The Warden And The Wolf King – CSFF Tour, Day 3


Warden and the Wolf KingI’m going to eschew a formal review of The Warden And The Wolf King by Andrew Peterson, this month’s CSFF Blog Tour feature. I may renege and write one later (I do want to put one on Amazon, so it seems sensible to post it here, too), but today I want to tell you why I gave an unqualified recommendation of the book at the end of my Day 2 post. I mean, I called it a MUST READ book. What makes this one a MUST READ?

For me there are a couple requirements. First, it has to be a good story.

I was a lit major in college and during my four years of study, I read a lot of “must read” books, but not all of them were good stories. Some of them were flat out boring. Some I tried and tried to plow my way through and still came away with only the vaguest idea of what the “story” was about (Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad comes to mind. Don’t get me started on Melville’s Moby Dick or Ulysses by James Joyce.)

Another thing that puts a book into the highest category as far as I’m concerned is a character or characters with whom I can relate and for whom I begin to care. In Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga, I came to care for, not one character, but three. And I cheered on several others.

In my review of The Monster Of The Hollows, I gave one particular criticism—for a middle grade book, I was disappointed that the youth at the center of the story didn’t take the active part in bringing resolution to the story question. I’m happy to say, I have no such criticism in The Warden And The Wolf King.

The players who made things happen, who faced the evil head on, were the main characters—the children, the Jewels, the would-be King, Warden, and Song Maiden of Anniera. The cool thing, though, is that despite the presence of a host of adults—who also were fighting—the fact that the children took such a pivotal role was not forced or artificial. It was natural and believable.

So I really liked this concluding volume of the Wingfeather Saga not only because the characters were ones that engaged me, but also because they were active.

There’s more. This story—the whole of it, but particularly The Warden And The Wolf King—made me think. As noted in my previous posts, I contemplated the importance of song and the place of the Church in the broken world. But I also thought about sacrifice and courage and redemption and temptation and kindness and prejudice and unforgiveness and bitterness and responsibility and commitment and . . . well, a host of other topics.

The thing is, nowhere in the book was there a lecture on any of these subjects. Rather, I saw characters living out life in hard, dangerous circumstances. Some chose well—admirably, even. Some chose poorly with disastrous results, though they themselves didn’t know how ruinous the consequences would be.

I love books that catch me up short and call me to a higher standard. They make me wonder if I would be brave enough or wise enough or steadfast enough.

One more. This book made me weep. Yes, I laughed too, in different places. And I read far longer into the night than I’d planned to read, but I cried. And cried. This was not a little tearing up. This was full out, get the snot rag, because I needed to release some emotion this story generated.

I tell you, when a book makes me think AND feel, it’s a winner.

As Jason Joyner mentioned in one of his tour posts, these Wingfeather Saga books are great for reading aloud to kids. There are places to do a pirate voice and others for a Zorro-like rescuer. There’s Troll poetry to read and whispers to dogs and the sad ramblings of the SockMan tortured by memories of the past.

And the books are great for adults to read on their own, too.

So how about it? Are you ready to take the plunge?

Not a fantasy fan, you say? So what? If you’re a reader, these books are for you. They start light, and they become progressively more serious, but that’s the nature of conflict. It builds to a crescendo (I thought a music term would be appropriate here, considering we’re taking about an Andrew Peterson book. ;-) )

But now I’ve probably built up your expectations too high. Why not check them out for yourself and see if you agree with me or not.

The Warden And The Wolf King – CSFF Tour, Day 2


Warden_Wolf_King-banner

The Warden And The Wolf King by Andrew Peterson is an ambitious young adult fantasy, the conclusion to a wonderful four-book series called The Wingfeather Saga. Several participants in the CSFF Blog Tour, which is featuring this book that officially releases today, have given a summary of the first three books. I think that’s extremely helpful, and I encourage those interested in the series to check out posts by Jason Joyner and Meagan @ Blooming Books for starters.

Part of why I like the Wingfeather Saga so much is because Andrew Peterson does so much with his story. He’s painted a fantasy world with some depth; created characters that are interesting, even endearing; infused his story with humor and poetry and song; given us action and adventure. Above all, he’s given us something to think about.

