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.

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.

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.

Introducing Golden Daughter


It’s my privilege to be part of the cover reveal for Golden Daughter, next in the Tales of Goldstone Wood by Anne Elisabeth Stengl, winner of the 2013 Clive Staples Award.

GoldenDaughtercover

BEYOND THE REALM OF DREAMS

IS A WORLD SHE NEVER IMAGINED

Masayi Sairu was raised to be dainty, delicate, demure . . . and deadly. She is one of the emperor’s Golden Daughters, as much a legend as she is a commodity. One day, Sairu will be contracted in marriage to a patron, whom she will secretly guard for the rest of her life.

But when she learns that a sacred Dream Walker of the temple seeks the protection of a Golden Daughter, Sairu forgoes marriage in favor of this role. Her skills are stretched to the limit, for assassins hunt in the shadows, and phantoms haunt in dreams.

With only a mysterious Faerie cat and a handsome slave—possessed of his own strange abilities—to help her, can Sairu shield her new mistress from evils she can neither see nor touch?

For the Dragon is building an army of fire. And soon the heavens will burn.

Excerpt from Chapter 3

GOLDEN DAUGHTER

Sairu made her way from Princess Safiya’s chambers out to the walkways of the encircling gardens. The Masayi, abode of the Golden Daughters, was an intricate complex of buildings linked by blossom-shrouded walkways, calm with fountains and clear, lotus-filled pools where herons strutted and spotted fish swam.

Here she had lived all the life she could remember.
The Masayi was but a small part of Manusbau Palace, which comprised the whole of Sairu’s existence. She had never stepped beyond the palace walls. To do so would be to step into a world of corruption, corruption to which a Golden Daughter would not be impervious until she was safely chartered to a master and her life’s work was affixed in her heart and mind. Meanwhile, she must live securely embalmed in this tomb, waiting for life to begin.

Sairu’s mouth curved gently at the corners, and she took small steps as she had been trained—slow, dainty steps that disguised the swiftness with which she could move at need. Even in private she must maintain the illusion, even here within the Masayi.

A cat sat on the doorstep of her own building, grooming itself in the sunlight. She stepped around it and proceeded into the red-hung halls of the Daughter’s quarters and on to her private chambers. There she must gather what few things she would take with her—fewer things even than Jen-ling would take on her journey to Aja. For Jen-ling would be the wife of a prince, and she must give every impression of a bride on her wedding journey.

I wonder who my master will be? Sairu thought as she slid back the rattan door to her chamber and entered the quiet simplicity within. She removed her elaborate costume and exchanged it for a robe of simple red without embellishments. She washed the serving girl cosmetics from her face and painted on the daily mask she and her sisters wore—white with black spots beneath each eye and a red stripe down her chin. It was elegant and simple, and to the common eye it made her indistinguishable from her sisters.

The curtain moved behind her. She did not startle but turned quietly to see the same cat slipping into her room. Cats abounded throughout Manusbau Palace, kept on purpose near the storehouses to manage the vermin. But they did not often enter private chambers.

Sairu, kneeling near her window with her paint pots around her, watched the cat as it moved silkily across the room, stepped onto her sleeping cushions, and began kneading the soft fabric, purring all the while. Its claws pulled at the delicate threads. But it was a cat. As far as it was concerned, it had every right to enjoy or destroy what it willed.

At last it seemed to notice Sairu watching it. It turned sleepy eyes to her and blinked.

Sairu smiled. In a voice as sweet as honey, she asked, “Who are you?”

The cat twitched its tail softly and went on purring.

The next moment, Sairu was across the room, her hand latched onto the cat’s scruff. She pushed it down into the cushions and held it there as it yowled and snarled, trying to catch at her with its claws.

“Who are you?” she demanded, her voice fierce this time. “What are you? Are you an evil spirit sent to haunt me?”

“No, dragons eat it! I mean, rrrraww! Mreeeow! Yeeeowrl!”

The cat twisted and managed to lash out at her with its back feet, its claws catching in the fabric of her sleeve. One claw scratched her wrist, startling her just enough that she loosened her hold. The cat took advantage of the opportunity and, hissing like a fire demon, leapt free. It sprang across the room, knocking over several of her paint pots, and spun about, back-arched and snarling. Every hair stood on end, and its ears lay flat to its skull.

Sairu drew a dagger from her sleeve and crouched, prepared for anything. The smile lingered on her mouth, but her eyes flashed. “Who sent you?” she demanded. “Why have you come to me now? You know of my assignment, don’t you.”

Meeeeowrl,” the cat said stubbornly and showed its fangs in another hiss.

“I see it in your face,” Sairu said, moving carefully to shift her weight and prepare to spring. “You are no animal. Who is your master, devil?”

