The Ale Boy’s Feast by Jeffrey Overstreet
Book Four of The Auralia Thread
Published 2011 by Waterbrook, 375 pages
Genre: Fantasy with underlying Christian worldview
The Ale Boy’s Feast caps off a four-book series starting with Auralia’s Colors, a finalist for a Christy award. In the set of tales, residents of The Expanse struggle with a spreading curse of terror and evil. In this world, certain bloodlines confer special powers: sculpting stone, walking through fire, charming with music, communicating with animals. But only one person has the gift to weave colors to bring hope and healing to dark places. That person is Auralia, who seemed to die at the end of the first book, but who returns to life and the struggle in the third and fourth, not remembering at first who she is.
At the opening of The Ale Boy’s Feast, the king of House Abascar, Cal-Raven, is missing. The homeless people of House Abascar have been sheltered in House Bel Amica, another of the four houses of The Expanse. But Bel Amica has mighty struggles of its own, and it’s time to leave.
A group of Abascar people set out northward following Cal-Raven’s dream, seeking a mythic city on the other side of the Forbidding Wall that borders The Expanse. They don’t know whether they can find the city, whether they unlock its gates, or whether it would be a good city for them. But they have no place else to go.
Meanwhile, the Ale Boy, Auralia’s young friend, leads a band of survivors northward from the ruins of a third House along an underground river, away from the land of their slavery and pain.
And the missing king struggles with despondency. Will he return to his people? Will they make it on their terrifying journey through the deadly woods? And, most of all, can the curse be identified and stopped?
What do I think?
This series is amazingly rich in many ways. The characters are unforgettable, the plots intricately fashioned and woven together.
Overstreet’s style is a bit unusual. For example, he gives the native animals and plants odd names alongside sketchy descriptions. This technique puts the reader’s imagination into overdrive constructing possibilities. Meanwhile, most of what each viewpoint character is thinking comes out through dialog, not through reporting thoughts. The overall effect may be somewhat like reading a movie script, with the reader’s mind supplying visuals based on cues rather than full description. Some readers may not like this style, but I loved it.
Is it a Christian work? Yes and no. There isn’t any “Jesus” figure in it, but there is intelligence and mercy at the heart of the world Overstreet has made. The worldview will be familiar to Christians, yet not alien to nonChristians. This book can sit on the fantasy shelf at any bookstore and be enjoyed by anyone.
I emailed Overstreet and asked about what I thought seemed a dangling plot thread. Here is his response:
One of the recurring themes throughout this series has been: Are people open to mystery? Are we ready to live with uncertainty, and to hold our understandings loosely, ready to expand them when our vision is increased? Christ was fond of saying, “You have heard it said _________, but I say to you _________.” And so he makes all things new, constantly humbling us and revealing a bigger picture of the truth. Anybody who pursues the truth will experience this.
So I felt like it was appropriate to leave some things unknown, even as the author, so that people keep reading and rereading. They’ll find that some of the “loose threads” at the end are actually answered earlier in the series… the answers preceding the questions, and so fleetingly that they might never get noticed. Others remain open for us to think about. Many of my favorite stories and poems work that way.
Overstreet is a master fantasy writer. I highly recommend this series and this book. Don’t miss them!
He answered three questions from me in a video. Here’s the link.
My review of the first book:
My review of the third book:
This post is part of the Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour. Check out what others are saying:
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Author’s web site – http://lookingcloser.org/fiction/