Rebels by Jill Williamson – CSFF Blog Tour, Day 3


Rebelscover

Rebels by Jill Williamson – The Review

Of necessity the following will contain some spoilers, though I will make every effort to keep them to a minimum.

Also, in conjunction with CSFF, I received a free review copy of Rebels from the publisher. This review is in no way influenced by that fact.

The Story. At the end of Outcasts, brothers Mason and Omar have been captured after their rescue operation. They’ve been slated for liberation, whatever that is. No one seems to know.

The rest of the Glenrock community under Levi’s leadership is now free—free to live underground with the Kindred, a group of people who have built a separate culture apart from the rebels and from the Safe Landers and who want nothing to do with outsiders. At least that’s the attitude of some, including the Kindred’s matriarch.

Levi’s next goal is to free the women of Jack’s Peak, their neighboring village, being held in the Safe Land harem where they are to act as surrogates. Once all the people from the villages are together, he wants to find a way out of the Safe Lands.

Meanwhile, Omar and Mason go through the liberation procedure and end up in the Lowlands with all the other liberated people—strikers, who received three x’s for crimes they committed, and everyone over forty, including the older citizens of Glenrock and Jack’s Peak.

Here everyone is assigned to heavy tasks which produce all the food and drugs and other commerce for those in the Highlands and Midlands. In essence they are in a penal colony.

Mason and Omar must first survive in the brutal prison environment, but they are as determined as ever to find a way to reunite their people and leave. But how? There is no way to communicate with the others to let them know they are alive.

Strengths. The list here is long. The series as a unit had incredible coherence—what was true in one book was true in the next and the next. A bit of backstory in one book becomes the central motivation of a character in the final book.

The parts all fit. This was especially impressive to me because I had so many questions at the end of Outcasts and saw no way they would all be answered in one more volume: who were the hooded, secret guild members, what was liberation, what would happen between Omar and Shaylinn, between Mason and Ciddah, would Mason find a cure for the thin plague, would Omar stay in the Safe Lands if everyone else found a way out? Questions, questions, questions. How could all these moving parts fit together and be resolved in one more book? Jill did a remarkable job to make it happen.

Further, the characters continued to develop and grow—even Levi. More than one CSFF tour participant has commented on how much they didn’t like Levi.

I never felt animosity toward him. He was the one who had to deal with the dead bodies of the men who had cared for him and mentored him and served as examples for him. Besides, Jemma loved him.

True, at first he didn’t do well as the elder of his people. He brought the same bullying tactics to the job as his father had used, but he learned. His change is most clearly shown by his agreeing to act as the Owl in Omar’s absence and his admission later to Omar himself that the subversive, secret message bearer of truth was a good idea.

Omar, of course, changed the most, but Shay grew up and learned to accept herself, even stand up for herself when she needed to.

Mason grew too, most clearly seen in his admission that he’d been arrogant to think he could find a cure for the plague on his own. In many respects, the Safe Lands were good for Mason because he finally got to use the abilities he had and to live the way he thought was right. He still had challenges, though, and found himself more dependent on God’s mercy at times than he ever had been before.

In short, all the characters grew and changed. But what’s more, they each seemed so real. As tour participant Meagan said, “I will miss them all and hope that at some point in the future we may revisit this land as they recreate what they once had.”

That’s one of the highest compliments an author can get, I think, because truly these characters became so real, they seem to be out there somewhere, living their lives, and it would be great to be able to “catch up.”

The story itself was full of intrigue and conflict and danger and suspense. But one thing I noticed. Through it all, there were partial successes and reasons for joy—the liberation of the Jack’s Peak women, the birth of Shaylinn’s babies, Mason getting to task in the medical facility, and the brothers finding their mom. The moments of hope offered a counterbalance to all the fear and loss and oppression, so the story had a great rhythm, not a monochromatic note of despair until the end.