- – - – -
AUTHOR BIO:
Anne Elisabeth StenglAnne Elisabeth Stengl is the author of the award-winning Tales of Goldstone Wood series, adventure fantasies told in the classic Fairy Tale style. Her books include Christy Award-winning Heartless and Veiled Rose, and Clive Staples Award-winning Starflower. She makes her home in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she lives with her husband, Rohan, a passel of cats, and one long-suffering dog. When she’s not writing, she enjoys Shakespeare, opera, and tea, and practices piano, painting, and pastry baking. She studied illustration and English literature at Grace College and Campbell University.

BOOK COVER: The [stunning!] cover illustration was done by Julia Popova. Visit her website to learn more about her and her fantastic work!

GIVEAWAY: Anne Elisabeth is offering any two of the first six Goldstone Wood novels as a giveaway prize! Winner’s choice of: Heartless, Veiled Rose, Moonblood, Starflower, Dragonwitch, or Shadow Hand. [Editor's note: I'd go for Starflower and Dragonwitch, if I were you, though I haven't read Shadow Hand yet, so I reserve the right to change my mind. ;-) ] Go to her site and enter using the rafflecopter form.

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

Fantasy Friday – Goddess Tithe


goddesstithecoverOne of the best Christian speculative writers, in my opinion, is Anne Elisabeth (don’t call her Anne or Ann ;-) ) Stengl. As it happens, she is also the winner of last year’s Clive Stables Award with her novel Snowflower. She has since released Dragonwitch and most recently, Goddess Tithe, her self-published, illustrated novella.

If you’ve not had occasion to read any of Anne Elisabeth’s works, Goddess Tithe might be the perfect introduction. While the world and characters have some connection to the rich story world of the series Tales of Goldstone Wood, in which all Anne Elisabeth’s other novels are set, this small story can easily stand alone.

The Story. Munny, a poor boy who wants to give his sick mother the gift of life by freeing her from the responsibility of caring for him, goes to sea. As a lowly cabin boy, young and inexperienced, he’s tormented by those older and stronger than he. But an old sailor takes him under his wings and goes about teaching him all he knows about such things as tying knots and why he should always do what their captain says.

The lives of all the sailors on the Kulap Kanya are put in jeopardy, however, when they discover a stowaway on board . . . and when their revered captain does not at once throw him overboard as the tithe justly due the goddess Risafeth who rules the sea. Rather, he puts the stowaway under Munny’s care and protection. And then the goddess comes to claim her tithe.

Strengths. Anne Elisabeth has created an incredible world, less obvious in this short novella, which makes this story the perfect entry point for someone wondering what kind of writer and stories they’ve been missing. The character’s the thing, you might say. Munny is wonderfully drawn (with words and with . . pencil, or whatever the media Anne Elisabeth used for her illustrations). He is sympathetic, well motivated, heroic, not free of prejudice, but able to grow and develop. He shows greater strength because of his belief in his captain, prompted by his aging mentor.

Best of all is the end when . . . heheh–you didn’t really think I was going to tell, did you?

Anne Elisabeth masterfully tells the story using the old time fairytale-style point of view–the omniscient voice. It’s so well done, and so necessary to this story, that no intimacy with the protagonist is lost.

The story is short and not complicated, but it packs a punch as all of the Tales of Goldstone Wood do. This is not allegory, not even symbolism in the normal sense of the word, and there is no preaching. Rather, the Christian theme becomes apparent as the characters live out what comes naturally to them as Anne Elisabeth has depicted them. She’s masterful at showing Christianity.

Weakness. I had one point of contention with this story. I thought Munny’s motivation for leaving home was weak. It’s the one place where I didn’t think he came across as smart. He left hoping something would happen, but the fact is, if it didn’t happen, he would have made the situation he was trying to improve so very much worse. I thought it too obvious even for a poor uneducated peasant boy to miss, and thought he should never have left home without some assurance that what he wanted would in fact result from his decision.

Recommendation. For all the macho male readers who have stayed away from the Tales of Goldstone Wood because they thought they were, you know, fairytales, and romance (could there be a worse combination for a macho male reader?), well, here’s the chance to find out for yourselves what all the buzz is about. Goddess Tithe is a nearly all male cast of characters, despite the title. Munny’s mother does make an appearance, but the goddess is like no other goddess you’ve read about.

This is a wonderful story, short, mildly fantastic, more about character than fast action. In short this book is for any reader who likes quality literature.

I’m happy to say that at the writing of this post, the Kindle edition of Goddess Tithe is on sale for $.99. What a great buy!

Also watch for Anne Elisabeth’s next novel, Shadow Hand, which releases March 4 in both print and e-book versions.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,589 other followers