CSFF Blog Tour – A Draw Of Kings, Day 3


A-Draw-of-Kings-cover
Time constraints and all, I’m going to do what I never do: I’m going to divide my review into two parts and extend my portion of the blog tour for A Draw of Kings by Patrick Carr to a fourth day.

This is one epic story, so I think it deserves a fourth day anyway.

The Story.

Errol Stone is a hero. Twice. But his country is in a worse state than it’s ever been.

The king has died, leaving no heir, and a rich, powerful Earl has determined to ascend to the throne of his own volition, though the church and the readers (a group of people gifted with the ability to cast and read lots which will answer questions about the future) are, by law and tradition, tasked to designate the next king.

In addition, according to prophecy, should there be no rightful king, a barrier which holds back the attack of a group of people possessed by the equivalent of evil spirits, will fall. To complicate things further, another enemy people is waiting to attack as well.

If all that’s not enough, Errol brings back news that the lost book of the church still exists and that one key part of their belief system, built on oral tradition, is wrong. The church determines they must regain control of the book so they can know for sure that Errol is right. They assign him the task of recovering the book.

Others of his friends are given different quests. They succeed or fail on different levels, but in the end they gather to defend the kingdom against their enemies.

At the edges of everyone’s mind, however, is the prophecy that the new king will be the savior of the land by dying in order to restore the barrier. Would Errol become the greatest hero ever by making the ultimate sacrifice and dying for the people, the church, the country?

That’s the driving question of A Draw of Kings.

This third installment of The Staff & The Sword trilogy, is itself divided into three parts. The first deals with the civil war/internal conflict within the land.

The second is traditional epic fantasy questing, but in three parts. Different members of the core cast of characters is tasked by the church to accomplish various important assignments.

The final element of the final books is The Battle–the showdown between the forces of evil and the forces of good.

This third book answers many of the questions which have been brewing and intensifying throughout the first two novels, A Cast of Stones and The Hero’s Lot. What more can a reader ask for from the end of a long tale?

Still, I found I wished for . . . more. Not more story, but more attention to the story we had before us. I’ll elaborate on what I mean next time, and highlight the strengths in some detail.

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

Advertisements
Published in: on March 19, 2014 at 7:23 pm  Comments Off on CSFF Blog Tour – A Draw Of Kings, Day 3  
Tags: , , ,

CSFF Blog Tour – A Draw Of Kings, Day 2


The Staff & The Sword trilogy covers I don’t think there’s any secret to the fact that I’m partial to epic fantasy. I mean, that’s my genre. I have my own epic fantasy, complete with character lists and maps, I might add, which I hope to publish some day. How excited, then, have I been this past year to see the popularity of Patrick Carr‘s series, The Staff & The Sword, increase. I mean, that’s the way an author dreams of having a series go. Publishers, too, I would guess.

Of course, I’m not privy to the sales for Carr’s series. I am only judging by the enthusiasm and the growing number of reviews. I’m used to seeing that number drop off as a series goes along. Not so with A Draw of Kings, the finale of this well-told story. Consider the fact that this book has been out for a little over a month and already has 71 Amazon reviews and 98 ratings on Goodreads, and I think you get a picture of the buzz this trilogy is creating.

That makes me happy as a reader and as a writer. I love getting lost in another world, and Patrick Carr did a good job creating a different place which had its own rules and alliances and enemies and power structures and supernatural connections.

Is the success of this trilogy a first step toward more epic fantasy?

I’d love to say, yes, definitely. But what I think it is actually a first step toward is readers wanting good stories.

In the end, I want good stories, more than I want epic fantasy. If I were given the choice between a poorly written epic fantasy and a well-told dystopian or fairytale or supernatural or contemporary, I’d pick the latter every time. I don’t think I’m unusual in this.

Yes, I have a favorite genre, but I’m not an exclusive reader. I don’t read solely in the speculative category, let alone in the epic fantasy niche. I like good stories, first and foremost.

So when I see a series like The Staff & The Sword get a lot of attention, I’m not thinking, Finally, people are discovering Christian epic fantasy. Rather, I’m thinking, Yea, an author has done Christian epic fantasy so well, fans are gathering to it.

