IMPORTANT BACKGROUND INFO:
My family and I absolutely love Jenny L. Cote’s books. I’m just going to begin by saying that. I may be a bit biased, however, because Mrs. Cote herself is awesome.
She’s written about eight books in this series so far – The Ark, The Reed, and The Fire Cloud; The Dreamer, The Schemer, and The Robe; The Prophet, The Shepherd, and The Star; The Roman, The Twelve, and The King; The Wind, The Road, and The Way; The Fire, The Revelation, and The Fall; The Voice, The Revolution and The Key, and The Declaration, The Sword, and The Spy. The ninth book, soon to be released, is entitled The Marquis, The Escape and The Fox.
Because there are so many books, I’ll be reviewing the series in increments (hence the “part 1”), starting with the first three books.
The stories follow animal characters throughout history as they carry out missions given to them by the Maker.
The Ark, The Reed, and The Fire Cloud is the very first book in the series. It’s a fictionalized account of the flood from the animals’ point of view, and we are introduced to the first five members of the Epic Order. It follows Genesis 6-9.
The Dreamer, The Schemer, and The Robe follows the story of Joseph. Max, Liz, Kate and Al are given the mission to help the Maker with Joseph. It follows Genesis 37 -46, barring chapter 38, and we meet Nigel, another member of the Epic Order.
The Ark, The Reed, and The Fire Cloud, and The Dreamer, The Schemer, and The Robe are known as The Amazing Tales of Max and Liz.
The Prophet, The Shepherd, and The Star spans a long, long, time period, but focuses mainly on the birth of Christ. It’s the first book to have the series title The Epic Order of the Seven, and we finally meet our seventh member.
WHAT I LIKED:
These books are humorous and full of “wit, whimsy, heartache, tragedy and biblical truth” (to quote the back cover of The Ark, The Reed, and The Fire Cloud). Mrs. Cote does extensive (and I mean extensive) research for every single one of the books she has written. She tries to stay as accurate as possible, and includes an ‘author’s note’ in the back of each book that explains what is historically accurate and what she added.
Jenny Cote also uses different languages throughout the story (simple phrases that if you don’t know the meaning won’t distract from the actual story), and includes a guide to their meanings and (depending on the book) a guide to which characters came from which countries.
The stories themselves are good stories. They’re well written, enjoyable, fun, and pretty clean.
The Ark, The Reed, and The Fire Cloud: The character arcs for Max and Liz were amazing. You could slowly see Liz start relying more and more on the Maker and less on her own intellect and growing to accept things in faith. Max’s character arc was really neat because it was sort of subtle, but most assuredly there. He starts incredibly strong in his faith, learning to make it his own, but when he gets on the Ark, he’s faced with the temptation of relying on his own strength. Max and Liz’s arcs culminate at the same time in the climax of the book, and the way it comes together is pretty cool.
The way the author portrayed the animals’ living quarters on the Ark was incredibly and enjoyably imaginative, and I enjoyed reading the story from the animals’ points of view.
The Dreamer, The Schemer, and The Robe. I thoroughly enjoyed the way she portrayed Joseph, and I learned a lot about ancient Egypt from this book. The culture was very much centered around false gods, and I like the way Jenny Cote made sure to have her characters frequently remind each other about the One True God. The two storylines – Joseph’s, and the animal storyline – blended harmoniously, and each was a joy to read. The climax of Joseph’s story is where we get to see his brother’s regret and redemption – it’s so good!
The Prophet, The Shepherd, and The Star: This book follows a far broader expanse of history than the previous two books – from Isaiah to Jesus’ birth, and Jenny Cote does a great job going through time without being bogged down in boring ‘time passed’ parts. 🙂 My Bible plan followed very closely on the heels of the Scripture this book focused on, and it was pretty cool to read the books, then read the actual Bible stories. Mrs. Cote likes to connect how different things thread their way through history in a similar manner, and that’s always interesting to see.