I want to expand on one of those “somethings.” When I read book three of the Saga, The Monster In The Hollows,” I noted in my Day 1 CSFF Tour post that I saw parallels with the Green Hollows and the Church. I’ll reiterate here, Andrew Peterson is not writing allegory. However, there are similarities between his fantasy world and the real world.

One of those is the existence of a community defending against despoiling evil. However, without their king, they were merely hunkering behind what they believed to be an impenetrable barrier and living life without seeming regard for the rest of the world that struggled against slavery and kidnappings and transformations into evil creatures. They were content with their own safety.

Until, of course, the Igbys arrived and evil came after them. Remarkably, the Churc, I mean, the Green Hollows, came to their defense and fought to the point of sacrifice. In other words, when evil pushed in on them, they pushed back.

But they liked their evil clearly defined. Hence, the King of Anniera who looked like a Grey Fang was someone they didn’t fully trust—until he saved them. And when he decided to leave, there was a pretty clear indication that the Hollow folk were glad to see him go.

Of course, their feelings for Clovenfast, the neighboring community which they never realized existed, and for the clovens who inhabited it, were equally distrustful. After all, these were half changed citizens, trapped between the transformation from human to fang. What were they? Enemy? Monster? Friend? How much easier to pretend they did not exist, to drive any who wondered into the Hollows back into the dark forest.

I’ll admit, the section of The Warden And The Wolf King about the clovens had me both excited and uncomfortable. Excited because I had an inkling of what might take place (I was only partly right), and uncomfortable as the story unfolded because I saw the Church too clearly in the Hollish folk.

The fact is, evil wounds more often than it kills.

In the Wingfeather Saga, some people were transformed into Fangs, making them as good as dead to the life they’d known as humans. Now they lived to server Gnag the Nameless and to do damage to everyone else in the process.

But then there were the cloven, those injured in the transformation. They were broken Fangs, no longer human and no good as servants of Gnag.

In real life there are those who love the King of Kings and follow Him, and there are those who purposefully battle against Him, choosing instead to serve the Enemy of their souls. A great host in between make no choice, not realizing that standing still means they are not following. Hence, their not choosing is a choice.

They are the ones often damaged. They aren’t surrounded by the protective community of the Hollow, uh, of the Church. They live in the in-between, not wielding evil to get what they want, but not protected from those who plot against them.

They live in forgetfulness—an unconscious choosing of ignorance rather than the painful remembrance of what could have been, what they have lost and what they have no hope to recover.

But why don’t they have hope? What if the Green Hollows took them in? What if the Church welcomed the afflicted and needy? What if the Church put an arm around the homeless lady or the ex-con or the foster kids or those with disabilities and brought them inside? What if the Green Hollows was the place of comfort and a place to point them to the life-giving water that would make them whole?

Seeing the Green Hollows and their fight against evil, their reaction to the clovens, before and after the battle, I am challenged. I want to spread the word that the Church can be different—braver in the face of evil, kinder too, less focused on ourselves and more giving. More like Christ.

These thoughts about the Church are only some of the Big Things The Warden And The Wolf King brought to the forefront. I’m of the opinion that any book which challenges me in my real life, in my spiritual life, is a true winner.

I’ll get into a proper review tomorrow (or not), but I don’t want to hold off on my recommendation. This book—actually this series, because The Warden And The Wolf King really can’t be read in isolation—is a must read. No limits—a must read. This story is the next thing to Narnia. It’s one you won’t want to miss.

The Warden And The Wolf King – CSFF Tour, Day 1


Illustration by Andrew Peterson

Illustration by Andrew Peterson

The Warden And The Wolf King by Andrew Peterson is the fourth and final installment in the Wingfeather Saga. It’s a worthy conclusion to this wonderful series. Coming in at over 500 pages, you might even say it’s an epic ending. Not that length alone makes something epic, but that’s a discussion for another day.

First I want to offer an alternative title to this young adult fantasy—one I’d be surprised if Andrew Peterson didn’t consider. Half way through the book, which picks up the Wingfeather Saga right where The Monster In The Hollows left off, I thought, Shouldn’t the Song Maiden be in the title? I mean, it seemed at that point that the Song Maiden played as significant a part in the unfolding events as did the Warden and the Wolf King.

