A Draw Of Kings Review Continued


The Staff & The Sword trilogy covers

I ended the first half of my review of A Draw Of Kings by Patrick Carr by saying I wished for more. There’s a difference in saying the story left me wanting more, and I wanted more from the story. I’m afraid my reaction was closer to the latter position.

In reality, I thought the plot was filled with conflict and intrigue. As I described it last time, it had three distinct facets–the civil war, the three quests, and the face-off battles against evil.

I could make a case for each of those being a book in their own right. In fact, if Peter Jackson were making this into a movie, I’m pretty sure it would actually be three movies.

The point is, the story was dense, and in my thinking, too dense. This coiled and twisted plot created a couple problems. First, parts needed to either be played out fully, requiring many more pages, or resolved quickly in order to move on to The Next Important Thing.

If each had been played out fully, the book would have run closer to 800 pages than to 400. But resolving the issues quickly meant that the problems didn’t require a true struggle. Rather, they were solved in short order, with little difficulty, though some loss or failure was accrued.

Quick resolution has a way of lowering stakes, I think. If something isn’t hard to accomplish, or if losing doesn’t cost dearly, there’s a reduction of tension.

The civil war, then, ended with a minimum of conflict and some loss, but because of the ease with which it concluded, I never had the feel that the loss would make much of a difference. After all, when the circumstances appeared insurmountable, they were actually quickly and quite easily dispensed with.

The same played out in each of the three quests. Something dire appeared, but the struggle to overcome didn’t entail a great re-thinking of goals or strategies. There was no struggle apart from an initial conflict that ended up becoming a success through this clever maneuver or that act of bravery or the other display of character or strength.

Each quest, then, even when resulting in failure or partial failure, left me thinking the ensuing Battle would boil down to the same type of one plan, one confrontation, one quick result.

Furthermore, these conflicts didn’t seem married to the inner struggles the characters faced. I would like to have seen Errol struggle with the presence of his cruel father-priest, for instance. Instead, he made a rather quick business of moving on when he’d struggled mightily in the previous book.

And perhaps that’s why he didn’t need to deal with the issue again. But then the question is, why insert Antil into the story again? Adora’s anger toward him felt artificial. He was not someone she knew, and in the face of the death of hundreds of civilians, it seems petty for her to try and exact revenge, not for herself, but for Errol.

All this to say, the wonderful epic story begun in A Cast of Stones deserved more, from my way of thinking. Errol is a character much to be admired. He has real doubts, deep hurts, and great skills–some with which he was born, and some he developed through long hours and hard, hard work. He could have become bitter, but doesn’t, though the choice not to follow that path seems easily arrived at.

The world itself has layers of authority, political intrigue, allies and enemies, betrayers and deceivers. I would like to have had more time with the interplay of these elements.

Finally, a story this big requires an equally big cast, and there were so many characters in A Draw of Kings, it became hard to keep them straight (which is why most epic fantasy has a list of characters to go along with a good map!) Of course, if there had been more story, then these minor characters would have earned more page time and therefore become more fully developed and therefore more memorable.

How can I sum up this book? I’d say it was an adequate ending to a great story. It answered the questions and entertained. It moved quickly, without snags or delays.

I suppose I’m being hard on the novel because I think it could have been great. I think Patrick Carr is an excellent writer who could make the end as great as the beginning, if given enough time to do so.

Honestly, to complete this third book and have it on the shelves in the short amount of time since the release of The Hero’s Lot is a remarkable fete but perhaps not the best decision. I don’t know who determines these things, but I’ve voiced my thoughts on the six-month novel before. I’d rather see more time given writers to get a story right than to get it done.

Would I recommend The Staff & The Sword to readers? Absolutely! It’s a worthwhile story, highly entertaining, with lots to think about on the way. Would I buy the next Patrick Carr novel? Absolutely! He’s a wonderful writer and just needs time to do his magic. I hope he gets all he needs from here on.

CSFF Blog Tour – A Draw Of Kings, Day 3


A-Draw-of-Kings-cover
Time constraints and all, I’m going to do what I never do: I’m going to divide my review into two parts and extend my portion of the blog tour for A Draw of Kings by Patrick Carr to a fourth day.

This is one epic story, so I think it deserves a fourth day anyway.

The Story.

