CSFF Blog Tour – Raven’s Ladder by Jeffrey Overstreet, Day 3

Raven’s Ladder by Jeffrey Overstreet is the third book in The Auralia Thread series, an adult fantasy published by WaterBrook Press. Clearly this novel is not a stand-alone but part of a continuing story begun by Auralia’s Colors and advanced by Cyndere’s Midnight. The story is anything but finished in this third installment.

For those of us who enjoy continuing stories that keep us on the edge of our seats, this epic style is familiar. Andrew Peterson utilizes this approach in his Wingfeather Saga as does D. Barkley Briggs (the Legends of Karac Tor series), Wayne Batson/Christopher Hopper (The Berinfell Prophecies Series), and any number of other fantasy authors.

And now a review of Raven’s Ladder.

The Story. In the Expanse, four city-states exist. One, House Cent Regis, has been cursed and all its people turned into savage beastmen. A second, House Abascar, was destroyed and the survivors, gathered together by their new king Cal-raven, have holed up in nearby caves.

Cal-raven, who believes in a mysterious creature known as the Keeper, determines to relocate his house. Beastmen had attacked; something was scaring off all the animals, making it difficult to find enough food for his people; and a group of Grudgers were plotting his overthrow.

After talking with his mentor, he sets off, following signs he believes the Keeper has left, to locate a suitable place for New Abascar.

While he is away, a new threat chases the refugees from their shelter. Feelers spring up from the ground, breaking stone and destroying the caves. Led by the king’s second in command, the group heads north.

Meanwhile Cal-raven encounters people from a third house, Bel Amica. Eventually a Seer, a worshiper of moon spirits, hires men to kill Abascar’s king. However, they choose instead to throw him in a pit and sell him to slavers. Those “merchants” take him to House Bel Amica.

Soon after, the Abascar refugees are also herded to Bel Amica, for their protection. The one-time heiress, Cyndere, manages to find Cal-raven and to arrange for proper care and safety for his people.

Days pass and Cal-raven grows restless. He knows now where he should take his people, where they will build New Abascar. He is concerned that many are growing comfortable in the opulence, and greed, of Bel Amica.

As he is making his preparations, Cyndere comes to him asking for his help. She has a plan to end the curse of the Cent Regis, and she wants to free the prisoners the Beastmen have taken. One of these is Cal-raven’s mother. He immediately agrees, even moving up the time line for the planned rescue.

I’ll stop there.

Strengths. Jeffrey Overstreet writes beautiful prose. His story is imaginative and for the most part, unpredictable. The surprises keep the reader off-balance.

The novel seems ripe with symbolism, so it makes the reader think. Because this fantasy world is quite dark and in places, unfamiliar, it has a definite brooding mood.

The author’s voice is strong. I could probably pick up any Overstreet novel and know by reading a page that he authored it.

Mood, voice, imaginative and descriptive prose—these are qualities too often neglected in fiction.

Weaknesses. I have to be honest. This is not my favorite Overstreet novel. Over at Amazon, one reviewer likened the book to the TV series Lost. Interestingly, at one point I thought the same thing. Though I don’t watch the show, I’ve heard others discuss it, and what they said was what I was thinking about Raven’s Ladder.

Once again I felt something was lacking in the characterization. I understand what each wants, and in most cases they are worthy goals, some even Big Goals that will effect their world in a powerful way. I just don’t care. Why? I wish I understood. I think this is so important to the success of a book. I didn’t feel like I entered into any of the characters’ stories emotionally.

I’ve postulated before that this might be because of the size of the cast and the frequent shift in point of view to any number of characters (I don’t think I could remember them all).

I think there also might be another reason. I don’t see the scenes well. It’s a surprising admission because generally Mr. Overstreet is praised as an author who paints pictures with his words. But that’s the point. I feel like he’s painting a picture not a story. Sometimes the action scenes are hard for me to figure out who did what and where they all were. I can’t see the action.

A third reason might be that I don’t hear individual voices, and the different characters don’t seem to create different moods. It all seems quite dark and hopeless. Even those who are enjoying the pleasures of Bel Amica are doing so as a way to stifle their sadness, and it’s clearly not a healthy or refreshing endeavor.

A fourth thing. Once again, for long stretches, the protagonist of the book does nothing. He is sitting and planning, so I as a reader have nothing to cheer him on toward.

In addition, while much is said about the resident bad guys, they don’t show up “on stage” until the last hundred pages of the book.

There were some plot things that bothered me, too. When Cyndere takes Cal-raven in, apparently nothing is done about those who tried to assassinate him—no effort to identify them or to punish the slavers or even to protect him in case they tried again. In addition, apparently Cal-raven never asked his people why they left the caves. And they never alerted the Bel Amicans to the danger of the feelers that later attack ships in the harbor. Nor did the Bel Amicans seem surprised that the Abascar refugees had left their caves. Or that the Seers had brought them in to Bel Amica against their will. In other words, a lot happened that should have raised questions and created tension and even conflict. It didn’t.

Recommendation. I wanted to like this book more than I actually did. However, mine is just one opinion. Others on the tour have a different take. Some even believe this is the best book of the series. I think that means, readers need to decide for themselves.

Take some time to start formulating yours by reading some of the other participants’ views. You’ll find the list with links to specific articles at the end of Monday’s post.

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of Raven’s Ladder from WaterBrook Press.

Published in: on April 28, 2010 at 4:22 pm  Comments (4)  
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