Monthly Archives: April 2010

Raven’s Ladder by Jeffrey Overstreet, a Review

ravensladder

Raven’s Ladder by Jeffrey Overstreet, a Review
Published by Waterbrook Press, 2009, 380 pages
Genre: Christian fantasy, suitable for teens and adults

I read the first book in this series, Auralia’s Colors, but didn’t have time to read the acclaimed second one, Cyndere’s Midnight. This is the third in the series of four called The Auralia Thread. As I read Raven’s Ladder, I missed out on various references to previous happenings. I do recommend you read these in order!

Raven is Cal-Raven, the young king of the refugee community of House Abascar. In the first book, Abascar’s King Cal-Marcus made some terrible decisions that resulted in the loss of the community’s lovely dwelling, most of their people, and the death of Cal-Marcus.

Now Cal-Raven is trying to lead his refugee people through a dangerous land to a new home as revealed to him by the Keeper, an Aslan figure. Problem is, they mostly don’t trust his vision for a new home, or for a new order for them where previous class lines are erased and former nobles are expected to rub shoulders with former criminals. They remind me of the reluctant Israelites following Moses in the desert.

After a year of hiding out in a large cave, they take a sojourn in Egypt, so to speak: another of the four houses of the Expanse, Bel Amica, draws them in. In Bel Amica they find plenty of food and material wealth and are given jobs to earn their keep. However, it’s a Godless place, where everyone is out for himself. Wicked seers are in charge in all but name. Treason is afoot. Will House Abascar be able to leave?

Another thread in the story involves more refugees from House Abascar who are prisoners of the beastmen of House Cent Regus. House Cent Regus at some point in the past was accursed, and its people became hideous beastmen, addicted to the elixir that binds them to beastliness,  mindless in their aggressions.

The Keeper has sent a boy named Rescue to save them, but he needs Cal-Raven’s help. Will these prisoners be set free?

What do I think?

This book is very lyrical, full of wonderful and original uses of words. It’s also a great page-turner of a story, impossible to predict and full of illusions where things are not as they seem at first.

I was struck by the portrayal of godless House Bel Amica, where everyone is out for himself, people worship moon spirits, and occult seers are in charge in all but name. The materialism described  sounds familiar. Could it be a version of America? What does this vision have to tell us about ourselves? Interesting thing to ponder.

Men who become beasts, with their exterior imitating their dark interior, is a theme as old as the folktale. Like other stories, this story includes a beast who is redeemed. Also good to ponder: where is the beast in me?

In short, this book engaged me on mental and emotional levels, and tickled my beauty appreciation sense. I suspect other lovers of fantasy will want to feast on this book too. –Phyllis Wheeler

My review of the first book:

http://christian-fantasy-book-reviews.com/blog/2010/04/26/auralias-colors-by-jeffrey-overstreet-a-review/

My review of the fourth book:

http://christian-fantasy-book-reviews.com/blog/2011/05/16/the-ale-boys-feast-by-jeffrey-overstreet-a-review/

This is Day Two of the CSFF Blog Tour on Raven’s Ladder. Check out what others have to say about this book. Participants who had blogged about it as of this morning have a “+” by their name below.

Author’s Blog

+ Brandon Barr
Rachel Briard
Keanan Brand
+ Beckie Burnham
+ Melissa Carswell
Valerie Comer
CSFF Blog Tour
+ Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
+ Shane Deal
Jeff Draper
+ April Erwin
Ryan Heart
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
+ Jason Joyner
+ Julie
+ Krystine Kercher
Dawn King
+ Rebecca LuElla Miller
Nissa
+ John W. Otte
Donita K. Paul
Crista Richey
+ Chawna Schroeder
Andrea Schultz
+ James Somers
+ Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
+ Fred Warren
+ Phyllis Wheeler
KM Wilsher

Auralia’s Colors by Jeffrey Overstreet, a Review

auralia
Auralia’s Colors by Jeffrey Overstreet
Published 2007 by Waterbrook Press, 333 pages.
Genre: Christian Fantasy, suitable for teens and adults

Auralia’s Colors is a multi-layered story, the beginning of a longer story arc called The Auralia Thread. Auralia, an orphan of mysterious origin, comes to live with the outcasts outside the kingdom of House Abascar.  As the story unfolds, Auralia’s unusual powers become apparent; she has powers of healing related to amazing uses of colors.

In the Expanse, the land where Abascar is one of four houses or communities, color has different properties from what we are used to. It’s possible to hoard colors and even ban them, which is what the misguided king of House Abascar has done.