I eventually dismissed the idea, thinking The Warden, The Song Maiden, And The Wolf King might be too cumbersome a title. (Although, it would be right in line with book 1, On The Edge Of The Dark Sea Of Darkness. ;-) )

Since then, however, I thought, why not keep it simple? Why not The Jewels Of Anniera, the jewels being none other than the Song Maiden, the Warden, and the Wolf King. But alas, Andrew didn’t ask my advice, so I’m left, of necessity, to devote at least one post to song and the Song Maiden.

Since Andrew Peterson is a singer and song writer by day and a novelist in his “spare time,” it’s really no surprise that Song takes a prominent place in the story, starting with the inside of the book jacket which displays what I conclude to be the words of a song, since they are ascribed to Armulyn the Bard:

The world is whispering—listen child!—
The world is telling a tale.
When the seafoam froths in the water wild
Or the fendril flies in the gale.

When the sky is mad with the swirling storm
And thunder shakes the hall,
Child, keep watch for the passing form
Of the one who made it all.

Listen, child, to the hollish wind,
To the hush of heather down,
To the voice of the brook of the stony bend
And the Bells of Rysentown.

The dark of the heart is a darkness deep
And the sweep of the night is wide
And the pain of the heart when the people weep
Is an overwhelming tide. . .

The Bard himself played a part early in the Saga. According to the Encyclopedia of terms at the Wingfeather Saga website, the Bard is

a songwriter and singer known throughout Skree for his soul-stirring songs about Anniera. He claimed to have been there once in his youth, and sang about it ever since. Armulyn was famous for his bare feet, his raspy voice, his kindness, his rascally disposition toward Fangs and oppressors, and his sharp odor.

You’ve heard of fan fiction, I’m sure. But what about fan music? Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga, and particularly Armulyn the Bard inspired a soulful piece you may wish to hear.

The song inside the dust jacket is only a hint of what is to come inside the book. As it happens, music is a major aspect of the plot, and of course the star of much of it is the Song Maiden—Janner’s little sister, Leeli.

I’ll take this opportunity to mention that tomorrow, July 22, 2014, the official release party for The Warden And The Wolf King will take place in Nashville. I mention this because, among all the delightful happenings in this party that sounds like it really is a party, Andrew’s daughter Skye (the inspiration for Leeli Wingfeather) will be on hand to sing “My Love Has Gone Across the Sea” (from The Monster in the Hollows) with none other than the author himself. (You can see all the details for the party at the Wingfeather Saga site, and those in the Nashville area would be remiss if they didn’t attend.)

I’ll be honest. I’m trying to discuss song in The Warden And The Wolf King without giving any spoilers. The problem is, at every turn it seems impossible to discuss the use of music without saying too much.

In the end, the music of the book is much the same as the music of real life. It defeats doubt and darkness and the evil that would come against us. It summons beauty and power. It opens doors and heals hearts. It’s simply one of the greatest weapons a child of the true King has over the Evil One. And yet it takes a person of courage and conviction and perseverance to continue giving the music in the face of discouragement and exhaustion and fear, sometimes even despair.

Perhaps I should stop trying to explain what music means to this story and let the epigraph by George MacDonald say it for me:

“I dreamed of a song—I heard it sung;
In the ear of my soul its strange notes rung.
What were its words I could not tell,
Only the voice I heard right well,

A voice with a wild melodious cry
Reaching and longing afar and high.
Sorrowful triumph, and hopeful strife,
Gainful death, and new-born life. . .”

I’ll add one more tidbit. The use of song in this story reminded me of one of my favorite Bible verses:

He put a new song in my mouth,
A song of praise to our God;
Many will see and fear
And will trust in the LORD. (Psalm 40:3)

For me, the new song is actually a story, but how cool that for Andrew Peterson, his is a song and a story.

See what other participants in the CSFF Blog Tour for The Warden And The Wolf King are saying.

