Standing Up For Magic


magic-book
Several speculative writers (E. Stephen Burnett at Speculative Faith, for one) have been looking at the subject of magic from the vantage point of Christians trusting something other than God and His word in their pursuit of righteousness—including their efforts to controvert magic. As a result, some in this camp take a stand against speculative fiction, whether from a Christian or not, that includes magic.

I’m convinced that those who would blackball a work of fiction for including magic are in the minority, but I don’t think it hurts to take another look at the subject. Here’s a reprise of an article that examines magic using the lens of the Bible.

– – – – –

Some time ago I had a discussion with a Christian who considers much of speculative fiction to be opposed to the Bible. I’ve only had a few encounters with people who hold this view, though other writers have spoken of being surrounded by such folk.

The exchange reminds me that it’s wise to confront this attitude head-on, with Scripture, starting with the fundamental question some ask: how does a Christian fantasy writer handle magic since magic is intrinsically un-Christian.

Interesting.

Here’s the first definition for magic in the Oxford American Dictionaries: “the power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces.”

My question, then is, Do we Christians not consider God “supernatural”? But … but…but … Someone may well say God’s work is miraculous, not magic. And the Oxford American Dictionaries would agree that God’s work is miraculous: “occurring through divine or supernatural intervention, or manifesting such power.”

But isn’t miraculous simply a more narrowed term, specifically referencing the divine? Magic, on the other hand, does not exclude the divine.

However, I don’t want to get too caught up in semantics. Let’s agree that the Bible does warn against magic and witchcraft and other sorts of divination sought from powers other than God Himself.

In contrast, God’s powerful works are called miraculous and prophetic.

The point that is noteworthy for fantasy writers and readers, however, is this: the Bible makes it clear that both God and Satan have power. Not in equal measure. Satan is no more omnipotent than he is omnipresent, though I suspect he’d like Man to think he is both.

Make no mistake. God’s power trumps Satan’s, and it’s not even a fair comparison. Satan may not get this because it seems he keeps trying to go up against God, as if he can outmaneuver Wisdom or out-muscle Omnipotence.

Be that as it may, we can’t deny that he has power and it is supernatural—beyond Man’s abilities. Pharaoh had his magicians and so did Nebuchadnezzar, and seemingly they were used to these conjurers producing what normal folk could not. Their power was not from God, however.

Moses, with the rod of God, went head to head with Pharaoh’s magicians, if you recall, and God’s power dominated. Nebuchadnezzar’s sorcerers could not tell their king his dream, let alone the interpretation of it, but God’s man, Daniel, could.

But back to fantasy. If supernatural power—good and evil—is real, then why should Christian fantasy writers pretend that the evil forces in their stories don’t have real supernatural power? Why should we pretend that those siding with good have no supernatural power?

Fantasy, after all, gives a story-long metaphor for the real world. Why would we want to give Christians—young adults or adults—the idea that there isn’t actually supernatural power of any kind by doing away with magic in our stories?

It seems to me it’s important to address the source of power and the reality of power and the proper attitude toward power—all of which fantasy can address. Unless, of course, a Christian story must be scrubbed clean of supernatural power.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in 2010 and was republished in August 2013.

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If It’s Friday, It’s Time For Fantasy


GoldenDaughtercoverI haven’t discussed fiction much of late, at least not here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction, though I still post about fiction in general at my editing site and about Christian speculative fiction every Monday at Speculative Faith. It feels like it’s time to get back to my blogging roots for a day. 😉

When I first started blogging, Christian fantasy was almost an anomaly. Only a handful of writers were putting out true fantasy with Christian underpinnings. Donita Paul and Bryan Davis burst on the scene to join Stephen Lawhead and Karen Hancock, but back in those days fantasy primarily meant stories written in a medieval-type setting that included the equivalent of magic.

However, as the fantasy genre expanded in the general market to include urban fantasy, dystopian fantasy, fairytale fantasy, and more, the stories Christians wrote also ventured away from the classic form.

In addition, new authors have emerged—Jill Williamson, Andrew Peterson, Anne Elisabeth Stengl, Patrick Carr, R. J. Larson, John Otte and more recently Nadine Brandes, Ashlee Willis, and Mary Weber.

Over this time, publishing has changed, too. More and more small presses featuring Christian speculative fiction have come into being. First was Marcher Lord Press founded by the visionary Jeff Gerke. But others soon followed: Splashdown Books, AltWit Press, Castle Gate Press, and others.

