What an extraordinary book! As a rule, I try not to dwell on the pain and suffering that evil causes. I know it does, and that's enough for me. When I hear mention of demons and hell, I usually push it out of my mind.
JL Rothstein's Atonement doesn't allow the reader to do that. Her guardians - the O'Mara family - experience every sort of agony -- physical, mental, emotional -- as they fight to protect the human race against evil.
In Chapter One, a demon tempts a young woman to kill herself... I won't say more except that from there, the story only gets more intense. Throughout the book, whenever there's rage, violence, or despair, a demon or demons are present. Evil causes terrible discord, something we would all do well to remember.
The demons are terrifying, cruel, and relentless.
But there's also love and laughter. The O'Mara's are a close and wonderful family. They are each just as relentless in their mission(s), as well as brave and prepared to give up their lives for the good of all. But even in this -- and it's the author's special gift -- even though the guardians aren't human, they possess very human traits. They make mistakes. They know love, fear, and pain. They exhibit grief, anger, frustration, and joy.
So, it's not just a story of good versus evil, but a story of family, a story of love. The O'Mara family and their allies are likeable/loveable characters. I was holding my breath through most the book and felt with them every step of the way.
Rothstein shares a generous dose of religious tradition as well as Biblical references. The Four Horsemen from Revelation make an appearance. It's epic. It's violent.
That’s my review. Today, I’m pleased to share my interview with JL Rothstein, the author of Atonement. Welcome, Jen.
I’m so appreciative of the opportunity to come on and talk about the book with you, thank you for having me!
Atonement is the first book in your Heaven Sent series. I have to ask, how in the world did you come up with the story? What was your inspiration?
I dreamt of the character Gabriel, I knew right away he was from Heaven, but that he was trapped and longing for a long lost partner. I tried ignoring it, but the character kept coming back in my dreams and telling me, you need to write my story. I don’t know what I watched on tv or what book I read that led my subconscious mind to have these thoughts. I decided to go with it and started writing. The nine siblings are named after my nieces and nephews. The inspiration for the women, really comes from a mix of my now adult nieces and my own relationship with my two sisters.
You dreamt of him. I’m in awe, and I absolutely love that you named the O’Mara siblings after you nieces and nephews. They must be so proud.
As an author, my peace is disturbed when I have to ponder a sad scene for a week, a day, or an hour. Your story has demons – really scary demons! Did you ever creep your own self out? The way you describe them… from what sort of resources did you pull? Art? Movies? Literature? Sheer imagination?
I have scared myself from time to time. There were a few ideas that didn’t make it into the book. I am reserving them for future stories in this universe, but some of those really kept me awake. I think as a writer you draw inspiration and spark your creativity through a multitude of mediums. I like looking at artwork, I enjoy researching old artifacts (especially things the Vatican keeps hidden) and I’m a fan of fantasy shows/movies like Game of Thrones, Constantine, and the Marvel Universe. All those have supernatural elements, which makes them even more fun and interesting.
Tense as the action can be, I consider Atonement a character-driven story. I like all the good guys and my favorite is Kelly. I love her spunkiness and how much she enjoys life, especially food! Won’t you tell us more about your characters? Do you have a favorite so far?
It’s funny the reaction people have had to the sisters. The first book was Gen’s story, but it’s pretty clear that Kelly made an immediate impression on people. Kelly is just fun to write. I love her toughness, her sarcasm, and her unapologetic nature. I think Kelly is reflective of a lot of our inner voices. I can’t pick a favorite, but I love the strong women in this story, there are not enough stories portraying women like this out there.
I also find Atonement to be very timely. When did you start writing it? How long did it take you to write? I ask because it seems to describe the general atmosphere of 2020. In other words, it feels prophetic. Or do you consider that’s the way the world has always been?
