Flamecaster, a Shattered Realms Novel, by Cinda Williams Chima, a review

Flamecaster by Cinda Williams Chima, Shattered Realms #1, by Harper Teen: a review.

This young adult author writes for the general market, not the Christian market. Since I love her work, I decided to review it here, with some caveats below for Christian parents.

Ash, age 16, is son of the Queen of the Fells and her wizard husband. (The Fells is a Queendom, not a kingdom.) Being male, he’ll never be in line for the throne. Ash has magical powers like his father, and finds himself called to be a healer, rather than a warrior.

When his father is murdered, Ash runs away to a school far away that has colleges for wizards, warriors, healers, and so on. It’s safe there–for a while. When things heat up for him there, he embarks on a quest to kill the evil king of the neighboring realm of Arden, the one who is responsible for his father’s death.

Meanwhile, a girl named Jenna lives as an oppressed miner in Arden, disguising herself as a boy. She has gifts of a seer, not a wizard, and a mysterious mark on the back of her neck.

When the empress from across the sea sends emissaries looking for her, things get bad for her very quickly. She ends up needing healing that only Ash can provide.

The book continues on to a surprising ending. It’s a series of four books, and of course I’m going to read number two next! I find this book, and the previous series, to be tales I can’t put down.

***** Five stars

Caveats for Christian parents:

The author mentions the Maker from time to time, an apparent reference to God, so Ms. Chima’s world has a creator. Good guy characters have a moral compass. The protagonist’s desire to murder the king doesn’t pan out. There’s no moral ambiguity, at least none that lasts very long. However, there is a (non-explicit) sex scene involving unmarried teenagers.

The Shattered Vigil by Patrick W. Carr, a review

The Shattered Vigil by Patrick W. Carr, Book 2 of The Darkwater Saga
by Bethany House, 464 pages
Genre: Clean medieval fantasy, suitable for teens and up

This middle book of a trilogy, the Darkwater Saga, does a better job than many middle-of-trilogy books at keeping the reader’s interest without letting things seem to get hopeless. It’s got plenty of action, answers a couple of key questions for the reader, and leads well into the third and final novel, unpublished at the time of this writing.

Willet Dura, age 30 or so, has received a gift in a world where gifted people become the nobility. Gifts can be intentionally bestowed as the giver dies, but sometimes in chaotic situations they “go free” and land on someone new. That is what happened to Willet at the beginning of Book 1. With this “domere” gift he can, with a touch, see into the mind of another, an experience that is overwhelming. The domere gift also, he discovers in this book, conveys a life span that is many times that of normal.

One of the things he sometimes sees in the minds of others is a “vault,” a construction put there by an unknown evil enemy. The person is always someone who has been lured to the Darkwater Forest by night. The mental vault opens up at night, and the person becomes a zombie-like killer.

These townspeople-turned-into-killers stand to wipe out Willet and the few other people with his gift, who call themselves the Vigil. Willet struggles to stay a step ahead of the killers, but no one can trust him, least of all himself. The problem? Willet too has a vault in his mind.

Highly recommended. Can’t wait for the next book.

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.


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 perspective The 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.

King’s Folly by Jill Williamson, a review

KingsFollyKing’s Folly by Jill Williamson (Kinsman Chronicles #1)
Published 2016 by Bethany House
Genre: Christian medieval fantasy, young adult, readers 16 and up

Jill Williamson is my favorite living author. She has an uncanny knack for drawing you into her story. So I was delighted to read this.

This book is the first in a new prequel series to her popular Blood of Kings trilogy. This prequel series is ancient history, taking place hundreds of years before, maybe a thousand years.

Two sons of the king, Prince Wilek and his younger brother Prince Trevn, struggle against the forces who have corrupted their father. Intrigues at court turn deadly, and Wilek must solve a murder: who did it and why? Meanwhile, natural disasters are becoming commonplace, and Wilek is tasked to travel to a ruined city and report back. The quest leads him on a dangerous journey to nearby realms. Could it be that an ancient prophecy of total disaster is near to fulfillment?

I am so glad Jill has returned to writing about this story world. I really enjoyed this book and could hardly put it down. It’s a sprawling tale, with lots of point-of-view characters. So my only complaint is that I had some trouble keeping them all straight in my mind. Despite that, I highly recommend this book and look forward to the coming ones in the series. 4.5 stars.

Warning: The book contains characters who are prostitutes and concubines, and royalty who have absolutely no sense of fidelity in marriage. There is plenty of idol worship as well, including child sacrifice. None of this is graphic. But it is strong stuff, based on the deplorable behavior of the nation of Israel before the exile.

Waking Beauty by Sarah E Morin, a review

WakingBeautyWaking Beauty by Sarah E Morin
Published 2015 by Enclave Publishing, 467 pages
Genre: Christian fantasy, suitable for 12 and up

What if Sleeping Beauty refused to wake up? This book plays with that question. It fleshes out Sleeping Beauty as Princess Brierly, dreaming for 100 years, many of the dreams tainted by the presence of the evil fairy who lured her to the spindle.