CSFF Blog Tour – Dream Treaders by Wayne Thomas Batson, Day 3


DreamtreadersCover3So today is technically the day after the tour for Dream Treaders by Wayne Thomas Batson—I’m counting on a little grace, what with the computer issues I dealt with earlier this week (which mostly seem to be resolved. I’ve even been able to make the rounds and see what other participants are saying).

The consensus seems to be that this middle grade/young adult contemporary fantasy is first rate, an enjoyable story well suited to its target audience. I’ll admit, I’m a little surprised that there hasn’t been more discussion about dreams and their significance or the weightier themes the story touched upon. I personally think the meat in this story is one of its strengths. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Review

The Story. Archer Keaton is an apparently normal though conscientious student by day. By night he is a dreamtreader, one of three tasked to patrol the world of Dream, standing in opposition to the Nightmare Lord.

When a new boy comes to school in the last month of the school year, everything in Archer’s daily life changes. His best friend, Kara Windchil, seems smitten by Rigby Thames, but so do most of the rest of the students. Still, it smarts that Kara no longer sits with Archer on the bus or talks with him or texts him.

Things in Dream are not so great either. An increasing number of tears in the fabric separating Dream from the Temporal—the real, though temporal world, as opposed to the real, though eternal world of the hearafter—have begun to appear. What’s more, the other two dreamtreaders are missing.

And off the story goes.

Strengths. There’s much to like in Dream Treaders. For one, Wayne Batson has a wonderful ability to portray young teens truthfully and accurately. He does not treat his teens in a condescending way or write as an adult who is living through his characters or, with one exception, create teens based on how an adult expects teens to act. Rather, they seem to come alive and each is a unique individual. The quirks and foibles of one are completely different from those of the other characters.

The premise of this story is also fresh and interesting. Yes, as noted in an earlier post, there are dream stories or stories centered on the fight to control the mind, but this one takes a different approach and gives it some really strong elements—people capable of lucid dreaming, with the ability to think into being whatever they need, but also with rules they must follow if they are to avoid dire consequences.

The plot of this story is not particularly new, but it is well executed. It’s apparent from the beginning what Archer wants, and it’s easy to pull for him, to hope he succeeds, to worry when he makes a bad decision. The pace is fast but not dizzily so.

The theme is expertly woven throughout the story, not in a subtle way exactly, but naturally so that the important truths arise from the characters and not as an aside the authors tells the reader. And the truths are important. In yesterday’s post I dealt with the concept of an anchor—a thing that ties a lucid dreamer to reality. The point becomes clear that those in the real world also need anchors—solid, reliable constants to keep us from drifting away from truth. Coupled with the fight to overthrow the Nightmare Lord, there’s a lot of grist for the reader to digest.

Lastly, the worldbuilding in Dream Treaders is stellar—both that of Dream and of Dresden High. They seem like real places and are easy to visualize without having the action come to a stop while paragraphs of description paint the picture. Rather, Wayne Batson skillfully incorporates the details of setting with the events of the story.

Weaknesses. When I read the first chapter, I closed the book and realized I’d been entertained but didn’t really care. When I came back to the book and read chapter two, everything changed. The fact is, chapter one takes place in Dream and chapter to in the real world. Chapter one is immediate action; chapter two shows the main character in relationship with others. In short, once I got to know the character, I cared.

I don’t know if switching the order of the chapters would work or not. I do know, for me as a reader, getting to know the character was like throwing a switch from not engaged to engaged and caring.

There was one character, though, I think Wayne Batson missed—Archer’s brother Buster who supposedly was in love with all things Best Coast (though I think he called it West Coast ;-) or maybe even California). The problem was, he used slang that was fashionable in the 1980s or ’90s at best. I (living on the West Coast) haven’t heard a lot of those slang terms he used for a generation. His character, in other words, seemed forced and artificial—an adult’s idea, gleaned from old TV shows, most likely, of what a kid in California must be like. Fortunately, Buster had a very small role, and most people not living on the West Coast may not even notice the weirdness of his portrayal.

Recommendation. I think Dream Treaders is a triple (with nobody out) if not a home run. It’s a great book for middle grade boys, a reading group that is highly under served, in my opinion. I applaud Wayne Batson for such a wonderful story (and Thomas Nelson for publishing it). I think this one is a MUST READ for the target audience. I think readers of all kinds will enjoy it.

