“Invasion of Heaven: Part One of the Newirth Mythology” by local author, musician, artist, and swordsman Michael B. Koep is an ambitious fantasy novel that uses an unconventional story structure and some unreliable narration to explore religion, the creative process, and the very nature of reality. The book is an interesting hybrid of fantasy and suspense that will keep readers on their toes.
Loche Newirth, the eponymous protagonist of the novel, is a psychologist and aspiring writer who lives and works in northern Idaho. After one of his clients commits suicide, he confronts his mentor Marcus Rearden and presents him with a book he wrote that attempts to explain recent events in his life. He also entrusts him with a painting he asks him not to look at because it reveals a terrible secret. After Rearden’s wife looks at the painting and suffers a fatal heart attack, Rearden sets out on a quest to discover if there is any truth in Newirth’s novel.
After a prologue focusing on Newirth, the book switches between chapters told from Rearden’s perspective and excerpts from the story within the story written by Newirth. His novel reveals that his half-brother Basil Fenn is a talented painter with the ability to create links to a supernatural realm through his artwork. Newirth has the potential to do similar things with his poetry and stories if he keeps developing his craft. The brothers have been caught up for their entire lives in an international cold war between two mysterious groups that want to control how they use their gifts.
As Rearden becomes obsessed with Newirth’s story, he and a local restauranteur named Julia Iris are on the run from men who are apparently trying to kill them as they try to learn more about what happened to Newirth after he suddenly disappeared. At least some parts of his story are true, so that makes them want to figure out if Newirth has gone insane or if he is really trying to stop a sinister organization from conquering heaven.
“The Invasion of Heaven” challenges readers with a twisty plot and numerous “everything you know is wrong” revelations that make it hard to tell how much of Newirth’s story actually happened. He made up at least some of the dialogue, so that calls into question whether or not he really had an adventure in Italy filled with betrayals, covert operations and thrilling action sequences. At the same time, it is difficult to tell exactly what is going on in the framing sequences concentrating on Rearden and Iris. The first third of the book makes it seem like a horror-influenced fantasy story in a similar vein to a Stephen King novel. As Koep reveals more plot information, the novel becomes something very different.
Koep also explores some interesting ideas about religion and spirituality as Fenn tries to help Newirth understand what they can do with their gifts. Parts of the novel are devoted to discussions of how the supernatural realm they can interact with is revealed through kernels of truth in stories from the Bible and ancient Sumerian myths. The general idea is that heaven exists and there is a God who used a world-wide flood to keep other beings who could be described as gods from meddling with humanity, but our stories got most of the details wrong.
Science fiction and fantasy writers have explored similar ideas for more than 100 years. This aspect of the story seems to place the novel firmly in the fantasy category. However, Koep appears to be including these concepts because he is genuinely interested in sharing his views on organized religion and what it gets right and what it gets wrong. In the prologue, Newirth says he must “lie to reveal the truth.” On one level, the book is doing that as a way for Koep to share his personal philosophy with his readers. People might not agree with his conclusions, but they are definitely worth pondering.