Tag Archives: Fantasy

Treespeaker by Katie W. Stewart, a review

Treespeaker by Katie W. Stewart
Ebook published by Katie W. Stewart, 2011
Genre: Fantasy, suitable for 12 and up

Jakan has been a leader of his people, the Arrakeshi who live peacefully together in a forest. Specifically, he’s the treespeaker of his tribe–the one who communes with the benevolent spirit of the forest, Arrakesh, and tells the others what they need to do. It is Arrakesh who has set up the Veil protecting them from the Carlikans nearby who have cut down their own forests and engage in plenty of petty thievery, not to mention slavery.

Jakan has a terrible vision of disaster to come at the hands of a tall stranger. Nearly immediately the tall stranger shows up, having somehow passed through the Veil from Carlika. Soon Jakan’s wife is dead, and the powerful stranger has convinced the tribe to cast Jakan out.

Jakan starts on an impossible journey, because Arrakesh has commanded him to find Varyd, someone he knew 20 years ago. This person lives in Carlika, and not close by. Why does he need to find Varyd? He doesn’t know. Nor does he know how he will survive leaving the Veil, because treespeakers, bound to the forest, die when they leave. And finally, his treespeaker ability to commune with Arrakesh has left him. He’s just like everyone else now, asking Arrakesh for help and wondering whether he will receive it.

A way is found to keep him alive on the trip and he sets out, leaving his son Dovan to cope with the powerful stranger who is desecrating sacred sites in the village. Will Jakan find Varyd, or die first? Will Dovan, now secret treespeaker for the village, be able to protect the people and survive?

I liked this book. It’s got a good plot line, always thickening and leading the reader forward, and the characters are complex and conflicted. I found Arrakesh and Carlika to be believable places.

The author has tagged this book as Christian fiction. If it is Christian fiction, the one thing that bothered me is that the characters believe Arrakesh, the God-spirit, to be the God for the Arrakeshi people and not the Carlikans. Of course we know this is not true of the one true God. But I am thinking this belief on the part of the Arrakeshi people may change over the course of future books!

This book is a 99-cent ebook published by the author, who obviously had some editing done to her manuscript–I didn’t see any errors, and the plot works well. I wonder whether this will be the way of the future, opening up the market to many more readers. The author is an Australian, by the way.

Website: http://treespeaker.blogspot.com/

The Ale Boy’s Feast by Jeffrey Overstreet, a review

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:

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

My review of the third book:

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

This post is part of the Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour. Check out what others are saying:

Gillian Adams
Red Bissell
Grace Bridges
Beckie Burnham
Morgan L. Busse
Valerie Comer
CSFF Blog Tour
Shane Deal
Chris Deane
Cynthia Dyer
Andrea Graham
Katie Hart
Ryan Heart
Bruce Hennigan
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Dawn King
Inae Kyo
Shannon McDermott
Shannon McNear
Karen McSpadden
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Eve Nielsen
John W. Otte
Sarah Sawyer
Kathleen Smith
Donna Swanson
Rachel Starr Thomson
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Dona Watson
Phyllis Wheeler

Author’s web site – http://lookingcloser.org/fiction/

A winner of Stephen Lawhead’s new book

John C. has won a free copy of Stephen Lawhead’s new book, from my contest. He’s very happy to be getting the book, The Skin Map. Want to know more about it?

http://christian-fantasy-book-reviews.com/2010/11/01/the-skin-map-by-stephen-lawhead-a-review/

Dragons of the Valley by Donita K. Paul, a review

Dragons of the Valley by Donita K. Paul
Published 2010 by Waterbrook Press, 370 pages
Genre: Christian fantasy, middle grade/young adult

This book is a sequel to Paul’s recent book The Vanishing Sculptor. However, I think Dragons of the Valley probably stands alone pretty well, because enough explanation is added.

Tipper, the king’s granddaughter, is trying to help save the kingdom of Chiril from the neighboring country to the north. At first these northerners infiltrate and cause lots of trouble, but the Chiril king makes very poor decisions, and pretty soon the trouble-makers are invading.

