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!)

Rebels by Jill Williamson – CSFF Blog Tour, Day 1


jillwilliamsonnewsmallSpeculative fiction, and fantasy in particular, is known for its trilogies or tetralogies or series of five or of seven, or of an unending number. With few exceptions, of the various series I’ve read, I’ve thought book one is the best. This includes The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which, despite the chronological way the books have been packaged, was the first book C. S. Lewis wrote in the Narnia series.

I’ve heard a number of writers suggest the first book is the best because the author took as long as it took to write that first book, but then when he or she was under contract, and under deadline for the rest of the series, the writing gets rushed. This explanation may be true, and it certainly seems logical.

The thing is, the end of a series seems to me to be vital for the success of the author’s next book. For example, how many readers who were so upset with the way author Veronica Roth ended her Divergent series will pick up her next book?

All that to say, I think Jill Williamson, author of this month’s CSFF Blog Tour feature, Rebels, book three of the Safe Lands series, has positioned herself very well for her next series. Of the three Safe Lands books, without a doubt, Rebels is my favorite. I really liked Captives and loved Outcasts which seemed so real, given the story premise.

There were believable quandaries: interpersonal problems, situational difficulties, cultural conflicts. But Outcasts was a middle book, deepening problems and increasing intrigue. While there was some resolution, in the end there were more problems left unsolved than ones brought to a conclusion. The question I had when I finished Outcasts was, could Rebels deliver answers in a satisfying way? I honestly thought there was too much. I didn’t see how Jill Williamson was going to pull it off.

But she did. In my opinion, Rebels is one of the most satisfying endings I’ve read in a long time. Yes, there are some threads left open, but that’s as it should be. I’ll discuss that point in more depth later in the tour. For this post, suffice it to say, I think Jill accomplished what only the best writers seem to do—her series got stronger with each book, and the final installment in the trilogy was the strongest of all.

Of course the beauty of the CSFF Blog Tour is that you don’t have to take my word for it. You can compare what I say about the book with what others participating in the tour are posting.

See what the following CSFF members thought about Rebels. (Reminder: a checkmark takes you to a tour article I’ve already found). Also, note that a number of participants, thanks to the generosity of the publisher Blink, have an extra copy of the novel they are giving away. You might want to get your name into the mix at one of these sites. (Special recommendation for Audrey Sauble‘s giveaway because you can earn extra points by linking to another CSFF tour post!)

Published in: on September 29, 2014 at 5:40 pm  Comments (3)  
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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.

Fiction And The Supernatural – Merlin’s Nightmare, CSFF Tour, Day 2


Robert Treskillard at book signing2Merlin’s Nightmare, third in the Merlin Spiral young adult fantasy trilogy by Robert Treskillard, depends upon the supernatural, both the evil and the good. As such the story is labeled as fantasy, but should it be?

Isn’t the supernatural real?

I know many people, even some professing to be Christians, say belief in the supernatural is nothing but superstition. Those whose worldviews lean toward rationalism determine what is real by one or more of their five senses. Consequently, since you can’t smell demons or touch them or see them, they don’t exist.

Still others lean toward mysticism, but this bent seems more inward looking, more centered on the mind and emotions. There seems to be little awareness of a being or beings outside ourselves. Rather, the mystical puts us in touch with other living things—meaning, other natural beings that can be identified through the five senses.

Christians, on the other hand—true Christians who believe in the Bible—know that God is Spirit, that the Holy Spirit is Spirit, that Jesus has a spiritual body. Consequently, it should be a given that Christians believe in the supernatural.

Surprisingly, however, there’s an arm of evangelical Christianity that basically closes the door on supernatural activity within the Church. The Bible, the reasoning goes, is God’s final word and speaks authoritatively. It is sufficient for salvation and there is no other revelation that will be added to it.

Consequently, the office of prophet has ended. In addition, according to 1 Corinthians 13, tongues—the ability to speak unknown and unlearned languages–will cease. Presumably that means the gift of interpreting tongues is no longer necessary. I’m not sure how the gift of healing was included, but these “ecstatic gifts,” according to this line of thinking, ended with the first generation Christians, or there abouts.

In short, according to this view, the Christian no longer has any involvement with the supernatural. Of course unbelievers don’t either and never did have anything to do with the supernatural.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are evangelicals who believe that demons and angels are everywhere, that Christians must exhibit ecstatic gifts, especially tongues, or they aren’t really Christians.

Many of the latter have shown by their lives that their “conversion” isn’t genuine. They embraced a “spiritual high,” but not the God who they claimed to be the source of their joy. On the other hand, those denying supernatural activity have been accused of turning the Bible into the third person of the trinity in place of the Holy Spirit.

So what is the truth about the supernatural?

Those who don’t discount the Bible as myth, who believe that Jesus actually did walk on water and heal the blind and raise Lazarus from the dead and cast out the legion of demons, believe in the supernatural. The question then becomes, is the supernatural still active? Or is it active in the sense that it intersects the natural world?

Enter fiction and stories like the Merlin Spiral that explore the supernatural from both the side of evil and the side of good. Is there power in the hands of evil? Can mortals defeat it? What is the source of power for good? Can mortals access it?

