CSFF Blog Tour – The Ale Boy’s Feast by Jeffrey Overstreet, Part 3 A Review

I love epic fantasy, which is why I write it. The Auralia Thread series by Jeffrey Overstreet is epic fantasy — a grand, involved, heroic story, in this case, one that took four books to tell. The Ale Boy’s Feast is the conclusion of this sprawling tale.

The Story. The Ale Boy’s Feast begins where Raven’s Ladder left off. King Cal-raven, having tried to free the slaves the beastmen were holding, is wounded and left for dead, thinking that he has failed. He receives surprising help, however, and is off to meet up with a band of his people seeking the site he has dubbed New Abascar.

The Ale Boy, also an apparent causality of the events in the Core, is resuscitated and in turn, uses the healing waters to revive the captives that had been ambushed. His intent is to lead them out of the putrid underground wasteland and to find King Cal-raven.

These are two central figures, though there is a host of others, each playing a critical part in the weaving of the complex story. Ultimately, each battles to defeat or to spread the Curse that overshadows The Expanse. Some side with evil in a subtle, duplicitous way. Others side with good after they have come to their senses. Their redemption contributes to the overall theme, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Strengths. An epic fantasy, in my opinion, depends on the world building. Readers must be sold on this place where the story unfolds. It must feel real, must have its own set of consistent rules, must seem tangible. In that aspect, Jeffrey couldn’t have done better.

His world is imaginative, dense, textured, rich. While it is totally unlike in kind, I would compare his world building to that of J. K. Rowling in its density. The reader is saturated in this world, and none of the aspects of the magic, religion, topography, social or political structure, history, etc. breaks that fictive dream.

Regarding the theme of the book, Jeffrey uses several extended metaphors (or perhaps metaphysical conceits), particularly the thread image used in the series title, to address ideas of beauty and how it points to “mystery” — the meaning and purpose behind all of life. Of course, as a Christian, I understand “mystery” to be God. For those who do not know Him through His Son as revealed in His Word, I suspect He does appear as a mystery. Clearly, Jeffrey wasn’t trying to make a statement about God in this work, but about art and its affect on the cursed, broken world in which we live. I believe he accomplished what he set out to do. (For an excellent look at the spiritual aspects of the series, I suggest Sarah Sawyer’s Day 3 article).

A third strength that bears repeating is the beauty of the prose. Reviewers who compare Jeffrey’s writing to painting have it right, in my opinion. His words give the reader a visual rendering of the scenic background. At the same time, his words have a poetic quality.

Another worthy aspect of this book is the rendering of the characters as real people, with flaws and strengths, willing to try, often failing, sometimes willing to repent and change, sometimes choosing heroic actions, and sometimes dying because of their choices. No one, if he is honest, can come away from an Overstreet novel thinking he has read about flat, undeveloped characters.

Weaknesses. In each of the other volumes in the series, I’ve commented on the multiple points of view and how following such a large number of characters causes me to be disengaged from all of them. Unfortunately, that issue was front and center in The Ale Boy’s Feast. Because I didn’t have an emotional tie with any of the characters, I consequently didn’t feel the danger, suspense, tension that many of the confrontations and intrigue should have engendered.

I wasn’t helped, I don’t believe, by how fragmented the narrative was, as one after another of the story lines was interrupted and left to be picked up later, only to be dropped all too quickly.

Yes, in an adequate way, Jeffrey resolved all these diverse threads. However, this was not a story I ever felt lost in because I was too busy constantly trying to reorient myself to the place, time, circumstances, and character.

Recommendation. The Ale Boy’s Feast is an artistic triumph. However, this one isn’t for readers wanting a story that sweeps them along at a fast pace. This story may not satisfy a reader whose burning question driving their reading experience is “What happens next.” On the other hand, for someone who prefers a literary flare and who loves epic fantasy, this is the perfect book.

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

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6 Comments

  1. “Of course, as a Christian, I understand “mystery” to be God. For those who do not know Him through His Son as revealed in His Word, I suspect He does appear as a mystery.”

    That was the only thing that gave me pause. What was the end purpose of all that beauty and art? Who or what is “mystery”? Your explanation makes a lot of sense.

    • I think one person, at least, mentioned this idea of mystery as something that could lead people with a postmodern framework astray. I think it was Sarah who gave the response that resonated with me: in the story world Jeffrey created, there was no clear revelation of God — no Bible, no Incarnate Son. How, then would God NOT appear as a mystery and only be accessed by the beauty of His creation? That made me realize what Romans 1 was saying. People today who do not know or accept the Bible as God’s Word, who have not met His Son, still have His fingerprints on the world, no matter how much the Fall has distorted what He created. If nothing else, this story would reinforce a “seeker’s” sense that there is more, that the world is not without purpose, that the right way to approach life is NOT with despair.

      Really, for the first time, I think I understand what Jeffrey has been saying about his books and about the audience he intended them for.

      Becky

  2. I think Jeffrey captures a perspective of the mystery of God and his relationship with us that is ongoing. Even with the Incarnation and scriptural revelation, there is a whole lot about the infinite God we don’t and perhaps will never fully understand. He is always, in part, the God who is “surrounded by clouds and thick darkness,” and His direction is often like that depicted in the Book of Esther (and in this book), where He puts the right person with the right preparation in the right place at the right time with Divinely-inspired counsel.

    As to the characters, Jeffrey set himself an immense challenge managing such a large cast, and I think we see a few dropped balls, particularly with mid-level characters, non-pivotal but with their own threads, who become throwaways in this book. Even some major characters lose focus — Cyndere fades into the woodwork, and Scharr ben Fray does a strange about-face that seems more like a character violation than a plot twist.

  3. Great review, Becky! As an aside, I also love epic fantasy, and I hope we see more of it in the near future. I know urban fantasy and paranormal are still soaring in popularity, but I’d like to see a resurgence of the epics alongside them.

    Oh, and thanks for the mention. :)

  4. Yea! Sarah you do my heart good to say this about epic fantasy. I’m hopeful too. As the dark stories run their course, I’m hoping there will be a resurgence of the heroic story.

    Becky

  5. Fred, I was trying very hard not to get on one of my soapboxes during this tour. I have a “thing” about talking about God and His mystery. ;-)

    Ironic because I recently did a post about His mysterious ways. I certainly don’t believe we can “figure God out,” but neither do I believe we can seek and never find.

    Here are a couple posts I wrote about the subject: “Transcendence vs. Mystery” and “Draw Near To God … For What End? The latter is especially pointed regarding what Scripture says about the subject.

    As to your comments about the characters in The Ale Boy’s Feast I agree with you whole-heartedly. I hadn’t termed it in my mind as him dropping them, but that’s pretty much it. Winn bothered me about as much as any of them. I kept thinking, why did he put the character front and center so much in this book only to kill him off in a most gruesome way? Were we supposed to care more because it was Winn?

    With all the good things about this book, it really is too bad that we didn’t have a character to really latch onto the whole way. I think it would have had a dramatic effect on the story. But that’s just a theory.

    Becky


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