There’s a very troubling ally of the bad guys called the Grawl. In a world with 14 races, this guy is a cross-breed and has all kinds of abilities that others don’t have. Consequently he is a very formidable assassin, getting rid of Chiril’s magistrates and other officials one by one. After a while the country hardly functions.

Now the Grawl targets Wizard Fenworth, a key character who has appeared in several of Paul’s novels. Will the Grawl be able to kill the wizard? What about the Grawl’s other targets, the wonderful, mindspeaking, rideable dragons?

Tipper takes up her first assignment, to confiscate a statue and take off on a quest, hiding it in her belongings. Dealing with various difficulties, she moves from disbelief toward faith in Wulder, the name for Jehovah God in this world. More assignments test her: is she the selfish teen princess, or the maturing future queen?

And don’t forget Bealmondore, the foppish artist. Much to his surprise, the wizard gives him a marvelous sword that teaches him swordsmanship. After Bealmondore gives his life to Wulder, will he be inspired to heroic deeds?

What do I think?

Some of the characters have amusing cartoonish characteristics: Tipper’s mother suffers from foggy brain, useful for confusing the bad guys. Wizard Fenworth continually drops lizards and mice from his clothing whenever he shakes it out. Meanwhile, the characters that undergo change, Tipper and Bealomondore, are believable and well drawn.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. You will too.

Check out my review of the previous book in the series here:

http://christian-fantasy-book-reviews.com/2009/09/21/the-vanishing-sculptor-by-donita-k-paul-a-review/

This is part of the CSFF Blog Tour. To see what others are saying about this book, check here:
Gillian Adams
Noah Arsenault
Amy Bissell
Red Bissell
Justin Boyer
Keanan Brand
Grace Bridges
Beckie Burnham
Keanan Brand
Morgan L. Busse
CSFF Blog Tour
Amy Cruson
D. G. D. Davidson
April Erwin
Amber French
Andrea Graham
Katie Hart
Ryan Heart
Bruce Hennigan
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Julie
Carol Keen
Dawn King
Emily LaVigne
Shannon McDermott
Matt Mikalatos
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
John W. Otte
Donita K. Paul
Sarah Sawyer
Chawna Schroeder
Tammy Shelnut
Kathleen Smith
James Somers
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler
Dave Wilson

Author’s web site – http://www.donitakpaul.com/
Author’s blog – http://dragonbloggin.blogspot.com/

Earthbow by Sherry Thompson, a review

Earthbow, The Second of the Narentan Tumults, by Sherry Thompson
Published 2010 by Gryphonwood Press, 2 volumes each about 250 pages
Genre: Christian fantasy, suitable for young adult and adult

Sherry Thompson’s earlier work in this series, Seabird, set a very high standard. Earthbow continues the tradition and actually expands it.

This story takes place in another world called Narenta. An “outworlder” from Earth is brought there to spearhead deliverance from the evil lord who is taking over the state of Latimin. This outworlder, Xander, is the brother of the outworlder from Seabird, Cara. Like Cara, Xander starts out bewildered and self-centered.

This book features a highly complex plot with several subplots and and plenty of well-drawn and believable characters. Harone, a young wizard initiate (one of the good guys), brings Xander into Latimin from the neighboring country and then sets out on a strange mission: to convince at least one of the extremely evil powerful sorcerers, imprisoned for ages by Alphesis (Jesus), to turn to the light.

Another subplot revolves around a young knight, Coris, who starts out a man-at-arms. He works in the guard for Cenoc, one of the chiefs in Latimin. Coris realizes that Cenoc is torturing innocents, asking Coris to break his noble vows to aid weaker folks. So he flees Cenoc. Meanwhile, Cenoc is gathering evil power to himself and turning into the extremely awful chief bad guy of the book.

And of course Xander, with his strange weapon the Earthbow, which Alphesis has given him. How does it work? It’s a bow, the kind that shoots bows and arrows, and Xander learns to do a bit of shooting with it. It also sings to him. Part of Xander’s assignment is to get to know and love the trees, other plants, and animals of the forests of Latimin. How does that figure into all this?

Cenoc, gathering power like a hurricane, extorts cooperation from the Pannians who look like something with tentacles and eye stalks. The Pannians become Cenoc’s troops, and things look very bad for the good guys. These Pannians are sorcerers, so any normal good guy who doesn’t have a wizard with him for protection is dead.