This past year Jeff Gerke sold MLP to agent Steve Laube. The house now operates as Enclave Publishing and has just hired a director of sales and marketing. One of the goals for Enclave is to get their books into bookstores, something that can only enhance their visibility, even as the digital market expands.

Publishers with a long standing “no fantasy” policy have broken from their mold and are now joining the ranks of others with a growing group of fantasy authors.

By fantasy, of course, I mean this broader, more encompassing genre, which fans of Lord of the Rings might not recognize. Is this a good thing?

I absolutely think it’s a great thing. All types of fantasy stir the imagination. Dystopian or post-apocalyptic fantasy or science fantasy may not tell stories about sword-wielding, dragon-fighting heroes, but they still create a different world and show a struggle between good and evil. This latter, after all, is the single most important fantasy trope.

Interestingly, the once familiar good or evil fantasy creatures have been turned on their heads. Hence dragons may be good, and in the case of Donita Paul’s minor dragons in her DragonKeeper Chronicles, even cute and cuddly.

Still there remains an identifiable evil that characters must choose to fight. In Jill Williamson’s Safe Lands series, for instance, there was no one villain but a system readers can equate with the world system that finds solutions to life’s problems by escaping into entertainment and pleasure.

Despite this expansion of the genre, epic fantasy seems to retain its popularity, as evidenced by the great success of first time novelist Patrick Carr’s A Cast of Stones and the following two books of the Staff and Sword trilogy.

And I haven’t yet mentioned self-publishing. With the changes in digital publishing, a writer can now publish their book with ease. Finding a readership remains the great challenge, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t more and more viable stories out there among the self-published.

One of the functions Speculative Faith plays is to catalog Christian speculative fiction in the Library. Any book written with an overt or symbolic or suggestive worldview pointing toward some aspect of Christianity—regardless of publisher—may be included in the database. It’s a great tool to use to find books that might fit the genre or audience age a person is looking for.

Other developments have also enhanced Christian speculative fiction, not just fantasy—specifically the Realm Makers Conference which is planning for its third year in 2015, and the Clive Staples Award which will be entering its fifth year of operation.

My hope, of course, is that readers are finding these great fantasy books. If publishers are to continue producing them, readers need to buy them.

I’m happy to report I bought a fantasy today—Anne Elisabeth Stengl’s soon to release Golden Daughter. How about you? What fantasy have you recently purchased or read?

CSFF Blog Tour – One Realm Beyond by Donita Paul, Day 3


Donita PaulDonita Paul can claim a number of firsts. For example, her DragonKeeper books were the first Christian dragon books, at least that I’m aware of. DragonSpell came out just ahead of Bryan Davis’s Raising Dragons, which I happened to be critiquing before publication. Hers was also the first book CSFF featured back in 2006 when the tour started. In addition, she was the first recipient of the Clive Staples Award for Christian Speculative Fiction back in 2009.

Those are just interesting tidbits and not relevant to the rest of my post–a review of Donita’s latest young adult novel One Realm Beyond, book 1 of the Realm Walkers series published by Zondervan.

The Story. Young Cantor wants to be a realm walker. In fact, he’s destined to be a realm walker, but he cannot go off on adventures on his own until he receives permission from his guardian and mentor. Even then he must first travel to a particular location and choose his dragon partner, his constant, before proceeding to the Realm Walker Guild where he must train.

When at last Cantor starts out on his own, he’s faced with some surprises: a dragon who has picked him instead of the other way around, another realm walker named Bixby looking for her constant, and citizens who aren’t always willing to help him on his way. But the greatest surprise might be that the leaders who ought to be working with the Realm Walkers Guild to secure the safety and just treatment of the citizens, are actually the ones oppressing, robbing them, and kidnapping their young men.

What can two young, untrained realm walkers do to make a difference against the forces of the king? Especially without their dragons (unless you count Bridger, the tag-along dragon who Cantor doesn’t really want).

Multiverse_-_level_II.svg_Strengths. The Realm Walker series takes place in a different kind of fantasy world, more nearly a multiverse than anything. In her first post about One Realm Beyond, Jill Williamson discussed the unique world, offering several maps she found that helped her understand the description.

Interestingly, Bruce Hennigan a guest contributor at Spec Faith, recently wrote about the multiverse, so I had a picture I could call to mind. Whether it’s anything close to what Donita intended, I’ll let other readers be the judge.

