CSFF Blog Tour – Dragons of the Valley, Day 3

What, you may ask, does “Dragon Bloggin’” have to do with the latest CSFF Tour feature, Dragons of the Valley? Besides the word “dragon,” both are creations of Donita Paul, the latter her latest novel and the former her fantasy blog. While I wanted to draw your attention to this fine blog where Donita posts her tour articles whenever she participates in CSFF (as she did this week), my intent today is to give you my review of Dragons of the Valley.

The Story. This second volume in the Chiril Chronicles begins a week after the events at the end of The Vanishing Sculptor. Same primary characters, same immediate threat, different opponent.

Strengths. The Characters. Donita has outdone herself in this one. First, she created a truly formidable foe for her cast of heroes to bring down. The Grawl was fearsome and believable. To be honest, he reminded me of a very evil Rigador (I think I have that name right), the meech dragon in the DragonKeeper books.

But true to form, Donita also brought some of the secondary characters front and center so that they nearly upstaged the primaries. Lady Peg played a critical, and hilarious role. Wizard Fenworth was at his best, and we met a delightful kimen named Hollee who made everything more fun.

Then there was a new minor dragon, Rayn. This little chameleon dragon was a jack of all trades and no slouch when it came to mastering them. He started out as such a needy little stray, my heart went out to him before I realized he would be the most talented of all the minors.

Themes. Donita’s stories are rich with spiritual truth. The Chiril Chronicles are actually evangelistic, mapping the way in which a people who forgot God learn to know Him. But there are other significant threads—the importance of following God even when it takes you out of your comfort zone, of accepting and loving those who are different than we, of rejoicing in the beauty of the world God has made. Donita even shows a little of her former teacher self and makes a point (humorously) about not ending sentences with prepositions. 😉

Writing style. This is where Donita puts her stamp on the book. She uses an abundance of light-hearted humor alongside an adventure quest. It is a story of good versus evil, with joy.

Fred Warren, one of our blog participants (and an author in his own right), came up with the perfect term to describe Donita’s stories—cozy fantasies. Nothing could be more apropos.

It seems Donita’s writing is a mirror of her, as you might expect. In a fun interview, another of our blog participants, Noah Arsenault, asked Donita to choose a song that would describe her books. Her answer? “Amazing Grace sung to the tune of Gilligan’s Island.”

What a classic answer. Front and center is Truth, God-honoring Truth, but it’s delivered with a healthy dose of humor.

Weakness. It hardly seems important, (and I know this sounds nuts) but the plot could be stronger. It hardly seems important because Donita’s stories are not the kind that induce one adrenaline rush after another. Going in, we can pretty much guarantee that the good guys—all of them—will win, with little blood shed.

This softening of fright and violence is a motif of the “cozy fantasy.” But at the same time, someone who wants an unpredictable story with a huge clash at the climax will probably be a little disappointed.

Yes, the victories are easy, the wounds healed quickly, a lot of the hitting and hacking told, not shown. But that’s part of what makes the stories perfect for all ages, as the front cover declares.

What could make the plot better? I think more direct confrontation with The Grawl, where he is creating roadblocks to keep Tipper and company from their goal of protecting the statues. But even so, there is plenty of plot to keep the pages turning

Recommendation. This is a fun book that families can read together. A must read for the fans of the cozy fantasy.

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

CSFF Blog Tour – Dragons of the Valley, Day 2

The tour for Donita Paul’s Dragons of the Valley continues. Before I get into the topic I want to discuss in conjunction with this book, I have some posts to recommend from other participants. First, Bruce Hennigan has the best article about the spiritual impact of the book. It falls into the “don’t miss” category.

Second, Sarah Sawyer follows her excellent first day post with a couple polls about the characters. Readers of the book should be sure to weigh in on these.

But best of all has to be Gillian Adams‘ radio interview with one of the tour participants’ favorite characters, Lady Peg. This is really hilarious, especially if you’ve read either The Vanishing Sculptor or Dragons of the Valley.

