Launch Day – Golden Daughter by Anne Elisabeth Stengl


You’ve seen the cover already. Now you have a chance to buy the book or ebook. Award-winning Christian fantasy author Anne Elisabeth Stengl released Golden Daughter today, the latest in the Tales of Goldstone Wood series.

She held a Facebook Launch Party chat tonight, with the promise of some nice prizes for those participating and sharing about her book (I already bought a copy, so I’m not actually posting this for prize points). The reason I mention this is because points for sharing are good for twenty-four hours, so anyone can still jump in and get their name in the mix to win free books.

And now a little bit about the book. Published by Rooglewood Press, this young adult novel is 584 pages long (so you get your money’s worth), and has already garnered some nice reviews. Here’s the intro:

BEYOND THE REALM OF DREAMS
IS A WORLD SHE NEVER IMAGINED.

Masayi Sairu was raised to be dainty, delicate, demure . . . and deadly. She is one of the emperor’s Golden Daughters, as much a legend as she is a commodity. One day, Sairu will be contracted in marriage to a patron, whom she will secretly guard for the rest of her life.

But when she learns that a sacred Dream Walker of the temple seeks the protection of a Golden Daughter, Sairu forgoes marriage in favor of this role. Her skills are stretched to the limit, for assassins hunt in the shadows, and phantoms haunt in dreams. With only a mysterious Faerie cat and a handsome slave—possessed of his own strange abilities—to help her, can Sairu shield her new mistress from evils she can neither see nor touch?

For the Dragon is building an army of fire. And soon the heavens will burn.

Golden Daughter excerpt

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Published in: on November 10, 2014 at 7:01 pm  Comments Off on Launch Day – Golden Daughter by Anne Elisabeth Stengl  
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Introducing Golden Daughter


It’s my privilege to be part of the cover reveal for Golden Daughter, next in the Tales of Goldstone Wood by Anne Elisabeth Stengl, winner of the 2013 Clive Staples Award.

GoldenDaughtercover

BEYOND THE REALM OF DREAMS

IS A WORLD SHE NEVER IMAGINED

Masayi Sairu was raised to be dainty, delicate, demure . . . and deadly. She is one of the emperor’s Golden Daughters, as much a legend as she is a commodity. One day, Sairu will be contracted in marriage to a patron, whom she will secretly guard for the rest of her life.

But when she learns that a sacred Dream Walker of the temple seeks the protection of a Golden Daughter, Sairu forgoes marriage in favor of this role. Her skills are stretched to the limit, for assassins hunt in the shadows, and phantoms haunt in dreams.

With only a mysterious Faerie cat and a handsome slave—possessed of his own strange abilities—to help her, can Sairu shield her new mistress from evils she can neither see nor touch?

For the Dragon is building an army of fire. And soon the heavens will burn.

Excerpt from Chapter 3

GOLDEN DAUGHTER

Sairu made her way from Princess Safiya’s chambers out to the walkways of the encircling gardens. The Masayi, abode of the Golden Daughters, was an intricate complex of buildings linked by blossom-shrouded walkways, calm with fountains and clear, lotus-filled pools where herons strutted and spotted fish swam.

Here she had lived all the life she could remember.
The Masayi was but a small part of Manusbau Palace, which comprised the whole of Sairu’s existence. She had never stepped beyond the palace walls. To do so would be to step into a world of corruption, corruption to which a Golden Daughter would not be impervious until she was safely chartered to a master and her life’s work was affixed in her heart and mind. Meanwhile, she must live securely embalmed in this tomb, waiting for life to begin.

Sairu’s mouth curved gently at the corners, and she took small steps as she had been trained—slow, dainty steps that disguised the swiftness with which she could move at need. Even in private she must maintain the illusion, even here within the Masayi.

A cat sat on the doorstep of her own building, grooming itself in the sunlight. She stepped around it and proceeded into the red-hung halls of the Daughter’s quarters and on to her private chambers. There she must gather what few things she would take with her—fewer things even than Jen-ling would take on her journey to Aja. For Jen-ling would be the wife of a prince, and she must give every impression of a bride on her wedding journey.

I wonder who my master will be? Sairu thought as she slid back the rattan door to her chamber and entered the quiet simplicity within. She removed her elaborate costume and exchanged it for a robe of simple red without embellishments. She washed the serving girl cosmetics from her face and painted on the daily mask she and her sisters wore—white with black spots beneath each eye and a red stripe down her chin. It was elegant and simple, and to the common eye it made her indistinguishable from her sisters.

