Cyndere’s Midnight—A Review: CSFF Tour Day 2

cyndere-coverCyndere’s Midnight (WaterBrook Press), the blue strand in Auralia’s thread, is the second in a four-book adult fantasy series by Jeffrey Overstreet. While this story is definitely a continuation of events that took place in the first book, Auralia’s Colors, more than one person has said that reading the first of the series is not necessary to appreciate the second.

The Setting. The story takes place in a land known as the Expanse. Four distinct houses (or is it three?) formed from one family, as I recall, but one, the Cent Regus, fell into ruin when their people devolved into beastmen.

The Story. Cyndere, heir of the throne of House Bel Amica, is depressed because all those she is close to—her father, her brother, and now her husband—have died. In her despair she returns to the outpost where she had shared happy days and dreams with her soon-to-be husband. There she plans to honor his memory and end her life.

Her plans change, however, because she encounters a beastman, but not one like the others. He is Jordam, and he revives in her the dream she shared with her husband to reach out and restore the beastmen of House Cent Regis. For various reasons, Cyndere and Jordam flee and go into hiding. But in taking this step, Jordam has had to break from the life he has known. As part of this change, he determines he must warn Cal-raven, king of the surviving members of House Abascar (who fled from the ruins of their city because of a cataclysmic event), that beastmen led by his brother are planning an attack.

Because Jordam is a beastman, Cal-raven doesn’t believe him and tries to kill him. Injured, Jordam makes his way back to Cyndere. She tells him it is time for her to return to House Bel Amica. As they near the outpost, they face conflict from both sides … and that’s where I’ll stop.

There’s actually a lot, lot more—many side turns and suggestions of story to come. There’s the fact that Cyndere’s brother apparently is still alive and the suggestion that the queen of Abascar is too. That the savagery of the beastmen comes from an elixir called Essence. That a priest of the moon spirits seems to be the force behind the beastmen organizing to attack the House Abascar survivors. And of course there is Auralia, the young girl who started the whole thing by defying the House Abascar’s prohibition of owning colors to create and give color wherever she went, only to die in the devastation of Abascar. There is also the mysterious ale boy and the Keeper who protects him as it did Auralia. So the thumbnail sketch I’ve given of the plot is not much more than the obvious ingredients, like saying pizza is made of cheese and tomato sauce on a flour-based crust. Yes, it is, but there’s more.

Strengths. I went into more detail about the story so that my comments in this section and the next would make sense for those who have yet to read the book. Cyndere’s Midnight is not “just” a fanciful adventure. There’s more going on under the surface. One key is the power of color to salve the beastman’s heart. And to help Cyndere heal, though her midnight comes by confronting the dark colors and dealing with her pain.

But another, easily overlooked, is the water from the well outside the outpost that has the power to heal.

On the other side, there is deception, a thirst for power, and betrayal.

All these intricacies keep this story from being predictable and create suspense built on the intrigue. And depth. There’s a lot to think about in this story.

Weaknesses. My biggest concern is a common one, something I’m beginning to think is endemic to Christian fiction. I didn’t care about the characters. Not deeply, anyway. In this book, I think there are several reasons. One is that I expected the story to be mostly about Cyndere, but it really is mostly abut Jordam. An alternative title might have been Jordam’s Dawn. But I know why it wasn’t. The encounter Cyndere has in Auralia’s caves with the dark colors the girl painted is a key to the theme of the story. But the fact remains, I expected Cyndere to be a bigger part in the story.

Another reason I didn’t connect with the characters, especially early, was the numerous points of view. Cyndere’s; even her dead husband, Deuneroi’s, in a flashback; the ale boy; Jordam; Jordam’s Same Brother; his Older Brother; Cal-raven; the wizened gatherer who raised Auralia; Ryllion, a Bel Amican officer; Emeriene, Cyndere’s lady-in-waiting and friend; and more. Others may not feel the disconnect like I do when there are so many characters through whose perspectives the reader sees the story. For me, it creates a problem in identifying with the central character.

I also think the story loses a lot of excitement, tension, and suspense because it isn’t consistently told in a linear way. There are places a chapter ends with a suspenseful event, but the next chapter opens after the event has been resolved and the reader learns how in the form of the character’s thoughts. Would some of the artistic quality be lost from the book if the story were told in a more linear manner? Perhaps, but I think holding onto the suspense and creating more tension is vastly superior in storytelling, so in my way of thinking, it would actually make it more artistic, though less artsy.

