The Shock Of Night – A Review


cover_ByDivineRightSo if this is a review of The Shock Of Night, why is there a picture of the cover of a different book? Preceding the latest CSFF feature is the FREE e-novella entitled By Divine Right. It’s well worth the time, and did I mention, it’s free? It’s a great introduction to the fantasy world of The Darkwater Saga and it’s protagonist, Willet Dura.

The fantasy novel we’re featuring, The Shock Of Night by Patrick Carr, is in many respects familiar. The story takes place in an imagined world that shares many similarities with medieval times, and there is an element of “magic,” depicted as gifts bestowed by Aer, the God of the world. But another thread of familiarity is the crime-solving component of a good murder mystery. Indeed, The Shock Of Night is somewhat of a genre mashup, which makes it unique, interesting, fresh, compelling.

It is definitely an adult book, not because there’s bad language or sex, but because it’s complex and layered. The book is the first in a series—The Darkwater Saga—so there are many unanswered questions and threads that aren’t brought to completion. Still, the end is satisfying in the sense that a beginning is confirmed.

The Story

I’m going with the ridiculously short version.

Willet Dura, the king’s reeve, stumbles into a mysterious gift—the ability to delve into the thoughts of people he touches—in the process of investigating a murder. He soon finds himself in the hands of a secret society calling themselves the Vigil who also have this gift. Their job is to deal with people who have entered the Darkwater Forest because 99.0 percent of them go mad. Willet Dura is the lone exception.

While trying to solve the original murder, which the Vigil suspect him of committing, Dura uncovers a much greater plot—one that threatens the king and country.

Strengths

This novel is situated in a well-developed world. The place feels real, with a history (and a map!!), an economy, religious orders, class struggles, political intrigue, and more.

The story is filled with intrigue and is layered with subplots that point to greater purpose. There is murder, betrayal, warfare, secrecy. And yet it’s a very personal story, dealing with doubt and inner darkness.

The main character, Willet Dura, is a flawed person, with a darkness in his heart, but a darkness that doesn’t control him. Nevertheless, he is a bit reckless, brash, stubborn, but also compassionate and loyal and sacrificial. He’s someone a reader can care about.

The themes of the story are largely left open because there are more books to come. There’s the obvious struggle between light and dark—murders and later, attacks, come only at night and have some connection to the Darkwater. Then there is the thread that points to the inner scars of men who have gone to war. Today we refer to this effect of war as PTSD, and this story taps into the reality of such.

Another theme deals with the church, its obligations to society, the four orders and the Clast which defies the theology of them all. More prominent is the socio-economic theme, exhibited by a city divided along economic lines and ruled by the wealthy elite who also hoard the gifts given by Aer for the betterment of the world.

In other words, there’s much that this book delves into.

Weaknesses

My biggest concern was something different from most mysteries I’ve read. I found that the characters knew things the readers didn’t know. At times there was a suggestion, a hint, a conclusion that the characters came to, and there seemed to be the expectation that readers would reach that same understanding, but I didn’t always think there was enough information to go by.

In addition, there were events that took place that the main character didn’t know about. So as he was surprised, so were readers. The problem in this not knowing is that readers can’t anticipate or fear for the main character. Or hope for success. Because we didn’t know all the plans or all the dangers. In short, I think the story could have used a bit more foreshadowing.

Oddly enough, though the protagonist’s portions of the story are told in the first person, and though Willet Dura has flaws and strengths to make him believable, I didn’t find him someone I cared for deeply.

I tried to figure out why, and what came to me was that I didn’t know what Willet Dura wanted. Oh, sure, I knew he wanted to solve the murder and that he wanted to marry Lady Gael, but I didn’t see him wanting to deal with his flaw—the darkness that resided in his heart. He seemed willing to live with it. So the things he wanted were primarily external and kept me from cheering him on for his own sake, not just for the things he was fighting for.

But maybe that’s just me.

Recommendation

I’m so glad I read The Shock Of Night. It’s exciting to find another fantasy series with such a well-developed world. Plus I love mysteries, so this is the best of both worlds from my perspective.

The novella—a free ebook, in case you missed that—entitled By Divine Right introduces readers to the character. It’s interesting and well written and lets readers see Willet Dura in his role as reeve, solving mysteries and hiding his own darkness. I’d recommend reading By Divine Right first, then moving to The Shock Of Night.

I highly recommend both to readers who enjoy being challenged by though-provoking stories with many layers. You’ll be entertained, but there’s no fluff here. You’ll have lots to chew on for days and days.