CONTENT CONCERNS/THINGS TO KNOW:
Please note that I read laser-focused on looking for content concerns so that I can write this review. It’s going to seem like there are a lot, but often they’re incredibly easy to gloss over or miss, and they’re not as concerning within the context of the story.
These books are fictional accounts of biblical history. More than that, they also explore questions of faith through different circumstances or character arcs.
The Ark, The Reed, and The Fire Cloud: Follows the story of Genesis 6-9:1-17, from the perspective of the animals headed to Noah’s Ark. Both Max and Liz have character arcs that result in more reliance on, or stronger faith in, the Maker (the name the animals give to God). There are a lot of neat nuggets of biblical truth throughout the story. It’s rather soaked in it.
Liz has a sort of “coming to faith” arc – she already believes in the Maker, but struggles with accepting things in faith.
The characters frequently mention doing things from the “heart” or “feelings,” though it’s generally sort of clarified to mean hearts in ,line with the Maker. It’s not always very clear, though.
The villain in the story is Novel Charlatan, and he is revealed to be Satan. (Jenny Cote calls him the deceiver in the garden).
The Dreamer, The Schemer, and The Robe: Follows the story of Joseph. Joseph is very faithful to God, and relies on Him, even when it’s difficult.
Because the story is set in ancient Egypt, Egyptians frequently reference and praise false gods, and there is a lot of discussion about it. One character even visits a temple, hoping to have a dream that will grant her something specific. The animals frequently remind each other that there is only One True God and that the Egyptians are led astray.
Nigel says he feels an evil presence in a specific temple. The climax of this book is with Charlatan’s minions, who take the forms of Egypt’s false gods, revealing that Satan is behind the false gods worshipped by pagan cultures.
Liz studies Egypt under the guidance of Nigel P. Monaco, and as such, you learn a ton about ancient Egypt, its advanced culture, and its belief system. Everything stems from a Biblical worldview, however. Our main characters frequently remind each other of the One True God, and when characters are afraid or start doubting, another character points them back to God. Miracles occur when Joseph asks God for help, and several characters turn from following Egyptian gods to following the One True God.
The Prophet, The Shepherd, and The Star: Covers a massive Biblical time period – from Isiah all the way to the birth of Christ.
We see what happens when people choose to not listen to God’s words/law, and we see what happens to those who remain faithful.
Again, because parts of the story occur in pagan cultures (Babylon, Rome, and Persia), there are references to false gods, and other characters worship/believe in false gods. It’s clarified that there is only One True God and that He is way more powerful than false gods and Satan. The animals are reminded of the fact (and remind us of the fact) that worship of false gods is evil and sickening and that the One True God will reign in the end.
One thread that runs throughout the book is about the significance of the number seven, because it’s a number that pops up frequently throughout the Scriptures.
In Babylon Daniel is called a seer or magician, but I believe that is because that’s the name given to their wise men.
It’s said that The Wise Men (also known as the Magi) believe, “…that the events in the heavens signified events in the nations of the earth,” and they connect the way the stars and the planets move to biblical prophecy. In the “a word from the author” portion of the book she notes that because there are laws that govern the stars and planets and because of the technology available today, you can actually see what the sky looked like at any date in history. So. That’s pretty epic. Jenny Cote also clarifies that it’s astronomy, not astrology.
Nigel runs into Lucifer, but Michael (the archangel) appears and confronts Lucifer, ultimately ending with Lucifer leaving.
The Ark, The Reed, and The Fire Cloud: There is a short and sweet love story between Max and Kate and another between Al and Liz.
The Dreamer, The Schemer and The Robe: In the explanation of why favoritism is a problem in Joseph’s family, it’s mentioned that Abraham got tired of waiting for God to fulfill His promise, so Abraham tried to do it on his own by having a child with his servant.
Zulikea, Potipher’s wife, is spoiled and thinks everything should be about her and that she should get whatever she wants. When Joseph is promoted to Potipher’s chief steward, we’re told that she starts to pursue him, but Joseph’s integrity is solid and he tries to not even be in the same room with her. It climaxes when she gets Jospeh alone and tries to get him to kiss her. He refuses, saying that it would be a great evil that dishonors God.