At any rate, the whole concept of traveling through a portal from one plane to another is unique. C. S. Lewis, of course, had other worlds in his Narnia series, and Narnia itself could be accessed through a portal of sorts. The various worlds, however, were separate pools contained in a sort of holding place–obviously quite different than Donita’s stacked planes.

Besides this interesting setting, One Realm Beyond has delightful characters and at least one formidable adversary. Each is credible given the parameters of this story. Hence, the fact that the mor dragons can sit at the table with the humans or turn into boulders or trees at will, is plausible.

The story is also intriguing, and as Shannon McDermott noted, a tad darker than previous books by Donita Paul. There’s oppression to fight and a mass murder plot to thwart and missing loved ones to find. The story is filled with conflict which tests the mettle of the protagonists.

In spite of all these strong elements, I think the strongest might be the theme. Often Donita’s books, because they are of the gentler side of fantasy where violence is not as prevalent, are frequently referred to as fun. I’m sure I’ve used that word to describe them myself. And it’s appropriate for One Realm Beyond as well. However, people don’t often couple fun with thought-provoking, but I think that’s what we have in this novel.

All is not right in the very place that should be the seat of justice–the Realm Walkers Guild. Here, where the realm walkers are trained and where leaders of other realms turn for support against opponents of peace and harmony, where those pledged to serve Primen ought to be most faithful and true, there is corruption, plotting, power struggles, pride.

Primen is without apology an allegorical representation of God. He is supreme, he is held in highest esteem, he is served, and he is worshiped. In fact, he is the power behind the guild.

Consequently when the protagonists visit the Sanctuary, a gathering of people serving Primen, there’s a bit of a shock when the large facility only has a smattering of people seated in the pews.

Then there was this description of part of the ceremony:

The homily given by a man in elaborate robes said little other than to try to think good thoughts,. According to the speaker, this practice of thinking good thoughts would order the rest of your life. As if thinking about daises would eradicate sewer problems.

There’s the key, I think. The realm walkers and the guild are supposed to serve Primen, to protect the people, to put things to rights. But they aren’t doing their job. They aren’t speaking truth. And they’re falling away.

In short, I believe One Realm Beyond is a story about the church. I for one am interested in seeing where Donita takes her next book in the series.

Weaknesses. Every book has things a reader can pick at if they have a mind to. Was the pace too slow? Was Cantor likeable enough? Were the characters adequately motivated for each of their decisions? While these are valid things to discuss, many of like kind are in the eye of the beholder.

My hope is that those things don’t distract readers from taking this fun book seriously and thinking more deeply because of it.

Recommendation. I’m all in. Yes, this is a young adult book, but it’s dealing with subjects adults should care about just as much or more. I highly recommend One Realm Beyond and suggest readers get on board now, at the beginning of the Realm Walkers series.

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a review copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Published in: on February 19, 2014 at 5:57 pm  Comments Off on CSFF Blog Tour – One Realm Beyond by Donita Paul, Day 3  
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Fantasy Friday – Goddess Tithe


goddesstithecoverOne of the best Christian speculative writers, in my opinion, is Anne Elisabeth (don’t call her Anne or Ann 😉 ) Stengl. As it happens, she is also the winner of last year’s Clive Stables Award with her novel Snowflower. She has since released Dragonwitch and most recently, Goddess Tithe, her self-published, illustrated novella.

If you’ve not had occasion to read any of Anne Elisabeth’s works, Goddess Tithe might be the perfect introduction. While the world and characters have some connection to the rich story world of the series Tales of Goldstone Wood, in which all Anne Elisabeth’s other novels are set, this small story can easily stand alone.

The Story. Munny, a poor boy who wants to give his sick mother the gift of life by freeing her from the responsibility of caring for him, goes to sea. As a lowly cabin boy, young and inexperienced, he’s tormented by those older and stronger than he. But an old sailor takes him under his wings and goes about teaching him all he knows about such things as tying knots and why he should always do what their captain says.

The lives of all the sailors on the Kulap Kanya are put in jeopardy, however, when they discover a stowaway on board . . . and when their revered captain does not at once throw him overboard as the tithe justly due the goddess Risafeth who rules the sea. Rather, he puts the stowaway under Munny’s care and protection. And then the goddess comes to claim her tithe.