Errol Stone is a hero. Twice. But his country is in a worse state than it’s ever been.

The king has died, leaving no heir, and a rich, powerful Earl has determined to ascend to the throne of his own volition, though the church and the readers (a group of people gifted with the ability to cast and read lots which will answer questions about the future) are, by law and tradition, tasked to designate the next king.

In addition, according to prophecy, should there be no rightful king, a barrier which holds back the attack of a group of people possessed by the equivalent of evil spirits, will fall. To complicate things further, another enemy people is waiting to attack as well.

If all that’s not enough, Errol brings back news that the lost book of the church still exists and that one key part of their belief system, built on oral tradition, is wrong. The church determines they must regain control of the book so they can know for sure that Errol is right. They assign him the task of recovering the book.

Others of his friends are given different quests. They succeed or fail on different levels, but in the end they gather to defend the kingdom against their enemies.

At the edges of everyone’s mind, however, is the prophecy that the new king will be the savior of the land by dying in order to restore the barrier. Would Errol become the greatest hero ever by making the ultimate sacrifice and dying for the people, the church, the country?

That’s the driving question of A Draw of Kings.

This third installment of The Staff & The Sword trilogy, is itself divided into three parts. The first deals with the civil war/internal conflict within the land.

The second is traditional epic fantasy questing, but in three parts. Different members of the core cast of characters is tasked by the church to accomplish various important assignments.

The final element of the final books is The Battle–the showdown between the forces of evil and the forces of good.

This third book answers many of the questions which have been brewing and intensifying throughout the first two novels, A Cast of Stones and The Hero’s Lot. What more can a reader ask for from the end of a long tale?

Still, I found I wished for . . . more. Not more story, but more attention to the story we had before us. I’ll elaborate on what I mean next time, and highlight the strengths in some detail.

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

CSFF Blog Tour – A Draw Of Kings


A-Draw-of-Kings-cover
A Draw Of Kings by Patrick Carr is the concluding book of The Staff & The Sword trilogy. CSFF Blog Tour has been privileged to feature the previous two books as well, so it’s fitting that we follow this epic fantasy to its conclusion.

Speaking of the previous two books, both A Cast Of Stones and The Hero’s Lot have been nominated for the Clive Staples Award for Christian Speculative Fiction. Voting started today for the three finalists. Voters must have read at least two of the nominations.

So it seems fortuitous that CSFF is featuring the third Staff & Sword book this week.

I’m eager to see what others touring this book think of this action-packed ending. Here is the list of those who will be posting.

CSFF Blog Tour – One Realm Beyond by Donita Paul, Day 3


Donita PaulDonita Paul can claim a number of firsts. For example, her DragonKeeper books were the first Christian dragon books, at least that I’m aware of. DragonSpell came out just ahead of Bryan Davis’s Raising Dragons, which I happened to be critiquing before publication. Hers was also the first book CSFF featured back in 2006 when the tour started. In addition, she was the first recipient of the Clive Staples Award for Christian Speculative Fiction back in 2009.

Those are just interesting tidbits and not relevant to the rest of my post–a review of Donita’s latest young adult novel One Realm Beyond, book 1 of the Realm Walkers series published by Zondervan.

The Story. Young Cantor wants to be a realm walker. In fact, he’s destined to be a realm walker, but he cannot go off on adventures on his own until he receives permission from his guardian and mentor. Even then he must first travel to a particular location and choose his dragon partner, his constant, before proceeding to the Realm Walker Guild where he must train.

When at last Cantor starts out on his own, he’s faced with some surprises: a dragon who has picked him instead of the other way around, another realm walker named Bixby looking for her constant, and citizens who aren’t always willing to help him on his way. But the greatest surprise might be that the leaders who ought to be working with the Realm Walkers Guild to secure the safety and just treatment of the citizens, are actually the ones oppressing, robbing them, and kidnapping their young men.

What can two young, untrained realm walkers do to make a difference against the forces of the king? Especially without their dragons (unless you count Bridger, the tag-along dragon who Cantor doesn’t really want).

Multiverse_-_level_II.svg_Strengths. The Realm Walker series takes place in a different kind of fantasy world, more nearly a multiverse than anything. In her first post about One Realm Beyond, Jill Williamson discussed the unique world, offering several maps she found that helped her understand the description.