I think prophecy would give me far too much credit. I wrote pieces of this story and a very rough draft years ago. I queried it and it went nowhere because quite honestly it wasn’t good. It needed a lot of work. In 2016 I decided to apply to graduate school and take some Creative Writing courses, I started reading books on writing and a couple of online talks. I went down the path of learning everything I could about the craft of writing. My whole focus was to get better. I ended up re-writing the book, using the first draft more like an outline. When I was done, I sent it out for a professional edit and tried to follow all the advice that the editor gave me.
I think the world has gotten smaller with technology. We are inundated with mostly negative news on a regular basis. It’s hard to get away from the bad, but I suspect it was there all along. 2020 is a year where a lot of things have merged, like a perfect storm. You have a pandemic (never thought I would type that in my lifetime), a contentious environment riddled with politics, and we’re isolated. I just try and stay positive that this is such a low, it can only get better from here.
As I mentioned in my review, I particularly appreciated how whenever there is despair or division, you’ve slipped in a demon or demons. I must assume this is on purpose. Can you tell us a little more about it? What do you think about the concepts of good and evil?
This is fictional, so focusing on evil as a construct, with actual bad guys is entertaining. Perhaps it’s too easy, in truth humanity doesn’t need villains or demons. People have been hurting one another long before the concept of Satan or Hell. I do fear that over time people have less faith. No matter what religion you are, or what God you believe in, having faith can help keep you grounded. Belief and spirituality allow us to think of something bigger than ourselves. This in turn can make us selfless, caring, empathetic. Those are things the world can always use more of.
Is there anything else you’d like to say about Atonement?
Atonement is a book about family, faith, and the power of forgiveness, not just of others, but of ourselves.
I’m so grateful to all those who have read the book, given a review, reached out on social media to talk about the characters. I’m grateful for this space to talk about the story and reach your readers.
Those are themes we all need more of. It’s a wonderful book. I’m eager for the next! Last question – how’s work on the sequel going?
I have a deadline to finish book 2 by October. The editor who reviewed the first book is doing the second book as well. Everything should be done by early 2021. I am hoping that book 2 can launch in March 2021. More to come on social media, if people are interested, they can always reach me on social media or sign up for my newsletter on jlrothstein.com
JL Rothstein, thank you for sharing your time and talent. Looking forward to your future work.
JL Rothstein is a published author. She writes in the Fantasy genre with an affinity for the Supernatural.
Atonement, the first book in the three book series is the fictional story of the O’Mara family, nine siblings sent by Heaven to guard humans against the interference of those in Hell. Along the way the siblings come to realize the violent confrontations and disturbing behavior they encounter can only be overcome if they have trust and faith in one another.
Jennifer was born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts. She comes from a large Irish family and spent twelve years in Catholic school. Having three siblings herself she understands the challenges, drama, rivalries, and loyalties between siblings.
Jennifer has a BS from Suffolk University and is currently pursuing her MBA in Creative Writing from Southern New Hampshire University. She is married and now resides in the western part of the state. Her first novel is launched and she is currently working on the second book in the series, Hellbound.
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Excerpt from ATONEMENT
Gen looked up as the sky shook with thunder and lightning pierced the darkness. A large
reddish-brown glow formed around them, something was coming.
“Get back, go to the tree line, now!” Michael shouted as he ran motioning with his hands.
Gen watched her brothers run toward the trees and followed them. As they got to the relative
safety of the forest, they turned back just as a Hell Fighter and two Hellions arrived in the middle
of the field noticeably pissed at the number of fallen comrades that lay at their feet.
Hell Fighters hadn’t been seen on earth in decades. Gen couldn’t remember the last
time they encountered one.
At least it’s not a newborn, Gen sighed in minor relief. Watching the demon’s somewhat
labored movements she thought, He’s older, he shouldn’t be able to stick around too long.
The demon was set ablaze in Hell fire. His large frame, long arms, and dragon-like head
just a mere outline in a shadow of rolling flame. Once away from Hell, the flame dwindled, and
its skin cooled to a leathery black veined with streaks of red. The Hell Fighter’s blood was made
of venom, cast from those tormented in Hell, it was Hell’s deadliest weapon against Heaven.