Strengths. Anne Elisabeth has created an incredible world, less obvious in this short novella, which makes this story the perfect entry point for someone wondering what kind of writer and stories they’ve been missing. The character’s the thing, you might say. Munny is wonderfully drawn (with words and with . . pencil, or whatever the media Anne Elisabeth used for her illustrations). He is sympathetic, well motivated, heroic, not free of prejudice, but able to grow and develop. He shows greater strength because of his belief in his captain, prompted by his aging mentor.

Best of all is the end when . . . heheh–you didn’t really think I was going to tell, did you?

Anne Elisabeth masterfully tells the story using the old time fairytale-style point of view–the omniscient voice. It’s so well done, and so necessary to this story, that no intimacy with the protagonist is lost.

The story is short and not complicated, but it packs a punch as all of the Tales of Goldstone Wood do. This is not allegory, not even symbolism in the normal sense of the word, and there is no preaching. Rather, the Christian theme becomes apparent as the characters live out what comes naturally to them as Anne Elisabeth has depicted them. She’s masterful at showing Christianity.

Weakness. I had one point of contention with this story. I thought Munny’s motivation for leaving home was weak. It’s the one place where I didn’t think he came across as smart. He left hoping something would happen, but the fact is, if it didn’t happen, he would have made the situation he was trying to improve so very much worse. I thought it too obvious even for a poor uneducated peasant boy to miss, and thought he should never have left home without some assurance that what he wanted would in fact result from his decision.

Recommendation. For all the macho male readers who have stayed away from the Tales of Goldstone Wood because they thought they were, you know, fairytales, and romance (could there be a worse combination for a macho male reader?), well, here’s the chance to find out for yourselves what all the buzz is about. Goddess Tithe is a nearly all male cast of characters, despite the title. Munny’s mother does make an appearance, but the goddess is like no other goddess you’ve read about.

This is a wonderful story, short, mildly fantastic, more about character than fast action. In short this book is for any reader who likes quality literature.

I’m happy to say that at the writing of this post, the Kindle edition of Goddess Tithe is on sale for $.99. What a great buy!

Also watch for Anne Elisabeth’s next novel, Shadow Hand, which releases March 4 in both print and e-book versions.

Published in: on February 7, 2014 at 6:02 pm  Comments Off on Fantasy Friday – Goddess Tithe  
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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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Standing Up For Magic


magic-bookRecently I had a discussion with a Christian who considers much of speculative fiction to be opposed to the Bible. I’ve only had a few encounters with people who hold this view, though other writers have spoken of being surrounded by such folk.

The exchange reminds me that it’s wise to confront this attitude head-on, with Scripture.

Some years ago Stephen Burnett recounted a question that came up at an ACFW Conference. Seems one of the conferees was asking how a Christian fantasy writer is to handle magic since magic is intrinsically un-Christian.

Interesting.

Here’s the first definition for magic in the Oxford American Dictionaries: “the power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces.”

My question, then is, Do we Christians not consider God “supernatural”? But … but…but … God’s work is miraculous, not magic, someone may well say. And the Oxford American Dictionaries would agree that God’s work is miraculous: “occurring through divine or supernatural intervention, or manifesting such power.”

But isn’t miraculous simply a more narrowed term, specifically referencing the divine? Magic, on the other hand, does not exclude the divine.

However, I don’t want to get too caught up in semantics. Let’s agree that the Bible does warn against magic and witchcraft and other sorts of divination sought from powers other than God Himself.

In contrast, God’s powerful works are called miraculous and prophetic.

The point that is noteworthy for fantasy writers and readers, however, is this: the Bible makes it clear that both God and Satan have power. Not in equal measure. Satan is no more omnipotent than he is omnipresent, though I suspect he’d like Man to think he is both.

Make no mistake. God’s power trumps Satan’s, and it’s not even a fair comparison. Satan may not get this because it seems he keeps trying to go up against God, as if he can outmaneuver Wisdom or out-muscle Omnipotence.

Be that as it may, we can’t deny that he has power and it is supernatural—beyond Man’s abilities. Pharaoh had his magicians and so did Nebuchadnezzar, and seemingly they were used to these conjurers producing what normal folk could not. Their power was not from God, however.

Moses, with the rod of God, went head to head with Pharaoh’s magicians, if you recall, and God’s power dominated. Nebuchadnezzar’s sorcerers could not tell their king his dream, let alone the interpretation of it, but God’s man, Daniel, could.