Interestingly, Bruce Hennigan a guest contributor at Spec Faith, recently wrote about the multiverse, so I had a picture I could call to mind. Whether it’s anything close to what Donita intended, I’ll let other readers be the judge.

At any rate, the whole concept of traveling through a portal from one plane to another is unique. C. S. Lewis, of course, had other worlds in his Narnia series, and Narnia itself could be accessed through a portal of sorts. The various worlds, however, were separate pools contained in a sort of holding place–obviously quite different than Donita’s stacked planes.

Besides this interesting setting, One Realm Beyond has delightful characters and at least one formidable adversary. Each is credible given the parameters of this story. Hence, the fact that the mor dragons can sit at the table with the humans or turn into boulders or trees at will, is plausible.

The story is also intriguing, and as Shannon McDermott noted, a tad darker than previous books by Donita Paul. There’s oppression to fight and a mass murder plot to thwart and missing loved ones to find. The story is filled with conflict which tests the mettle of the protagonists.

In spite of all these strong elements, I think the strongest might be the theme. Often Donita’s books, because they are of the gentler side of fantasy where violence is not as prevalent, are frequently referred to as fun. I’m sure I’ve used that word to describe them myself. And it’s appropriate for One Realm Beyond as well. However, people don’t often couple fun with thought-provoking, but I think that’s what we have in this novel.

All is not right in the very place that should be the seat of justice–the Realm Walkers Guild. Here, where the realm walkers are trained and where leaders of other realms turn for support against opponents of peace and harmony, where those pledged to serve Primen ought to be most faithful and true, there is corruption, plotting, power struggles, pride.

Primen is without apology an allegorical representation of God. He is supreme, he is held in highest esteem, he is served, and he is worshiped. In fact, he is the power behind the guild.

Consequently when the protagonists visit the Sanctuary, a gathering of people serving Primen, there’s a bit of a shock when the large facility only has a smattering of people seated in the pews.

Then there was this description of part of the ceremony:

The homily given by a man in elaborate robes said little other than to try to think good thoughts,. According to the speaker, this practice of thinking good thoughts would order the rest of your life. As if thinking about daises would eradicate sewer problems.

There’s the key, I think. The realm walkers and the guild are supposed to serve Primen, to protect the people, to put things to rights. But they aren’t doing their job. They aren’t speaking truth. And they’re falling away.

In short, I believe One Realm Beyond is a story about the church. I for one am interested in seeing where Donita takes her next book in the series.

Weaknesses. Every book has things a reader can pick at if they have a mind to. Was the pace too slow? Was Cantor likeable enough? Were the characters adequately motivated for each of their decisions? While these are valid things to discuss, many of like kind are in the eye of the beholder.

My hope is that those things don’t distract readers from taking this fun book seriously and thinking more deeply because of it.

Recommendation. I’m all in. Yes, this is a young adult book, but it’s dealing with subjects adults should care about just as much or more. I highly recommend One Realm Beyond and suggest readers get on board now, at the beginning of the Realm Walkers series.

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a review copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

CSFF Blog Tour – One Realm Beyond by Donita Paul, Day 2


onerealmbeyondcover

Favorite characters.

Donita Paul has written some of the best fun fantasy characters of all time, I think. This trend continues in her new novel One Realm Beyond, first in the Realm Walkers series.

In the past some of her minor characters have been quirky and interesting and unique. Sometimes they’re wise. Often their appearance belies their true status. They impact the story in unexpected ways.

Here are some of the memorable ones:
Lady Peg in Dragons of the Valley. Her distracted state and odd observations add enjoyable humor and wit.

Rigador in DragonFire and DragonLight. This last (or so we thought) of the meech dragons is fearsome, precocious, elegant, and strong. He commands the page as much as any room he might walk into.

Sir Dar, a doneel, makes an appearance in a number of books, but nearly upstaged the protagonist in DragonSpell. He is fastidious about his clothing, though his outfits might be considered somewhat garish, and he loves to prepare meals properly. He added a great deal of humor.

Leetu Bends, an eccentric hermit-like emeraldian, who is wise, mysterious, capable plays a key role in DragonQuest.

Toopka, the silly little doneel child who bonds with Rigador.

