CSFF Blog Tour – Raven’s Ladder by Jeffrey Overstreet, Day 3

Raven’s Ladder by Jeffrey Overstreet is the third book in The Auralia Thread series, an adult fantasy published by WaterBrook Press. Clearly this novel is not a stand-alone but part of a continuing story begun by Auralia’s Colors and advanced by Cyndere’s Midnight. The story is anything but finished in this third installment.

For those of us who enjoy continuing stories that keep us on the edge of our seats, this epic style is familiar. Andrew Peterson utilizes this approach in his Wingfeather Saga as does D. Barkley Briggs (the Legends of Karac Tor series), Wayne Batson/Christopher Hopper (The Berinfell Prophecies Series), and any number of other fantasy authors.

And now a review of Raven’s Ladder.

The Story. In the Expanse, four city-states exist. One, House Cent Regis, has been cursed and all its people turned into savage beastmen. A second, House Abascar, was destroyed and the survivors, gathered together by their new king Cal-raven, have holed up in nearby caves.

Cal-raven, who believes in a mysterious creature known as the Keeper, determines to relocate his house. Beastmen had attacked; something was scaring off all the animals, making it difficult to find enough food for his people; and a group of Grudgers were plotting his overthrow.

After talking with his mentor, he sets off, following signs he believes the Keeper has left, to locate a suitable place for New Abascar.

While he is away, a new threat chases the refugees from their shelter. Feelers spring up from the ground, breaking stone and destroying the caves. Led by the king’s second in command, the group heads north.

Meanwhile Cal-raven encounters people from a third house, Bel Amica. Eventually a Seer, a worshiper of moon spirits, hires men to kill Abascar’s king. However, they choose instead to throw him in a pit and sell him to slavers. Those “merchants” take him to House Bel Amica.

Soon after, the Abascar refugees are also herded to Bel Amica, for their protection. The one-time heiress, Cyndere, manages to find Cal-raven and to arrange for proper care and safety for his people.

Days pass and Cal-raven grows restless. He knows now where he should take his people, where they will build New Abascar. He is concerned that many are growing comfortable in the opulence, and greed, of Bel Amica.

As he is making his preparations, Cyndere comes to him asking for his help. She has a plan to end the curse of the Cent Regis, and she wants to free the prisoners the Beastmen have taken. One of these is Cal-raven’s mother. He immediately agrees, even moving up the time line for the planned rescue.

I’ll stop there.

Strengths. Jeffrey Overstreet writes beautiful prose. His story is imaginative and for the most part, unpredictable. The surprises keep the reader off-balance.

The novel seems ripe with symbolism, so it makes the reader think. Because this fantasy world is quite dark and in places, unfamiliar, it has a definite brooding mood.

The author’s voice is strong. I could probably pick up any Overstreet novel and know by reading a page that he authored it.

Mood, voice, imaginative and descriptive prose—these are qualities too often neglected in fiction.

Weaknesses. I have to be honest. This is not my favorite Overstreet novel. Over at Amazon, one reviewer likened the book to the TV series Lost. Interestingly, at one point I thought the same thing. Though I don’t watch the show, I’ve heard others discuss it, and what they said was what I was thinking about Raven’s Ladder.

Once again I felt something was lacking in the characterization. I understand what each wants, and in most cases they are worthy goals, some even Big Goals that will effect their world in a powerful way. I just don’t care. Why? I wish I understood. I think this is so important to the success of a book. I didn’t feel like I entered into any of the characters’ stories emotionally.

I’ve postulated before that this might be because of the size of the cast and the frequent shift in point of view to any number of characters (I don’t think I could remember them all).

I think there also might be another reason. I don’t see the scenes well. It’s a surprising admission because generally Mr. Overstreet is praised as an author who paints pictures with his words. But that’s the point. I feel like he’s painting a picture not a story. Sometimes the action scenes are hard for me to figure out who did what and where they all were. I can’t see the action.