The curtain moved behind her. She did not startle but turned quietly to see the same cat slipping into her room. Cats abounded throughout Manusbau Palace, kept on purpose near the storehouses to manage the vermin. But they did not often enter private chambers.

Sairu, kneeling near her window with her paint pots around her, watched the cat as it moved silkily across the room, stepped onto her sleeping cushions, and began kneading the soft fabric, purring all the while. Its claws pulled at the delicate threads. But it was a cat. As far as it was concerned, it had every right to enjoy or destroy what it willed.

At last it seemed to notice Sairu watching it. It turned sleepy eyes to her and blinked.

Sairu smiled. In a voice as sweet as honey, she asked, “Who are you?”

The cat twitched its tail softly and went on purring.

The next moment, Sairu was across the room, her hand latched onto the cat’s scruff. She pushed it down into the cushions and held it there as it yowled and snarled, trying to catch at her with its claws.

“Who are you?” she demanded, her voice fierce this time. “What are you? Are you an evil spirit sent to haunt me?”

“No, dragons eat it! I mean, rrrraww! Mreeeow! Yeeeowrl!”

The cat twisted and managed to lash out at her with its back feet, its claws catching in the fabric of her sleeve. One claw scratched her wrist, startling her just enough that she loosened her hold. The cat took advantage of the opportunity and, hissing like a fire demon, leapt free. It sprang across the room, knocking over several of her paint pots, and spun about, back-arched and snarling. Every hair stood on end, and its ears lay flat to its skull.

Sairu drew a dagger from her sleeve and crouched, prepared for anything. The smile lingered on her mouth, but her eyes flashed. “Who sent you?” she demanded. “Why have you come to me now? You know of my assignment, don’t you.”

Meeeeowrl,” the cat said stubbornly and showed its fangs in another hiss.

“I see it in your face,” Sairu said, moving carefully to shift her weight and prepare to spring. “You are no animal. Who is your master, devil?”

– – – – –
AUTHOR BIO:
Anne Elisabeth StenglAnne Elisabeth Stengl is the author of the award-winning Tales of Goldstone Wood series, adventure fantasies told in the classic Fairy Tale style. Her books include Christy Award-winning Heartless and Veiled Rose, and Clive Staples Award-winning Starflower. She makes her home in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she lives with her husband, Rohan, a passel of cats, and one long-suffering dog. When she’s not writing, she enjoys Shakespeare, opera, and tea, and practices piano, painting, and pastry baking. She studied illustration and English literature at Grace College and Campbell University.

BOOK COVER: The [stunning!] cover illustration was done by Julia Popova. Visit her website to learn more about her and her fantastic work!

GIVEAWAY: Anne Elisabeth is offering any two of the first six Goldstone Wood novels as a giveaway prize! Winner’s choice of: Heartless, Veiled Rose, Moonblood, Starflower, Dragonwitch, or Shadow Hand. [Editor’s note: I’d go for Starflower and Dragonwitch, if I were you, though I haven’t read Shadow Hand yet, so I reserve the right to change my mind. 😉 ] Go to her site and enter using the rafflecopter form.

Published in: on February 24, 2014 at 5:00 am  Comments Off on Introducing Golden Daughter  
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Fantasy Friday – Goddess Tithe


goddesstithecoverOne of the best Christian speculative writers, in my opinion, is Anne Elisabeth (don’t call her Anne or Ann 😉 ) Stengl. As it happens, she is also the winner of last year’s Clive Stables Award with her novel Snowflower. She has since released Dragonwitch and most recently, Goddess Tithe, her self-published, illustrated novella.

If you’ve not had occasion to read any of Anne Elisabeth’s works, Goddess Tithe might be the perfect introduction. While the world and characters have some connection to the rich story world of the series Tales of Goldstone Wood, in which all Anne Elisabeth’s other novels are set, this small story can easily stand alone.

The Story. Munny, a poor boy who wants to give his sick mother the gift of life by freeing her from the responsibility of caring for him, goes to sea. As a lowly cabin boy, young and inexperienced, he’s tormented by those older and stronger than he. But an old sailor takes him under his wings and goes about teaching him all he knows about such things as tying knots and why he should always do what their captain says.