Wizard Fenworth is such a remarkable character, both in the DragonKeeper Chronicles but also in Dragons of Chiril series, with bog creatures nesting in his beard and his habit of becoming treelike to the point that it’s hard to tell him apart from the real thing.

And what about Gymn, the fainting minor dragon?

I wish I could remember them all.

But I reminisce about all these creative characters because I believe Donita Paul has done in her latest work, One Realm Beyond, what I’ve longed to see her do. Rather than making her quirky character a minor sideshow, she’s taken one of the best ever and brought her front and center.

I’m talking about Bixby, one of the point of view characters in this first installment of the Realm Walkers series. The story opens with Cantor, an eager pup of a boy who wants to get on with his destined role as a realm walker. But readers soon meet Bixby who then becomes a second point of view character. In the end, it’s clear she is as important as Cantor. Maybe more.

But what makes Bixby so special?

First, she’s unpredictable. I’d even say, surprising. She’s small and for all appearances, weak, but she can keep up with Cantor and even out-maneuver him at times. She has special abilities. So in some senses, she’s a bit of a superhero. She’s also wiser than Cantor, but she has secrets, and this makes her interesting, too.

Another quality that won me over to her is her courage. Despite her vulnerable size, she never backs away from a challenge, never tries for an easier assignment. She’s not foolhardy, but she’s not about to stand around and watch when lives are on the line. She’s compassionate and caring and willing to take a risk.

Along with everything else, she has the perfect dragon constant for her temperament. Totobee-Rodolow, with her love of bright and beautiful accessories, her love of shopping and fine dining, her connections and sophisticated manners, is the perfect fit for little Bixby.

Truly, this little mite of a girl—closer to a fairy, perhaps than any creature Donita has created before—is a star. I for one love to see such a strong character given the floor so she can have the spotlight shine on her all the longer.

Don’t forget to tour the other participants reviewing and commenting about One Realm Beyond. I might especially point you to Shannon McDemott‘s excellent review in which she says

It is such a fun book, such a light-hearted book, with entrancing characters and a terrific setting. I like fantasy, and I like sci-fi, and I hold a special fondness for well-done science fantasy – which is what One Realm Beyond is.

CSFF Blog Tour – One Realm Beyond by Donita Paul, Day 1


dragon

Dragons

Look wise,
say nothing,
and eat
only those
who annoy you.

Read DragonKeeper Chronicles.

It wasn’t intentional; I truly wasn’t trying to dress the part I would be playing later in the day. In fact I didn’t really think about it until I began to work on my post for this month’s CSFF feature: One Realm Beyond, the first in the Realm Walkers series by Donita Paul. Nevertheless, the tee shirt I pulled out of my closet, a favorite, pictures this dragon and that saying.

Yes, I got it some years ago in connection with Donita Paul’s earlier books.

Appropriate, then, that One Realm Beyond also has dragons. Of sorts.

One of the most inventive parts of Ms. Paul’s writing, in my opinion, is her development of interesting, unique species. Her earlier books had a wide array of both good and evil species, large and small. But on top of this assortment were various types of dragons as well–most good, some more intelligent than others, and one particular, rare species, the meech dragons, I believe, that were extraordinarily gifted.

In One Realm Beyond, the mor dragons reminded me a great deal of those meech dragons, only they’re a step up. Ms. Paul was not content to make the same dragon with a different name. She gave the mor dragons additional abilities. The most notable is their capacity to shapeshift.

We’re talking about an Odo from Deep Space Nine kind of ability to take the shape of objects or people or other animals.

These dragons also mingle with humans to the degree that they are seated together in fancy eating establishments, wear some clothing and/or accessories (at least the one who loves to shop does), and converse freely (though a dragon and his constant can also mind-speak).

I mentioned “inventive,” didn’t I?

In short, the dragons in the Realm Walker series are not your old school dragons.

I’ll have more to say about One Realm Beyond and post my review later in the tour, but for now you might want to check out what other participants are saying, including new members Mike Coville and Audrey Sauble.