CSFF Blog Tour – Dream Treaders by Wayne Thomas Batson, Day 2


DreamtreadersCover3Yes, I’m running a day behind the blog tour. For whatever reason, I’ve been having trouble posting. First it appeared to be a problem with my server . . . or possibly with my computer. But today everything seems to be working except for my access to WordPress. Well, I can open WP blogs just fine, but it’s connecting to the back end where you write and edit posts that I’m having trouble with. But at least today I can put up an article. Which may or may not be good, depending on what you think of what I have to say. ;-)

And what I have to say today has to do with Dream Treaders, the middle grade/young adult contemporary fantasy by Wayne Thomas Batson. I want to pick up on one of the concepts rising from this story about a young boy put in charge of a territory in the world of Dream. Archer Keaton’s primary responsibility, at least now, is to patch the breaches in the fabric between the temporal world and Dream.

The danger, readers come to understand, is that people in the Temporal will lose the ability to tell what is real and what is a dream—or nightmare. One other important point: the person who seems to be behind these breaches and the potential rifts that will allow Dream to break through into the Temporal, is the Nightmare Lord.

Now it’s clear that the Nightmare Lord himself has someone else he answers to, so there is no effort on Wayne Batson’s part to create an allegory. And yet, by painting an evil antagonist, there are necessary parallels to the true adversary of the human heart—the devil who prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.

Except, in this instance, the Nightmare Lord seems more closely related to another name for Satan—the Father of Lies. I couldn’t help but think how the false ideas prevalent in society and in the church stem from the great liar and render it harder and harder for people to discern what is true. That’s what lies do—they mask the truth.

In Dream Treaders, this confusion between what is and what is false is depicted by this threat that Dream and the Temporal will merge so that people will be confused and will think something is happening that is nothing but a dream.

As I see it, that picture properly reveals the confusion of our day. How is it that our good and perfect God is accused of being a wrathful tyrant—by people who claim to be Christians, no less? How is it that the Bible, God’s holy word, is looked down upon as a box which people try to paint around God and in which they want to keep Him?

How is it that a manuscript depicting a young man’s wedding vow to care for and protect his soon-to-be wife can be considered misogynist by an editor (true story)? How is it that abortion, ending the life of a fetus, is considered good in society because it preserves the right of a woman to control her own body, but killing an endangered frog is criminal?

The point is, in my life time, I’ve seen green become red and red become blue. When I was in middle school, a college psychology textbook listed homosexuality as deviant behavior. Today an athlete who reacted with shock at a man kissing his male partner when he received news that he’d been drafted into the NFL, was immediately reprimanded and slated for “sensitivity training.” The individual who thought the homosexual behavior repellent is now the one considered deviant.

Something has happened in the last twenty, thirty, forty years—a ripping of the fabric separating what is right and what is wrong, what is true and what is false.

Consequently, I find the Dream Treader quotable quote, which Wayne Batson is so good at creating, to be so important: “Anchor first; anchor deep.” In the world of Dream the dreamtreaders needed to anchor before they did anything else so that they could find the way back to the real, waking world. But Archer learned those in living in the real world also needed anchors.

This is not merely a story truth. This is a truth for all people in all times. It actually reminds me of an old gospel song, “The Solid Rock” by Ruth C. Jones:

In times like these, we need a Savior
In times like these, we need an anchor
Be very sure, be very sure
Your anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock

This Rock is Jesus, Yes, He’s the one
This Rock is Jesus, The only One
Be very sure, be very sure
Your anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock

So, yes, anchor first and anchor deep, my friends. :-D

- – - – -

You might also want to read what Wayne Batson himself had to say about this book and other matters. He kindly agreed to interviews for the tour and you can find one with Shannon McDermott and another with Jeff Chapman.

CSFF Blog Tour – Dream Treaders by Wayne Thomas Batson, Day 1


csffbannerThe CSFF May/June feature is Dream Treaders, a “tweener” book (between middle grade and young adult) by Wayne Thomas Batson. I’ve been trying to think how I can describe this book or what topics it brings to mind about which I could post. The truth is, the premise behind this novel seems quite unique, and the thoughts it inspires aren’t necessarily reflective of the book.

