Review—The Legend of the Firefish

    Legend of the Firefish

I have to tell you, I think Harvest House Publishers has leaped onto the stage of Christian fantasy in a dramatic way. The Legend of the Firefish, first in the Trophy Chase Trilogy by George Bryan Polivka and Harvest House’s first fantasy publication, is a winner.

The story. Packer Throme, a young man expelled from seminary in the Christian region known as Nearing Vast, makes a decision to help the people of his village, most who make their living as poor fishermen. Packer’s decision puts him in deadly peril and and tests his faith in ways he hadn’t imagined.

That’s it. I’m not giving you any more. I don’t believe a story has as much power if you know the entire plot line going in. Suffice it to say, there is danger from the sea, danger from compatriots, danger from enemy warriors, danger from the sea monsters known as Firefish. And mostly there is spiritual danger, woven skillfully into the story because of who Packer is.

Strengths. There are many. This is a story filled with action, adventure, danger, intrigue, surprise, suspense. It will keep readers turning pages to find out what will happen next.

I also found a creative world I’ve never encountered before. There is no magic—which explains, to my mind, why a publishing house with a conservative reputation had no problem publishing a fantasy. The feel of the story is more like that of a fairy tale—one stripped of the Disney aspect of such a story and told as the raw tale of how it really was back then. In an author note, Polivka references C. S. Lewis’s belief about Myth. Clearly, the world he creates is mythical.

The characters Polivka created are fresh and interesting. Packer is troubled by his status as a failed seminarian but does not stand still in defeat. Instead he moves forward with a daring plan, only to deal with the doubts about the wisdom of his decision when the troubles start to come. In addition, Polivka portrays a strong female character who is integral in a subplot as captivating as the central story-line.

Most impressively from a writer’s standpoint is Polivka’s successful use of the omniscient point of view. For one thing, it is fresh. So much of Christian fiction is patterned after Browne and King (Self-editing for the Fiction Writer) that it is nice to read something out of the mold for a change. But Polivka does it expertly, panning out to show the big-setting picture when needed and panning in while switching seamlessly from one person to the other when a closer view is called for. It’s writing reminiscent of an earlier era, without the boring parts. 🙂

There is a theme, a clearly defined one. And there is an overt portrayal of Christianity. I remember thinking when editor Nick Harrison first mentioned this fact in an interview at Speculative Faith that I would pretty much have to see it to believe it. Well, Polivka pulled it off. Not just my opinion or Nick Harrison’s either. This is what Publisher’s Weekly had to say about the clear—I mean, strongly in line with good Calvinist doctrine—Christianity:

“Though the Packer-Panna romance finds considerable ink, this is a tale almost entirely of pirates, warriors, stormy seas and battles with monsters. The Christian message is palpable, and Polivka’s characters relatively complex. With the nonstop action that cuts between multiple story lines, readers will be flipping pages eagerly.”
(emphasis added)

The fact that there is no doubt about the Christian beliefs or that the theme is strong, PW’s ONLY comment was that it was palpable. 😀 Which means, it worked. This is a story that does not back off from Christianity, making it an integral part of the story instead. As a result, it works. Packer’s crises of faith are consistent with his character, as are his ultimate actions.

Weaknesses. There are few. The writing is a delight. But I had this problem: at one point I didn’t like Packer for a decision he made. After painting him as a man of faith who was trusting God for the outcome of his situation, whether it turned out for good or for ill, he makes a questionable turnaround, one that comes into some focus a little further into the story, but for a period of time, I was disappointed in Packer and didn’t understand his change from a dependent child of God to one lacking in faith.

There was also a scene early in the story that portrayed considerable violence. It was not gratuitous at all, but I thought it lacked power simply because it came so early. I didn’t know Packer well enough to feel strongly connected with him.

That’s it—and I could easily overlook those matters because the overall story was such a success.