Each check mark below links to a CSFF Tour article, so have some fun reading what others are talking about in connection to this book. Feel free to leave a comment and tell them Becky sent you. :-D

Gillian Adams
Julie Bihn
Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
Mike Coville
Pauline Creeden
Carol Gehringer
Rebekah Gyger
Janeen Ippolito
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Emileigh Latham
Jennette Mbewe
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Joan Nienhuis
Nissa
Donita K. Paul
Writer Rani
Audrey Sauble
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Jojo Sutis
Jessica Thomas
Steve Trower
Shane Werlinger
Jill Williamson

CSFF Blog Tour – Outcasts by Jill Williamson, Day 3


Outcasts cover

A Review

This month the CSFF Blog Tour is featuring the young adult dystopian novel, Outcasts, second in The Safe Lands series by Jill Williamson. Several of our tour participants have remarked about dystopian fiction and its predilection for gloom.

In my view, this genre is one of those that can show how the Christian worldview stands in stark contrast to that of a view that ignores God.

My introduction to the genre was Brave New World, followed soon after by 1984. I believe I came to understand the world better for having read those books, yet I wouldn’t want a steady diet of that kind of literature. It is, quite frankly, so hopeless, it’s depressing. Until a person realizes there are key components of truth left out.

Jill Williamson has not left those out. The picture she creates in her Safe Lands series, of a hedonistic society literally rotting away, could be depressing, but there’s more to the story. There are characters working to escape, bring down, and cure the corrupt society. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Story. Continuing the story begun in Captives, Outcasts features the three brothers from Glenrock–Levi, Mason, and Omar–as they deal with their present circumstances. They have rescued their women from the harem and now must do the same for their children who are either in the state boarding school or nursery.

Omar and Mason continue to live as nearly normal lives as possible while plotting with the people of Glenrock who live in hiding. Levi has taken up the mantle as elder and leader of his community, though he’s finding the role much more challenging than he could have imagined.

Who is he to trust? How can he get everyone on the same page, with Omar making his own superhero plans and constantly vapping and consorting with Safe Land women, even as Shaylinn is carrying his baby; with Mason bent on finding a cure for the disease the flakers carry. What hope does Levi have to reunite all his people and get them to safety?

Strengths. I’m not sure where to start. The characters are so strong in this book–with complex motives and heartfelt struggles, both internal and external. They are captivating, so much so that when I finished reading the book, I found myself planning to go back to the story in the evening, only to realize that I had to wait until the next book comes out. The point is, I wanted to know what happened to the characters I’d come to care about.

But just as strong is the worldbuilding. The Safe Lands have their own entertainment, society celebrities, fads and fashions, slang, cliched greeting, technology, political system, and state secrets. The place feels real!

Which brings me to the plot. So much is going on in this story. There is the overarching question–can the Glenrock citizens escape? But there are relational questions for various characters, too, and then there is the greater question about the Safe Lands and what they are hiding, what they are doing to their citizens, and who might be behind the whole thing. It’s intriguing on some level on every page.

More importantly, Outcasts and the other books in the series are addressing important issues, without preaching. Rather, the choices the characters make show all that a reader needs in order to discern what worldview addresses the pressing problems best.

Weaknesses. I have no serious complaints. I’m sold on this series and find myself lost in the world and engaged with the characters and the ideas presented in the story. It’s entertaining and thought-provoking at the same time.

But there was one place where I felt the story could have been stronger. Without giving spoilers, it’s hard for me to discuss in detail. Suffice it to say, one character seemed to act in a surprising, if not uncharacteristic, way, with consequences that turned the story (and still must be dealt with in the next book). Perhaps a little more foreshadowing or a closer look at this character’s development would have made the story stronger at that point.

Recommendation. Outcasts and The Safe Lands series are must reads. Not just Christians can embrace this story because it is one of struggle between two distinct ways of life that anyone can understand and appreciate. It is also about how the gulf between the two can be bridged and how the leadership of the two sides can go astray. It’s a big story, a powerful story and shouldn’t be missed.

It’s also clearly targeting older teens, but adults can appreciate the story just as well. The third book in the series, Rebels, is due out in June, so I suggest you read Captives and Outcasts between now and them so you won’t be left out.

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

CSFF Blog Tour – Outcasts by Jill Williamson, Day 2


SafeLandslogo

Second Books

Most fantasy series are actually one story told in multiple books. The Safe Lands series by Jill Williamson is no different. The story opened with Captives, continues with Outcasts, and concludes with Rebels, due out this summer. Which makes the January CSFF Blog Tour feature the second book in the series.

