things a little too safe for my taste, but Judge is nonetheless worthwhile.