Merlin’s Nightmare begins an exploration of these elements from the beginning. Here’s a sample:

Morgana reached into her bag once more and pulled forth the orb, another gift from the Voice. Like the fang, she had found it beneath the Druid Stone. It had many powers, but tonight she would use it differently.

Out from the trembling, roaring hole appeared a translucent image of Gorlas that only Morgana could see—his soul emerging from his body. Quickly she held the orb out, and Gorlas’s soul glittered, faded, and then began to sink once more into the pit. The apparition’s face twisted in agony. Oh, but she would save him from this pain. She began to chant;

    Soul of earth, soul in death, come now to me.
    Skin of dust, skin in rust, come and serve me!
    Merlin’s end, Merlin’s rend; yes, you must be
    Arthur’s bane, Arthur’s chain; yes, you must be!
    Power of night, Power of fright, come now, my prize.
    Flesh astrewn, Flesh of moon; yes, you shall rise.

. . . Gorlas’s soul shimmered its last, and then the orb sucked it in like a black liquid swirling down through a funnel. A scream whistled upon the air, and then all was still.

It was done! For inside the orb, surrounded by purple flame, glared the weeping visage of Gorlas. (pp. 19-20)

In the world of Merlin, fanciful though it is, the supernatural exists. How does that help readers to process and understand evil and good at the supernatural level? Because it is imagined by the writer—in this case, Robert Treskillard—does that negate its truth?

I submit that fiction dealing with the natural is still made up, or pretend, if you will. And yet such stories can show a young man coming of age or a brave widow overcoming tragedy or an estranged couple finding reconciliation. Those stories resonate because readers see the truth in them, though the characters are figments of the author’s imagination.

In the same way, an author, though using the medium of fantasy, can pull the curtain back a little on the supernatural. Not in a precise, this-is-exactly-how-it-is way, but in a It-Is way. It is, and it is real—the evil, but also the good.

The next question is, how does the natural man deal with the supernatural? For that one, I suggest you read the Bible. But you also might find Merlin’s Nightmare an intriguing, thought-provoking story that shows one person’s struggles to overcome.

Be sure to check out what other CSFF members participating in the tour have to say. You can find a list and links to their articles at the bottom of the Day 1 post.

To read a sample chapter, click here. To find out about the current series contest stop by the author’s website.

Merlin’s Nightmare By Robert Treskillard – CSFF Blog Tour, Day 1


Merlin's NightmareThis month the CSFF Blog Tour is featuring a young adult fantasy, Merlin’s Nightmare, Book 3 of the Merlin Spiral by Robert Treskillard, who is one of the CSFF members!

I know I’m picky when it comes to fantasy. I have firmly fixed in my mind the way I think fantasy should be done. A map is one of the requirements. A list of characters and/or a glossary is another. In the case of a series, a review sheet reminding readers what went before is highly recommended, if not exactly a requirement.

I’m happy to report that Merlin’s Nightmare includes all three.

First of all, the map is actually three different maps. There’s the overview—a map of Britain during the fifth century. Next, there’s a map of a more localized portion of Britain, and finally there’s the map of a particular village. If readers aren’t clear about the logistics of the story, it certainly won’t be because of a want of a map.

Next, the needed glossary and the desired summary of events from the previous books are cleverly combined. Rather than giving an alphabetical listing of terms, the names and places that appear in the front matter are organized sequentially. First are those that came into play in the first of the series, Merlin’s Blade, then those that were significant to the second, Merlin’s Shadow. After reading through these lists, a reader will have received a nice review of the opening two books.

For those who don’t have the previous books and would like to know what went on before, I recommend Carol Gehringer’s introductory post (with links to her reviews) and Megan @ Blooming with Books excellent review article that summarizes each of the first two books in the trilogy.

Member Jojo Sutis also gives a review of the first book in the series, but her approach is unique. First she posted the book trailer video for Merlin’s Blade, then her own video review of the book.

Interestingly, some of the CSFF tour participants have noted how much they enjoy stories based on the Arthurian legend. I came at this series from the opposite side of the spectrum–story weariness which I defined in my article at Speculative Faith as “familiarity with a story to the point that another rendition seems needless and unappealing.”

Nevertheless, Robert hooked me in the first book and held my interest even as he has did those who love new iterations of the legend. How did he do so? I offered a couple possibilities in “Story Weariness.”

As the week wears on and the tour heats up, you’ll see the number of posts (indicated by check marks) grow. Take time to see what each of these bloggers has to say about a series that captures readers coming to it with contrasting perspectives.

Thomas Clayton Booher
Beckie Burnham
Jeff Chapman
Vicky DealSharingAunt
April Erwin
Carol Gehringer
Victor Gentile
Rebekah Gyger
Carol Keen
Emileigh Latham
Jennette Mbewe
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Joan Nienhuis
Nissa
Jalynn Patterson
Writer Rani
Nathan Reimer
Audrey Sauble
Chawna Schroeder
Jojo Sutis
Robert Treskillard
Phyllis Wheeler
Elizabeth Williams

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.)

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