Recommendation. I think Cyndere’s Midnight is an important contribution to the Christian fantasy genre. It is obvious the “Christian” part isn’t allegorical or overt. Frankly, that’s something I’ve longed to see. I’m waiting to see just how Jeffrey proceeds in the next strand. I highly recommend this book to readers who lean toward literary fantasy or epic fantasy.

Be sure to visit the other blogs participating in this tour. See Day 1 for the list and links to the posts. For an excellent discussion of Jeffrey’s writing be sure to read Brandon Barr’s post “Examining an excerpt from Cyndere’s Midnight.” For a review that takes a closer look at characterization, see John Ottinger’s excellent post which includes this line about Cyndere: “She manages to be both female and a hero, without having to become just like a man to do it.”

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Published in: on February 17, 2009 at 11:30 am  Comments (6)  
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6 Comments

  1. I agree with the lack of follow-through–the build-up and then the break-away that skips the reader elsewhere in time or location. While that can be a great device for increasing tension, it only works if the story comes back around to the cliffhanger, so the reader can finally learn how the conflict or dilemma was resolved. This works best when the reader experiences the resolution, can participate vicariously in the action.

    I mentioned in one of my posts (can’t remember which!) that I encountered what I can only term as “lost opportunities” to tell the story, and the skipping certainly diminishes the tale. At least for me.

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  2. Thanks for quoting me.

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  3. Becky,

    I agree that there is a lot of characters perspectives, but it didn’t bother me.

    Maybe because my own novel has a lot of characters. I’m trying to reform for my second novel, but we’ll see what happens.

    Anyway, a great review here.

    I posted an interview with Jeffrey on my blog yesterday, and then I also interviewed Jordam today for a change of pace 😉

    Thanks for running the tour!

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  4. “My biggest concern is a common one, something I’m beginning to think is endemic to Christian fiction. I didn’t care about the characters.”

    Gotta disagree in part here, Becky. First, I don’t think it’s particular to Christian fiction. Second, I do think there is a certain trend in some CBA fiction because (and I fault the authors here) it seems some are inadequate at creating believable, three dimensional characters. They give us cliche Christians who are shallow and undesirable. They give us unbelievers who are the same in different ways. Or they give us stories where faith is absent except in shotgun situations where a quick uncharacteristic prayer is offered.
    Honestly it seems like some authors are far more concerned with their language skills and word counts than they are with their characters and story.

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  5. Keanan, it is so interesting to me that the flitting from point of view to point of view doesn’t disturb everyone. Obviously it didn’t disturb Mr. Overstreet, so I shouldn’t be surprised. I suspect now it is reflective of how my brain works (and evidently yours, too). I know I prefer a sequential treatment of material. I like things to be logical and in order. I like closure, though you’d never know it from my fiction. 😉

    John, the line I quoted was memorable, I thought, and your review excellent.

    And speaking of excellent, Robert, your interview was just that. I linked to it at Spec Faith, so hopefully others are finding it.

    Funny thing, Nicole, the rest of your comment sounds like you DO agree because you mention the trend you’re seeing toward shallow, unbelievable characters. But maybe you were only disagreeing with the idea that this is characteristic of Christian fiction and not fiction in general. Thing is, I’m reading some non-Christian books for the Children’s Book Blog Tour, and I’m finding characters I fall in love with in the first few pages. So it’s being done. I just don’t see many Christians doing it. And I don’t see it being talked about as a problem or a need. So I guess I’m trying to stir up some dust. 😉

    Becky

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  6. I disagreed “in part”, Becky, because I’ve read some amazing CBA fiction with consuming characters, and I’ve read those stories with the characters you and I both described–we could care less about them.
    I’m kind of a lone ranger with the “preachy” thing. I tend to think all of fiction is preaching. There is a message in it. ABA or CBA in order to write a story, somebody has to say something about something and through that, intentionally or unintentionally, there is a “message”, a “philosophy”, a POV for crying out loud. People preach all kinds of things–it isn’t just about faith.
    If a writer “preaches” successfully, he will create three dimensional characters who actually make us care about them, their dilemmas, their pain, their joy. If not done well, whatever the author has to say (through his characters and stories) is moot. And, of course, this brings in the subjectivity factor.

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