Hopefully they will enjoy these books so much, they’ll be willing to try other speculative stories that might move them out of their comfort zone–books like R. J. Larson’s epic fantasy trilogy or Jill Williamson’s dystopian Safe Lands series or Shannon Dittemore’s Angel Eyes supernatural trilogy or Robert Treskillard’s Arthurian series, The Merlin Spiral.

Really, there are such good books out there right now. It’s a great time to be a reader who enjoys Christian speculative fiction, that’s for sure.

My advice is to hop on the bandwagon and pick up one of the Clive Staples Award 2014 nominations for your next good book. The fact that there are Christian themes engrained in the stories makes the reading experience deeper.

Poorly executed themes, no matter what the message, turn a good story sour. One of the great things about each of the CSA nomination I’ve read is that themes are handled appropriately–as a natural outgrowth of who the characters are and what is happening in the plot. There’s no, “Time out for a word from our sponsor” telling of the Christian message.

For those who have read at least two of the CSA nominations, I trust you have voted for the finalists or are planning to do so. You have until a week from today.

In the end, then, I think Patrick Carr and The Staff & The Sword trilogy are part of the rising tide of Christian speculative fantasy.

How well did A Draw of Kings do in closing out the story? I’ll give my thoughts on that tomorrow. For now, I suggest you see what others on the CSFF tour are saying. You can find the list of participants and links to their articles at the end of my intro post.

CSFF Blog Tour-A Cast of Stones and The Hero’s Lot by Patrick Carr, Day 3


Heros Lot coverAs it happened, CSFF’s plans to feature A Cast of Stones in a blog tour dovetailed with publisher Bethany House’s plans to promote the second book in The Staff & The Sword series, The Hero’s Lot. Consequently, I have the privilege of reviewing this one as well.

I’m happy about that, certainly, because I loved A Cast of Stones. After I read the last page, I dived right in and gobbled down The Hero’s Lot. Gobbled it whole. Or nearly so. I love a book that draws me in to the point that I am steeped in the story and the world, and Patrick Carr‘s epic fantasy novels did just that.

But here’s the downside for me: I don’t remember the details well when I read glomps at a time. So now you’re forewarned, and still I offer you my review of The Hero’s Lot.

The Story. Of necessity, if you haven’t read A Cast of Stones yet, you’ll find spoilers from this point on. I’m sorry. I just don’t know how I can discuss a sequel without giving some idea what happened in the book that came before. I’ll do my best to paint with a wide brush, which actually should work since I don’t remember the particulars well!

Errol Stone has made remarkable changes, and yet he’s plagued with his own insignificance. Yes, he now has much needed abilities that can serve his king well, but those closest to him expect him to offer himself as a pawn for the good of the nation.

A great threat lies over the land. Their king is childless, and a prophecy or a curse says that when the king dies with no heir, the barrier keeping their land free from being overrun by an evil entity comparable to evil spirits, will fall.

Errol is needed in the process of selecting the new king because one of his abilities allows him to read the lots cast by others. Without him, unscrupulous power-hungry earls can manipulate the selection process and steal the kingship.

Consequently, his enemies accuse him of trumped up wrong doing. His punishment is to go on a seemingly impossible quest. And once again, the church puts a compulsion on him, giving him no choice.

And I’ll stop there.

Strengths. Once again Patrick Carr has created a multi-dimensional tale. There is political intrigue, but also a genuine quest. There is a love interest and a new friend. There’s personal growth and personal sorrow. Much is at stake for Errol as a man but also for his country and the lands nearby. His path is fraught with danger and the outcome of his efforts is uncertain, at best.

In other words, the story is filled with action and conflict and tension. And the stakes are raised. Errol is more important than anyone could imagine at the beginning of A Cast of Stones, and his own life is more at risk than ever before.

The characters in The Hero’s Lot are not stagnant. Some change for the better, but others show up in a less flattering light. New characters appear, and some old friends die.

The world is richer in this second edition of The Staff & The Sword, in part because Errol’s travels show it to be far bigger than I realized in the first book.

The trilogy theme also seems to emerge. Above all else, Errol is striving to be somebody. When he was orphaned and learned that even the father he thought he knew was not his natural parent, he escaped into the bottle. Now that he’s sober, he tries to make himself into someone who matters, though he doesn’t believe his new rank or his unique abilities make him worthwhile. When he learns the facts about his parentage, he once again slides into despair.

There’s also a spiritual theme that emerges, but I don’t want to give too much away. Suffice it to say, this one could be a little uncomfortable for some Christians.

