Fantasy Friday: Dragonwitch by Anne Elisabeth Stengl, A Review

DRAGONWITCH coverI have to say, I’m happy I have occasion to post this bookcover again. I think it’s stunning. Last time I displayed it, I wrote about the worldbuilding of Dragonwitch, the fifth book in the Tales of Goldstone Wood by Anne Elisabeth Stengl. But discussing the setting alone hardly does this book justice. There’s much more readers should know if they are considering picking this one up.

My Review

The Story. Lord Alistair, nephew and heir to the Earl of Gaheris, is betrothed to Lady Leta, arranged by his mother as a means to form a political alliance that should catapult him to the throne of the North Country. Lady Leta is resigned to her role, but she finds spending time in the castle library with the Chronicler, a dwarf who teaches her to read, the only saving grace of her stay.

As Earl Ferox’s health declines and Alistair’s moment to take his place of power and position draws near, he experiences unrelenting nightmares that lead him to despair. He has mixed emotions, then, when Earl Ferox makes a dying declaration, revealing a secret that will change the course of events in the entire kingdom, and which casts doubt upon Alistair’s own future.

Amid the upheaval, a hellish army from The Other Side attacks and seizes control of Gaheris. Their goal is to discover the House of Light which most people in the North Country believe to be a myth. But they also believe faeries and goblins are myths, too, until this disruption pulls the veils from their eyes.

Alistair, Leta, and the Chronicler team up with the faery Eanrin, a cat-man, and another young woman called Mouse to save Gaheris, the Silent Lady who had guarded the door to the world of the mortals but was taken captive, and her country which has once again fallen under tyrannical rule, this time by the Dragonwitch.

Strengths. This story is stunning. There are characters I soon care about who are at odds with one another and with other forces in the world, and I was quickly pulled into the tense and conflicting events.

The plot is dense. There are two worlds that need to be saved and a hostage that needs to be rescued. There are prisoners and a chase and magic and a battle and a prophecy and a secret and a discovery and a betrayal and a sacrifice–well, several, actually. The events are complex and intertwined, the solutions seem elusive and tenuous. All told, it’s a captivating story. And there is no cheesy ending that could have undermined everything Stengl accomplished through the majority of the tale.

The characters are endearing, believable, true to the motives each has. Their actions are understandable and often heroic. More than in any other of the Tales of Goldstone Wood, I related to these characters early on, and that was especially true of those characters who were new.

The themes of the story are so gently wrapped around the various parts. Nothing hits the reader over the head or stops the story so the author can make a point to the reader. Rather, the characters act, and the reader is left to consider the ramifications of what took place.

The worldbuilding as I noted previously is exceptional. Anyone who loves the topsy-turvy world of faeries, who relishes the imaginative chaos of wonderland, will fall in love with Goldstone Wood.

The prose and story structure are artistic, beautiful. Like fairytales of old, Dragonwitch is told in omniscient voice, so the reader can know things the characters don’t. It’s fun and refreshing and different from so many novels today.

Weaknesses. When I reviewed the previous book in the series, Snowflower, I noted that the beginning was somewhat slow and that the title character didn’t take a central place in the story until the tale was well underway. Dragonwitch does not have a problem with pacing, in my view, but I did begin wondering when the Dragonwitch would make an appearance. It seemed odd to me that she was front and center on the cover but not front and center in the story.

Except she was. I just didn’t realize it immediately.

Also there’s a prologue, though it isn’t called that, which I read and forgot. As is so often true with prologues, it didn’t seem to connected to the story. Until it did. At some point when I realized its importance, I went back and re-read it, and WOW! It was a key to understanding this layered plot. I’m wondering, though, if there might not have been a more judicial method of giving the “Legend of Two Brothers” when the reader needed it, not before.

Recommendation. Dragonwitch is a stellar example of Christian fantasy. It is artistic, imaginative, unpredictable, interesting, complex, hopeful, endearing, and so much more. It’s a book that could easily become a classic. I encourage readers to get this book. It’s a must read.

You may wish to read Snowflower first, however, so that you’ll be grounded in the world of Goldstone Wood. If you do read that one first, bear in mind that as good as it is, Dragonwitch laps it in the first hundred or so pages. It’s just that good.

Published in: on September 13, 2013 at 6:30 pm  Comments Off on Fantasy Friday: Dragonwitch by Anne Elisabeth Stengl, A Review  
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