More often than not readers find second books to be a bit of a let down. In writer parlance, some suffer from “sagging middle” syndrome. Often times the pace seems slower, with nothing of particular note taking place, and/or a “been there, done that” feel to the plot.

For example, the second book in the Hunger Games series, once again threw the heroine, Katniss, back into the games she had just conquered.

None of this is so for Jill’s Outcasts. This book two is a different story while still moving toward a resolution of the greater question.

For one thing, the protagonist is a different character. Yes, there are multiple points of view and the same characters that appeared in Captives are also in Outcasts, but this is predominantly the story of a different individual than was the first book.

In addition, there isn’t any territory covered in the first book that’s repeated in this one. Sure there are similarities. After all, the story is about escape, and there are many people who need to get away. But the circumstances are different, the people are different, the methods are different, the dangers are different.

In short, rather than sagging, this second installment of the Safe Lands series ramps up the tension. I haven’t gone back to compare ratings or comments with the reviews CSFF participants gave Captives, but the comparatives I’m reading would indicate that Outcasts is an even stronger book than Captives.

Here’s a sampling:
* “Outcasts is a first-class dystopia – realistic characters in a riveting but believable world that brings all sorts of ideas into play against each other. I am planning to continue with the Safe Lands series; this is a world still to be explored – beginning with what, exactly, it means to be liberated.” Shannon McDermott

* “If Outcasts is any example, this series should end in a fantabulous manner. . .” – Meagan @ Blooming with Books

* “I actually really like Mason, Shaylinn, and even Omar, as well as the rebel Zane–so much that I actually very much care what happens to them, something I don’t feel at all in maybe half the books I read.” – Julie Bihn

Clearly, there’s no drop off with Jill Williamson’s book two. Readers are in safe hands!

But again, don’t take my word for it. Check out what the other tour participants are saying. You might want to read Nissa’s insightful comparison between The Safe Lands series and Hunger Games.

Or how about Julie Bihn’s revelation of Safe Land SimTag technology, or something quite similar, in existence today.

There are others (see all links at the bottom of my Day 1 post) you won’t want to miss.

You also might enjoy exploring the Safe Lands site. Lots to see and do.

Published in: on January 21, 2014 at 7:01 pm  Comments (6)  
Tags: , , , ,

CSFF Blog Tour – Outcasts by Jill Williamson, Day 1


Outcasts cover

Addressing Frank Topics

This month the CSFF Blog Tour is featuring Outcasts by Jill Williamson, book 2 of the young adult dystopian fantasy series The Safe Lands. Because of Jill’s experience working along side her husband with youth in churches, she understands the pressures and temptations, hopes and desires, teenagers deal with. Rather than side-stepping frank topics, Jill faces them head-on, and I think this series is the richer for it.

I can’t think of the last time I read a book in which one of the point of view characters was struggling with lust and addiction. If only those twin demons were not part of the inner life of today’s youth. Unfortunately, I think the truth is the opposite. Our culture has held up sex as the Great Desire and the Inescapable Conduct. Consequently kids from homes and churches that teach abstinence automatically are faced with a struggle.

Their own desires are fanned into flames by the music aimed at their demographic, TV and movies, their peers, and sometimes even their parents (some wishing to live vicariously through their teens). When the culture tells them sex is natural (it is), and all that matters is that they do it safely (it is not), but the church, and more importantly, the Bible tell them sex is to be reserved for a monogamous marriage relationship between a man and woman, teens are bound to struggle. Their own passions align with the culture. Their head says one thing, their desires another.

Who helps teens navigate across this divide? Too often this is a period of their lives when they are distancing themselves from their parents as part of their growing-up-and-becoming-independent stage. Do youth leaders talk frankly with teens about how to handle the urges they’re experiencing? I suspect so. But I also suspect these kinds of talks simply give teens more information.

Stories are different. They show. Outcasts shows. Here’s a teen, two teens, three teens dealing with the same stuff, the same sexual desires, the same craving induced by mood-enhancing substances. The characters take different paths and the outcome of their choices is a natural part of the story. No preaching. No lecture. No one drawing conclusions for the reader.

Instead, the story itself gives models for teen readers. They can draw their own conclusions, understand, perhaps, their own feelings a little better in light of the struggle they see the characters experience.

The subject matter is frank, not graphic or indulgent, but not pretending that things are better or easy, even when a character wishes to change. Outcasts is an honest treatment of sensitive material, without making it The Focal Point of the story.