But back to fantasy. If supernatural power—good and evil—is real, then why should Christian fantasy writers pretend that the evil forces in their stories don’t have real supernatural power? Why should we pretend that those siding with good have no supernatural power?

Fantasy, after all, gives a story-long metaphor for the real world. Why would we want to give Christians—young adults or adults—the idea that there isn’t actually supernatural power of any kind by doing away with magic in our stories?

It seems to me it’s important to address the source of power and the reality of power and the proper attitude toward power—all of which fantasy can address. Unless, of course, a Christian story must be scrubbed clean of supernatural power.

This article, except the opening paragraphs, is a re-publication from an earlier post here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction

Published in: on August 20, 2013 at 8:42 pm  Comments (2)  
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On Fantasy Characters


Till_We_Have_Faces(C.S_Lewis_book)_1st_edition_coverI don’t know if the protagonists in fantasy are particularly different from the protagonists in fiction at large. Maybe. There is some “hero” quality a fantasy reader may expect, but I’m not sure that readers of other fiction don’t want that as well.

Here are some thoughts about fantasy protagonists from The Writer’s Guide to Fantasy Literature, edited by Philip Martin (The Writer Books):

The hero has a complex dual role to play: to be human and to be larger-than-life. In many ways, Harry Potter and Bilbo the hobbit are like us, their readers. They are shy, quiet, reluctant to take center stage, not seeking fame or heroic stature. Yet they also have special powers, and when called upon, draw on their inner strengths to perform feats of great courage and personal sacrifice.

p. 98

I started thinking about the fantasy heroes I have loved. There is Taran from The Book of Three and the other stories in the Chronicles of Prydain. He was a young pig-keeper—apparently not a particularly good one—who wanted to be a knight. He was “relatable”—”human” as the quote above terms it. But he became larger than life, in part because of his desires to be greater than he was, but more so because he learned what that meant, learned how incapable he was, and then he did the really heroic.

There was Fiver from Watership Downs, the weakest rabbit in the warren, but with amazing powers that ended up saving them all. He was “human” because of his weakness and his inner strength. What mattered wasn’t just the exterior—the vulnerable part. He was more.

An obvious one is Lucy from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. She was the youngest of the four Pevensies, which put her at a disadvantage. But when she found Narnia and came back telling her brothers and sister, their disbelief made her a sympathetic figure—more human. She was right but misunderstood and disbelieved. She became heroic because her belief was a cornerstone to their relationship with Aslan.

Speaking of C. S. Lewis fantasy, there is Oruel from Till We Have Faces . She was the unloved and unlovely princess, save for the special place she had in her sister’s heart. She too was sympathetic because of her humanness—her weaknesses, disadvantage, frailty, and her longings, her hopes. She didn’t become heroic until the end, which I won’t mention because I don’t want to spoil it for any who haven’t read the book yet.

This leaves me with a question, however. If the hero doesn’t become heroic until the end, will readers lose their interest in him (or her)? I mean, Till We Have Faces is not a well-known or popular work of Lewis’s. Is Oruel, perhaps, too human, and not enough larger than life?

What about some of the contemporary Christian fantasy? Billy and Bonnie in Dragons in Our Midst, Susan Mitchell in The Swords of Lyric series, Abramm in Karen Hancock’s The Guardian-King series, Kale and Bardon in The DragonKeeper Chronicles, Aidan in The Door Within series or Aidan in The Bark of the Bog Owl. Your thoughts?

Re-posted from an earlier article here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction.

CSFF Blog Tour – Starflower by Anne Elisabeth Stengl, Day 1


Tales of Goldstone Wood
This month, as you visit the sites of those involved in the CSFF Blog Tour, you might find more than one person reviewing a different book than the one we’re featuring or linking to a past review instead of posting one hot off the presses. You might also notice that there aren’t as many participants as usual. There’s a good reason for this (besides December busy-ness).

The Christian Fiction Blog Alliance (CFBA), another blog tour group, beat CSFF to the punch and already featured Starflower, fourth in the young adult fairytale series, Tales of Goldstone Wood by Anne Elisabeth Stengl. Hence, several of our usual participants, having previously reviewed and/or discussed this book, chose not to join in this time. Others, however, chose to post during our tour too because they wanted to give Starflower a wide exposure, but their posts might be a little different.