The closest thing I’ve read to this kind of story is Soul’s Gate by James Rubert, but again that comparison could be misleading. On the other hand, what Dream Treaders makes me think of is spiritual warfare, but it’s not an angel-versus-demon book.

So what is Dream Treaders about? I guess you’d say, it’s a fight for the mind, but not in the traditional sense. Not that Soul’s Gate is a traditional fight for the mind either, but Dream Treader isn’t the fight for the mind, one person at a time. It’s got a greater scope, I guess you’d say.

But I’ll give my review later in the blog tour.

For today, I’d like to think a bit more about this issue of fighting for the mind. In reality, I think the fight for the mind is the real spiritual warfare. Yes, there might be demons and angels involved—Daniel learned that demonic activity interfered with a timely answer to his prayer, so there is spiritual battle going on in the heavenlies, including activity that affects humans. However, that kind of warfare is not something most of us observe. Elijah apparently did, but he’s the exception.

The battles that we can and should be aware of are those for our mind and heart. Eve, when Satan confronted her in the guise of a serpent, was in a spiritual battle. At stake was what she would believe about reality—God’s version (if you eat of the tree, you’ll die) or Satan’s version (you surely shall not die).

Of course there’s also the matter of the heart—not just what I believe to be true but what I care about most. This, I tend to think, was the issue Adam faced. He knew what God had said. Satan was not fooling him in the least. But he still chose to eat from that tree. Why would he do such a thing?

Might it have been because he loved Eve so much he couldn’t imagine living if she had to die? If that were the case, he was essentially loving Eve more than he loved God. He was also doubting God’s ability or willingness to care for him. Unlike Abraham generations later, Adam couldn’t imagine a way that God could make this situation better. He couldn’t grasp the idea that God could redeem Eve and restore her to Adam.

Of course there’s also the possibility Adam wasn’t choosing Eve over God. He might have been choosing his own curiosity over God—perhaps he did, in fact, want see what it would be like to taste the forbidden fruit. Or perhaps he wasn’t content any more to be so compliant. Maybe he decided he did want to be more like God than he already was.

Whatever the case, it seems clear that Adam knowingly chose to disregard God’s clear direction because something else mattered to him more than God did.

The battle Adam and Eve waged with Satan is essentially the battle we all have had to wage ever since—every day, every hour, every minute: Will I believe what God has said and will I choose to do what I know He wants?

To some degree this is the battle that’s being played out in Dream Treaders, both in the contemporary world and in the Dream. Wayne Batson, of course, never points to this parallel. Rather, readers are left to think through the issues themselves. And that’s as it should be.

See what other participants in the tour are saying about the book, the story, and the meaning behind it. (Because I’ve been having computer issues, I may or may not be able to post specific article updates.)

CSFF Blog Tour – Numb By John Otte, Day 3


Numb-CoverThis month’s CSFF Blog Tour feature is a rare science fiction novel, written for adults and published by Marcher Lord Press. Numb by John Otte, a Christy Award finalist, is a stand-alone, though some reviewers believe there is room for a sequel, should John care to revisit this world again. I admit, I love the universe he imagined, but this story seems well-ended to me, and I don’t have any particular need to see these characters again. But since I’m already opinionating, I suppose I might as well get right to my review.

The Story. Crusader is the perfect assassin: dedicated to the cause, loyal to the authorities over him, determined to complete his missions, and completely numb. He doesn’t feel emotion and he doesn’t feel pain. What’s more, he believes God has gifted him with this numbness so that he can take up the sword of judgment and wield it against those his superiors have marked as deserving of death—heretics, infidels, traitors, and the like. Above all, Crusader is good at what he does. In fact he’s the best the Ministrix has.

Imagine the uncertainty, then, when Crusader discovers, first, that he cannot complete his latest assignment—to assassinate an engineer named Isolda Westin—and second that some Ministrix agent has set him up and intends to kill him.