This king, full of fears, burdens his people and keeps them from joy. He is confronted with Auralia, who bravely weaves and wears colors to bring healing in defiance of his ban.  He fails the test, with disastrous results.

What do I think?

I had a bit of trouble getting into this book and identifying with Auralia, who seems somehow otherworldly. But once I got into the book, I had trouble putting it down. The characters are well drawn, the plot has wonderful twists and turns, and many subplots with a variety of characters weave together to create a cohesive whole.

It’s not an overtly Christian book, but the Christian worldview is plainly there. There is a deity called the Keeper who figures in the plot, and who reminds me a bit of Aslan–appearing as an animal, yes, but far more than that.

Auralia’s Colors clearly lays the foundation for a larger work, and I am very interested to read the rest! –Phyllis Wheeler

My review of the third book:

http://christian-fantasy-book-reviews.com/blog/2010/04/27/ravens-ladder-by-jeffrey-overstreet-a-review/

My review of the fourth book:

http://christian-fantasy-book-reviews.com/blog/2011/05/16/the-ale-boys-feast-by-jeffrey-overstreet-a-review/

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This is the first post for the Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy (CSFF) Blog Tour on Jeffrey Overstreet’s newest novel, Raven’s Ladder. That book is third in the series that began with Auralia’s Colors, so I thought I had better read Auralia’s Colors first.  For my take on Raven’s Ladder, take a look tomorrow at this blog! In the meantime, please take a look at what others on the blog tour are saying about Raven’s Ladder, and possibly the books that came before it too.

Author’s Blog

Brandon Barr
Rachel Briard (BooksForLife)
Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
Melissa Carswell
Valerie Comer
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Shane Deal
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Ryan Heart
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Julie
Krystine Kercher
Dawn King
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Nissa
John W. Otte
Donita K. Paul
Crista Richey
Chawna Schroeder
Andrea Schultz
James Somers
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler
KM Wilsher

A controversial book!

The Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour bloggers had enormously varied reactions to Athol Dickson’s 2009 book Lost Mission. Many, like me, loved it. Others couldn’t get into it. Yet others disapproved of it. What a wild tour!

Here’s a little roundup of some of what they said:

Amanda Barr “Lupe was such an inspiring character. Her faith, optimism and thankfulness were convicting.”

Keanan Brand “Faith without works is dead, but works do not make faith. We show our faith by our works. Many of the works done by the characters spring from reliance on themselves rather than faith in God. Sounds like us, doesn’t it?” He also finds this book to be like a mirror.
Keanan Brand again
Use of omniscient narrator works well.
Valerie Comer Found a podcast interview of the author and discussed it.

Timothy Hicks Full of contrasts and parallels
Timothy Hicks again “As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, many of the characters started out with good intentions. When they took their eyes off God they lost their life’s focus or mission.” Hence the name Lost Mission.

Cris Jesse Objects to a woman, Lupe, as a preacher teaching men. Switching time and location too confusing. Foreign names too confusing. Doesn’t like the book.
Jason Joyner Found “a rich tale to chew on for a while.”

Krystine Kercher “Each of these four characters does things that we as readers may disapprove of. Each of them also does things that are right. But in the end, the real story is not about them; it’s about The Story; HIS story…
Dawn King Couldn’t finish the book–didn’t see any sci fi or fantasy in it, found it dragged.

Rebecca LuElla Miller Themes of obedience, how Christians handle wealth
Becky Miller again
This book produced controversy!
John W. Otte Interested in idea that America needs evangelizing

More from John Otte In each of these cases, each person lost sight of what God really wanted. They trusted in themselves and their own abilities and ultimately, they wound up seeking after their own will.
Donita K. Paul What is “magical realism”? Turns out some Latin American writers made it up. She quotes a definition for us, and tells us she seems to be writing a magical realism novel too.
Chawna Schroeder “Yet there does seem to be an underlying, unifying thought, captured by the title—lost missions. At its core, the novel seems to focus on people who feel called or driven to a specific purpose and somewhere along that way loses sight of that purpose. The reasons are as diverse as the characters themselves, as are the results and their responses to such lost mission, but this only gives more for the reader to ponder.”
James Somers “It wasn’t my cup of tea.”
Steve Trower It “isn’t science fiction. Or fantasy. At least, not in the strictest, where-to-look-in-Waterstones sense.”