What do I think?

I think this is a wonderful book. Sherry Thompson does a great job of pulling the reader into the character’s emotions, pulling the reader through a tale that’s massive in scope. The book is a wonderful Christian witness as well, with Alphesis (Jesus) exerting a commanding but loving presence even when unseen. I vote that Sherry Thompson get a regular publisher, rather than an idie publisher, (and a few minor edits) and become more widely known. She deserves to be famous.

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/2010/04/27/ravens-ladder-by-jeffrey-overstreet-a-review/

My review of the fourth book:

http://christian-fantasy-book-reviews.com/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

North! or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson, a Review

northorbeeaten

North! or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson
Published 2009 by Waterbrook Press, 331 pages
Book 2 in the Wingfeather Saga
Genre: Christian fiction, middle grade

This book, neither the first nor the last in its series, could suffer from middle-of-story sag. But it doesn’t. In fact, it’s an intense read.

The three Igiby children, their mother Nia, and their grandfather Podo have teamed up with Peet the Sock Man as the book opens. In the previous book, we readers got accustomed to the fantasy world, Aerwiar (“Here we are,” the first words said at Creation), and its puckishly named creatures and features.

Janner, Tink, and Leeli Igiby have just learned that they themselves ARE the Jewels of Anniera, which according to prophecy contain power. They are the three children of the late king of the faraway islands of Anniera, overcome nine years before by the fangs of Dang.

They have also learned that Peet the Sock Man, a local crazy person, is actually their uncle, the special guardian or throne warden of his late younger brother the king. Likewise Janner has found out that he is now throne warden for his younger brother Tink, king in exile. Janner is 12 and Tink is 10, by the way. The throne always goes to the second son, and the guardian job to the first son.

Not only do the Igiby children know who they are now, but the enemy does too. The fangs are looking near and far for them because of the prophecy about the power of the Jewels of Anniera. And so the Igibys plan to leave Peet’s tree-house hiding spot and set out for the Ice Prairies to the north, with the vague idea of teaming up with some rebels who live there.

But their journey doesn’t even get properly started. In a flurry they leave packs and supplies behind as the fangs attack. Then they flee from disaster to disaster, each less predictable than the last, always heading north.

It isn’t just endurance that’s tested. It’s also their family bond. Eventually Tink gets sick of the whole king idea and abandons the family to join a band of thieves and robbers. (As a result, woe strikes both Tink and Janner in nearly overwhelming measure.) At another point, Podo tries to jump ship too.

Can the family get back together and unite in its purpose? That is the question posed in
this book. I won’t tell you how it works out.

What do I think?

I think this book is very well written. I found myself caring very much about the missteps of this endearing family. It is in fact a different, more intense, sort of story from what I expected by reading the goofy names like Phoob Islands and predatory Bomnubbles.

What about the Christian walk? How is it modeled? The Igiby family prays to the Maker at times of difficulty, and the Maker miraculously intervenes on a couple of occasions. Meanwhile, there is recognition of sin and repentance, as characters review their past histories with each other. So the book is modeling some version of the Christian walk, but not deeply. I’d say this book is more about the adventure than about teaching the Christian walk.

And what an adventure it is. I am really looking forward to the next book. I highly recommend the first two for all ages. –Phyllis Wheeler

This is Day Two of the Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour. Please take a look about what others are saying about this new Andrew Peterson series!

Brandon Barr
Justin Boyer
Amy Browning
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Todd Michael Greene
Ryan Heart
Timothy Hicks
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Julie
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Dawn King
Rebecca LuElla Miller
New Authors Fellowship
Nissa
Donita K. Paul
Crista Richey
Chawna Schroeder
Andrea Schultz
James Somers
Steve and Andrew
Rachel Starr Thomson
Robert Treskillard
Fred Warren
Jason Waguespac
Phyllis Wheeler
Elizabeth Williams
KM Wilsher

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, a Review

darksea

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, by Andrew Peterson
Book One of the Wingfeather Saga
Published 2008 by Waterbrook Press, 284 pages
Genre: Christian fantasy, middle grade

The three children of the Igiby family are being raised by their mother and their grandfather. Oddly, they know almost nothing about their late father, not even his name. They live just outside Glipwood, a rustic village on the edge of the sea, in the house built by their grandfather many, many years before.