His inability to plunge the knife into Isolda’s heart is perhaps the most troubling thing Crusader faces. Something within him refuses to follow what he knows he must do. But why? And why is he, the most loyal, most accomplished Ministrex agent, now a target of the very leaders he has served these past ten years?

With these questions at the heart of the plot, Numb jumps into a tale of intrigue, suspense, action, and romance.

Strengths. There is so much to like in this story, but I think my favorite is the worldbuilding. It’s a little rare, I suppose, to put the element that most often fades into the background as the aspect of the story I liked best, but for me, the sense of place, without being bogged down by a lot of techno terms or details I didn’t care about, made the whole story more enjoyable. I thought there was just the right amount of science/technology mixed with the right amount of facts about the governments that dominated the populated universe to give me a feel for what the characters had to contend with.

Furthermore, the inventiveness seemed believable—a logical outcome of the way technology is advancing and of the way governments are behaving today.

I also thought the central theme was wonderfully woven into the story. Nothing seemed forced. The characters themselves, as a natural part of who they were and the predicament in which they found themselves, dictated the theme. It was never delivered in a heavy-handed manner, though I guess you’d say the “faith elements” were overt.

I liked the characters as well, though I have to admit, when Isolda appeared in chapter three, I felt quite relieved. I wasn’t sure about spending an entire book in the head of a numb assassin, no matter how justified he was in his own mind for doing what he did.

The plot was exciting, built as it was on intrigue. There were fight scenes, chase scenes, betrayals, rescues, hypocrites acting hypocritical and spies acting nobly. There were plenty of twists though the plot never became convoluted. Important elements were properly foreshadowed, so little felt as if it didn’t belong.

But that brings me to the next part of this review.

Weaknesses.

      SPOILER ALERT

Perhaps the only part of the story I didn’t find believable was the sudden attraction Isolda had to first one assassin, then the other. To her credit, she didn’t realize that Balaam, who appeared to be her rescuer, was actually there to kill Crusader and kidnap her. But here’s the thing—she showed definite signs of attractions to a complete stranger. Then when he is killed, she quickly shows interest in the agent who defeated him—the one who she knows is there to kill her.

This tendency to be easily won over to a man could have been a character trait of Isolda’s, except she had no such response to the one guy she actually had known for some time and the one she had shared experiences with and who seemed quite willing early on to protect her.

In short, the contrast between the way Isolda reacted to Gavin and to Balaam, then Crusader, made her actions a little hard for me to believe.

      END SPOILER ALERT

Apart from that plot point, I had no problems with this story. The writing was straightforward, the characters well defined, the surprises plentiful.

Recommendation. I’m happy there’s a quality Christian science fiction novel to go along with the growing number of excellent Christian fantasies. John Otte has done a wonderful job giving readers an enjoyable story that also provides sufficient meat to chew on. I highly recommend this book to all readers. It’s a must read for fans of Christian science fiction.

As it happens, all John Otte’s books, including Numb, are discounted at Marcher Lord Press. However, these prices are only good through April.

CSFF Blog Tour – Numb By John Otte, Day 2


Numb-CoverThe Christian science fiction novel, Numb, by John Otte, has a good number of surprises, but one is not how the book got its title. The main character, known for most of the book as Crusader, works as an assassin for the Ministrix, one of two dominant governments in the universe, this one claiming to be linked to the True Church. The assassin understands his role as that of executioner. He carries out the judgment against infidels, pagans, and heretics as his superiors order.

Crusader believes himself to be the perfect man for the job because God has gifted him with numbness. He can feel neither pain nor emotion. Consequently, he is single minded about his missions. He is not distracted by fear or guilt, and he is not slowed by pain or doubt.

At first this condition of numbness seems pitiful, at least to me, and I think to some of the characters in the book. Crusader has been conditioned by his handlers to believe his numbness is a provision from God. But not to feel joy or love or hope or anticipation or gratitude or excitement or satisfaction or even regret or sorrow, seems as if Crusader is missing the core of what makes a person human.

Even pain is a beneficial and necessary component for life, or so I understand from reading a story about a leper who gradually lost his sense of touch and no longer registered pain in his extremities. Each night he did a self examination to be sure he didn’t have some untreated cut that could become infected. Otherwise, his fingers and hands and feet could become gangrenous and would have to be amputated.