No matter. Blog tours are fun. They give blog visitors a chance to learn, from a variety of people, about a new author, book, and series.

In this case, Anne Elisabeth Stengl is hardly new to A Christian Worldview of Fiction. I featured her in my occasional “introduce the fantasy author” series and more recently participated (however tardily) in a promotion for the book following Starflower, Dragonwitch, which revealed that cover.

Nevertheless, Starflower is the first of her books that CSFF has featured, and I’m happy a greater audience will learn of her work.

For one thing, Anne Elisabeth is an excellent writer. She’s put time into learning how to write fiction, and it shows. The Christian publishing industry has noticed, as well, awarding her back-to-back Christy Awards.

She’s an artist by nature, and that shows, too. Plus she’s tapping into interest in a kind of fantasy–fairytales–that is quite popular in our culture at large.

I’m happy to see her publisher (Bethany House) stepping into the arena of fantasy, as I noted in an earlier post this year.

In short, there’s lots to be excited about in this tour. To get things started, Gillian Adams is hosting a give-away:

Since I enjoyed this book so much, I’d like to offer you a chance to do the same, so I’m hosting a giveaway of a copy of Starflower.

Your name can go into the proverbial hat simply by leaving a comment at Gillian’s site, or by following her blog or by following Anne Elisabeth’s blog. Your name will be entered each time you participate in one way or another so the more you interact, the greater your chance of winning a free copy of Starflower.

One more to whet your appetite for this tour–best quote so far:

if you love Narnia; if you miss Middle Earth; if you enjoyed such stories as Alice in Wonderland, then you MUST read this book. Anne Elisabeth Stengl has created a setting in which rivers and trees come to life; a world in which animals talk and faeries can take on human or animal form. I haven’t encountered such a rich environment since I went back and rediscovered George MacDonald’s fantasy worlds.
Bruce Hennigan

Check out what the others are saying. As always, a check mark links you directly to a CSFF article.

Books Make Good Gifts


Just have to point out the rare occurrence: today is 12-12-12. We won’t see that month, day, year number being the same … well, ever, unless you live a really, really long time. 😉

– – –

I’m assuming that there are people like me who haven’t finished up their Christmas shopping. (I’m sorry, but half the fun is hunting down the right present at the last minute. It gets the adrenaline pumping. 😉 ) Might I make a suggestion? Think, BOOKS.

I’d even suggest narrowing that down. Think, Christian fantasy.

There are four books that I think come in at the top of their category, and I can happily and whole-heartedly recommend them to you.

Angel-Eyes-Cover1First in the category of young adult novels for girls, I suggest Angel Eyes by Shannon Dittemore. Amazon reviewers have given it, on average, four stars, but they lie. Well, OK, not lie so much as disagree with me. 🙂

Interestingly, in the reviews that lowered the average, there were two main complaints I saw.

First, some people didn’t like the “Christian themes that have gone overboard.” (I’m not sure what that person expected from a novel about angels.)

The second complaint was that it was too much like Twilight because it was about teen romance. So … no book from now on can be about teenage romance without being compared to Twilight? See why I disagree with those reviewers? You can read my much more accurate and truthful review to counterbalance these scurrilous attacks deviant claims contrasting ideas.

dragons-of-the-watch-coverMy second recommendation is Donita Paul‘s excellent cozy fantasy for all ages, Dragons of the Watch. This is the last in the delightful Dragons of Chiril series, and I rate it as the best of all Ms. Paul’s novels. Of course, technically this book ought not be rated with the others in my list because it came out in October of last year (see my review here). Still, I don’t think it’s received the attention it’s due. Perhaps people are scared off by the fact that it’s part of a series. Of all the stories I’ve read of Ms. Paul’s dragon books, this one reads most like a stand-alone. It’s also a good introduction to this series and to the DragonKeeper Chronicles.

new-recruit-coverRecommendation number three is The New Recruit, a young adult boy book by Jill Williamson, winner of two Christy Awards. This novel, published by Marcher Lord Press, is perfect for the reader who wants a fast-pace, soft fantasy. The supernatural elements are minimal. The fantasy really comes largely from the premise–the existence of a Christian spy organization. It’s unique, it’s fun, it’s contemporary, it’s action packed, it’s so very typically teen. Wonderful story. (Here’s my review).

cover_thspiritwellLastly I recommend the adult science fantasy, The Spirit Well by Stephen Lawhead. To be honest, though, this is one that is best read after the first two in the series–The Skin Map and The Bone House. Personally I think this Bright Empires series has the potential to become a classic, so I suggest getting in on the fun now. There’s wonderful character development (something I don’t always find in Mr. Lawhead’s books), intrigue, historical settings, time-ish travel (you have to read the books to understand precisely what I mean there). For a closer look, here’s the review I wrote for this one.