Weaknesses. There’s no map! Yes, this is an even greater problem in this book because Errol and those who accompany him are crossing borders and traveling by ship. I want to see where they are and where they are going. At one point others were headed from a different place to the same town as Errol and company. I wanted to know how different these two routes where and what the chance was that they’d both arrive at the same time. Maps can give clues to such things. But, no map!

I also thought The Hero’s Lot was a little more rushed than A Cast of Stones. I can’t remember details (going too fast, myself), but I had the sense that things weren’t being explained as carefully as I’d like, that if I went back and read again, I’d find a few holes, in the foreshadowing, if nowhere else.

Still, I think The Hero’s Lot is a remarkable book that advances the story on every level.

Recommendations. Epic fantasy lovers will be so happy with this book. It’s rich and well worth the time it takes to read. It’s a delightful story, so readers of all stripes will enjoy it as well. So I highly recommend the book to readers and suggest it is a must read for epic fantasy fans. It’s an adult book, but young adults who are good readers will have no problem with it.

Just a reminder that A Cast of Stones is available until the end of August as a free ebook with either Kindle or Nook. What a great opportunity to get in on this trilogy, to find out if this is the kind of story you’ll like, without costing you a dime.

Also, you can pre-order Book 3, A Draw of Kings, which is due out February 2014.

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

CSFF Blog Tour-A Cast of Stones and The Hero’s Lot by Patrick Carr, Day 2


A-Cast-of-StonesI’m a fantasy fan, and in particular, an epic fantasy fan. Consequently The Staff & The Sword series by Patrick Carr is in my wheelhouse. These books feel as if I’m coming home. Already I’m thinking I want to re-read them.

The first book, A Cast of Stones (free as an ebook until August 31), had me hooked by the end of the first chapter. So now you know my bias as you read my review. 😉

The Story. Already, at the age of 18, Errol Stone is a drunk. The town drunk, in fact, but he knows his way around the countryside, including a dangerous gorge that must be crossed to reach the ravine where a certain secluded churchman lives with his servant.

Consequently, when a messenger appears mid-morning one day, Errol wins the job of delivering the missive and a parcel of communion elements to the pater. On the way, however, he encounters a would-be assassin who attacks him. Despite his slightly less than sober state, he manages to avoid being killed, though he does take an arrow and nearly drowns.

His worst nightmare, however, occurs because his injury requires him to spend the night away from town and from the pub and the ale his body craves. The good pater helps him survive with the aid of the communion elements he brought, and the next day, because the message Errol carried is too waterlogged to read, the three start out to intercept the messenger.

But opposition has only begun, and when the churchmen realize that Errol has a unique and much needed ability that he isn’t even aware of, they press him into service–most literally. He now is under compulsion to go with them to the capital of their land and offer his services to the church–for which he has no love because he’s suffered beatings for his drunkenness at the hands of the local priest.

Their plans, however, are foiled when they are once again attacked. Severely wounded, Errol is separated from the rest of his traveling companions. Eventually he must try to reach the capital on his own–the compulsion requires it of him.

That’s as much as I’ll tell. Anything more and I’d spoil the story.

Strengths. I’m not sure yet how he did it, but Mr. Carr had me caring for a drunk right in the first chapter. I didn’t know what factors led up to Errol’s desire to remain inebriated, so I wasn’t feeling sorry for him at that point and, and still I pulled for him, hoping he would succeed, grieving his choice to climb back in the bottle yet one more time. In other words, Mr. Carr created a sympathetic character who is not, in the early stages, anyone’s idea of a hero, least of all, his own.

There’s also a nice balance of action and quieter moments that allow for character development. The plot is full of intrigue and unexpected twists. There’s a little of the journey quest in the story, but then it morphs to a story filled with political intrigue, prejudice, false accusations, and assassination attempts. And there’s a love interest–an impossible love interest. This is a plot that has all the tension a reader could want.

The theme of A Cast of Stones is not fully developed because this is part of the greater story, The Staff & The Sword. However some threads peak through and I can begin to make guesses. For one, Errol himself is growing up. He isn’t at the end of this book what he was at the beginning.

