Tag Archives: christian fantasy review

Kubo and the Two Strings, a review from a Christian mom

kubotwostringsKubo and the Two Strings, a feature film released in 2016
I hour, 42 minutes
Produced by Universal Studios, rated PG for thematic elements, scary images, action and peril

I’d heard this anime-style tale praised by some in the industry, so I decided to watch it. My takeaway: for Christian family viewing, don’t let your children watch it without a discussion from you about the various non-Christian elements in the story. For example: identifying ancestor worship as a substitute for knowing and loving the real God.

Kubo’s story is a hero tale, where a boy and two companions–a magical monkey and a human/cockroach–go on a quest to retrieve some charmed armor that is supposed to protect the boy from the awful sorcerer witches who are out to kill him. It doesn’t help that the witches are his aunts, and they’ve just killed his mother. His father vanished when he was very small.

There’s a lot of magicking going on: On the part of the boy (who uses origami magic to tell stories). On the part of the terrifying aunts, who throw bolts of energy around and destroy the village where the boy’s friends live. On the part of his dying mother, who is somehow able to bring the boy’s monkey figurine to life. But not everyone can do magic. The villagers apparently can’t.

There’s ancestor worship. As if they are deities, the ghosts of ancestors appear to loving families in the village, bring peace, give blessing, and then go away. Puzzling to a Christian child, surely.

The quest is for magical armor to protect Kubo from his aunts. On the quest, the nagging monkey and the ditsy cockroach-guy do their committed best to help and protect Kubo, at total risk to their own lives.

SPOILER ALERT

Finally, in a big battle, the two protectors succumb. His evil aunts reveal that the monkey was in fact the spirit of his mother, and the cockroach a transformed version of his father. No wonder the monkey and cockroach were so endearing with Kubo and with each other.  But now, with no helpers, what can Kubo do?

The magic armor doesn’t seem to be helping, so he throws it away. Kubo decides to use love instead. He strings his magical banjo with two strings he’d never thought to use before: from bracelets he has made of the hair of each of his loving parents. Behold, the blast of magical force from these two strings dispatches the evil aunts and also the evil grandfather. Love conquers.

Kubo has, by himself, saved the day for him and his village. But he is lonely. Soon the ghosts of his parents appear and seem to comfort him. And then the real person of his grandfather shows up. Instead of an evil monster, he’s now just a forgetful old guy who can’t see very well.

I found this ending puzzling. What is evil according to the writers of this tale? Something that morphs into harmlessness? I know Eastern religions think good and evil are two sides of the same coin, not really different from each other. Perhaps that is the point of this. A good thing to discuss with your kid. Is evil real? How do we know?

 

 

 

 

 

The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima, a review

The Demon King reviewed from a Christian perspectiveThe Demon King, book one of the Seven Realms series, by Cinda Williams Chima
Published 2009 by Hyperion, 506 pages
Genre: Young adult medieval fantasy, some very secular content

This New York Times best-seller is written for the general market. It’s an engrossing story.

Han is a teen who’s trying to escape his past as leader of a gang of thieves. He lives in the poor quarter of the queen’s city, but unlike everybody else in the quarter, he’s been partly raised by a clan in the high mountains nearby.  For some reason he has silver cuffs on his wrists that nobody can explain. They grow with him, and they mark him.  He just wants to be left alone to eek out the meager living of delivering moonshine to local taverns from his friend up in the mountains, supporting his mother and seven-year-old sister.

Raisa, heir to the queendom, feels smothered by her mother the queen and all the expectations surrounding the fact that Raisa is coming of age. Suitors from all over the continent are sending her gifts and trying to get her attention. She just wants to put it all off as long as possible.

These two lives intersect eventually in a surprising way. I had a lot of trouble putting this book down! I highly recommend it for those willing to venture into reading for the general market. (And, since Christian publishers are having difficulty finding their fantasy readers, the general market is where fantasy written by Christians typically ends up.)

A warning, however, after having read Book 2: if you are shielding your teens from secular values, these are not the books for your family. Book 2 portrays casual unmarried sex (behind closed doors), as well as a gay relationship, both without apparent consequences.