I think this is a huge triumph for both Jill Williamson and the editors at Blink for bringing this book, this series to readers.

Other CSFF members participating in the tour are listed below. A check mark links to a CSFF post about Outcasts.

CSFF Blog Tour – Merlin’s Shadow, Day 3


Merlin's_Shadow_2I’ve had fun exploring Morgana and the Knights of the Round Table as part of the CSFF Blog Tour for Robert Treskillard‘s Merlin’s Shadow, Book 2 of The Merlin Spiral. But the strength of a blog tour is the book itself. It’s great that it stirs up thoughts and discussion, but is it a good story?

I’m happy to say, in my opinion, it most definitely is a wonderful story. Above all, I love to be surprised, and I love to see a character grow and change. Both those important aspects of good storytelling are present in Merlin’s Shadow.

The Story. Merlin, taking seriously his commitment to protect the baby Arthur, leaves to escape the vengeful druidow and the betrayer who arranged to kill High King Uther. Merlin’s one concern had been for his sister who he arranged to stay with the weaver and his family.

But betrayal exists in many guises, and Merlin and his band committed to help him care for the heir to the throne find no safe place to hide. In fact, the number of enemies increase, and worst of all, God seems to have abandoned them. At times Merlin would simply like the struggle to end, but as long as Arthur lives, he’s bound by his word to do what he can for the young prince. But what exactly can he do when he’s hunted, enslaved, and deserted?

Strengths. Tension fuels this story. It’s filled with danger, but also with realistic emotional reactions to the crises the characters face.

And readers are concerned with more than Merlin. A subplot unfolds regarding his sister, little Ganieda. With both her mother and father dead, her grandfather, the arch druid Morganthu, takes her to live with him–primarily because he sees her as a tool for his desires. When the weaver comes and takes her into his home, Ganieda believes she’s found a family that will love her. However, she discovers Merlin’s hand in the arrangements which pushes her toward the dark powers awakened when she was with her grandfather.

She’s a complex character, though still a child, and it’s Treskillard’s ability to make her thread of the story as compelling as Merlin’s that takes Merlin’s Shadow to the next level.

He’s able to do that with a host of other characters as well: Garth, Caygek, and to a lesser extent Natalenya. One of the most fascinating characters, in my opinion, was old Kensa. Clearly Treskillard has a way of writing unique characters that each have their own problems and needs that propel them through the story.

For those who love history, there’s a sufficient amount sprinkled throughout the story. More than once I found myself forgetting that I was reading legend, and re-imagined legend, at that. The story felt solidly anchored in a real place and time.

But how about the legend? Treskillard has given readers a fresh take on Arthurian lore. Of course there are as many ideas about the heroes, heroines, and enemies as there are writers who have ventured to feature Arthur. Treskillard adds his own while avoiding a simple retelling from Merlin’s point of view.

In addition, this is a Christian work, something that is believable considering the time period and the prevailing religious climate. But the Christianity is not surface. Merlin faces a crisis of the soul and others exercise surprising faith. There’s temptation, yielding, and repenting. The themes, in other words, are strong, even as they are appropriate and completely consistent with the events of the story.

Weaknesses. I have two. The first, I felt Merlin made a significant decision which could have had a stronger motive. I could see what was behind his decision, but it ran so counter to his desires all throughout book 1 that I felt there wasn’t sufficient reason given for the dramatic change that took place.

Along those lines, I thought Merlin’s crisis was resolved too quickly. He’d struggled for so long, I’d liked to have seen his change be more gradual or to have it brought about by something more dramatic. It’s hard to do when what we’re talking about is change in belief, in attitude. I loved the change. Really loved where Treskillard took Merlin. But I would also liked to have seen the reasons behind it strengthened.

Notice, in both instances character motivation is there. For me, those could have been stronger in those two instances, but for others, they may have been just right.

Recommendation. Merlin’s Shadow is a wonderful continuation of the Merlin Spiral trilogy. It’s fast moving, engaging, filled with tension and intrigue. I highly recommend the book to readers, especially fantasy fans. It’s a must read for those who love the Arthurian legend.

I received a review copy of Merlin’s Shadow by Robert Treskillard from the publisher in conjunction with the May CSFF Blog Tour.

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