I also thought the story shouted through the action and events which worldview is strongest and best, though clearly there wasn’t a black and white choice (how’s that for a bit of confusion—can’t say more without giving too much away). In the process, some of the hardest issues teens face today were addressed—suicide, drug addiction, illicit sex, friendship and betrayal, forgiveness, lust, guilt, and more.

But adults weren’t left alone either. The truth reveals that Levi’s dad abused his wife, and Levi’s bullying and Jordan’s anger are clearly shown as counter-productive. As Levi changes, another legalistic figure moves to the forefront—Tovah, matriarch of the Kindred. Except, as much as it’s tempting to hate her for how she treats the outsiders and how she tries to fence in her boys, she’s the one who steps in to help Shaylinn when she needs it most.

In short, no one is a caricature, not even Lawton, who does much of the evil he does out of a sense of self-preservation.

Weaknesses. The book isn’t perfect—I don’t think too many are. ;-) But the minor things I might quibble over aren’t worth detracting from the high quality of this story. OK, here’s an example. As Levi made his plans to escape the Safe Lands and return to Glenrock, I wanted to shake him—don’t you realize, they’ll just come and get you again? You couldn’t stop them the first time. What makes you think you can ever go back to your village and continue to live in such close proximity of the Safe Lands again?

See? Not a real issue because . . . well, because of what happened instead. :-D

Recommendation. The Safe Lands series is a must read for teens, for adults with teens, for Christian writers who want to see how to write believable fiction with a subtle Christian message that isn’t preachy, and for readers who enjoy a good story. (Yes, I’m a fan!)

Merlin’s Nightmare – A Review


Merlin's NightmareLast month I promised my review of Merlin’s Nightmare, book 3 of the Merlin Spiral by Robert Treskillard. Today I’m happy to provide said review.

The Story Eighteen years have passed since the end of book 2, Merlin’s Shadow. Merlin and his beloved Nataleyna married and besides their stepson, Arthur, they have two children of their own. They make their home in a secure valley away from those who want Arthur dead and from the enemy forces seeking to overrun Britain.

Arthur has grown up under Merlin’s watchful eye but also under the tutelage of some of the best swordsmen and horsemen in the country. Now some are counseling Merlin to reveal to the young man his true heritage—that of rightful High King. Merlin wants to wait until the man who betrayed High King Uther, Arthur’s father, has died. He concedes, however, that Arthur is ready to take part in the coming battles with the invading Picti in the north.

However, Arthur sets off ahead of the army, only he and the two friends with him mistakenly are going south to join a different force gathering to meet a different threat—that of the Saxonow.

When Merlin realizes what Arthur has done, he goes after him. He successfully overtakes him, but events manipulated by his evil sister Mórgana turn Britain into chaos. The Picti overwhelm the army in the north and besiege the safe haven which had been Merlin’s home, a strong king of Britain becomes Mórgana’s werewolf puppet, and the Saxonow outnumber the Briton forces ten to one.

In the midst of what looks to be sure ruin, Merlin tells Arthur who he really is. After a long night of soul searching and dealing with the fact that the man he thought was his father had lied to him for eighteen years, Arthur accepts his role.

The question is, will the other kings and warriors accept him as well? In fact, will there be anything left of Britain for him to rule?

Strengths. In many respects, Merlin’s Nightmare is more of a stand-alone than it is book three of a series. Separated by eighteen years from the events in the last book, this story introduces Arthur, one of the point of view characters, as an adult.

However, as in the first two books of the series, the pace of Merlin’s Nightmare is non-stop. There is action and adventure throughout. Because the story of Arthur is familiar, there aren’t real story surprises, but there continues to be suspense and intrigue connected with the “how does he pull it off” question.

There are also interesting relational dynamics in this story which aren’t typical in other Arthurian legend books, most notably Merlin’s relationship with his wife and other children. Arthur’s change from a wild-colt of a son to a strong-minded leader is handled believably. While the transformation happens rather suddenly, the events of the story require him to assert himself, so this aspect of the story doesn’t feel forced or artificial.