Weaknesses. the greatest weakness from my perspective is the worldbuilding. There were times that I felt a little lost, not being able to picture the lay of the land and where the travelers were in respect to where they were headed. This series cries for want of a good set of maps! How many happy moments have I spent pouring over the map of Middle Earth. If only I could do the same for . . . whatever the name of this place is. There’s no map to turn to so I can refresh my memory! 😕

As weaknesses go, this one isn’t life-threatening, and probably only those of us extreme epic fantasy lovers will care about the lack of a map. But that’s all I have. The story is intriguing, the characters interesting, well drawn, believable. Errol’s transformation is progressive and realistic. A-Draw-of-Kings-cover

Recommendation. If you enjoy an action-packed story with intrigue and characters you care about, then you’ll enjoy A Cast of Stones. Well, the whole of The Staff & The Sword series. I just saw the cover for book three and that it may now be pre-ordered at Amazon.

Anyway, for epic fantasy fans, this is a must read. For others, you’ll miss a good story if you pass on this one.

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

CSFF Blog Tour-A Cast of Stones and The Hero’s Lot by Patrick Carr, Day 1


    I see the Christian spec-fic genre as requiring a fairly serious break from the “bad theology” that has shaped much of mainstream Christian fic and a revisiting of a theology of the arts.

Them are my cards and they’re all on the table — “bad theology” has shaped much of mainstream Christian fiction.

My guess — no, my fear — is that many advocates of Christian speculative fiction are importing the same faulty theology and worldview into their approach of the Christian speculative fiction genre.

A-Cast-of-StonesSo said author Mike Duran in his post entitled “Christian Spec-Fic & ‘Intellectual Rigor’ — A Proposal.”

As it turned out, in the discussion that ensued, I presented Mike with a counter proposal, and he accepted. I gave him a short list of novels to choose from and challenged him to read and review whichever book he picked, in light of his question about Christian speculative fiction. As it happens, he selected A Cast of Stones, Book 1 of The Staff & the Sword series, by Patrick Carr, the second August selection of the CSFF Blog Tour.

Happily, Mike learned that in honor of the release of Book 2, The Hero’s Lot, A Cast of Stones is currently being offered as a free ebook (Nook is offering it for free as well), so he also invited his Facebook friends to join him in the challenge. One person even suggested a Facebook page where readers could discuss the book.

I wanted to intervene and say that such a discussion is the kind of thing that participants of the CSFF Blog Tour get to do, but I refrained–I don’t want to turn a positive conversation into smarmy spam. 😀

As to the portion of Mike’s post which I quoted above, I’ve spent some time trying to discern what “bad theology” Mike is referring to. From what he’s said in other posts and what he’s said in real life, I know he believes the Bible in the same way I do.

What he doesn’t believe (and again, I agree) is that there is a set of conservative behavioral standards often adhered to by an element of the more conservative evangelical churches which defines or even identifies Christians–things like no drinking, dancing, smoking, swearing. A number of readers who admittedly don’t read Christian fiction believe that these stories still hold to those standards. More than once I’ve heard how Christian fiction can’t show someone drinking, for instance.

It’s a laughable statement, and has been for at least five years, but A Cast of Stones ought to put the issue to bed because the protagonist of the story, Errol Stone, is the town drunk. (Note, he doesn’t just drink, but he is a drunk, something Scripture does, in fact, speak against). And yet, some strictures remain–primarily a prohibition against swearing and “coarse” language and against sex scenes.

As I understand Mike, this kind of “PG-rated story” means Christian speculative fiction is still tied to bad theology that says good Christians don’t do “those things” or at least want to hide their eyes from others doing those things.

I think I understand his point. Books that frown on including curse words have no compunction against showing characters steeped in greed and anger. Some have characters that slander their neighbors, or ignore the homeless. Why have evangelicals picked out a set of “defining sins” that aren’t in Scripture–at least in the way Christians use them–while ignoring others?

There’s something else in another comment that I think might also get to what Mike means by “bad theology”–that Christians have a bad theology of the arts. They exist as a means to evangelize. They are, in essence, little more than a pragmatic way to take the message of the gospel to those who need to hear. Or they are a means by which Christians can reinforce their own narrow views about life and godliness.

I’m stepping out on a limb here because I don’t know which, if any, of those ideas are part of what Mike thinks is the ongoing bad theology of Christian fiction. He says he doesn’t mean content when he refers to the intellectual rigor Christian fiction is lacking.