Phyllis Wheeler A review
Phyllis Wheeler again An author interview

Athol Dickson speaks

Lost Mission author Athol Dickson agreed to an email interview. Here it is:

Q. The Christian characters in the book are both Catholic and protestant; the protagonist is Catholic.  Are you a Catholic? What is your take on the Catholic faith vs protestant? What can you tell me about your own faith journey, briefly?

A. I am not a Catholic because I don’t agree with some of their doctrine. I
don’t believe in the immaculate conception, for example. I believe the Bible is very clear that Jesus is the only person who ever lived a life unstained by original sin. I have a few other areas of disagreement which make it impossible for me to be a Catholic, but think God has faithful followers in every part of His church, Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant, just as there are many people in every part who are tragically mistaken and lost.

We can disagree on everything except the basics of the gospel, and still be
brothers and sisters in Christ. The Catholic Church has gotten the gospel wrong in the past, basically making the mistake Paul warns against in Galatians, but then so have many Protestant denominations. Many Catholics believe that we are reconciled to God by faith in Jesus Christ through God’s grace alone, and not by virtue of baptism or christening, nor by any other liturgical ritual, nor because of anything else that we might do. As far as I’m concerned, that makes them my dear brothers and sisters in Christ.

Q. There is a character in the book I would call an angel. Is this how you
think of him, or would you categorize him as something else?

A. I was careful not to use the word “angel” in the book, because I wanted
readers to decide for themselves about the nature of that character.

Q. The plot is “paranormal” except for the fact that the spirit being appears
to be an angel, not a demon. (Though there does seem to be a demonic
influence as well, which isn’t very developed–the one that keeps the friar
from painting the retablo.) Do you think this book belongs in the paranormal
genre?

A. Ah, genre. That’s always been my nemesis. I focus on making my stories as interesting as I can. In the service of telling a fascinating story, I’ll
follow an idea almost anywhere. Sometimes that means my novels end up
straying far outside the lines of any one genre. People have called
different novels I’ve written everything from suspense to mystery to gothic
romance to speculative to magical realism.

Now you’re calling it “paranormal.” Ha! A new one. The publisher’s marketing people get headaches trying to tell people what my work is like, but I think that’s okay. There’s something to be said for opening a new book and not knowing exactly where the ride will take you. Where I try to be consistent is in a high quality of craftsmanship, a sense of redemption, a love of the natural world, and in the fact that the stories are as fresh and original as I can make them.

Q. Was this book a long time in the gestation? It seems very difficult to pull
together, with the parallel stories in different times.

A. Yes, it was hard to write. It took me about a year, including all the back
and forth with editors, which is about how long most of my other novels have required. They’ve all been hard to write, mainly because I won’t follow a
formula.

Q. Did you intend parallels involving the duo of the warring friars and the duo of the rich man and the pastor?

A. Oh, absolutely. Everything that happens in LOST MISSION is connected across both space and time, just as it is in life. That’s one of the themes in the story. How do we deal with that reality? What does it mean in terms of the choices we make next? Are we stuck in some kind of eternally repeating loop, or can we break patterns and strike out in new directions?

Q. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

A. Writing is a rotten way to make a living, so the only sane reason to do it
is because you love it.

So, readers, this book is generating quite a bit of discussion on the CSFF blog tour. Take a look!
Amanda Barr
Keanan Brand
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Timothy Hicks
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Julie
Krystine Kercher
Dawn King
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Donita K. Paul
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler
KM Wilsher

Lost Mission by Athol Dickson, a Review

lostmission

Lost Mission by Athol Dickson, a review
Published by Simon & Schuster, 2009, 345 pages
Genre: “Magical realism” according to the publisher.  I will call it supernatural suspense. Suitable for teens and adults.

There are two alternating story lines, each with its protagonist, that unfold as the book progresses. One takes place around 1772 and the other in modern times. Both story lines focus on the same location near Los Angeles.

The two stories, while seemingly not similar at first, become more and more alike.  A small three-paneled painting is common to both stories, as is a certain character, described as an Indian with shining hair, who I think must be an angel.

In 1772, three Franciscan friars and some Spanish soldiers set out on a missionary journey northward from Baja California. They eventually start a mission in a desert spot near an Indian village. We readers know from the beginning that the mission fails and that just one of the three friars, Fray Alejandro, and an Indian  miraculously survive the fire that burns the place down.

The sad tale of the failed mission unfolds as the book progresses. The other two friars, keeping secrets, are at cross purposes. The superior of the three routinely mistreats the Indian converts. Through it all, Fray Alejandro works on his assigned task, painting the three-panel altarpiece painting, but oddly cannot make any headway.