The lives of all the sailors on the Kulap Kanya are put in jeopardy, however, when they discover a stowaway on board . . . and when their revered captain does not at once throw him overboard as the tithe justly due the goddess Risafeth who rules the sea. Rather, he puts the stowaway under Munny’s care and protection. And then the goddess comes to claim her tithe.

Strengths. Anne Elisabeth has created an incredible world, less obvious in this short novella, which makes this story the perfect entry point for someone wondering what kind of writer and stories they’ve been missing. The character’s the thing, you might say. Munny is wonderfully drawn (with words and with . . pencil, or whatever the media Anne Elisabeth used for her illustrations). He is sympathetic, well motivated, heroic, not free of prejudice, but able to grow and develop. He shows greater strength because of his belief in his captain, prompted by his aging mentor.

Best of all is the end when . . . heheh–you didn’t really think I was going to tell, did you?

Anne Elisabeth masterfully tells the story using the old time fairytale-style point of view–the omniscient voice. It’s so well done, and so necessary to this story, that no intimacy with the protagonist is lost.

The story is short and not complicated, but it packs a punch as all of the Tales of Goldstone Wood do. This is not allegory, not even symbolism in the normal sense of the word, and there is no preaching. Rather, the Christian theme becomes apparent as the characters live out what comes naturally to them as Anne Elisabeth has depicted them. She’s masterful at showing Christianity.

Weakness. I had one point of contention with this story. I thought Munny’s motivation for leaving home was weak. It’s the one place where I didn’t think he came across as smart. He left hoping something would happen, but the fact is, if it didn’t happen, he would have made the situation he was trying to improve so very much worse. I thought it too obvious even for a poor uneducated peasant boy to miss, and thought he should never have left home without some assurance that what he wanted would in fact result from his decision.

Recommendation. For all the macho male readers who have stayed away from the Tales of Goldstone Wood because they thought they were, you know, fairytales, and romance (could there be a worse combination for a macho male reader?), well, here’s the chance to find out for yourselves what all the buzz is about. Goddess Tithe is a nearly all male cast of characters, despite the title. Munny’s mother does make an appearance, but the goddess is like no other goddess you’ve read about.

This is a wonderful story, short, mildly fantastic, more about character than fast action. In short this book is for any reader who likes quality literature.

I’m happy to say that at the writing of this post, the Kindle edition of Goddess Tithe is on sale for $.99. What a great buy!

Also watch for Anne Elisabeth’s next novel, Shadow Hand, which releases March 4 in both print and e-book versions.

Published in: on February 7, 2014 at 6:02 pm  Comments Off on Fantasy Friday – Goddess Tithe  
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Cover Reveal – Goddess Tithe


GoddessTithecoverAnne Elisabeth Stengl, winner of this year’s Clive Staples Award for Christian Speculative Fiction, will release her first illustrated novella, Goddess Tithe, November 12. Today is the day when she lets the cat out of the bag (though I don’t think the much-loved cat-man Eanrin from previous Tales of Goldstone Wood actually makes an appearance in this story) by revealing at various sites scattered throughout the web her cover and some specifics about the story.

The Story Tease

The Vengeful Goddess Demands Her Tithe

When a stowaway is discovered aboard the merchant ship Kulap Kanya, Munny, a cabin boy on his first voyage, knows what must be done. All stowaways are sacrificed to Risafeth, the evil goddess of the sea. Such is her right, and the Kulap Kanya‘s only hope to return safely home.

Yet, to the horror of his crew, Captain Sunan vows to protect the stowaway, a foreigner in clown’s garb. A curse falls upon the ship and all who sail with her, for Risafeth will stop at nothing to claim her tithe.

Will Munny find the courage to trust his captain and to protect the strange clown who has become his friend?

Cover Design Facts From The Author

I had the fun of designing this cover—finding reference photos, inventing the composition, applying the text, etc.—but the actual artistic work was done by talented cover artist Phatpuppy (www.phatpuppyart.com), whose work I have admired for many years. It was such a thrill for me to contact and commission this artist to create a look for Goddess Tithe that is reminiscent of the original novels but has a style and drama all its own.