A strong thread of good versus evil continues to run through the story. There’s no doubt that the real conflict is spiritual not merely a fight against a person or a people group. While it is a fight for the survival of Britain, the goal is more than existence. Arthur and the men with him strive for a freedom they’ve known before and that will utterly disappear if they lose to the evil forces conspiring against them.

Perhaps the greatest strength of the book is the realistic setting. From the maps to the text, the story feels almost like a historical novel rather than a re-imaged legend. This quality can only come through solid research. Though the historical underpinnings offer veracity to the story, they do not overwhelm it or take it into dry or irrelevant territory.

Weaknesses. While Merlin’s Nightmare is the final book of the Merlin Spiral, it is not the end of the Merlin story. In fact, the conclusion feels more like this is the first book in a series rather than the last. Many readers won’t mind this and in fact will be delighted to learn that the story continues in a second series entitled the Pendragon Spiral.

More germane to the issue is what I perceive as a problem of goal. Throughout the story, I struggled to like Merlin because he did not seem to be an active participant. He wanted to take Arthur north to fight the Picti, but ended up going along in the opposite direction. He didn’t want to travel with Gogi and his daughters, but merely sulked and/or kept to himself. He didn’t want Arthur to go to the parlay with the Saxonow, but did nothing more than spy. He himself wanted to return home but did nothing but pine for his family.

In other words, there was no plan that the main character was working to achieve. He wanted things that he was powerless to bring about, and he made no plan to change his circumstances.

In fact, he and Arthur were often at odds. I kept wanting the strong and wise adviser to the High King to show up, but he didn’t.

Perhaps I was a victim of the many other legend books. Perhaps I wanted something different from the main character other than the believable responses to the circumstances in this book.

I did want something heroic, and not just in the nick of time. I wanted something heroic as part of the fabric of the character. But Merlin still seemed to doubt too much, to depend too much, to follow instead of guide. He didn’t make things happen. He reacted.

But this story is Merlin’s Nightmare, after all, so it could be I expected something the book never promised.

Recommendation. As part of the re-imaging of the Arthurian legend which Robert Treskillard is weaving, Merlin’s Nightmare is essential. I see it as the bridge book between the early events chronicling how Merlin saved Arthur and the later events chronicling how Arthur saved Britain. A must read for those who are hooked on stories about King Arthur. They will love this new look at the legend.

Published in: on September 24, 2014 at 12:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

Merlin’s Nightmare – Tour Wrap


Merlin SpiralThis week the CSFF Blog Tour featured Merlin’s Nightmare, book three of the Merlin Spiral by Robert Treskillard. For the group, I think the tour was a huge success. For me individually, not so much. Because of a confluence of events, I was not able to post the last two days, including the last day of the tour. Suffice it to say, my review of Merlin’s Nightmare is forthcoming.

Apart from me, however, the tour carried on in fine fashion. Many participants stopped by other blogs to read and comment. There were also many thoughtful observations along with critical reviews.

The most oft repeated criticism was that the ending of this trilogy was not actually an ending but more nearly an introduction to the next trilogy, the Pendragon Spiral. Not that readers mind more Merlin and Arthur stories from author Robert Treskillard. Rather, it seems some wanted, even expected, more closure.

A couple things surfaced repeatedly in the “this is great” camp. One was the historical connection and the research that went into giving the book and series such an authentic feel. Another was the action that drew readers into the story and kept them turning pages.

I may have missed someone, but I didn’t see a single participant who was disappointed with the book or sorry they’d read it or recommended others not bother with it. Positive consensus like that isn’t easy to come by. Perhaps the fact that these readers, reacting thoughtful with the story and even criticizing aspects of it, nevertheless agreed that this book and series was worthwhile, says more than anything about how good it really is.

In the end, twenty-four bloggers posted thirty-nine articles discussing Merlin’s Nightmare this week. That doesn’t count the article I wrote at Spec Faith or the handful of reviews (my own included) still to be posted.