I’ll let others ferret out precisely what Mike means. I’ve written what I mean about intellectual rigor both here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction and also at Speculative Faith. I’ve written my theology of art, too, in bits and pieces here and there (see for example this post and this one and this one). Perhaps I need to revisit the subject.

In a nutshell, I see art as little more than an extension of who I am and what I am tasked to do and be. Consequently, my art is to be consistent with my life and my life purposes. My life purposes certainly include proclaiming who Jesus is and what He’s done (“. . . that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” 1 Peter 2:9b), but that’s not the limit by any means.

And how does all this relate to A Cast of Stones, beside the fact that Mike and some of his Facebook friends will be reading and reviewing the book? I see this novel, and a number of others, breaking the mold which has limited traditional Christian fiction. It questions things other books have not questioned before. It addresses, for instance, what might be a barrier to someone becoming involved in the church–a significant topic lately considering the articles discussing why millenials are abandoning the church.

I promise–tomorrow I’ll discuss the book itself in more detail. For now, I recommend you check out what other CSFF’ers are saying about the first two of The Staff & the Sword books. (A check mark give you a link to a tour article).

Julie Bihn
Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
Jeff Chapman
Laure Covert
Pauline Creeden
Emma or Audrey Engel
April Erwin
Nikole Hahn
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Writer Rani
Nathan Reimer
Chawna Schroeder
Jojo Sutis
Steve Trower
Phyllis Wheeler
Rachel Wyant

CSFF Blog Tour – The Orphan King and Fortress of Mist, Day 3


Fortress of Mist coverAs I mentioned Monday, I decided to review The Orphan King and Fortress of Mist together because they are parts of one grand young adult fantasy story–Merlin’s Immortals by Sigmund Brouwer.

The Story. Young Thomas is an orphaned boy growing up in an out-of-the-way abbey where he is treated more like a slave than a charge of the church. His nurse, who he discovered was actually his mother, cared for him until he was eleven, teaching him to read and pointing him toward his destiny–one day he would conquer the unassailable fortress of Magnus and reclaim the throne taken from his father.

Goaded once too often by one of the monks, Thomas makes a violent break from the abbey and begins his quest. As part of his plan, he frees a Knight Templar from the executioner’s noose. In the process he also frees two other prisoners–a pickpocket and a beautiful young woman who appears to be deaf and mute.

As Thomas struggles to gain control of Magnus, he discovers there are those who promise to help him, even empower him, if he will but join their ranks and turn over to them the legacy left to him by his mother–books of knowledge that give him a decided edge over his enemies. But are these Druids enemies or friends? And who are the Immortals? On what side is his new friend, the apparently disfigured young woman serving in the candle shop who he defends?

Strengths. Sigmund Brouwer is a wonderful writer. He has created intriguing, believable characters. Thomas is wise beyond his years, an observer of human nature, kind-hearted. The secondary characters are equally interesting and well-drawn.

The plot has lots of intrigue and avoids the fantasy curse of predictability. There are surprises and twists and (unfortunately) cliffhangers. And romance for those of us who think a good romance belongs in every story. 😉

The setting is well drawn, with sufficient sensory detail to transport the reader to England during the Middle Ages. There is also a distinct thread running through the story exploring faith in God at the same time that it exposes the corruption of the church during this period.

Weaknesses. The Orphan King started slowly. It had moments of suspense, but drifted into confusion too often, I thought. Rather than opening with the main character and grounding the reader in what he wanted, one of the factions vying for his allegiance made the first appearance.

Much of the story involved William, the Knight Templar who didn’t trust Thomas, though they appeared to build a bond. His unwillingness to give Thomas any information that would help him understand what he’s up against was galling.

The story picked up in the latter half and continued at a crisp pace throughout Fortress of Mist. Anyone interested in this series should not judge it by the beginning of Book 1

I mentioned yesterday that this is a fantasy series that, so far, is missing one of the main fantasy tropes–magic. Rather, scientific activity that may have appeared as magic in that day, replaces traditional fantasy magic. So the prediction of such a thing as an eclipse appeared to those without knowledge about the way the sun and moon work, as though the person making the prediction had the power to darken the sun. Mr. Brouwer’s use of science in a superstitious age instead of magic was innovative and clever. Some readers may find it a refreshing departure from supernatural power. Others may be disappointed that the speculative elements are so thin.

