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 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


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.

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.

CSFF Blog Tour – Outcasts by Jill Williamson, Day 3


Outcasts cover

A Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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