BTW, I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher for the purpose of reviewing it during the CSFF Blog Tour.

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The Warden And The Wolf King Tour Wrap


WingfeatherSagaWhat an awesome tour CSFF put on for the finale of the Wingfeather Saga, The Warden And The Wolf King by Andrew Peterson. We enjoyed stories of personal interaction with the author, reviews of the earlier books, and a thoughtful look at the twisting of an existing myth about names into something deeper, something born from the Christian worldiew.

In all, twenty bloggers wrote thirty-four articles introducing this middle grade (though some refer to it as young adult) fantasy, and the final book of the series in particular.

I’m happy to announce that we have a winner of the July CSFF Top Tour Blogger Award: Bruce Hennigan. If you haven’t already, you can read all three of Bruce’s excellent articles on his site: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3.

Besides these posts, I encourage you to read Shannon McDermott’s “A Superstition Transformed” dealing with names and myth and an effective twist of the established fantasy trope.

You can also read Keanan Brand’s Day 2 post in which he shares a few passages from The Warden And The Wolf King, illustrative ones if not favorite.

I think there are a number of quotables in this book, but unfortunately I got so caught up in the story that I forgot to write them down. Here’s one, though, and a good one, too:

The set up: Armuly the Bard is talking to Sara Cooper who thinks “all this talk” about the Shining Isle of Anniera is wishful thinking.

“I’m sorry, but the Shining Isle is a long way from here.” Sarah looked down. “So is Janner.”

“That doesn’t mean it isn’t true. The Shining Isle exists as surely as the floor you’re standing on. It may be hard to believe, but it’s real, I tell you. Sometimes in the middle of the night, the sun can seem like it was only ever a dream. We need something to remind us that it still exists, even if we can’t see it. We need something beautiful hanging in the dark sky to remind us there is such a thing as daylight. Sometimes, Queen Sara”—Armulyn strummed his whistleharp—“music is the moon.”

I think Christians can be the moon, too. So go out and be the moon to someone today. 😉

Published in: on July 25, 2014 at 6:15 pm  Comments Off on The Warden And The Wolf King Tour Wrap  
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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 – News You Can Use


SpecFaith announcement 2There are a few tidbits pertaining to Christian speculative fiction that visitors here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction might be interested in.

First, the opening round of the CSA concluded, with the top five books moving on to the finals. The voting was razor-thin close. In fact we had to resort to second and third choices to break a tie. Here are the books that made the cut (listed in alphabetical order by the author’s last name):

    Liberator by Bryan Davis
    A Throne of Bones by Vox Day
    Mortal by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee
    Prophet by R. J. Larson
    Starflower by Anne Elisabeth Stengl

Voting started yesterday and will last until midnight, July 28.

In conjunction with the award, I’m happy to announce that author Robert Treskillard agreed to design the CSA e-medallion which the winning author may display. I’ll need to check with the other sponsors about when we’ll have the unveiling of it.

Second, the team site featuring a discussion of speculative fiction from a Christian viewpoint, Speculative Faith, has been experiencing constant problems. Some weeks ago a hacker successfully shut the site down and ever since there have been problems. After trying one thing and then another, our patient and persistent webmaster, Stephen Burnett, decided it was time to move. Consequently, as part of the process of changing servers, Spec Faith has a new address. It’s actually in keeping with the nickname we use most often. So tell your friends to change their bookmarks from http://www.speculativefaith to http://www.specfaith.com

I wish I had good news for the CSFF Blog Tour. BOTH books we were planning to tour in July are snagged somewhere. None of us have received one and only half of us have received the other. And reading is such fun during the summer months! Here’s hoping.

At least I got a fantasy in the mail today–Dragonwitch by Anne Elisabeth Stengl. The cover is beautiful, and I met the title character in the last book I read in the Tales of Goldstone Woods series, so I’m eager to dive into this one.

Dark Halo RT ReviewGood news from author Shannon Dittemore about the third book in her Angel Eyes trilogy. The highly regarded Romantic Times Book Review journal gave Dark Halo a 4-star review. Most authors would agree this is much-desired recognition from an influential publication.

Speaking of review periodicals, Facebook friend and fellow author Carole McDonnell reported that three of her short fiction works have been recognized by the noteworthy online review magazine, Tangent. They made the Tangent 2012 recommended reading list.

And finally, I learned of yet another Christian speculative author: Krista McGee. Her latest, Anomaly, which released July 9, has been touted as science fiction, but it could just as easily be categorized as post-apocalyptic fantasy. Here’s the teaser–see what you think.