On to the topic of the day: violence in fantasy, in particular violence in Christian fantasy.

From time to time the question of violence comes up in connection with Christian fiction, but no one gives a good answer why we tolerate it.

When I first started writing The Lore of Efrathah, I came smack against the question of violence in my writing almost at once. I, who had been raised by pacifist parents, was now writing a story filled with physical conflicts. How could I justify such a thing?

Before I answer this question, let me connect my own experience to the book we are touring. All of Donita’s fantasies to this point — the DragonKeeper series and the two books in the Chiril Chronicles — have been “light fantasy.” One person on the tour called them epic fantasy, but I think it’s not quite that. The books are filled with humor and easy victories, some of them bloodless.

As the series have progressed, Donita, by her own admission and her son’s coaching, has worked on her fight scenes. And I thought those scenes were more realistic in Dragons of the Valley, which of course means, not as light and fun because people are injured and dying.

Still, Donita has a way of letting the reader know of the danger without dragging us through the blood. It’s one of the qualities, I think, that her fans may look for in her books. It’s what makes them appropriate for young readers as well as older fantasy fans.

And yet, violence happens. Not in the graphic way it does in The Lore of Efrathah, however.

Is it OK to depict graphic violence in Christian fantasy, or must all Christian writers (must I) take Donita’s approach?

Back to my own experience, I’ve come to believe that my dear aunt who gave me the encouragement to write early on, stopped reading my second book because of the violence. She even asked me once how I learned to write fight scenes.

I don’t know if I ever adequately explained this to her (she passed away last year), but here’s how I see the place of violence in Christian fantasy. As in all fantasy, the struggle between good and evil is the defining element. But for the Christian “good” and “evil” are often tropes for the spiritual struggle, the battle we wage in our hearts and the one being fought in the heavenlies.

In Donita’s stories, for example, The Grawl is not a real “person” but an imaginative creature Donita has invented — an evil creature to be sure. Is he “spiritual” or is he “human gone bad”? The author gets to decide.

I suggest that if he is “spiritual,” meaning that he is representative of the spiritual realm, killing him would be more than the right thing to do (not saying that’s what happened, mind you. No spoilers here, just hypothesizing).

Scripture uses a lot of “warfare” language for the Christian, so depicting warfare necessitates violence. But the Bible also says we don’t war against flesh and blood but against the spiritual.

I’m out of time but may say more about this later. For now, go read what others on the tour are saying. Enjoy.

CSFF Blog Tour – Dragons of the Valley, Day 1

The CSFF Blog Tour is making up ground we lost last October. Consequently we have two tours here in the month of January — this one for Donita Paul, the author who helped us get started more than four years ago, and her for-all-ages fantasy, Dragons of the Valley.

Astute observers will note that the book in the picture to the left, while containing a dragon, is not Dragons of the Valley. This is intentional. While I certainly plan to talk about our featured book in the next few days, I can’t pass up the opportunity to point fans of fantasy to Donita’s web site.

Besides the Adventure Contest, a writing event for children, Donita is holding a Creative Cakes Contest in which you send her cake. No, just kidding. You send her pictures of the dragon cake you make.

These two events are promoting Donita’s children’s books. Yes, you read that correctly. Children’s books, as in picture books. You can learn more at her web site. As writers can about her Monday chats discussing The Art and Craft of Writing Fiction by Jeff Gerke.

There’s more, so much more — a list of resources, an art gallery, recipes, games, links to her blogs, free downloads, and of course the Zazzle shop where you can buy cool dragon items like tee shirts and mugs.

For writers, I say take a look at someone who is getting the most out of her web site. For fans, I say take a look at her web site to see how you can maximize the fun of the books you love. For those who have yet to read a Donita Paul book, I say, check out what the other participants of the tour are saying about Dragons of the Valley, then go buy a copy and get in on the enjoyment. 😀

Here are the other tour participants:

Published in: on January 24, 2011 at 2:03 pm  Comments (6)  
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