Their semi-idyllic existence is marred by the fact that their country, Skree, is among those conquered by the fangs of Dang. Dang is an evil country far across the ocean, which first conquered the fabled Islands of Anniera in mid-ocean nine years before, and then soon afterward pushed all the way to the next continent and conquered Skree. The fangs are lizardlike and also somewhat humanlike, with the remarkable ability to poison others with their saliva. So a bite from a fang is fatal. It takes just a few fangs to keep the town of Glipwood in a state of grim overtaxation.

The fangs habitually kidnap children, and soon the Igiby children become targets. Their mother, Nia, buys their freedom with some fancy jewelry she has kept secret for years, and offers to make the local commander some maggotloaf regularly if he leaves Janner, Tink, and Leeli alone.

The higher-ups take a look at Nia’s jewelry and realize it came from Anniera. They have been looking high and low for the Jewels of Anniera, and now they figure she must have them. Things really heat up! I won’t tell you what happens, but I will tell you that help comes from unexpected places after the family prays to the Maker.

What do I think?

This is a great tale told by a master storyteller. The most obvious feature is its humor. The place names and the threats are shaped by a wit: the toothy cows of Skree, the fangs of Dang, Anklejelly Manor, and on and on. Other features include page-turning intensity and well-drawn characters. The fantasy world I found quite believable–except for the funny names. There is nothing objectionable for a Christian family in this book, and in fact, it shows some of the Christian walk on the form of prayer and answered prayer.

In particular, I like the way the main characters don’t value material wealth. They value each other, period. Nia gives away her precious jewelry without a second thought. At another point, Janner and Tink discover an armory of great value but don’t even think about helping themselves.

My only objection involves my particular sensibility. I have trouble aligning the humorous and therefore unbelievable names with the requirement to suspend my disbelief as I read the tale. It’s a good thing Peterson is such a good storyteller. Otherwise my disbelief at the amusing names would have mired me down. – Phyllis Wheeler

This review is part of the Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour, looking at the Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson this week and particularly the second book in the series, just published. I’ll review it tomorrow.

Be sure to see what the others on the blog tour are saying:

Brandon Barr
Justin Boyer
Amy Browning
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Todd Michael Greene
Ryan Heart
Timothy Hicks
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Julie
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Dawn King
Rebecca LuElla Miller
New Authors Fellowship
Nissa
Donita K. Paul
Crista Richey
Chawna Schroeder
Andrea Schultz
James Somers
Steve and Andrew
Rachel Starr Thomson
Robert Treskillard
Fred Warren
Jason Waguespac
Phyllis Wheeler
Elizabeth Williams
KM Wilsher

The Legend of the Firefish by Polivka, a Review

firefish

The Legend of the Firefish by George Bryan Polivka, a review

Book One of the Trophy Chase Trilogy

Published 2007 by Harvest House Publishers, 347 pages

Genre: Christian fantasy/high seas adventure, young adult/adult (Protagonists are in early adulthood. But teens would certainly enjoy it.)

This is a fantasy book in that it is set in an invented place, Nearing Vast. The people groups are invented, and so on. But this is a world that is somehow also a part of ours; Jesus of Nazareth is present, and so is his church. The God of heaven and earth responds to prayers. “Coincidences” happen that are too strange to be coincidences.

Packer Throme is the son of a simple fisherman. Because of a simple act of kindness when he was a child (keeping another child from dying of exposure), he is given the gift of an education–the child he saved turned out to be the crown prince.

With his education, Packer tries seminary but gets thrown out after an altercation of some kind. Next he studies with the greatest swordsmaster of Nearing Vast.

He returns to his fishing village, where the young Panna Seline waits for him. But he isn’t planning to stay. He simply wants help stowing away on a pirate ship that has paused nearby.

You see, he has heard that this particular pirate ship, the Trophy Chase, isn’t pirating any more. Instead, it’s hunting the Firefish, a sea dragon of legend whose meat has great value. Throme wants to learn the secrets of hunting firefish and bring them to his village, so the fisherman can do more than eek out a living.