Recommendation. If you lean toward historical fiction, you’ll especially enjoy The Orphan King and Fortress of Mist. I quickly connected with Thomas and wanted to see him succeed at every turn. I was most frustrated when people I believe to be good refused to help him because of their own doubts. Thomas rightfully had doubts, I thought, but those who were in a position to help him … not so much. Still, that bit of frustration is in no way a deal breaker. I’m happy I found these books and recommend them to fantasy fans and highly recommend them to fans of historical fiction.

CSFF Blog Tour – The Orphan King and Fortress of Mist, Day 2


csff buttonYesterday I introduced Books 1 and 2 of Sigmund Brouwer‘s Merlin’s Immortals series–The Orphan King and Fortress of Mist–as classic epic fantasy. The only problem is, one of the key fantasy tropes is … well, sort of missing. What we have is a fantasy with the promise of magic but no actual magic.

The protagonist sets his sights to conquer a secretive, fortified city built by none other than the wizard Merlin and rumored to protect magical secrets. There’s the promise of magic.

But throughout the story there is largely a scientific explanation for anything that looks to the people in the story as magic–potions, acid, technology, acrobatic trickery, scientific knowledge. It’s interesting, but I have to wonder if Mr. Brouwer is intentionally skirting the kind of magic the wizard Gandalf displayed in J. R. R. Tolkien’s books for fear of offending his Christian readership.

I suppose I’ll never know. Still, I thought it might be appropriate to re-post my thoughts on magic from two years ago, largely answering the question, Is magic un-Christian? Here, then, is “Standing Up For Magic,” a re-do.

The first definition for magic in the Oxford American Dictionaries is this: “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.

Moses_rod_into_snakeBe 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 which fantasy can address. Unless, of course, a Christian story must be scrubbed clean of supernatural power.

CSFF Blog Tour – The Orphan King and Fortress of Mist, Day 1


orphan-king-coverThis month the CSFF Blog Tour has the privilege of featuring both books 1 and 2 of Sigmund Brouwer‘s young adult fantasy series, Merlin’s Immortals: The Orphan King and Fortress of Mist. What a deal! Especially because as many fantasy series are, Merlin’s Immortals tells one story in numerous phases.

Originally I’d considered posting separate reviews for each of the two books, but I’m rethinking that idea. It’s hard to separate one from the other. Yes, there is a degree of resolution at the end of The Orphan King, but there are as many questions as there are answers. Continuing on with Fortress of Mist is natural.

Merlin’s Immortals will delight fans of classic, epic fantasy. Swords, knights, castles, a journey, mysterious magic, and the wizard Merlin. And yet, despite the familiar, The Orphan King and Fortress of Mist read like no others.

It is this ability to create a new story with familiar tropes, that makes for great fantasy, from my perspective. But more on that in my review. For now, I encourage you to see what others participating in the CSFF tour are saying about Merlin’s Immortals.

Gillian Adams
Julie Bihn
Jennifer Bogart
Thomas Fletcher Booher
Beckie Burnham
Janey DeMeo
Theresa Dunlap
Victor Gentile
Nikole Hahn
Jeremy Harder
Ryan Heart
Janeen Ippolito
Becky Jesse
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Emileigh Latham
Rebekah Loper
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Megan @ Hardcover Feedback
Anna Mittower
Eve Nielsen
Nathan Reimer
James Somers
Steve Trower
Phyllis Wheeler

Fantasy Friday – Introducing Patrick Carr


Patrick W. CarrA new addition to the list of fantasy authors comes to us from the field of education. Patrick W. Carr, the author of the soon to be released A Cast of Stones (Bethany House), teaches high school geometry in Nashville, TN.

He hasn’t always been in the classroom, though.

In one sense, Patrick started life on the road. He was born in West Germany into an Air Force family which relocated every three years. As an adult, he continued to see the world because of a “somewhat eclectic education and work history.”

Eventually he graduated from Georgia Tech. His work experience includes that of a draftsman at a nuclear plant, design work for the Air Force, work for a printing company, and consultation as an engineer.

Patrick didn’t come to writing until he turned 40. Like a number of other authors, he got the idea as he read to his children. He is the father of four boys–Patrick, Connor, Daniel, and Ethan–and he decided to write a book for them in which they were the main characters.

Creativity runs in the family, though at this point his sons show it most clearly through music. Two play the piano, one the sax, and the other, the cello. Patrick himself has aspirations to become a jazz pianist some day.