One of the more interesting posts, I thought, was Megan @ Blooming with Books, Day 2 post examining fealty and its application to today.

A must-read post, from my perspective, is Elizabeth William’s day two post about the fantasy elements of the story. Here is the meat of her article:

First, in this version, Merlin is not the last of the old, but the start of something new – a Christian, united Britain, which breaks down the tribal barriers and becomes a thing larger than the sum of its parts. With his scars, his history, and his harp, Merlin also has the traditional links to the past. But this book is not so much about saving the past as it is ensuring the future.

Secondly – power, magic, and awe belong not just to the druids and the devil-linked deals with demons, but also to the people of God. The miracles of God are less flashy than the “power” displayed by the various antagonists of the ‘bad guys’ – but there is distinct, overt magic there. More importantly, the magic and miracles are shown to be linked to the use of prayer, but not in a directive way.

The difference, as I see it, is thus: Morgana draws in the dark power and stabs at things with her fang. Merlin prays for strength and deliverance. (And God delivers, natch.)

CSFFTopBloggerAug14In the end, despite a number of top notch posts from a number of tour participants, I’m going to award this month’s CSFF Top Tour Blogger Award to Audrey Sauble for her three excellent articles at The Lore Mistress. I especially enjoyed her day three post about how the Merlin Spiral books fit into the Arthurian legends.

If you haven’t taken time to see what tour participants are saying about Merlin’s Nightmare, I hope you do so this weekend. The book is worth your consideration, and you have a wealth of insight at your disposal. Links to the tour articles are available at the end of my day one post.

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.

The Christian View Of Culture: The Secular/Sacred Divide


    Nothing for the Christian is essentially secular. It can only be secularized by leaving God out of it or by engaging in that from which God, by his nature, must be excluded.
    The Real Face of Atheism by Ravi Zacharias (p. 145)

mud_poolI’ve read any number of times that one of the problems in the church and in Christian fiction is a propensity to divide life into camps—secular over there, Christian over here. Often times this line of reasoning comes from someone decrying the term “Christian fiction.”

However, the thought usually goes more along these lines: God created the world and everything in it; therefore, everything has a touch of the divine if we will see it—mountains and mud puddles, priests and prostitutes.

Interestingly, the quote above from evangelist/apologist Ravi Zacharias agrees with the idea that we have constructed an artificial divide. There’s an interesting wording difference between Zacharias’s phrasing and what I’ve read before. Rather than saying all is sacred, he says none is secular. I think that might be significant.

On one hand, those suggesting we do away with the “Christian fiction” distinction say all is sacred. There seems to be a period there. The implication is that all can be enjoyed or utilized by a Christian whether or not God shows up.

In contrast, Mr. Zacharias stipulates that nothing is secular but anything can be secularized by leaving God out

But what does it mean to include God in the picture? Are we supposed to see Jesus in Avatar, for instance? Are we supposed to read Watership Down (Richard Adams) and see some end times message?

Not at all. I think including God means I first see the object or person or piece of writing before me for what or who they are. Jesus, for example, understood exactly who the woman at the well was—a Samaritan, a “seeker,” a divorcee, a sinner in need of a Savior. He didn’t dismiss her as too far gone for God and He didn’t dismiss her as already one of the family of God.

I guess what I’m thinking is this: we don’t need to force God into places.

I remember when I saw the first two Star Wars movies. I started to see Christian parallels and began to wonder if possibly Lucas was using intentional symbolism to convey a Christian message. Maybe he was saying the Force was God. Maybe our hero was a type of Christ.

In reality, I was forcing my worldview onto the movie.

Then where is God in Star Wars? Are they simply “secular,” something I can enjoy apart from my Christianity?

While I can enjoy them, I don’t think it’s necessary for me to do so apart from my Christianity but because of it. As I think on God and His Son, I am filtering my culture through the lens of my Christianity.