Thalli has fifteen minutes and twenty-three seconds left to live. The toxic gas that will complete her annihilation is invading her bloodstream. But she is not afraid.

Decades before Thalli’s birth, the world ended in a nuclear war. But life went on deep underground, thanks to a handful of scientists known as The Ten. Since then, they have genetically engineered humans to be free from emotions in the hopes that war won’t threaten their lives again.

But Thalli was born with the ability to feel emotions and a sense of curiosity she can barely contain. She has survived so far thanks to her ability to hide those differences. But Thalli’s secret is discovered when she is overwhelmed by the emotion in an ancient piece of music.

She is quickly scheduled for annihilation, but her childhood friend, Berk, convinces The Ten to postpone her death and study her instead. While in the scientists’ Pod, Thalli and Berk form a dangerous alliance, one strictly forbidden by the constant surveillance in the pods.

As her life ticks away, she hears rumors of someone called the Designer—someone even more powerful than The Ten. What’s more, the parts of her that have always been an anomaly could in fact be part of a much larger plan. And the parts of her that she has always guarded could be the answer she’s been looking for all along.

Thalli must sort out what to believe and who she can trust, before her time runs out…

There you have it, friends–voting, blog visiting, book buying. It’s a busy summer in the Christian speculative fiction world. 😀

Published in: on July 19, 2013 at 6:56 pm  Comments Off on Fantasy Friday – News You Can Use  
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CSFF Tour Wrap – Angel Eyes


csffbannerWhat an interesting group of posts we had for the Angel Eyes tour. This first in the trilogy by the same name, written by Shannon Dittemore, comprised 39 posts by 21 participants.

We had everything, from one of our members losing (nearly) his man card for admitting that he had read the Twilight books (cough, Jason) to a thoughtful discussion about healing and a scholarly look at the history of halos.

As always, we now have the enjoyable task of choosing a winner of the CSFF Top Tour Blogger–this one the first in 2013. The cool part about this is that it gives us a chance to revisit some of the articles. Here are the eligible candidates and the links to what they wrote:

The poll will be open until midnight Tuesday, February 5. Thanks for your participation.

Published in: on January 29, 2013 at 2:27 pm  Comments (3)  
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The Strange Man Tour Wrap


I survived reading a horror novel! Greg Mitchell’s The Strange Man proved to be much more than I expected, in a good way, and I’m glad I didn’t shirk behind my horror of horror. 😉

We had a modest tour this month — 23 bloggers posting 41 articles which included reviews, interviews, discussions of salvation, the bogeyman, and the horror genre.

As always there are the three-post bloggers who then become eligible for the coveted CSFF Top Tour Blogger Award. Those individuals and the links to their articles are as follows:

Take time this week to read over the articles, then please add your voice to the rest and vote for who you think should receive the April CSFF Top Tour Blogger Award. You have until May 4.

Published in: on April 21, 2011 at 5:20 pm  Comments (4)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – The God Hater, Day 2


    “This should be ‘Structuring Children’s Fiction’ and I should be Bill Myers.”

So was the first line of a workshop I attended years ago at a Southern California writing institute (and no I didn’t memorize it — I have it on tape). Lo these many years later, I have the privilege of participating in the CSFF Blog Tour featuring Bill MyersThe God Hater, not a children’s story but an adult novel.

What’s interesting is to compare what Mr. Myers taught us writers — things he said should be true about stories for adults as much as for children — and what he has written. His first point was that the story should appear to be written primarily to entertain. The character should be relate-able (likable, easy to hate, or one readers will identify with), he said, or have some mystery that drives readers to want to know more. And on and on. Good things. Elements I see in his work yet today.

Perhaps someone may not know why Mr. Myers was teaching about writing for children when the book we are touring is an adult novel. Just so happens, he is the author of the very successful McGee and Me series put out some years ago by Focus on the Family. (In fact, in the seminar he explained that the name for this imaginary character came from a code Mr. Myers and his wife shared when they were in a public setting — watch yourself, McGee, she would say. 😉 )

Thinking about Mr. Myers and his career makes me wonder about writing for children and Christian publishers. You see, the seminar I went to was in an auditorium because there were so many writers attending who hoped to publish children’s fiction. Yet where are the hundreds of children’s books written from a Christian worldview?

I attended that institute with the thought that I wanted to write books for the age group I taught — 7th and 8th graders, who had very little literature written for them, and the books they could buy were more and more apt to encourage a worldview opposed to God.

Sadly (though I know God used this in my life) I learned that publishers were not at that time interested in publishing books for that age level. No money in it, essentially.

It was a blow, but I re-focused my writing toward adults, something I believe God wanted me to do.

Surprising, isn’t it, that YA books have become the hottest, fastest growing segment in publishing, at least in the general market. But I still wonder, where are the Christian YA books? Happily, fantasy has become an acceptable Christian YA genre, thanks in part to Bill Myers. Yes, he wrote imaginary fiction, speculative fiction, for children and teens. One such series was The Bloodstone Chronicles.

I suppose I’m highlighting Bill Myers’ work with children’s fiction in part because of yesterday’s Novel Journey post dealing with the purpose of writing for children. It reminds me of the need to reach young people as much as adults with good stories.

Happily, no matter who he’s writing for, Bill Myers writes the kind of stories we need.

Tomorrow I’ll give my review of The God Hater.
For specific posts about our featured book, check out the links at the end of yesterday’s article. Among the many thought-provoking and interesting ones, I’d recommend Bruce Hennigan’s posts (1 and 2).

Published in: on February 22, 2011 at 2:02 pm  Comments (2)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – The Skin Map, Day 2


This month the CSFF Blog Tour is featuring The Skin Map, Book 1 of the Bright Empires series by Stephen Lawhead. As I mentioned in my post yesterday, this accomplished author considers this work his most challenging.

And yet, surprisingly, I’ve seen a number of comments about this adventure story. Truly, there is adventure, and the story has intrigue from the opening page. But the page before the first page should get readers thinking more deeply right from the start.

I’m referring to the short epigraph:

Why is the Universe so big?
Because we are here!”

John Wheeler, Physicist

This short hint to the theme of the book, and probably of the series, tells me a couple things.

1) The story has some scientific underpinnings.
2) The implications are philosophical.
3) The philosophical implications will have theological ramifications.

First a little about the science. The physicist Mr. Lawhead quoted is credited with coining the terms black hole and wormhole, among others. He is known for his work in general relativity, including the theory of gravitational collapse.

He also postulated an interesting theory about Man’s relationship to the universe, now know as his ‘it from bit’ doctrine. Information, he believed, was fundamental to the physics of the universe—”all things physical are information-theoretic in origin.”

It from bit. Otherwise put, every ‘it’—every particle, every field of force, even the space-time continuum itself—derives its function, its meaning, its very existence entirely—even if in some contexts indirectly—from the apparatus-elicited answers to yes-or-no questions, binary choices, bits. ‘It from bit’ symbolizes the idea that every item of the physical world has at bottom—a very deep bottom, in most instances—an immaterial source and explanation; that which we call reality arises in the last analysis from the posing of yes–no questions and the registering of equipment-evoked responses; in short, that all things physical are information-theoretic in origin and that this is a participatory universe.
– John Wheeler, as quoted in Wikipedia’s article “John Archibald Wheeler” (emphases mine)

I don’t pretend to understand all this science or a tenth of the ramifications of it. I’m not sure I understand why Mr. Lawhead chose the quote he did to introduce his story.

I do know these are big issues—the origin of the universe and it’s vastness; our place in it; our understanding of it.

As a Christian, I can’t arrive at issues regarding the universe without asking, What about God? Where does He fit into the equation?

If, for example, I was to answer the question posed in the epigraph, Why is the universe so big? I would most certainly not answer the way Mr. Wheeler did. I would probably say, Because God is bigger still.

What, then, will a story be that begins with the bigness of Man instead of the bigness of God?

These are questions I have yet to answer, but my guess is, all will not become clear until the final page of the Bright Empires series, and then we might have more questions to ponder than answers.

In the meantime, we have an adventure to enjoy.

Be sure to check out what other bloggers on the tour are discussing. Fred Warren has an interesting article on tattoos (no kidding). Author Matt Mikalatos explains the origins of ley lines, a key component in The Skin Map. John Otte discusses the opening of The Skin Map and expounds on what makes a good opening. Don’t forget Robert Treskillard‘s contest and the autographed copy of The Skin Map he’s offering as the prize. For other reviews and articles, check the links at the end of Day 1.

January CSFF Top Blogger Poll


Time for you to vote! We actually had eleven bloggers who were initially eligible for the monthly award, but I culled the group because I thought the poll would become unwieldy. My apologies to anyone I omitted who felt they deserved to be considered.

Here are the finalists with links to their posts (click on each check mark to go to a specific post):

Now you get to voice your opinion. 😉

Published in: on February 2, 2009 at 1:27 pm  Comments (8)  
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