I’m not sure where that leaves his wife Mary who works as the infection control nurse at Alive Hospice. 😉A-Cast-of-Stones

A Cast of Stones is the first in a trilogy, so readers have the chance to jump in at the beginning. Here’s the descriptive blurb of the story:

In the backwater village of Callowford, Errol Stone’s search for a drink is interrupted by a church messenger who has arrived with urgent missives for the hermit priest in the hills. Desperate for coin, Errol volunteers to deliver them – only to find himself hunted by deadly assassins. Forced to flee with the priest and a small band of travelers, Errol soon learns he’s joined a quest that could determine the fate of a kingdom. Amidst mounting dangers, Errol must leave behind his idle life, learn to fight, come to know his God – and discover his destiny.

An interesting set up, I’d say. Who generally makes a drunk his protagonist? I’ll be interested to see how Errol Stone becomes a character readers care about.

If you’d like to learn more about Patrick and his writing, you can follow him on Facebook, and you can drop by at Spec Faith next Friday when he appears as the guest blogger.

Published in: on January 25, 2013 at 6:56 pm  Comments Off on Fantasy Friday – Introducing Patrick Carr  
Tags: , ,

I Started A New Book


One possible image of Jim Thompson, protagonist of The Lore Of Efrathah


I’m not reading a new book. I’m writing a new book. This may not be a big deal to lots of writers, but it is to me. I’ve been working on The Lore Of Efrathah, the four book epic fantasy story of Jim Thompson and his journey … well, hopefully some day you’ll get to read it. But suffice it to say, I’ve been working on that story for a very long time.

The book I’m starting now is my “Hobbit” book — the prequel of the four-book epic. I’m pretty excited about it, to be honest. At first I didn’t have a story, just an end point. I also knew I didn’t want it to be a journey quest, since that’s primarily what Lore is. I wanted this one to be different, but similar enough so that readers who like it wouldn’t be disappointed with the four-book epic.

So now I have the rudiments of a story, and I’m in the process of developing characters. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve had to flesh out main characters. Sure, I added minor characters from time to time, especially in Against Blood and Fire, the conclusion of Lore. But this is different. This is the main character and the necessary opponents. Who are these people, I keep asking. What do they want?

It’s slower than I’d like, but more fun, too. Slower because I’m taking a different approach this time. I’m really trying to get the scaffolding up before I start writing. I mean, I want the story structure to be in place. I want to know it’s right, that it works, that I have all the pieces.

Not that I think I’ll map out the story, then sit down and write. I don’t work that way. In John Truby’s book The Anatomy of Story which I’ve been going through, he has twenty-two steps in developing the story framework, one being to list all the scenes you’ll have in your book.

I balked. No way am I ready to list scenes. Even when I knew my characters inside and out and had the end of the series all lined up and in my sights would I have dared to write out a list of scenes. How can I know, when things change so easily?

I tried that in my first book. I carefully outlined the entire thing but as I wrote, the next logical step after I completed one scene was something different from my outline. So I inserted and changed and doubled back and skipped. And decided I’d never do the entire outline ahead of time again.

But I have to know what’s going to happen in the present scene and maybe in the one after that. I can’t write when I’m facing blankness. I don’t know how to start.

I stumbled on a system that works well for me, and later learned that Jim Bell had a name for it in his Plot & Structure book. I use the headlights method. I need to shine the light far enough ahead so I can see where to go, and I need to know what my destination is, but I don’t need to have the entire map laid out in front of me as I head down the road.

I’ve got lots to do still. I don’t have names for my characters yet. They are still Hero, Opponent 1, Opponent 2 and so on. I don’t know the subplots for sure and I don’t know who the allies will be, though I have some rough idea.

The main thing I’m trying to do now is get to know this new protagonist, and not make him a Jim Thompson clone!

Anyway, if any of you think of it, you can pray for me as I venture out into this new story. It’s exciting, as I said, and at times a little daunting. I fluctuate from thinking the plot is too convoluted to thinking it’s too simple and boring. I think I’ll never know the characters well enough, that I won’t be able to make someone with the set of needs and desires Hero has, likable enough for readers to take to him.

So yes, I would appreciate many prayers. Only by God’s grace will I be able to make this story what I would like it to be.

%d bloggers like this: