Storm Siren by Mary Weber, a review

StormSirenStorm Siren by Mary Weber
Published 2014 by Thomas Nelson, 333 pages
Genre: Young adult medieval/steampunk fantasy with Christian worldview

I think I’ve never done this before. I bought this book solely because I loved the cover.

Well, it is in the genre I love, after all, Christian fantasy. So I did get around to opening the book. When I did, I just fell in, really.

Nym is a slave girl with power over the elements that she cannot control. As a result, her owners or their loved ones keep ending up dead. Her parents are dead too. She carries the guilt around, unable to rid herself of it. She has no hope for the future, knowing that her elemental kind live under a death sentence in her kingdom.

A rich woman buys her and puts her to work training under a mysterious man, Eogan, who teaches her gradually to control her powers and tells her she can save her kingdom from the aggressor nation that’s just about to conquer it. But does she want to? And what of her developing feelings for Eogan, who seems cold and aloof?

It’s a wonderful book, so well written. It’s hard to believe it’s a debut novel. I can see Mary Weber has many wonderful books ahead of her. I hope they all have the same cover artist, who is by the way Wes Youssi of M80 Design.

 

Why read fantasy?

hobbits.richardsonby Jill Richardson

Why read fantasy? Isn’t it escapism? Shouldn’t a Christian be more concerned with this world, rather than spending time reading about things that aren’t even real? Concentrate on the real battles, not epic ones with dragons and wizards.

Every believer who reads fantasy has heard these, and other, objections. We don’t necessarily need to defend our choices, but we would like to be able to enter the conversation with some arguments on our side that fantasy reading, and writing, is far from a waste of a believer’s time.

Here are three suggestions.

Fantasy fights cynicism with hope

The world isn’t a very trusting place. In fact, each generation seems to be getting a little more cynical. What is truth? Is there such a thing as a selfless hero? What are they trying to sell me beneath the story?

JillRichardsonMuch of literature is keeping up with this cultural climate. It’s dark, hopeless, and angry. Yet in the middle of that, we pay millions to see Thor defeat evil and Captain America save the world. Again. Because somehow, we want to believe.

With its focus on epic battles between good and evil, fantasy breaks into the prevailing disbelief to offer hope. It’s hardly escapist. Terrible things happen in these stories. As Sam says in The Two Towers (movie version), sometimes it’s hard to believe life could go on when so much evil has happened.

But it does. Good triumphs, and light shines.

Christians who read and write fantasy can enter the culture’s conversation with stories that show heroes can sacrifice themselves, honest people can win, and “there is some good in this world—and it’s worth fighting for.” That is a huge antidote in a world that no longer believes in absolute good yet hungers for it at the same time.

Fantasy Offers Tools for Our Struggles

 Even a lowly hobbit can save his world. He doesn’t have to find amazing battle skills or magic power. He just has to find . . . his courage.

Most of us feel more like hobbits than wizards. In the face of trouble, we would prefer to go back to second breakfast. But when we read of Bilbo’s willingness, Frodo’s sacrificial spirit, Sam’s loyalty, or Eowyn’s steadfastness, we see a bit of ourselves after all.

They are not perfect, and they are not powerful. Knowing that, we realize we have access to the same tools and gifts. We aren’t fighting dragons or Dark Lords, but we are fighting darkness. We fight “against mighty powers in this dark world” (Ephesians 6.12).

Fantasy heroes, flawed but willing, can help bolster our own willingness and faith for the challenge.

Fantasy Points to God’s Intent

Tolkien defended fantasy by saying that there is nothing wrong with a prisoner who wishes to escape his prison. He argues that the world in its present state is, in fact, a prison where we were never meant to live.

In an alternate world that offers hope, good wins, against the odds. Peace prevails. Restoration happens. Whatever the true kingdom is in that world, it returns.

That’s also what happens here. Good fantasy can start a conversation about what this world was meant for and where it’s going. Is there a Kingdom here as well that will return, has returned, and awaits its complete fulfillment when peace and good reign? Are there heroes at work here and now ringing in that kingdom wherever they can?

It’s hardly escape. It’s a photograph of reality as God always intended. It’s an invitation to renewal, and it transcends worlds.

Author Bio:

Jill’s love for hobbits and elves comes from her time as a literature teacher and as a lifelong reader of great stories. She also loves an epic challenge and a chance for grace wherever they exist. Jill is Pastor of Discipleship at Resolution Church in Illinois. She is the author of Hobbits, You, and the Spiritual World, a devotional for teens.