The upper level demon’s venom was fatal, even its sweat was enough to cause serious
damage. Newborn Hell Fighters carried the most lethal dose of the venom in their blood,
because the essence of the tortured still lingered. Though the Hell Fighter’s venom was
poisonous, its physical strength faded over time, which meant they couldn’t stay away from the
source that manifested them for very long.
The arrival of a Hell Fighter would typically signal the end of the battle. In most cases a
Guardian would be forced to vacate the scene, but the O’Mara’s had a weapon of their own.
Before the Hell Fighter could make a move, Kelly arrived, taking a stance between the
demons and her siblings. One of the Hellions lunged wildly at Kelly’s head, but she ducked and
the demon’s momentum sent him tumbling across the field behind her. Michael stepped out
from under the treelined covering and stabbed the beast through the ankle, quickly stepping
back away from the animal in case its blood had been tainted by the Hell Fighter. The hideous
beast howled like a rabid animal. Michael’s blade had penetrated all the way through to the
ground, effectively pinning the hound in place.
Kelly threw a knife at the second Hellion’s ear landing a blow that sent the monster to
the ground in a heap. It attempted to gain relief by clawing at the blade, trying to remove it as it
rolled back and forth across the grass. Blood gushed from the dog-like creature’s head and he
squealed as his skin began to burn, puffs of steam wafted above its head.
She must have dipped the blade in Holy water, Gen presumed. Nice touch, Gen thought.
The odds were even now, it would be Kelly one-on-one against the Hell Fighter. The
demon stomped forward taking an enormous swing toward Kelly. She blocked it and then used
the demon’s own momentum against him. Kelly pulled down as the demon’s weight was
propelled forward. The demon fell to one knee and Kelly grabbed onto his neck and swung up
and onto his back, harnessing her legs around his shoulders and tucking her feet under his
arms for stability. The Hell Fighter got back to his feet, grabbing at her twisting and bucking as
he tried to pull her off, but she held on. She threw a katar at the second wounded Hellion’s heart
and its chaotic rolling movements instantly halted.
The pinned Hellion pulled at its leg until it ripped and tore away from the ankle still
tethered to the ground by Michael’s sword. The beast hobbled toward Kelly leaving a bloody trail
behind it. By the time the wounded Hellion reached its master, Kelly had killed the Hell Fighter.
As the Hell Fighter collapsed to the ground, Kelly jumped off the demon kicking the wounded
Hellion lurching toward her. Jumping onto the Hellion’s back, Kelly pulled out a long silver blade
and plunged it into its head, killing it instantly.
Getting to her feet Kelly turned to her siblings. “Sorry, I couldn’t find my stupid boots.”
Kelly’s sweatshirt smoked as the remnants of demon blood soaked through. She swiped hard,
but it would burn through to her skin if she left it on. Though she was immune to the poison, her
“I’m surprised the Hell Fighter didn’t put up more of a fight,” Michael commented.
“What do you mean?” Dan asked.
“Did you notice anything odd when you were engaging it?” Michael asked Kelly but then
didn’t wait for an answer. “It should have been harder to kill. Even though he was obviously
older, he should have put up more of a fight.”
“He was pretty feisty,” Kelly shot back.
Gen interrupted them. “Do you smell that?”
Kelly was quick with a retort. “Yeah, I know, Hell Fighters reek, it’s all over me.” Kelly
attempted to clean the venom off, huffing loudly she finally gave up and pulled the sweatshirt off
tossing it into the burning pile of debris.
“No, not that. It smells like a fire, a real one.” Gen was looking in the direction of the
building. She could no longer see nor feel Deb. “I can’t feel Deb. They didn’t want us walking
toward the building, they wanted us up here. Whatever pulled me here, it’s down there.” Gen
pointed toward the hillside. “This must have been a distraction from the real target!”
“We need to move. Go! Go! Go!” Xavier started running and everyone followed.
Keep me away from the wisdom that does not cry, the philosophy that does not laugh, and the greatness which does not bow before children. – Gibran Khalil Gibran