When Prince Arpien kisses her awake, she thinks he’s just another figment of the dream world. She’s reckless and heedless, actually downright rude. Besides, he looks just like his ancestor who was once her fiance. So she consistently calls him by the wrong name.

It’s enough to make a guy give up. But Arpien, who has motivations of his own, doesn’t back down easily.

What do I think? This book was a little hard for me to get into because a fairy tale re-imagined with humor just didn’t seem “true.” But then what fairy tale is true? After a little while I got into it though and enjoyed the story. I was able to empathize with these cardboard characters whom the author managed to bring to life. Four stars.

Tanglewreck by Jeanette Winterson, a review

Tanglewreck Tanglewreck by Jeanette Winterson
Published by Bloomsbury, 2006, 415 pages
Genre: Middle grade (ages 10-12) time travel fantasy, no Christian worldview

I am reading books from the library written for tweens, and so I picked up this book because I like fantasy.

Silver is a plucky 11-year-old whose parents and sister vanished four years ago. She’s being cared for by a selfish mean woman in the family mansion, Tanglewreck, one of those old English manor houses with a lot of mysteries to it.

A lot of strange disturbances start happening. A wooly mammoth shows up on the banks of the Thames. A school bus full of children vanishes. Time seems to be going backwards and forwards. People are afraid. Something is clearly not right.

When a mysterious alchemist invites Silver and her guardian to his house in London, she finds that he believes she is the person spoken of in a prophecy about a missing clock with power over time itself. He wants her to find the clock–and then hand it over to him. A lot of unexpected plot twists later, I can definitely say the author clearly is having a lot of fun with multiverse theory and quantum physics paradoxes, including Schroedinger’s Cat.

I enjoyed many things about this story, especially the occasionally amusing bad guys and the heroine’s character journey.

However, I don’t recommend that a Christian parent let their child read it without also having the parent read it and discuss it. While it’s quite possible to be a science booster and a Christian, this author isn’t. For example, the author attributes some evil actions and motives to a former pope or two (and leaves it at that, putting them on the side of the bad guys) and imbues objects, like a house and a clock, with powers that sound to me like they belong to divinity. I do wonder where the author thinks the prophecy about the heroine comes from. I guess it’s a random prophecy.

For a Christian family, it’s probably too much.


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

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

One Realm Beyond by Donita K. Paul, a Review

OneRealmBeyond One Realm Beyond, Book 1 of the Realm Walkers series
Published 2014 by Zondervan, 414 pages
Genre: Christian fantasy, suitable for ages 12 and up

Cantor D’Ahma has grown into a young man. He leaves his elderly mentors and sets off to learn how to become a Realm Walker, using the gifts he was born with. His mentors don’t tell him much about what to expect, though. Just that the first thing he needs to do is find his dragon companion, and then he needs to locate the Realm Walkers Guild for training.

Cantor stumbles immediately across a dragon, but this dragon is clumsy. Surely there’s another dragon out there better suited for realm walking, and he keeps looking. But trouble arrives fast, and it becomes apparent that he needs the help of this dragon, Bridger, as well as some other new friends to even get to the place where he’s able to learn realm walking.

But the Realm Walkers Guild, he learns, is nearly all corrupted. They give him a teacher whom he trusts, but will his training mean anything? And will he and his friends be able to confront and change the guild?

I really enjoyed reading this book, which is rich in unusual characters. They have unusual names, too, such as the female dragon Totobee-Rodolow. The book is delightful in many ways, letting us enjoy the quirks of its characters–Totobee-Rodolow’s love for shopping, and a princess who wears her whole wardrobe at the same time, re-arranging which dress is on top to suit the occasion. The story line is not high-action and occasionally lacks tension, but the richness of the characters more than make up for these.

Nameless by A.C. Williams, an amnesia story with plenty of twists

Christian sci fi author A.C. Williams puts out a gripping YA novel. Nameless by A.C. Williams, Book 1 in the Destiny trilogy
Published 2014 by Crosshair Press, 401 pages
Genre: Christian sci fi aimed at older teens. I’d give it a PG-13 rating for some sexiness, violence, and language.

Maybe Xander is her name. It’s the name on the shirt she wore when she was found, sole survivor on a derelict spaceship. Or, maybe it’s not her name. She can’t remember.

Xander has forgotten so much. Only tiny clues of her past surface in her mind from time to time. A salad made of apples with mayo? Chocolate chip cookies? Dumpster diving? All strange concepts to the people around her.

Those people live on a variety of planets and moons, none of which seems to be Earth. It’s a jaded future universe where people don’t know the word “God,” and everybody does what is right in his own eyes. But Xander remembers God.

When a motley group of bounty hunters rescue her from pursuit and take her on board their well-worn ship, she begins to feel more at home. But the problem of who she is and where she came from still consumes her. Why are there others out to capture her alive, at all costs? They seem to know more about her than she does herself.

This book is hard to put down, well written, full of memorable characters. I find echoes in it of Star Wars, Twilight, and Wizard of Oz.

Of course, being first in a trilogy, it doesn’t come to a ringing conclusion. The next book is coming out soon, I’m glad to hear!