There is a sweet love story between Mandisa and Benpipe.
The Prophet, The Shepherd, and The Star: One of the evil kings has a group of women who admire him and smile and giggle at what he says, which is all that’s said about it.
When Daniel translates the writing on the wall for Belshazzar, he gives a history lesson that includes scolding Belshazzar because Belshazzar and his “nobles, and [his] wives and concubines” haven’t humbled themselves before God, rather continued to sin.
It’s mentioned that King Herod was married ten times.
Mary and Jospeh really like each other (even though it’s an arranged marriage), and their love for each other is portrayed in a godly way. Mary is 15 (we don’t know her actual age, but that’s a historically accurate age women would marry, I believe).
When the angel appears to Mary and tells her she is to have a son, she asks, “but how can this happen? I am a virgin.”
When Mary first tells Joseph about what happened, he wrestles with whether or not to believe her. He worries about the fact that the law says a woman caught in adultery ought to be stoned (it’s mentioned in one other spot, too), so he resolves to divorce her quietly.
When the village discovers Mary is pregnant, there’s a bit of, “So this is why you moved the wedding up!”
The Ark, The Reed, and The Fire Cloud: Max is chased by wolves as a puppy, and the story is portrayed in split parts as flashbacks. We’re told his mom died, though we don’t see it.
At the very end of the book, a fight with a snake leaves two characters dead (though they are brought back).
Ham and Japheth fight, leaving each other with a busted lip and black eye.
Other than that, there is discussion on how mankind has become terribly wicked and violent, and mention of how the flood drowned everyone outside the Ark. Al is chased by a bull, and the animals run from an avalanche.
The Dreamer, The Schemer, and The Robe: Joseph’s brothers discuss killing him before deciding to just toss him into a pit. They treat him roughly before selling him to slave traders. It’s mentioned that Joseph’s brothers went and destroyed the city of Shechem as an act of revenge.
When Joseph refuses to give Zulieka what she wants, she throws a temper tantrum and discovers that Joseph had stationed another slave to be by him while he talked to her. In her anger Zulieka hits the unsuspecting slave on the head, knocking him out cold. We’re later told it caused him to go blind.
When the cupbearer and baker are put in prison, they fight. The cupbearer is eventually executed, though we just hear the announcement and that it happened.
The Prophet, The Shepherd, and The Star: Max, Liz, Kate and Al are chased by lions and frequently encounter them.
After Daniel is pulled from the lions’ den, the evil men who tricked King Cyrus into throwing Daniel into the lions’ den are thrown into the den themselves as punishment, and the lions quickly make an end of them.
King Herod is mad. He’s crazy and rather violent. He throws things at people (knocking out a servant once) and yells and kills those who don’t perform perfectly or who get in his way (he knifes two spies who bring back a failed report).
Because Claire is chosen by God, she is targeted by the evil one who sends a jackal and a lion to attack her flock. There is a fight, and Claire’s mum dies to save her.
Because this book covers the birth of Christ, we follow a Roman centurion as he is forced to carry out Herod’s decree to kill all male children two and younger. We don’t actually see anyone die, but we see the centurion going house to house, the aftermath, and the struggle of the centurion about his actions.
Mary and Joseph flee with baby Jesus when this happens, and Claire goes back to make sure the door is closed so they won’t get pursued. On her way out, she runs into Lucifer, who strikes her with his paw, killing her (we don’t learn this in this book, so massive spoiler, but in the next book, it’s revealed that Claire is now like Gillamon).
The Ark, The Reed, and The Fire Cloud: The British swear word “bloody” is used once. “Bloomin'” is also used a couple of times.
The Dreamer, The Schemer and The Robe:
The Prophet, The Shepherd, and The Star: The word “blooming” is used. Max frequently uses the phrase, “what in the name of Pete.”
Other things to know:
The Ark, The Reed, and The Fire Cloud: One of the characters is a very gassy cow, and her flatulence is occasionally used as a joke or awkward situation. There is also a skunk, and his skunk nature of spraying is used as a joke once. A zebra complains that his stripes form an arrow pointing to his backside, because he has a ton of bugs biting him.
