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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CSFF Blog Tour – One Realm Beyond by Donita Paul, Day 1



Look wise,
say nothing,
and eat
only those
who annoy you.

Read DragonKeeper Chronicles.

It wasn’t intentional; I truly wasn’t trying to dress the part I would be playing later in the day. In fact I didn’t really think about it until I began to work on my post for this month’s CSFF feature: One Realm Beyond, the first in the Realm Walkers series by Donita Paul. Nevertheless, the tee shirt I pulled out of my closet, a favorite, pictures this dragon and that saying.

Yes, I got it some years ago in connection with Donita Paul’s earlier books.

Appropriate, then, that One Realm Beyond also has dragons. Of sorts.

One of the most inventive parts of Ms. Paul’s writing, in my opinion, is her development of interesting, unique species. Her earlier books had a wide array of both good and evil species, large and small. But on top of this assortment were various types of dragons as well–most good, some more intelligent than others, and one particular, rare species, the meech dragons, I believe, that were extraordinarily gifted.

In One Realm Beyond, the mor dragons reminded me a great deal of those meech dragons, only they’re a step up. Ms. Paul was not content to make the same dragon with a different name. She gave the mor dragons additional abilities. The most notable is their capacity to shapeshift.

We’re talking about an Odo from Deep Space Nine kind of ability to take the shape of objects or people or other animals.

These dragons also mingle with humans to the degree that they are seated together in fancy eating establishments, wear some clothing and/or accessories (at least the one who loves to shop does), and converse freely (though a dragon and his constant can also mind-speak).

I mentioned “inventive,” didn’t I?

In short, the dragons in the Realm Walker series are not your old school dragons.

I’ll have more to say about One Realm Beyond and post my review later in the tour, but for now you might want to check out what other participants are saying, including new members Mike Coville and Audrey Sauble.

Each check mark below links to a CSFF Tour article, so have some fun reading what others are talking about in connection to this book. Feel free to leave a comment and tell them Becky sent you. 😀

Gillian Adams
Julie Bihn
Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
Mike Coville
Pauline Creeden
Carol Gehringer
Rebekah Gyger
Janeen Ippolito
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Emileigh Latham
Jennette Mbewe
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Joan Nienhuis
Donita K. Paul
Writer Rani
Audrey Sauble
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Jojo Sutis
Jessica Thomas
Steve Trower
Shane Werlinger
Jill Williamson

Fantasy Friday – The Fall Writers’ Challenge

Technically this Fall Writers’ Challenge isn’t strictly for fantasy. In fact, we’ve already had some entries that would best be described as science fiction or post-apocalyptic. Very creative. But let me back up.

The Challenge I’m referring to is over at Spec Faith. And before those of you who are not writers or who do not favor speculative literature stop reading, let me mention that we especially need readers. But first things first.

We have just two more days for writers to enter a 100-200 word piece into the Fall Challenge. I wrote a first line as a prompt, then your job, should you choose to accept it, is to write what comes next.

Already readers have weighed in, either with comments or the plus side vote–the thumbs up. But starting Monday the Challenge will be all about readers. Then the following week we’ll take the top three and put the challenge to a vote, letting readers pick the best entry and thus the winner of the Spec Faith Fall Challenge.

So, you see why we need both writers and readers. Both are welcome for two more days, then writers will be forced to the sidelines (well, as readers, of course, they can still play. 😉 )

Just to pique your interest a tad more, here’s the first line prompt:

    If dragon hopping was safe, then I wouldn’t have any interest in it, but of course it’s not, so guess where I’m heading.

Now it’s your turn. Why don’t you hop (dragon or otherwise) on over to Spec Faith and join in the fun. 😀

Published in: on September 21, 2012 at 6:07 pm  Comments Off on Fantasy Friday – The Fall Writers’ Challenge  
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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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Avoiding the Predictable

From the brief amount of study I’ve done regarding the topic of derivative fiction, I’ve come to believe that the real error a writer should avoid in any genre is predictability.

A dragon is not just a big snake, and a magic sword is not merely a very sharp piece of steel; at least, not unless an author fails to make anything more out of them. The stock elements of fantasy are only as dull as we allow them to be.
– “Quality in Epic Fantasy” by Alec Austin at Strange Horizons

I love that quote. It challenges me as a writer to go beyond the expected, to avoid the cliches, not only in language but in character and in plot.