A third reason might be that I don’t hear individual voices, and the different characters don’t seem to create different moods. It all seems quite dark and hopeless. Even those who are enjoying the pleasures of Bel Amica are doing so as a way to stifle their sadness, and it’s clearly not a healthy or refreshing endeavor.

A fourth thing. Once again, for long stretches, the protagonist of the book does nothing. He is sitting and planning, so I as a reader have nothing to cheer him on toward.

In addition, while much is said about the resident bad guys, they don’t show up “on stage” until the last hundred pages of the book.

There were some plot things that bothered me, too. When Cyndere takes Cal-raven in, apparently nothing is done about those who tried to assassinate him—no effort to identify them or to punish the slavers or even to protect him in case they tried again. In addition, apparently Cal-raven never asked his people why they left the caves. And they never alerted the Bel Amicans to the danger of the feelers that later attack ships in the harbor. Nor did the Bel Amicans seem surprised that the Abascar refugees had left their caves. Or that the Seers had brought them in to Bel Amica against their will. In other words, a lot happened that should have raised questions and created tension and even conflict. It didn’t.

Recommendation. I wanted to like this book more than I actually did. However, mine is just one opinion. Others on the tour have a different take. Some even believe this is the best book of the series. I think that means, readers need to decide for themselves.

Take some time to start formulating yours by reading some of the other participants’ views. You’ll find the list with links to specific articles at the end of Monday’s post.

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of Raven’s Ladder from WaterBrook Press.

Published in: on April 28, 2010 at 4:22 pm  Comments (4)  
Tags: , ,

CSFF Blog Tour – Raven’s Ladder by Jeffrey Overstreet, Day 2

Raven’s Ladder by Jeffrey Overstreet, the second April feature of the CSFF Blog Tour, is a dense book. In some ways the fantasy is dense.

Yesterday I looked at two specific ways authors of fantasy can connect with readers. Mr. Overstreet succeeds in those ways, I believe. But another factor comes into play—the on-going epic story, published over a series of four books. Since I write this type of fantasy too, I’m particularly sensitive to this subject.

In my appraisal, this book works—all except the prologue and the first couple chapters. Because the Auralia Thread story has a full cast of characters and takes place in various parts of the Expanse, because each of the previous books has featured a different character than the ones we are initially introduced to in Raven’s Ladder, I felt a more thorough review of the story at the beginning of this book would have been helpful (there is a short summary, but the emphasis here is short). Better yet might be a what-happened-last section bringing readers once again up-to-date with Cal-raven, the focus of this latest installment of the series.

Be that as it may, the density and accessibility of the novel isn’t my subject today. Rather, I want to address one of the themes (though I don’t think Mr. Overstreet believes in incorporating theme into his stories intentionally).

One aspect of Raven’s Ladder is Cal-raven’s belief in the Keeper, a creature most in the Expanse believe to be mythical, a dream figure children embrace but grow out of. Cal-raven did not grow out of his longing for the Keeper, however, and early in this book, he has a direct encounter with it which cements his belief.

However, midway through the book, in House (country or more accurately, city-state) Bel Amica, Cal-raven stumbles upon a group of people claiming to also believe in the Keeper. In fact, one, who used to lead the rebellious faction known as the Grudgers, claims he has seen the Keeper and can describe him. He proceeds to do so, but the creature he paints is nothing like the one Cal-raven encountered. In essence, the two men digress to a “this one said, that one said” disagreement, proving nothing.

This segment of the story made me aware once again of the importance of authoritative, absolute truth. For anyone to put faith in moon spirits or the Keeper or even in himself, he is vulnerable to the next guy who comes along saying, no, the moon spirits, the Keeper, or a regular person does or does not have the qualities, attributes, abilities, or what have you that the first individual professed. In other words, all views are equally valid because none are independently verifiable. As a result, truth is relative.

Interestingly, much of the Auralia Thread series revolves around the idea of beauty. The world of the Expanse is dark and deadly, but none of the characters seems to disagree that Beauty exists, that the colors, the music, the light, the water with restorative powers is real. None fails to recognize beauty either, though some want to use, hoard, or ban it.

Beauty in this story, then, seems like the one universal, the one absolute. People’s response? Clearly that’s another matter.

So the point that comes to my mind is this: God has made it clear that He can be seen in what He created (in essence, in the beauty of our world), but He went further because He knew beauty by itself wasn’t enough. Therefore, He revealed Himself in the flesh and in the written word. He wants to be known. He is no mystery, except to those whose eyes are veiled, whose sight is blind, whose ears are stopped.

My review of Raven’s Ladder tomorrow, as God wills.

Today, take a look at what others on the tour think. You’ll find the list with appropriate links to the various articles at the end of yesterday’s post

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of Raven’s Ladder from WaterBrook Press..

CSFF Blog Tour – Raven’s Ladder by Jeffrey Overstreet, Day 1

Because we missed touring in February, the CSFF Blog Tour is featuring a second book in April—Raven’s Ladder, the third book in Jeffrey Overstreet‘s Auralia Thread adult fantasy series.

As is my want to do during our tours, I’ll digress a bit to something the book made me think about. In the case of Raven’s Ladder, that something is fantasy itself, and in particular, fantasy settings.

While fantasy in general continues to sell well, and Christian publishers are slowly adding more titles and authors, there lingers a perception that fantasy is for a select few who like unpronounceable names and unrealistic stories.

Certainly I don’t agree with that perspective, but it does bring up the question: can a fantasy setting be too “dense” to allow access by readers less inclined toward the genre? And if so, when does an author cross that line?

After all, isn’t one of the joys of fantasy the chance to imagine new and different places? But of course all fiction opens the reader to new and different places. I’ve been to Russia, China, Israel, and Germany, all through novels. I’ve lived in the eighteen century, the early twentieth, and even the twenty-fifth.

So imagining new and different places isn’t reserved for fantasy. Why then does fantasy cause so many to associate the genre with “strange,” rather than imaginatively new and different?

I don’t have any hard evidence one way or the other, but here’s what I suspect: fantasy that doesn’t connect the reader to the real world gets labeled “strange.” By “connect to the real world” I don’t mean that all fantasy needs to be about a character from this world. Nor do I believe it must be set in this world.

Tolkien’s heroes were Hobbits, not humans, and Lewis’s Narnia was clearly a world apart from this one, yet those two authors are arguably the most popular fantasy writers of all time.

What, then, are the elements that help a reader connect to a fantasy world? I think there are several that help me.

Accessible names. These aren’t necessarily familiar names but they should have a familiar feel to them. Bilbo, Samwise, Aslan, Taran, Dobro Turtlebane, and Cal-raven from Raven’s Ladder are accessible, though different. The vowel-consonant combinations aren’t unfamiliar to English speakers.

An understandable society. Recently I saw an old Star Trek: Next Generations re-run in which Worf brought to the forefront how impossible it was for Romulans to understand Klingons because they do not place the same value on honor. The conflict made perfect sense to anyone who’s viewed the show for any length of time because that cultural distinction had been clearly established.

More importantly, the idea that a culture would value an ethical or moral attribute more than life itself doesn’t seem bizarre or stupid. Different, perhaps, but in an admirable way. Clearly the culture is one readers can relate to.

So too, in Raven’s Ladder when the king does away with old segregation lines and no longer follows the rules of old, readers can understand the conflict such a change could create.

Certainly there are more ways a writer can create a unique world that feels new and different yet retains the sense of familiarity that will draw readers in rather than repelling them. What are some ideas you’ve see in your reading or included in your writing?

Once again, I invite you to see what others touring Raven’s Ladder are saying about the book:

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of Raven’s Ladder from WaterBrook Press.

%d bloggers like this: