CSFF Blog Tour – Curse of the Spider King, Day 3

Review, Part 2 of Curse of the Spider King by Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper.

More Strengths. I wanted to mention a couple other things I really enjoyed about this book—primarily things important to writers and less so to readers.

First, I thought Wayne and Christopher created an incredible mood through their writing, evoking tangible creepiness, even fear. Some of this was accomplished by creating such diabolical creatures as Wisps, so that even “friends” couldn’t be trusted completely.

Another means of creating this mood was through brilliant foreshadowing. How many times did a character nonchalantly brush aside a spider web or did a window crack spider-web across the pane? How could a reader not anticipate the presence of creeping evil, given such hints and suggestions?

A second thing I really liked was the hand-copied history book that showed scenes to a select few, as if the readers were actually there. I thought this device was a brilliant way to insert flashbacks. It gave a feel of mystery and magic, made the backstory interesting, even exciting, and promised more of the same as the story moved the protagonists toward the fantasy world.

Weaknesses. There aren’t many, in my opinion, and the ones I noticed were again something another writer might think about but would probably not stand out to the average reader.

The first problem—and it was a problem for me at first—was the host of characters. One of my pet peeves is books that have so many point-of-view characters, the reader has no one to root for. I was feeling similarly peevish at the beginning of Curse until I realized what tied all the young people together. From that point on, I cheered for the group—or actually for any particular individual who was a member of that group.

Still, I easily mixed the characters up. I did not wish to slow my reading at the beginning of a point of view switch to consult the chart at the beginning of the book that tells who everyone is. Within a page or two I was back into the new character’s world … until the characters came together. Then my confusion was more noticeable and costly.

This “many characters” mix-up was exacerbated by the fact that a number of the names were similar—Tommy and Johnny and Jimmy and Jett, Kat and Kiri Lee. Autumn was the only one with a name that easily identified her.

A second weakness, from my perspective, was the first chapter, which was actually a prologue. The action occurs in the fantasy world, but the authors missed a chance to anchor the readers by clearly revealing the elfin connection. Here’s the opening:

Concealed in a grove of alder trees, two cloaked figures waited, their whispered voices lost in the soft rustle of wind-stirred leaves.

“Commander. I had forgotten how brilliant the moon is.”

“I know, Brynn,” the burly warrior replied, absently rubbing a whitish furrow on his cheek, one of many scars on his face and neck. “Since we are allowed only rare views … I, too, drink it in.” He sighed.

“How many hundreds of years since we could gaze our fill?”

Clearly this scene is occurring in the fantasy world, but why hide the fact that these are elves? That point, along with the fact that I only learned two paragraphs later Brynn was female, and that the whole conversation smacked of a “As you know, Bob” exchange for the sake of the readers, not the characters, made this opening irritating.

I didn’t know these people, didn’t understand what they were doing or why, didn’t believe the story was about them because chapter two created a completely different world, so I felt those opening pages were superfluous. Actually, I still think so. At any rate, I didn’t retain anything in those first pages. For me, the story started with chapter 2.

Recommendation. There were a couple other writerly things like the last point, but from the moment I accepted the seven protagonists as a collective, I thoroughly enjoyed the story. It was fast paced without feeling reckless. The characters were well-developed and interesting. I felt for each one of them, in different ways.

For young adult readers who enjoy fantasy, this is a Must Read. For other fantasy lovers, I highly recommend Curse of the Spider King. For readers who want a good adventure story, I highly recommend this book as well. In other words, you’ll be richer for having read the book.

Don’t forget to take a look at what other blog participants are saying. John Otte has some divergents view from mine, so you might want to see what he’s saying.

CSFF Tour – Curse of the Spider King, Day 2

Today I’m posting Part 1 of a review of the CSFF Blog Tour’s November feature, Curse of the Spider King by Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper. Often times I will take a day to highlight the author(s), but Wayne and Christopher are hardly strangers to CSFF. Both are members and have participated from time to time—Wayne, most recently in the September tour for Donita Paul’s book The Vanishing Sculptor. In addition, I interviewed Christopher for the Fantasy Fiction West Coast Tour a couple years ago.

Speaking of interviews, James Somers posted his exchange with Wayne (and a very cool sword fighting picture) as part of the tour while Ryan Heart has an interview with BOTH authors. Donita Paul even posted an interview of Wayne interviewing himself! 😉

But on to the review.

The Story. Curse of the Spider King is an ambitious tale featuring not one, not two, but seven principle characters—apparently “average” twelve year olds. Except they’re not.

Each of them has a number of things in common, the most important being that a stalker intrudes in their otherwise ordinary lives. Well, “ordinary” doesn’t describe them quite right because another thing these pre-teens have in common is that they are beginning to develop skills, abilities, talent they didn’t have before.

Some also encounter a kind, bookish adult who befriends them and gives them a leatherbound tome entitled The History of Berinfell. Amazingly, the book, under certain conditions, has the ability to create a visual representation of the scenes it narrates.

As the stalkers (yes, there is more than one) close in, the young people each learn that more is at stake than their own lives. They must make a decision that will affect them for all time, for good or for ill, and they must do so for the sake of others—some in a world they do not know, some they care about and love.

Strengths. The characters! I was absolutely stunned by how real these characters felt. I taught seventh and eighth graders for years, and I felt as if in the pages of this book, I was meeting some of my students.

Not only did they come across as believable and authentic, they seemed unique from each other. One was musically gifted, another an athlete. One was picked on and a bit of a nerd, while another was a bully. One came from a close, loving family, and another felt as if he’d been abandoned because his parents favored his younger brother. Each of the stories was well developed, interesting, true to life, and unlike any of the others. These kids came alive on the page.

The story is also a strength. Not only were each of the kids different from each other, the things that happened to them, while similar in some instances, were not predictably repetitious. Consequently, I found myself on the edge of my seat more often than not.

The action kept me engaged and the characters made me care—a great combination in a book.

I’ll have more to say tomorrow, but I hope you reserve some time this week to see what others participating in the CSFF Tour have to say (by the way, there’s a second tour underway this week as well, this one hosted by Mama Buzz).

Also, check out The Berinfell Prophecies Web site for more information about the book, forums, contest, and authors.

CSFF Blog Tour – Curse

The title of this post sounds dramatic, which is fitting for the book the CSFF Blog Tour is featuring this month – Curse of the Spider King by Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper, first in the Berinfell Prophecies. For a variety of reasons, I’d like to skip the preliminaries and get right to the review of the book, but I’ll restrain myself.

Rather, let me mention The Biggest Contest in the History of Men and Elves. The prize is truly one of a kind, and the contest itself promises to be a fun ride, though I recommend it most for younger young adults.

The actual name of the contest is “Tribe Building Quest: An adventure based on Curse of the Spider King.” The goal is to build tribes of twenty-one people or more.

For someone looking to be a part of an existing tribe, there’s information in the Underground – a discussion forum connected with the Berinfell Prophecies.

The other option, of course, is to start your own tribe. By the way, the larger the tribe, the better the chance of winning.

After a tribe has been formed and a name chosen, then there needs to be a home (such as a Facebook page) and a leader (someone with Internet access – and communication skills, it would seem 😀 ).

Each tribe member then earns points by doing such things as joining the Underground, posting about one of Christopher or Wayne’s books, mentioning them on Facebook or Twitter, even doing homework well without being told (note from parent required to verify this. 😉 )

I don’t know about anyone else, but the whole thing makes me wish I was back in junior high. What fun. What a great chance to interact with others who also love fantasy. What an excellent way to reach readers in the target age group.

But there’s more to the adventure—a clue at the end of Curse of the Spider King that can lead to solving the Alternate Reality Game, videos, store visits, and of course book buying.

Sound enticing? Just think of all the points a tribe could tally by participating in the blog tour!

See what other participating bloggers are discussing. Oh, before you do, have you voted yet for Readers’ Choice Clive Staples Award for Christian Speculative Fiction? You have until November 30.