 

Unbound by J.B. Simmons, a review

unbound
Unbound by J.B. Simmons (The Omega Trilogy Book 1)
Published by the author on Kindle
Genre: Young adult end times Christian fantasy

The year is 2066, and we are in Washington, DC.  An unbelieving American Jewish teenager, Elijah Goldsmith, just wants to be a spy and wants to pursue the beautiful woman Naomi beside him in spy school. He also wants to ditch the strange dreams he keeps having, about a dragon that only he can see.

Naomi and her Christian friends think his dreams are prophetic. But Elijah thinks they are all weird.

I really enjoyed this book. The characters are well drawn and memorable. The book is well edited (often a problem with indie authors, but not this one). There’s plenty of action, and the theology underneath seems reasonably sound to me.

But I did feel disappointed that the book ended when it did. Apparently the author is producing the book in installments, rather than telling a complete story with a character arc (where the main character goes through some kind of inner journey and comes out different).  Unbound is like the first third of a well constructed novel, in my opinion.

So, I guess I’ll just have to wait to read the rest! Hope I don’t have to wait too long!

Robert Treskillard’s Merlin’s Nightmare, more thoughts

merlinsnightmareIs the King Arthur saga so well-worn in our imaginations that we don’t have room for something more on it? Becky Miller has raised this question.

I say there’s room for new imagination. In Robert Treskillard’s trilogy The Merlin Spiral, concluding with Merlin’s Nightmare (which I reviewed here), the author has got some fresh new takes on the characters. Merlin is a blind, lovesick teenager, and Gwenivere is a gypsy. The sword in the stone … well, I won’t spoil it for you. There’s something really wild about that stone, too!

He is able to take us back to Britain in the years after the Romans withdrew, based on a vast foundation of historical research that makes the settings and situations ring true. His Britain is a far cry from the false medieval setting envisioned by early writers of these stories.

In Merlin’s Nightmare, we see a disaster for the Britons unfold. Where they had lived as a majority, many or most of them are overcome by enemies including the Saxons, leaving the survivors a rag-tag band. This group, we expect, will seek to regain their place under King Arthur in future books.

But we know how the story ends: the Anglo-Saxons took over all the Britons’ lands except for Wales and (in France) Brittany.  That’s the thing about writing the Arthurian legend: we know the main characters, and we know how it all ends. But … do you have room for new imaginings here? I do.

Here are the two movie trailers for the first book (and thus the trilogy). The first is from Zondervan, the publisher; the second from the author:

Merlin’s Nightmare by Robert Treskillard, a review

merlinsnightmareMerlin’s Nightmare by Robert Treskillard, Book 3 of the Merlin Spiral
Published 2014 by Blink, an imprint of Zondervan, 431 pages
Genre: Arthurian fantasy, suitable for young adult and up

Robert Treskillard concludes his terrific Merlin trilogy with this book, leaving some threads open for starting a new work focused on Arthur.  Read my review of the first book. Read my review of the second book.

I’m really enjoying Treskillard’s re-imagining of Merlin as a non-magician. Merlin is a Christian who occasionally has visions. As the book opens, Merlin, in hiding in the North, has married his beloved Natalenya and has two children. They have also raised the young Arthur under a different name, withholding from him his true identity. But now that Arthur is 18, it’s time to tell him who he is and let him start making decisions.

The winds of war are blowing. Two summons to fight arrive. Where will they fight? The Britons (led by the traitor Vortigern) find themselves attacked by major enemies on three sides: the Picts from the North, the Saxons from the east, and Merlin’s witch sister Ganieda (Morgana) and her wolf-men from the west.  Merlin is inclined to fight in the North, but Arthur slips away south to aid Vortigern against the Saxons, not knowing Vortigern will probably recognize him and kill him. Can Merlin reach him in time?

And how can Merlin protect his family in the North, if he isn’t anywhere nearby? Can he convince Arthur that the most important enemy is Merlin’s sorcerer sister, who orchestrates the others? And how on earth could they defeat her and her savage wolf-men?

I found this book to be quite the page-turner with plenty of unexpected plot points. Merlin’s character goes through a learning curve, which I won’t spoil for you. I enjoyed the fresh take on Gwenivere and the idea of a novel use for Stonehenge. It’s a terrific book; put it on your reading list, and be sure to give it to the young people in your life, especially the guys. Note: I am astounded at the amount of research Treskillard has put into these books, detailed in the appendix.

This review is in conjunction with the Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour. For more opinions, check out the other participants listed below. I received a free copy of the book from the publisher in conjunction with this tour.