Al loves food and is constantly eating. At one point in the story, he accidentally eats catnip and goes on a catnip-induced rage, destroying another character’s garden. Max points out that the Maker used it for good, because it’s what said character needed in order to leave and follow the fire cloud.
Being that it’s about the flood, every encounter with humans (except for Noah and his family) is portrayed sadly, showing how wicked the world is. When we meet Shem, he’s at the wedding of a friend. It’s mentioned that there is heavy drinking and people are drunk. The guests mock Shem and his family for their obedience to God. Despite this, he still tries to witness to his friend.
The Dreamer, The Schemer, and The Robe: Liz and Nigel visit a mummification and some of it might be a little gross. Charlatan’s minions lure Max and Al into the temple of Anubis, trick them into eating poisoned/drugged food (it’s a sleep potion that makes them fall asleep), and proceed to fake-mummify them.
Al loves food, and it almost gets him into trouble a couple of times.
The Prophet, The Shepherd, and The Star: Several jokes are made involving pigeon poop. There’s a mention of passing gas.
During the scene talking about Daniel 5 (the handwriting on the wall), the Babylonians are partying in “unrestrained excess.” To quote the book, “The banquet hall was a scene of unrestrained excess. A thousand men and women reclined on luxurious rugs, laughing, gorging themselves on rich food, and drinking themselves into oblivion as they made toasts to their false gods.”
Because Claire has a blemish on her face and is smarter than the average sheep, she is made fun of by the other lambs who call her names and laugh at her.
Yay! You made it through the review! I offer you a whole-hearted congratulations – aren’t you glad I’m splitting the series up? This post would be at least twice as long, if not more. 😁
Because the books follow Scripture, the series occasionally encounters more difficult topics. But Mrs. Cote does a great job dealing with them in an age-appropriate manner. Some of the story might be a bit intense for younger or more sensitive children, as well. But all in all, the Epic Order of the Seven series is a great choice for families.
These books make Biblical history and truths come alive. It makes you want to go dig out your Bible and read the stories for yourself.
Not only that, the stories are enjoyable, and the characters are fun. I can’t recommend this series highly enough!
The Ark, The Reed, and The Fire Cloud: Max distrusts wolves because of what happened to him when he was a puppy. How does that color his perspective of them? Why does he instantly think the wolves did it when things started to go missing?
Why do you think Liz had such a hard time trusting the Maker with everything? Have you ever had a time where it was hard to have faith?
It looked like things were going really badly at the end of the book, but then God did something miraculous. Has there ever been a time in your life where God did something miraculous and it turned the situation around? Can you think of more Bible stories where God did this?
Read the Biblical account in Genesis 6-9. Why did God flood the earth?
How long did it rain?
Which of the animals was your favorite? Why?
The Dreamer, The Schemer and The Robe: Why were Joseph’s brother’s so jealous?
Why did Potipher throw Joseph in prison when Joseph did the right thing?
It was really hard for Jospeh when he first arrived at Potipher’s house, still reeling from the betrayal and not understanding the language. Why do you think he worked so hard to make Potipher’s house nice?
God eventually worked out Joseph’s betrayal for good. Has there ever been a time in your life where God used something bad for good?
Why do you think Joseph could exhibit such grace and forgiveness to those who hurt him so terribly? Who does his story point to?
Why do you think the Egyptians are so superstitious?
Why did Joseph test his brothers?
The Prophet, The Shepherd, and The Star: Liz and Nigel studied the number seven throughout the whole book. Did you learn anything?
Why is the number seven significant?
Daniel, Hannah, Mishael and Azariah faced a lot of pressure to conform to worldly standards in Babylon, but they didn’t. Why?
Have you ever been in a situation like that?
Why did you do what you did?
Why do you think God is called “the Lion of Judah”?
Claire’s mother told Claire to “consider the source” of the mean comments directed at her, and it helped, though the comments still hurt. What do you think this means?