Throme makes it onto the pirate ship but manages to make an enemy out of Talon, a master swordswoman who is the ship’s security officer. The captain asks Talon to leave the ship, but not before she has tortured Packer and learned about his village and about Panna. She heads for shore, murder in her heart.

Does she succeed in killing everyone in the village, including Panna? I’ll tell you a bit more: Panna sets out on an adventure trying to follow Packer, and her path meets Talon’s.

Meanwhile, out at sea, the Trophy Chase heads into deadly peril in pursuit of the firefish. Will the ship return?

I really like this book. There’s plenty of action. Characters are memorable, not sterotyped. The lore about sailing a tall ship seems genuine. The fantasy parts of the story, especially about the habits of the firefish, are well-woven. There’s no magic, but there certainly is a fantastic beast: the firefish. Polivka lets us get right inside its head. In fact, he does a fair amount of hopping around with his point of view, but it is well handled; I didn’t find it confusing.

The main characters have flaws like the rest of us, but they lean on the Lord as the story unfolds and pray for help, and God answers. The ruffian who appears to be a bad guy at the beginning comes around in the end. In fact, Polivka makes it clear that there is hope for bad guys, too. Non-Christians who have reviewed this book have not found it preachy or heavy-handed, and that’s a good thing, too.

In short, this is a great book. Don’t miss it. And if you live in St. Louis, you may be able to check it out from the Webster Groves Public Library. I asked the librarians to buy more Christian fantasy fiction, and they bought this one for us. — Phyllis Wheeler

PS: I have now read the other two books in the Trophy Case Trilogy, found them to be wonderful as well. The most amazing thing about these books is that I am totally unable to predict where the story is going to go. Polivka has a very original mind! And is a great storyteller. So read them and be uplifted.-PW, 6/18/2009

Sandry’s Book by Tamora Pierce, a Review

Sandry’s Book, Book 1 of Circle of Magic “quartet”
by Tamora Pierce
Published by Scholastic, 1997, 252 pages

Worldview: Moral, secular. Teamwork and loyalty are primary values. There is no evil bad guy.

Three girls and a boy, all around the age of 12, are followed in separate stories that converge. They live in a different world, on that has very strong class and tribal boundaries. The four youngsters are from different classes and tribes that normally do not get along. They are gathered by a mage, Niko, who gets premonitions and goes looking for certain pupils for his school at Winding Temple. The four kids will become mages, or sorcerers. They are chosen by Niko because they have some innate magical abilities, which need training.

As the story unfolds, the four kids, including Sandry, the child from the noble class, learn to get along with each other and to begin to control their magic powers. The antagonists are mostly other children who behave in cruel ways. For the climax of the book, the antagonist is an earthquake. The four are trapped underground in a cave during this earthquake. They work together, weaving their magics and strengthening each other, and are able to protect and save themselves. There are three further books, each named for one of the other of the four kids.

This book is eleven years old now, and received a number of awards in its day. I am reviewing it because this series is something my son picked up at the library and likes to read and re-read.

My first reaction to reading this book was confusion. I had great difficulty keeping the four kids’ separate stories straight. I think having four completely developed points of view is just too many for the reader to develop a bond with them, at least for the first third of the book. I was very tempted to put the book down and not pick it up again.

This book has some similarities to the Harry Potter books. But this book was published before Harry Potter. The similarities are a school for kids with special magical abilities, a mage in charge of the school who seeks out prospective pupils, a close group of kids who work together using magic, and some bully behavior on the part of other kids. The differences have the antagonist at the root. Pierce’s antagonist is really circumstance or just human meanness manifested in various ways. Rowling’s antagonist is of course Voldemort, who is one of the baddest bad guys of all literature. In my opinion, Pearce’s flimsy antagonist creates a slight tale. Rowling’s towering antagonist creates a hefty tale.

As for my opinion as a Christian, I think this book belittles religion, because it describes some various tribal religious customs that are clearly envisioned as gestures just to make the individual feel good. Pierce, along with so many others, clearly has no idea that there really is a deity out there. However, this book promotes loyalty and teamwork, along with discouraging stealing, so it isn’t in actual conflict with my values. A worldview discussion would be in order with young readers of this book.–Phyllis Wheeler