Beckie Burnham
Jeff Chapman
Vicky DealSharingAunt
April Erwin
Carol Gehringer
Victor Gentile
Rebekah Gyger
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Emileigh Latham
Jennette Mbewe
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Mirriam Neal
Joan Nienhuis
Nissa
Writer Rani
Nathan Reimer
Audrey Sauble
Chawna Schroeder
Jojo Sutis
Robert Treskillard
Phyllis Wheeler
Elizabeth Williams

Author website: http://www.KingArthur.org.uk

The Warden and the Wolf King by Andrew Peterson, a review

wardenandwolfkingThe Warden and the Wolf King by Andrew Peterson, Book 4 of the 4-book Wingfeather Saga
Published 2014 by Rabbit Room Press, 520 pages
Genre: Christian fantasy, age 10 and up

Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather series that started out as an amusing tale full of rollicking names moved to epic scope along the way and, in this book, builds to a mighty conclusion full of heroic deeds.

Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga is the story of the widow and three children of the King of Anniera, which was once a blessed island kingdom, now a ruin. Read my review of the first book in the series. And the second book. And the third.

I’m not the only person who was waiting for this book to come out. Peterson was able to raise $100,000 in donations with a Kickstarter campaign to do the job right.

At the opening of this book, the Wingfeather family lives in the Green Hollows, a land not their own, and try to make themselves useful to the war effort. Gnag the Nameless and his Fangs of Dang attack this peaceful country on Gnag’s borders in overwhelming numbers. Above all he seeks the three children, who are the fabled Jewels of Anniera.

Leeli Wingfeather uses her whistleharp to demoralize the fangs but gets very, very tired. Janner gets lost in the hills. And Kalmar, the eleven-year-old king of Anniera who nearly became a fang, fights the demon within. Meanwhile, across the ocean, their uncle Artham fights his madness with the help of faithful friends and seeks to destroy the fangs there.

The odds are overwhelming. Will they give up?

This is just a terrific book. If you are looking for something for your kids to read, pick it up. And don’t forget to read it yourself. You’ll be glad you did.

Note: Peterson is a musician, first and foremost, and you can tell in his amazing prose. The names in this tale sing: “Bonifer Squoon,” “bomnubble,” “Glipwood,” “Flambode’s Seedery.” Sometimes there’s an amusing contrast between name and meaning. “Toothy cow,” for example, refers to a very dangerous monster that is actually a cow with a lot of teeth.

I have a request to make of Peterson. I would love to hear a recording of him reading troll poetry, full of wild and crazy consonants. I bet it’s very cool.

Oskar Reteep, the bookseller, has a warning for us about Ouster Will, the original sinner.

This is part of the Christian Science-Fiction/Fantasy (CSFF) Blog Tour. I received a copy of the book from the publisher free of charge. For more opinions on the book, check out the blogs linked below.

Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
Pauline Creeden
Vicky DealSharingAunt
Carol Gehringer
Victor Gentile
Ryan Heart
Bruce Hennigan
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Nissa
Writer Rani
Nathan Reimer
Chawna Schroeder
Jojo Sutis
Rachel Starr Thomson
Shane Werlinger
Phyllis Wheeler

Author Website – http://wingfeathersaga.com

Jupiter Winds by C.J. Darlington, a review

jupiter-windsJupiter Winds by C.J. Darlington
Published 2014 by Mountainview Books, 288 pages
Genre: Christian dystopia/sci fi, YA and older

Grey, 17, and her 14-year-old sister are orphans under the loose care of a neighbor. They live in a post-nuclear-war desolate America that is ruled by a tyrannical middle eastern regime.

Grey and Rin live on the fringe, smuggling books and cigarettes across a border to eke out a bare living. It’s been five years since their parents failed to come home from a trip. Grey has had to comfort and encourage her small sister, while needing comfort and encouragement herself.

The government sends drones to capture her. Does she run for home and hideout and endanger her sister? Or does she allow herself to be captured?

You guessed it. She allows herself to be captured, setting off a race in space to the planet Jupiter where the tyrants use her as bait to trap her father, who is still alive.  Can she escape?

I found this book to be quite a page-turner. It features strong, unique, and heroic characters and a well-developed faith element. Check it out!

I received this book for free from the author in exchange for my honest review.

 

Dreamtreaders by Wayne Thomas Batson, a review

DreamtreadersDreamtreaders by Wayne Thomas Batson, a review
Published 2014 by Thomas Nelson, 289 pages
Genre: Middle grade fantasy fiction

Archer Keaton, age 14, serves humanity as a Dreamtreader. In his dreams, what he imagines becomes “real.” So, in a battle, he can call amazing weapons into being (such as a bulldozer blade to mow down the opposition). But the bad guys can too, when they’re not trying to deceive him. It’s fun and kinda scary.