For example, I can look at the Force and compare that to God as He has revealed Himself in the Bible—a personal, loving Heavenly Father. While the Jedi knights could say, “May the Force be with you,” they could never say, “May the Force comfort you in your time of grief” or “May the Force hear your prayer” or “May the Force extend its grace and love to you.” God transcends the Force by His nature, by His personhood.

So I can come away from Star Wars entertained but also thankful that I know a personal loving God and do not have to trust to an impersonal, distant Force.

That’s only one example. Other possibilities include a conviction to commit to God … Or a willingness to mentor someone new in the faith … Or a determination to stand against evil regardless of the strength of the opposition.

You get the idea.

Nothing is secular unless I leave God out.

- – – – -
This article is a reprint of one entitled “The Christian View Of Culture” published February, 2010.

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.

Published in: on March 19, 2014 at 7:23 pm  Comments Off  
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CSFF Blog Tour – A Draw Of Kings, Day 2


The Staff & The Sword trilogy covers I don’t think there’s any secret to the fact that I’m partial to epic fantasy. I mean, that’s my genre. I have my own epic fantasy, complete with character lists and maps, I might add, which I hope to publish some day. How excited, then, have I been this past year to see the popularity of Patrick Carr‘s series, The Staff & The Sword, increase. I mean, that’s the way an author dreams of having a series go. Publishers, too, I would guess.

Of course, I’m not privy to the sales for Carr’s series. I am only judging by the enthusiasm and the growing number of reviews. I’m used to seeing that number drop off as a series goes along. Not so with A Draw of Kings, the finale of this well-told story. Consider the fact that this book has been out for a little over a month and already has 71 Amazon reviews and 98 ratings on Goodreads, and I think you get a picture of the buzz this trilogy is creating.

That makes me happy as a reader and as a writer. I love getting lost in another world, and Patrick Carr did a good job creating a different place which had its own rules and alliances and enemies and power structures and supernatural connections.

Is the success of this trilogy a first step toward more epic fantasy?

I’d love to say, yes, definitely. But what I think it is actually a first step toward is readers wanting good stories.

In the end, I want good stories, more than I want epic fantasy. If I were given the choice between a poorly written epic fantasy and a well-told dystopian or fairytale or supernatural or contemporary, I’d pick the latter every time. I don’t think I’m unusual in this.

Yes, I have a favorite genre, but I’m not an exclusive reader. I don’t read solely in the speculative category, let alone in the epic fantasy niche. I like good stories, first and foremost.

So when I see a series like The Staff & The Sword get a lot of attention, I’m not thinking, Finally, people are discovering Christian epic fantasy. Rather, I’m thinking, Yea, an author has done Christian epic fantasy so well, fans are gathering to it.

Hopefully they will enjoy these books so much, they’ll be willing to try other speculative stories that might move them out of their comfort zone–books like R. J. Larson’s epic fantasy trilogy or Jill Williamson’s dystopian Safe Lands series or Shannon Dittemore’s Angel Eyes supernatural trilogy or Robert Treskillard’s Arthurian series, The Merlin Spiral.

Really, there are such good books out there right now. It’s a great time to be a reader who enjoys Christian speculative fiction, that’s for sure.

My advice is to hop on the bandwagon and pick up one of the Clive Staples Award 2014 nominations for your next good book. The fact that there are Christian themes engrained in the stories makes the reading experience deeper.

Poorly executed themes, no matter what the message, turn a good story sour. One of the great things about each of the CSA nomination I’ve read is that themes are handled appropriately–as a natural outgrowth of who the characters are and what is happening in the plot. There’s no, “Time out for a word from our sponsor” telling of the Christian message.

For those who have read at least two of the CSA nominations, I trust you have voted for the finalists or are planning to do so. You have until a week from today.

In the end, then, I think Patrick Carr and The Staff & The Sword trilogy are part of the rising tide of Christian speculative fantasy.

How well did A Draw of Kings do in closing out the story? I’ll give my thoughts on that tomorrow. For now, I suggest you see what others on the CSFF tour are saying. You can find the list of participants and links to their articles at the end of my intro post.

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