Fantasy Friday – You Might Like to Know …

Lots going on in the world of fantasy.

First, Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper are running a couple interesting promotional events in preparation for the release of their co-authored book, Curse of the Spider King, book 1 of their series The Berinfell Prophecies (Thomas Nelson).

First is a campaign to blitz Amazon on October 7 with pre-orders. This is particularly aimed at readers who are already planning to purchase the book, but I suspect new readers will also be welcome. 😉

Before this first, they launched a forum to discuss the books in this new series — The Underground.

More recently they revealed a huge, giganto, fun, exciting contest they’re running to help get the word out about the book. They’re calling it, Build Your Tribe, Begin Your Quest. Sounds cool! 😎 And one of the prizes? A personal book signing party with lots of freebies for the winner!

And finally, they’re holding several extravaganza-type launch events. In Maryland, they’re speaking, signing, and performing at various places on October 16 and 17. In New York, they’ll be doing the same October 30 and 31.

By the way, the CSFF blog tour will be featuring Curse of the Spider King in November. I’m looking forward to reading this YA fantasy.

Speaking of tours and contests, Donita Paul has announced the closing date of her library contest for The Vanishing Sculptor. From her newsletter:

Library Contest
The library contest finally has an end date:
November 20, 2009

Why November 20? Because it is Mrs. Paul’s birthday, and we think it would be fun to give something away on her birthday. 😀

The Contest Image Gallery is almost complete, but we need more pictures of YOU (and your librarians)!

Remember your camera (or use your camera phone) next time you go to the library and get a picture of you with Mrs. Paul’s books on the shelves. Be creative! We want to see your faces!

NEW CONTEST RULE: You will be entered up to two times for each picture of faces you submit to webmaster@dragonkeeper.us.

If you have already submitted pictures or screenshots–thank you! They have likely been received. Our webmaster is working hard at getting them entered into the gallery, so your patience will soon be rewarded.

What else? There’s a new Christian fantasy forum called Holy Worlds.

Rachel Star Thomson won the September CSFF Top Blogger Award. Congratulations, Rachel!

Marcher Lord Press announced their new line of books/authors with special pricing if you purchase a number together.

Starlighter, first in the Dragons of Starlight series by Bryan Davis (Zondervan), can now be pre-ordered. Here’s the blurb from Bryan’s newsletter:

Jason Masters has heard his older brother Adrian’s tales about dragons kidnapping humans. Supposedly, almost one hundred years ago, a dragon stole away several humans and enslaved them on its own planet. These Lost Ones, as Adrian called them, live terrible lives as cattle. Yet, the Underground Gateway, the portal to the dragon planet, still exists somewhere, and a secret society of the same name has long tried to find it so they can rescue the Lost Ones.

When Adrian leaves to find the portal, Jason takes his place as the Governor’s bodyguard. Although the government has tried to cover up the evidence, he learns that the legends are true, and after being accused of murder and learning that Adrian’s life is in danger, he has to conduct his own search for the portal, a journey filled with danger and intrigue.

Aided by a gifted young lady named Elyssa and an eccentric escapee from the dungeon named Tibalt, Jason ventures into the wilderness to locate Adrian and the Lost Ones. Yet, what he finds on the dragon planet proves to the biggest surprise of all. Koren, a lonely slave girl, is a powerful being called a Starlighter, the slaves’ only hope for survival and rescue, though most refuse to believe that their ancestors ever came from another planet.

D. Barkley Briggs, author of The Book of Names, announced good news about his second (and, sadly, orphaned) book (NavPress is no longer publishing fiction):

UPDATE: I am securing all rights back from Navpress as we speak. Once the paper work is finalized, I hope to locate another publisher soon. How soon? Don’t know, but I’ve had a couple of random inquiries with no real effort on my part, so I’m hopeful. Please be patient. My personal schedule is tied up until at least the first of October. The good news in all of this is that Books 1-3 are complete! They just need a home.

I suspect there is more news in fantasy, but that should do it for today.

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