When I was growing up and westerns were common, the classic character cliche was the bad guy wearing the black hat and the good guy wearing the white. The bad guy also often needed a shave, slouched, was cruel to women and children and animals, and spat a lot.

As far as predictable plots were concerned, common ones included the restless cowboy being “tamed” by the beautiful maiden in distress; the cavalry arriving in the nick of time to save the surrounded wagon train/settlement; against all odds and without the support of the fearful citizens, the skilled/cunning/brave lawman cleans up the crime-infested town.

I believe these character cliches and predictable plots nearly killed westerns. But along came Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and suddenly, no one cared that westerns weren’t done any more. We could debate what making outlaws into the protagonists said to or about our culture, but we can’t deny how much more interesting the story was than it would have been if the Pinkerton man was the hero.

I suspect much of the complaint against Christian fiction is actually a complaint about its predictability. After all, if a character is a Christian, there are Scriptural parameters that dictate how that person will behave. And if a character isn’t a Christian, there will be a set of beliefs or anti-beliefs that define that individual. Where are the surprises?

And how is a Christian to grow? Not by drifting from God. How is a non-Christian to grow? Not by remaining unrepentant. So the story seems laid out as soon as the players tip their hands regarding their worldview.

Must it be so? One solution some authors apparently have come upon is to ignore Christianity, at least when it comes to playing a significant part in the plot or character development. These are the books I’d like to see renamed as clean fiction.

But back to the subject of predictability. It seems to me, if a magic sword is only as dull as we allow it, then a Christian or a conversion is only as dull as we allow it.

In Fantasy’s Defense

I mentioned last Friday that I’d followed a link to an anti-fantasy article, especially railing against C.S. Lewis. In truth, I’ve heard others talk about encountering such people, but I haven’t come up against them much and certainly not in a full-blown article reasoning against the genre at such a thoughtful level.

By saying “thoughtful,” I don’t mean to convey any agreement. I think it is not unusual for people to think something over, to reason it out, and to come to the wrong conclusion. Fantasy, however, doesn’t generally seem to be one of those topics. Instead, people seem to react emotionally. In reality, they are reacting to code words such as witch, magic, dragon, wizard, and such.

Not more that a day or so passed, and an author in an email group pointed to a discussion about theology and fiction in which another anti-fantasy writer condemned the genre as evil. YIKES! 😮 They DO exist. The do still exist! And are growing more vocal, it would seem, possibly because Christian fantasy is finally taking hold.

Ironically, this writer taking the anti-fantasy stand described the evils of “‘Christian’ fantasy” with apparently no knowledge of the genre. She repeatedly condemned it for using “evil”:

I will reiterate again – if life’s experiences lead you to share a story about how God has impacted your life, cool. But to make up stories using characters and images that have already been used for evil and then try to twist them into something godly – is to taint and corrupt any perceived “good”. You are giving satan the glory, not God.

I immediately ran over the books of Christian fantasy I’ve most recently read: George Bryan Polivka‘s – no, no witches, goblins; Sharon Hinck – none in her books either; Jeffrey Overstreet – don’t remember any; Andrew Peterson – no. Karen Hancock – not those either. Sure, each of these books have creatures representing evil, but they don’t fall into the category of “images that have already been used for evil.”

Granted, both Donita Paul and Bryan Davis have books about dragons and they make those dragons good. Davis actually gives a story explanation that gives God credit for the transformation. Paul seems to take a more traditional approach, letting the reader conclude on his own that wizards in the DragonKeeper Chronicles can be good or bad, that dragons are good but can be captured and/or corrupted.

Which brings up the issue. If some other writer uses a dragon as a symbol of evil, are all writers thereafter obligated to make the dragon a symbol of evil? I would loudly proclaim, NO! To take such a stand is to deny God’s power of redemption.

Ah, one might say, Satan is beyond redemption, and the Dragon is a symbol of Satan in Scripture. One writer in the discussion pointed out that we should not confuse the Dragon with dragons. The latter, of course, don’t actually exist! They once might have. Some people think possibly dragons were dinosaurs. Nevertheless, in literature today, they can take on the value the writer gives them.

To think otherwise is a kind of prejudice, akin to saying Germans were evil in the 1930’s and 40’s and therefore they must be considered evil in all writing from then on. Odd to think that people can be prejudiced against creatures that don’t actually exist, but there it is.

As you might suppose, I have much more to say on this subject, but will save it for Fantasy Friday. 😀