Undoubtedly I’ve left out other good titles. What Christian speculative fiction would you recommend for Christmas?

Fantasy Friday – Dragons Of The Watch, A Review


Dragons Of The Watch is the final (I think) book in the Chiril Chronicles by Donita Paul. To date it’s my favorite by this talented author who specializes in the “cozy fantasy.” Written for all ages, the books have a decided lean toward young adult, and this one is no exception. But enough with the introduction. On to the review.

The Story. In the imaginary world where Wulder is the One Supreme Being, Creator of all, seven high and seven low races people the various continents. In Chiril, however, there are few urohms–gentle giants reaching as tall as fourteen feet.

When Princess Tipper sends out invitations to her wedding to all citizens of Chiril, a young tumanhofer country girl named Ellicinderpart Clarenbessipawl (she goes by Ellie) wants to attend in the worst way. Her aunt agrees to take her, but as the trip begins, Ellie must corral one of the family goats, her favorite. Her aunt instructs her to meet up with their carriage after she takes care of her responsibility.

After capturing her pet amid inclement weather, Ellie gets turned around in the fog. She heads toward a shaft of light and walks, or is pushed by her goat, through a shiny surface. When she turns to look for the trail, she can no longer see the countryside she left. Instead, she is in an enclosed city founded by urohms from another part of the world. Now she is the only tumanhofer, and perhaps the only person, in a place built for giants. Or is she?

That’s really just the set up. The story is all about what happens in Rumbard City, and it’s good, oh, so good. But I don’t want to give any spoiler.

Strengths. As always, Donita’s strength is her characters. I was very quickly caring for Ellie, longing with her to attend the wedding, exasperated at the delay she faced, fearing as she did that she might miss it all, that she might never see her home again.

Ellie, it turns out, had never heard of Wulder, but she isn’t an ugly, mean-spirited, or unkind girl. Just the opposite. She is pleasant, wise (though she thinks herself quite unsophisticated and therefore the target of mockery), industrious, and compassionate.

The other characters are either equally likable, or they are interesting. In other words none in the entire cast drags the story down or makes it uninteresting.

The plot is quite good, too. Ellie has a clear goal, but when there seems to be no way out, she makes new plans and works to carry them out. The story, therefore, moves forward at a good pace, and I found myself cheering for Ellie to succeed.

There are lots and lots of good thematic threads in the story, all placed very naturally, rising from the circumstances and the character needs. I’ll add that I think in the current climate in Western society, these truths are especially important. I’ll give you a hint–they center on child-rearing.

The story is light and fun. There is definitely conflict, and the obstacles seem believably difficult and/or scary, yet there is an undercurrent of humor and joy and hope. It’s hard to imagine that tragedy will strike, though it threatens in such a believable way, I had to remind myself a time or two, This is a cozy fantasy. A cozy!

I’m a fan of twists and there is one significant twist toward the end that I didn’t see coming at all. It added another layer of tension to the story and provided a perfect set-up for the climax and resolution.

Weaknesses. Toward the end I thought there was a plot point that could have been developed more. Late in the story the characters discover an underground system of tunnels that connected to an ancient, abandoned city. However, the reader was not privy to the first efforts to explore this area. Instead, through narrative one character discloses that there have been daily trips searching out the tunnels.

Soon after, the reader does enter the tunnels with the main characters, but all that happens there could just as easily have taken place in Rumbard City proper. Furthermore, I don’t recall any explanation of how the underground city came to be or what its connection was with the urohms who lived above.

I found one element in the story to be predictable, but it fit well with the cozy fantasy genre–where danger is an arm’s length away instead of in your face–so I didn’t mind the way this particular event played out. Others might think it was too obvious.

Recommendation. Dragons Of The Watch is a must read for fans of Donita Paul. I highly recommend it to readers who enjoy a light fantasy–not light-weight in substance, but not dark or filled with angst. It’s an uplifting story, a book I looked forward to pulling out when I had time to read.

Published in: on September 14, 2012 at 5:26 pm  Comments (1)  
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