CSFF Blog Tour – Venom And Song, Day 3

My turn. I’ve spent a good part of the day reading other blog posts from CSFF tour participants, and now I get to say what I think. One of the cool things about the tour, though, is that as I read what other people are saying, my thoughts crystallize a bit more. And I have to say, they needed some crystallizing.

I recently read (on an agent’s blog, I think, but don’t quote me on that) the best way to evaluate a book is to see if it accomplished what it set out to accomplish. That made sense to me. As a guide, it helps me give an assessment of a book that goes beyond, Well, I liked it (or not)! Which brings me to my review of Venom and Song by Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper (Thomas Nelson).

The Story. This second in the Berinfell Prophecies continues the story where Curse of the Spider King ended. The young elven lords, three teenage girls and four teenage boys, newly arrived from earth, must train in the history, culture, fighting techniques, and use of their individual powers. But most importantly, they must learn to work together, which is where their true strength lies.

Clearly, they will need all the strength available to them because the plan is to take the battle to the Spider King. The time is right, the prophecies give every indication that victory is at hand. And yet, there will be a cost.

Strengths. The greatest aspect of this book, I think, is its appeal to the target audience (see yesterday’s post for a more detailed analysis of this point). The authors “get” young teens and late pre-teens. They understand how they think, and the story will resonate with those readers.

There are also important themes woven into the story, the greatest being the need to work in unity as opposed to disharmony (see Monday’s post for further discussion of this point)—the greatest theme, but by no means the only one. The story also shows the need to accept one’s gifts (abilities) and work to grow them for the good of others. There are examples of sacrificial love, submitting to those who are wiser and more experienced or to those in authority, depending on God, and not underestimating someone based on appearance. In fact, the falsity of the outward appearance is a recurrent theme first introduced in Curse of the Spider King.

Beyond these important lessons—all good things for teens to learn—the story is fast paced and unpredictable. There’s not really a point when I felt like I knew for sure what was coming next. About the time I thought I saw which way the story was going, it changed. Not in a random way, however. The surprises were, for the most part, set up well.

The imaginative elements were another strength. There were cool hidden rooms with old parchment and wicked birds that turned out to be good. There were amazing capturing devices and some impressive natural powder used for offense. There were some hideous baddies and a bear of an ally (who reminded me of three-headed Fluffy). Lots and lots more. A room that was booby-trapped. A betrayer that betrayed more than once. You name it—from places to powers, the imaginative elements were impressive.

Weaknesses. I’m pretty sure that what I consider to be weaknesses, the target-age reader won’t even notice. But I tend to think these things might be the difference between Venom and Song being a well-liked book versus a well-loved book.

Others have mentioned the omniscient point of view and the many characters. These two factors keep readers at a distance. This may work for teens. And yet, I would like to see the reader drawn in closer so that when danger comes, when tragedy strikes, there’s an emotional response, not just an adrenaline rush.

In addition, this story felt big and yet it went by so fast, it didn’t go down deep. Some things were introduced that showed great potential, then faded away to insignificance. (I. E. how did the seven lords continue on their way when the gnomes had burned their boots? Were they so toughened by their training that it wasn’t an issue—apart from the initial pain they experience upon waking? That’s a tiny example. I’d rather see the point omitted altogether rather than introduced and go nowhere).

My guess is the writing and editing was fast because of deadlines. Consequently there was an abundance of telling. At times I felt like I was reading a screenplay with the action delivered via exposition rather than carefully sculpted for the reader to experience along with the characters.

There were some bobbles, too, such as Jimmy going down the zip line twice.

But will the readers to whom the story is aimed notice these things? I doubt it very much. If they do, they’ll tuck it away and keep on going because they’ll want to keep up with the break-neck pace.

Recommendation. For “tweeners”—young people between the ages of twelve and fourteen—this is a great story. Some middle graders as young as ten may also enjoy the book, though there is considerable violence, none of which is graphic. Parents should read this with their children, and as Jason Joyner discussed on day one of the tour, perhaps they should read it out loud as a family.

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

3 Comments

  1. Venom and Song has been an enjoyable blog tour this month. I’ve read a lot of good posts this week.

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  2. Hi Becky

    I so much enjoyed reading this post!

    It is refreshingly honest but also generous and full of grace. You’d make a great appraiser. It’s obviously a book that has great potential but needs a really solid edit. This is a pity because it re-inforces the view that Christian fiction is second-rate. (Perhaps that’s not the view in the States but it certainly is here in Australia.)

    The idea that we should strive for excellence and present our best to the Lord seems to be too often lost these days.

    Annie

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  3. Christian fiction is a really good read if you’re into it. I think it is a great contribution to English and Christian literature.

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