In the modern tale, a devout young Mexican woman, Lupe, feels called to travel to the US and confront Americans with their wickednesses. She’s a missionary to the lost in the modern U.S.  Miraculously she survives walking through the desert to California, carrying two panels of the three-panel painting (given to her by the village priest). We readers learn that the painting shows something extraordinary–apparently Lupe’s own face is in it, along with faces of others.

The other two main characters connect with Lupe in Orange County, California, a suburb of Los Angeles.  Eventually we can figure out that these two characters, a rich man and a preacher, are given parallel personalities to the wayward friars in the earlier story.

As I read the modern day and historical stories, I tried to guess the outcome for the modern story and the reason for failure for the historical story. I must say, I missed the mark widely for both. I did figure the painting had something to do with the outcome, and that was true.

Both stories contrast grace and redemption to punitive, limited, prideful versions of faith. The book will cause a wise reader to stop and take stock: am I acting like a prideful pharisee? Where am I unrepentant?  What are my own sins that I, a sinner, am too blind to see?

This complex book is intended for adults and would make a fine read for teenagers as well. There are even some discussion questions included at the end.

Full of symbolism and parallels, this work is a reach feast for a reader, hard to put down and wonderful to savor.–Phyllis Wheeler

This review is part of the Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour.

Check out the author’s websites:

Author Web site
Author blog

Check out what others on the blog tour are saying about this book:
Brandon Barr
Keanan Brand
Amy Browning
Valerie Comer
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Timothy Hicks
Jason Isbell
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Julie
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Dawn King
Rebecca LuElla Miller
New Authors Fellowship
John W. Otte
Donita K. Paul
Crista Richey
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler
KM Wilsher

The Oerken Leaves by Thomas Clayton Booher, a Review

oerken

The Oerken Leaves by Thomas Clayton Booher
Part 1 of The Whole Creation Groans trilogy
Published 2008 by Tome Publishing, 292 pages
Genre: Christian sci-fi/fantasy, middle grade and up, ideal for read-aloud

John Eaton is a 13-year-old boy who lives in North Carolina near an abandoned farm, Griffin Farm.  John is curious and feels moved to investigate after his father mentions mysterious disappearances of yesteryear at Griffin Farm.

A hundred years earlier, a family of four vanished from Griffin Farm. There were some very mysterious circumstances–we learn that they involved crystal-encased oak leaves and a huge oak tree that’s here one day and gone the next.

Also investigating is Brutus Malroye, the school bully, whose relatives actually lived on Griffin Farm for a time after the disappearances.  It turns out that Brutus is aware of and wants to go to the paradise-like place reachable somehow from Griffin Farm. Experimenting with crystal-encased oak leaves, he manages to get himself there.

It’s a planet called Eskathoer, out there in the universe where individuals can planet-hop using gateways that are actually oak (“oerken”) trees. But access to the dark planet, Earth, is forbidden.

Eskathoer isn’t a fallen world. Its inhabitants are trusting and sweet, and they aren’t ready for Brutus. So they call for John and his two siblings to help them persuade Brutus to leave. John and his siblings agree to help.

As the story goes on, the task looks more and more difficult. How will John, Josie, and Matt get Brutus to stop spoiling Eskathoer and come home? And how will the Lord of creation save Eskathoer? In fact, since this book is part of a trilogy, the problem isn’t resolved at the end of this book.

What do I think?

This book has a classic, slow-paced feel, especially at the beginning. So it’s not particularly fashionable. But I like classics, don’t you?

Multiple characters are well-drawn and are given distinctive voices.  Booher excels in this area.

There are lots of fun details about Eskathoer, which has a lot of parallels to earth. Instead of traffic lights, there are manned traffic baskets. Popcorn is unknown.  People live to be hundreds of years old (except for Brutus who seems to be aging fast).  Brutus provokes people to argue with each other, and they clearly aren’t any good at it.  The fantasy world is refreshingly original.

The story does have a few flaws. For example, the author doesn’t develop Brutus’ motivation for wanting to leave Earth while a child, leaving me wondering whether Brutus’ family was hard to get along with. Also, the prologue puzzled me a bit. These flaws are quite outweighed by strengths, however.

Booher writes a tale particularly engaging for children in a read-aloud setting. Unlike some others of the same genre, this book has a fairly upbeat mood. Violence is absent. Families comfortable with the level of magic found in the Narnia tales will enjoy this book, which clearly has a lot to teach about recognizing our sinful natures.