What, precisely, are the religious elements or lack of them?  There is magic, used for good purposes as well as evil. There are wizards who tend to love power more than anything else. It’s a  moral universe, with right and wrong easily distinguishable. There is a religion of “the maker” depicted, but it doesn’t seem to have any substance to it. The characters are not embarking on a faith journey, as far as I can tell. One more thing: it’s not a scary book for me the reader.

This series has a lot of books in it, and I’m planning to check more of these books out of the library. Nice thing about a mainstream author and publisher: libraries carry these books. I give it  4.5 stars for a mature audience.

 

 

The Shock of Night by Patrick W. Carr, a review

Patrick W. Carr, The Shock of Night, a review by Phyllis WheelerThe Shock of Night by Patrick W. Carr, Book 1 of The Darkwater Saga
Published 2015 by Bethany House, 455 pages
Genre: Clean medieval fantasy, suitable for teens and up

Willet Dura, age 30 or so, is a crime investigator for the king. It’s a world where the gifted are an elite. Gifts of uncanny physical strength, music, mental ability, and so on can be passed down in families–or can “go rogue” when the dying individual fails to pass it on properly.

Such a rogue gift comes to Willet when he investigates a criminal attack on a stranger. This man grabs Willet’s head and speaks in an unknown tongue before dying. Soon Willet discovers he can see into the minds of people just by touching them. It’s a gift he doesn’t particularly want.

The five others with the gift–The Vigil–don’t want him, either. They like nice, orderly gift succession to an apprentice. Not only that, they suspect Willet of being an unwitting stooge for the dark forces coming out of Darkwater Forest, because Willet spent a night in the enchanted forest. No one has ever returned from there without hidden corruption. Rather than killing him, they decide to let him do himself in through his natural bumbling recklessness.

He’s making plenty of mistakes, and obstacles keep coming up to his planned marriage to the woman he loves. It seems she may never be his. How can he change that, if he lives to see the day?

How can Willet sort out the gift he doesn’t want, the fellow gifted who don’t want him, and find an implacable enemy who kills in the dark?

What do I think?

Carr does a great job of building his characters, his world, and a strong plot. He’s a wonderful storyteller, as I have come to expect from reading his other trilogy, The Staff and Sword (see links below).

Because of the nature of the major conflict at the heart of this book — disagreement over how to use gifts — it isn’t as high-action as some others of Carr’s books. That wasn’t a problem for me, but it could be for some.

The Christian element to this story is in the background, with little mention of personal faith. I think this is a very appropriate way to reach out to the current secular culture–by including a few shining moments that give goosebumps and may cause a non-Christian to wonder what he or she is missing. In this book, there are  two characters who might be angels. Cool. I love angels.

Members of the Vigil credit Aer, or God, for bestowing the gift where he wants. But they also think there’s room for accident in the bestowal, so they think Willet isn’t supposed to have it. This makes me chuckle. How human they are!

It’s a very good story that serves as a platform for further challenges for Willet, and I look forward to reading them. Check out what others are saying on the same blog tour: see links below.

Good news! There’s a free prequel novella for this series, and here’s the link: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0112WVVBQ 

See my previous reviews of his work: Staff and Sword Book 1, Staff and Sword Book 2, Staff and Sword Book 3

Author website:  http://www.patrickwcarr.com/

And, the other blogger links. Look at what others on the Christian Science-Fiction/Fantasy (CSFF) Blog Tour are saying:

Thomas Clayton Booher

Keanan Brand

Beckie Burnham

Carol Bruce Collett

Carol Gehringer

Victor Gentile

Rani Grant

Rebekah Gyger

Bruce Hennigan

Janeen Ippolito

Carol Keen

Rebekah Loper

Jennette Mbewe

Shannon McDermott

Meagan @ Blooming with Books

Rebecca LuElla Miller

Joan Nienhuis

Nissa

Audrey Sauble

Chawna Schroeder

Jessica Thomas

Robert Treskillard

Shane Werlinger

Phyllis Wheeler

Nicole White

In conjunction with the blog tour, I received a free copy from the publisher.

A Draw of Kings by Patrick W. Carr, a review

adrawofkingsA Draw of Kings by Patrick W. Carr, Book 3 of The Staff and the Sword trilogy
Published 2014 by Bethany House, 457 pages
Genre: Christian medieval fantasy, suitable for teen and up

Errol Stone, the everyman hero, has twice saved the ungrateful kingdom of Erinon. When he returns from his most recent mission, jailers await him and his friends. A usurper has grabbed the vacant throne.  Who can now rescue them from the dungeon?