By the way, this is not a trilogy in the traditional sense. The Legend of the Firefish easily reads as a stand-alone, for those of you who prefer not to engage a three-part story.

Recommendation. A must read for fantasy lovers and a highly recommended rating for others who want a good story. Christians or non-Christians (because the overt Christianity is “palatable” 😉 ).

Published in: on February 6, 2007 at 11:34 am  Comments (11)  

11 Comments

  1. Would you be interested in blogging about Tricia Goyer’s Arms of Deliverance?

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  2. I had a new story idea come to mind last month, and I jotted down some notes. For the last two weeks, I’ve jotted down several ideas as I get them upon waking (which seems to be when my mind goes into new ideas mode). I scribbled some scenes, too. And I began to think, “Oh, no, this needs to be more omniscient.”

    I’ve never written omniscient, but something is telling me THIS sotry needs it. And it scares me. I have no experience with it, though I enjoy reading it when done well.

    I’ll be particularly interested in seeing how Polivka handles it.

    I’m disappointed that there is not magical element. I like magic. 🙂 But just Polivka’s credentials overrode my distaste of pirate/shipping stories. Normally, if I saw it was a sea adventure story, I’d skip it without a second glance.

    I’ll be getting this one.

    Mir

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  3. palpable and still palatable? Cool.

    Great review. I can’t wait to read the book. I’ll have to save me pennies so I can buy next month. How exciting.

    And I do so love the omniscient pov.

    Three cheers for Bryan Polivka for not Browne and Kinging his book!

    And three cheers for Harvest House, and that nice man Nick Harrison who looks at First Edition. =0) Because, though Bryan may be a great writer he wasn’t doing me a bit of good until someone found him and published him.

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  4. heh heh I’m Irish–did you know that, me girl?

    Or maybe it was just that I was looking forward to a swashbuckling adventure, me mateys.

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  5. Cool book by the sound of things. Thanks, Becky. And Sally, you back online? Good to see you, uh…in a digital sense. And what sort of swashbuckling adventure might you be lookin’ fer? Arrr…
    😉

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  6. Nice review, Rebecca. I’ll have to check it out. And it’s great to see that Publisher’s Weekly liked it too–high praise, in my opinion.

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  7. Thanks for the comments.

    Mir, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. You made a comment elsewhere, SpecFaith I think, about pirates needing to act like pirates. I thought at once of The Legend of the Firefish because, as overt as the Christianity is, the sin is just as overt. Not in a consequence-free way. But its existence isn’t dodged or softened. Pirates act like pirates! I didn’t miss the magic, I really didn’t. I’ll be interested in your reaction.

    Heheheh. Sally, I read your comment yet again and didn’t see the “me pennies.” Third time’s a charm, me girl! 😉

    I’m excited for all of you to read this book. And Wayne, I did think it was interesting that the series you’re working on is also a pirate sort of thing. Hmmm. Is this a pirate conspiracy?

    Chris, thanks for your encouragement. I don’t always agree with PW, but I respect their opinion. They don’t seem to have any ax to grind or an agenda to push, so their approval does carry some weight.

    Becky

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  8. Hey, good review here Becky. I’m glad to hear of more quality Christian spec fic out there. My interest is piqued, and I will definitely have to look into getting this one. (Maybe we can do a tour on it one day).

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  9. Thanks, Jason. I’m with you—every good fantasy (and SF) written in a way that glorifies God is a thrill.

    And yes, we are putting Polivka on the tentative list for a tour. Need to work out the specifics.

    Becky

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  10. This sounds like an awesome book, Becky! I heard about at an editor’s panel at the Mount Hermon conference, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. It’s so exciting to see more spec fic being published. 🙂 I can’t wait to read this book. I was highly interested already, but you have raised my interest, if that is possible. 🙂

    Becca Johnson

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  11. Oops, please excuse the typos. I guess I was just so excited about the book that I didn’t notice. 🙂

    Becca Johnson

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