At the center of Kelley’s story is a theme of peace and unity among diverging religions, as well as the eternal search for one’s purpose.
Young Mekhaeil Zacharias may have escaped the beheadings that claimed the lives of his fellow Coptic Christian migrant workers in Libya, but he’s far from safe. In fact, he’s Hunted in Pierce Kelley’s follow-up to Massacre at Sirte, the second book in a planned five-book series.
In the first book, Kelley adopted a what-if scenario from a real-life event, the kidnapping of the workers by ISIS in February of 2015. Here he takes the story further into fiction with his central character, a made-up survivor of the incident, chronicling his slow recovery from the trauma.
Because of fears for his safety—ISIS has vowed to find and kill him, though they deliberately set him free and told him to tell the world his story—Mekhaeil is whisked away in secret, without even being able to say goodbye to his parents.
He travels to different countries with a guide, adopting various false names and personas and finally landing at a farm in India, taken in by a kind family. He must be careful what he says, as the family doesn’t know his real backstory.
Very little time has passed since his abduction and escape; the story picks up right at the moment the first book ends, and the action advances rather slowly. By the end of the book, only a few weeks have passed. Mekhaeil soaks in every moment of his at first reluctant journey.
With Hunted, Kelley crafts another thick history lesson. The first-person format lets you right inside Mekhaeil’s head as he discovers the larger world around him, one setting at a time. A great deal of research supports this scenery, and it’s almost as if Mekhaeil’s story is hitching a ride on a teaching train.
Elements from Massacre at Sirte are mentioned but not explained. Descriptions of surroundings are rich but simple. You can almost feel Mekhaeil’s eyes agog; he is a young, previously sheltered boy with a definite lack of control over his life, thrown into terrifying situations but determined to come out the better for them and to learn what he needs to learn, most importantly as regards God’s will for him.
Mekhaeil has a way of finding the positive in whatever situation he’s in, even though a sense of guilt is also woven through his story: “I was ashamed of myself for not dying with them,” he says.
The memory of the horrifying night in Sirte remains at the fore of the teen’s mind. But though there’s a sense of danger throughout the story, it’s a gentle one, rather than as brutal as the captivity depicted in the first book.
At the center of Kelley’s story is a theme of peace and unity among diverging religions, as well as the eternal search for one’s purpose. It seems clear that this series will explore various cultures and beliefs, and the things that make people the same, not different.
Billie Rae Bates
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