The last king has just died childless. Little-known prophetic words identify Errol and his military colleague Liam, both orphans from the same village, as candidates for the next king. Of the two, one will die to save the realm. And one will be king. Each believes he will be the one to die.

This complex tale follows story threads involving not only Errol, but Adora (the last princess) and Martin (a churchman) in their separate quests as they all seek to beat back hordes of invading enemies and the demon-animated giant predators that seem unconquerable.

A strong faith element infuses this story.  Many well-drawn characters, plenty of action, and agonizing choices fill the rich story tapestry. An unexpected ending tops it all off. I highly recommend you read this epic work!

This is part of the CSFF Blog Tour. Check out what others are saying about this book:
GillianAdams
Jennifer Bogart
Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
Mike Coville
Pauline Creeden
Vicky DealSharingAunt
Carol Gehringer
Victor Gentile
Rebekah Gyger
Nikole Hahn
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Jennette Mbewe
Amber
McCallister

Shannon McDermott
Shannon McNear
Meagan @ Blooming with
Books

Rebecca LuElla
Miller

Joan Nienhuis
Nissa
Writer Rani
Nathan Reimer
Audrey Sauble
James Somers
Jojo Sutis
Steve Trower
Shane Werlinger
PhyllisWheeler
Nicole White
Jill Williamson
Author Website – http://patrickwcarr.com/

Starflower by Anne Elisabeth Stengl, a review

Starflower by Anne Elisabeth Stengl, Tales of Goldstone Wood #4
Published 2012 by Bethany House, 348 pages
Genre: Christian fantasy, suitable for middle grade and up

Starflower is a mortal woman who flees a life of abuse and loses her way in a faerie wood, tortured by dreams of what she left behind. She had sought to save her sister’s life. Now that Starflower has escaped, is her sister dead?

An immortal faerie man who is also a cat (in a world where the immortals shape-change readily)  sets out on a quest to rescue his lady fair from the clutches of a dragon witch, bumbling into dangers he little can understand.  But since he’s a poet, he expects to make beautiful songs about the quest. And does he love his lady fair? Well, he certainly thinks he does.

Soon their paths cross. The cat-man doesn’t want to help Starflower, who is after all a mere mortal, but for some reason he it anyway.  Both the cat-man and Starflower soon find themselves called to the path drawn for them by a golden hound. This is a mysterious being who speaks to their hearts and calls them out of themselves as they each must deal with terrible evil.

How will each respond?

What do I think?

This book has a lot of great things going for it. The characters are unique and well drawn, and the story line is unforgettable, with characters faced with heartstopping dilemmas. One of the best things is the Hound of Heaven, whose guidance and presence ring true. The heroine is dark-skinned, a welcome change from most heroines in Christian fiction. Setting, dialogue, and description work well together to create a wonderful story. This story has two memorable faerie villains, a double helping.

However, I had some trouble getting into the book, and I think it’s for these reasons:

  1. The lengthy prologue was from the point of view of a villain, whom I couldn’t identify with. The prologue was full of many details about this story world that I didn’t latch onto.
  2. The two protagonists are in an emotionally broken state to begin with, making it hard for the reader  to identify with them. This is a common story problem, as any author must move the protagonist through a character arc. But it’s usual to create some kind of an early bonding moment for the reader, often known as the “pet the dog moment.” There such a moment for the minor protagonist (cat-man), but not for the main protagonist, Starflower.
  3. As we get to know Starflower, we readers are kept from knowing anything about her past for a very long time. In fact, she is asleep for a lot of the first part of the story.

So, my counsel for you readers is to pick up this book and stick with it a while until it grows on you. It will bless you mightily.

This is part of the Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy (CSFF) Blog Tour. Check out what others are saying about this book during the next three days:

Gillian Adams
Beckie Burnham
Nikole Hahn
Bruce Hennigan
Janeen Ippolito
Carol Keen
Emileigh Latham
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Anna Mittower
Rachel Starr Thomson
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Dona Watson
Shane Werlinger
Phyllis Wheeler

Author Website – http://anneelisabethstengl.blogspot.com/
Author Facebook page – http://www.facebook.com/pages/Anne-Elisabeth-Stengl/120543861335559?ref=ts&fref=ts