Feeling is vital.

But as I read Numb, I realized that a good deal of the population in western society lives to feel numb. In fact, many self-medicate, drink, do drugs or dive behind a computer, lock in on the TV, play round after round of the latest version of their favorite game, all in order to be numb to the real world around them.

Whether via the world of pretend or the vicarious competitions of sports or music or dance or survival, people are holding at bay unhappy spouses, too high credit card bills, nagging bosses, crying children, unkempt lawns, taxes, traffic, gas prices, corrupt politicians, aging parents, you name it.

When the world and its problems close in, sometimes it feels too overwhelming. If we allow ourselves to feel the crush, we’ll explode, so we scramble for whatever will numb the pain.

We may not take up a mission like Crusader did, but we act as if our numbness is a gift from God.

But it wasn’t for Crusader, and it isn’t for us. God isn’t about numbing us from the experiences he’s put before us. In fact, one of the things the Christian has been given is abundant life. That’s not only a future provision; it’s a present provision. And to live life abundantly means the opposite of numbing ourselves, insulating ourselves from the effects of our experiences.

Paul summed up the difference: Do not be drunk with wine but be filled with the Holy Spirit. Don’t rely on a depressant, a substance that induces forgetfulness and a lack of control. Instead, be filled with the One who guides us in all Truth, who is the source of joy and patience and gentleness and self-control and love.

He might as well have said, Do not be numb.

- – - – -

Take time to check out what other bloggers are writing about in conjunction with the Numb blog tour. There are a couple excellent interviews with John Otte you won’t want to miss: Shannon McNear‘s and Keanan Brand‘s day two posts. Jason Joyner, who has met John and hung out with him at conferences, has some interesting tidbits and even an interesting picture you’ll have to see to believe. ;-) You’ll especially want to learn how to Otte-fy your story, if you’re a writer.

John himself has a great post about how he came to write Numb. Highly recommend.

Published in: on April 22, 2014 at 7:23 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: , , , ,

CSFF Blog Tour – Numb by John Otte


Numb-CoverSo imagine you’re a pastor, one in an evangelical church that believes the Bible is true and has been inspired by the Holy Spirit. And imagine you also love science fiction, that you even write science fiction. What kind of story would you write?

Anyone come up with a novel about an assassin, one hired by the church?

Yea, that would not have been my first guess either, but that’s what Pastor John Otte has written in Numb, his third novel published by Marcher Lord Press.

John, a contributor at Speculative Faith (his columns post every other Wednesday), and a long-time member of the CSFF Blog Tour, spends most of his time pastoring at Concordia Lutheran Church in South St. Paul, Minnesota.

The son of a pastor, you’d think John’s future course must have been established from his youth—that is, until you learn he graduated from college with a degree in theater!

Graduated summa cum laude.

Majoring in theater!

Of course, he did go on, after graduation, to attend seminary where he earned his Master of Divinity degree. Soon after he began serving as a youth pastor, then as a senior pastor in Blue Earth, Minnesota. He was installed as the new pastor at Concordia in December, 2007.

And yet, that theater major was still very much alive. John had been a writer as early as elementary school and even then intended his stories to find an audience with the public.

He was so serious about his writing that he joined American Christian Fiction Writers shortly after graduation, and it was through that organization he eventually met his agent and his acquiring editor/publisher.

After publishing two superhero type stories, John created Numb, a novel nominated for the Clive Staples Award and just last week, named as a finalist for the Christy Award, Visionary Category.

Which brings us back to the assassin working for the True Church. His role, as he sees it and as he’s been trained to believe, is to serve as the sword of judgment against heretics, dissenters, or heathen. Wherever his leaders send him, he goes. Whoever they order him to kill, he destroys. And he’s the best at what he does because he’s been gifted by God, he’s told, to feel nothing—little or no pain or emotion. All the sensations that could distract him are swallowed up in numbness.

If you’d like to learn more about this story, check out what others on the CSFF tour are saying about Numb, the novel no one would expect a pastor to write.

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.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,639 other followers