How does considering the reason why a person is mean change your perspective of the person?
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Taken from the author’s website, which you can find here.
The Ark, The Reed, and The Fire Cloud: “Max, a Scottish terrier, takes his usual morning trot down to the loch where he hears a mysterious Voice humming in the reeds saying, “Come to Me…follow the fire cloud.” He embarks on an unknown journey from Scotland, meeting other animals along the way including Liz, a brilliant, petite black cat from France. Max and Liz become the brave leaders for their group, and eventually, for the entire ark. The mysterious journey, filled with danger, humor, trials, and triumphs, leads them across Europe to the Middle East. The moment of arrival for these animals is spectacular as the ark is miraculously transformed into the animals’ natural habitats.
Throughout the previous one hundred years, Noah and family have endured ridicule from villagers while building the ark. Now this family must painfully witness the loss of lives and total destruction of the earth through the mighty flood.
After the journey to the ark, the voyage in the ark begins. Liz finds ways to keep the animals occupied, including daily exercise led by the flamingos and a talent night where the animals entertain each other with their natural abilities. But a sinister plot develops Someone is out to kill Noah and his family. Liz follows clues that lead her to discover a stowaway who has deceived them all. Max and Liz foil the plot, but at a high price. The end climaxes with unexpected twists and turns, taking the reader from despair to hope.”
The Dreamer, The Schemer, and The Robe: “After saving Noah and family, heroes Max and Liz, along with faithful mates Kate and Al, earn immortality and a directive from God to serve as His envoys for pivotal points in human history. They have waited for centuries for a word from the Maker; now they learn they are to work behind the scenes in the life of Joseph. All looks hopeless for the young teenager as Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery in Egypt. Has Charlatan returned to Egypt to once again stop Max and Liz from accomplishing their mission? With the help of two new characters, a British archeologist mouse and a forlorn camel, they must combat the forces of evil that are out to thwart their plans, leading them into mysterious adventures with pyramids and mummies. If Max and Liz fail in this mission, all of Egypt will suffer from famine, and the Hebrew nation will never be born. The fate of an entire nation rests in their paws.
Abounding in life lessons on struggle, enduring trials, forgiveness, and redemption, The Dreamer, the Schemer, & the Robe is a nonstop thriller filled with twists and turns, side-splitting humor, treachery and heartache, hope and forgiveness.”
The Prophet, The Shepherd and The Star: “The Prophet, the Shepherd, and the Star launches the Epic Order of the Seven series, picking up where The Amazing Tales of Max and Liz series left off. The Maker has been building a team of animal friends for thousands of years to be his envoys for pivotal points of history. With this new, critical mission, the team will finally be completed by Messiah and known forevermore as the Order of the Seven. A talking, musical scroll, a pigeon-flying and-camel-driving mouse, a writing cat, a courageous lamb, and two lion-fighting dogs provide non-stop action in this adventure that brings the Christmas story to life as never before. You will be astounded at the accuracy and perfection of the prophecies and God’s unfolding plan to bring Jesus into the world.
The seven hundred–year mission begins long before the Nativity, as animal friends Max, Liz, Al, Kate, and Nigel work with Isaiah, who prophesies about the coming Messiah. The team intervenes with the Assyrians that threaten to take Jerusalem and prove Isaiah’s prophecies false. They go with faithful Daniel and friends into the Babylonian captivity for the heart-pounding thrills of the fiery furnace and the lions’ den. They meet Gabriel as he appears to Daniel, and hide a secret scroll of prophecy for the wise men to someday discover as they study the Star. The book climaxes with the unfolding Christmas story as the animals once again see Gabriel with Zechariah, Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds.
Experience the hardships of Mary and Joseph as they obediently accept their calling to parent Messiah. Joyfully watch God provide for their every need through a lovable Jewish rabbi who dares to believe them and an unlikely Roman soldier who protects them. The shepherds and the wise men never know their steps are guided by these small animals that lead them to baby Jesus. Relentless in his pursuit is the evil lion, who seeks to devour them and stop the unfolding events leading to Messiah’s birth.”