Archer seeks to make repairs in this lovely fantasy place, the world of dreams, where things are beginning to turn dark. It becomes apparent that even his life is at risk, and the lives of his loved ones in the real world.

Speaking of the real world, there are strange things going on there too. Can it be that the troubles in the dream world and the real world are connected? Can it be linked to his best friend who seems to have abandoned him? What about the new boy at school? Is he a friend–or not?

It’s a great story (first in a series) that should appeal to a variety of ages, but particularly to boys who are squeamish about reading. It’s full of action with a well-constructed plot, and characters we can all identify with. It has a reasonably subtle faith element, so nonChristians should enjoy it too, and maybe even find some food for thought. I’d be happy to share this book with others.

This post is part of the Christian Science-Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour, and I received the book from the publisher free of charge. To see what others are saying, take a look at the following:

Beckie Burnham
Jeff Chapman
Pauline Creeden
Vicky DealSharingAunt
Carol Gehringer
Victor Gentile
Rebekah Gyger
Christopher Hopper
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Jennette Mbewe
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Nissa
Writer Rani
Nathan Reimer
Chawna Schroeder
Jojo Sutis
Steve Trower
Shane Werlinger
Phyllis Wheeler

Author Website – http://www.enterthedoorwithin.blogspot.com/

Failstate: Legends by John Otte, a review

FailstateLFailstate: Legends by John Otte, Book 2 of Failstate series
Published 2013 by Marcher Lord Press, 455 pages
Genre: Young adult superhero tale, suitable for middle grade and up

Failstate: Legends is the middle book of a three-book series, but it stands alone very well I think. No one who picks it up cold like I did will think this is an unfinished story, and unexplained details from the past just make it seem more realistic.

I found a teenage superhero who’s disarmingly bad at everything. Failstate, also known as Robin Laughlin, finds his super powers don’t obey him always, and almost no one takes him seriously. It might have to do with the fact that he has to cover his face when costumed, making him look more like a thief in a ragged hoodie than anything else. Or it might have to do with the fact that he got his superhero license through a reality TV show.

Zombies are coming out of nowhere. And Failstate is the only superhero on duty, so he has to stop them. Yes, real zombies. But they aren’t possible. So where are they coming from? Will other superheroes from other towns lend their help? Through this struggle, will he win respect, or continue to fail?

The book has a cartoonish cover, but it’s not a graphic novel. It has short, action-packed chapters and great story elements, including strong characters who learn and change over time and a plot that’s full of surprises. It has a strong faith element too. I recommend this book!

Note: I received a free copy for review.

 

 

Numb by John Otte, a review

Numb

Numb by John Otte
Published 2013 by Marcher Lord Press, 395 pages
Genre: Christian science fiction, suitable for teen and up

Crusader, an assassin, feels neither emotions nor pain. His memory reaches back only a few years. He k nows this numbness is a gift from God, the vengeful god whose deacons use Crusader to kill heretics and heathens. Because of it, he’s a better killer.

His bosses send him after a young blonde woman, Isolda. It’s her turn to die. Or is it? For reasons he doesn’t understand, he can’t do it. His long-dead emotions boil up.

He’s made his choice. In refusing to kill her, he’s become a target himself. Crusader and Isolda flee together. Can this unlikely team find safety? Can they find answers? Or will the bounty hunters turn them in?

And what about the winsome faith that Isolda displays? Isn’t it heresy?

I found this book riveting, full of action and insight. The main character starts out a psychopath, but it’s not long before he starts on the path to change in a way that’s believable and speaks to the heart.

His bosses at the Ministrix spread twisted jihad Christianity, providing me great food for thought. In what ways do we try to make our faith a set of achievable objectives and bury our sins? How do I personally distort Jesus’ words?

This review is in conjunction with a number of bloggers at the Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour. Check out what others are saying:

Julie Bihn
Jennifer Bogart
Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
Pauline Creeden
Vicky DealSharingAunt
Carol Gehringer
Victor Gentile
Rebekah Gyger
Nikole Hahn
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Emileigh Latham
Rebekah Loper
Jennette Mbewe
Amber McCallister
Shannon McDermott
Shannon McNear
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
Nissa
Faye Oygard
Writer Rani
Nathan Reimer
Jojo Sutis
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Shane Werlinger
Phyllis Wheeler
Nicole White

Author Website – http://johnwotte.com/