The boy on the front was quite a find. I hunted high and low for an image of a boy the right age, the right look, with the right expression on his face. Phatpuppy and I worked with a different model through most of the cover development stage. But then I happened upon this image, and both she and I were delighted with his blend of youth, stubbornness, and strength of character! It wasn’t difficult to switch the original boy for this young man. He simply is Munny, and this cover is a perfect window into the world of my story.

You can’t see it here, but the wrap-around back cover for the print copy contains some of the prettiest work . . . including quite a scary sea monster! Possibly my favorite detail is the inclusion of the ghostly white flowers framing the outer edge. These are an important symbol in the story itself, and when Phatpuppy sent me the first mock-up cover with these included, I nearly jumped out of my skin with excitement!

About The Illustrations

Mummy and Tu PichThere are eight full-page illustrations in Goddess Tithe featuring various characters and events from the story. This is the first one in the book. Anne Elisabeth decided to share it with all of you since it depicts her young hero, Munny the cabin boy, under the watchful eye of his mentor, the old sailor Tu Pich.

Munny is on his first voyage, and he is determined to learn all there is to know about a life at sea as quickly as possible. Thus we see him utterly intent upon the knot he is learning to tie. Tu Pich is old enough to know that no sailor will ever learn all there is to know about the sea. Thus he looks on, grave, caring, and perhaps a little sad. He might be looking upon his own younger self of many years ago, fumbling through the hundreds of difficult knots his fingers must learn to tie with unconscious ease.

Anne Elisabeth says she enjoyed creating all the illustrations for Goddess Tithe, but this one was her favorite. She loves the contrasts of light and dark, the contrasts of young and old . . . youthful intensity versus the perspective of age.

Excerpt From The Story

In this scene from the middle of the story, Munny has been ordered to Captain Sunan’s cabin to clear away his breakfast . . . an unexpected task, for a lowly cabin boy would not ordinarily dare enter his captain’s private quarters! Munny hopes to slip in and out quietly without attracting the captain’s notice. But his hopes are dashed when Sunan addresses him, asking how their strange, foreign stowaway is faring.

__________

“And what do you make of him yourself?”

Munny dared glance his captain’s way and was relieved when his eyes met only a stern and rigid back. “I’m not sure, Captain,” he said. “I think he’s afraid. But not of . . .”

“Not of the goddess?” the Captain finished for him. And with these words he turned upon Munny, his eyes so full of secrets it was nearly overwhelming. Munny froze, his fingers just touching but not daring to take up a small teapot of fragile work.

The Captain looked at him, studying his small frame up and down. “No,” he said, “I believe you are right. Leonard the Clown does not fear Risafeth. I believe he is unaware of his near peril at her will, suffering as he does under a peril nearer still.”

Munny made neither answer nor any move.

“We will bring him safely to Lunthea Maly, won’t we, Munny?” the Captain said. But he did not speak as though he expected an answer, so again Munny offered none. “We will bring him safely to Lunthea Maly and there let him choose his own dark future.”

“I hope—” Munny began.

But he was interrupted by a sudden commotion on deck. First a rising murmur of voices, then many shouts, inarticulate in cacophony. But a pounding at the cabin door accompanied Sur Agung’s voice bellowing, “Captain, you’d best come see this!”

The Captain’s eyes widened a moment and still did not break gaze with Munny’s. “We’ll keep him safe,” he repeated. Then he turned and was gone, leaving the door open.

Munny put down the pot he held and scurried after. The deck was alive with hands, even those who were off watch, crawling up from the hatches and crowding the rails on the port side. They parted way for the Captain to pass through, but when Munny tried to follow, they closed in again, blocking him as solidly as a brick wall.

“Look! Look!” Munny heard voices crying.

“It’s a sign!”

“She’s warning us!”

“It’s a sign, I tell you!”

Fearing he knew not what, Munny ran for the center mast and climbed partway up, using the handholds and footholds with unconscious confidence. Soon he was high enough to see over the heads of the gathered crew, out into the blue waters of the ocean. And he saw them.

They were water birds. Big white albatrosses, smaller seagulls, heavy cormorants, even deep-throated pelicans and sleek, black-faced terns. These and many more, hundreds of them, none of which should be seen this far out to sea.

They were all dead. Floating in a great mass.

Munny clung to the mast, pressing his cheek against its wood. The shouts of the frightened sailors below faded away, drowned out by the desolation of that sight. Death, reeking death, a sad flotilla upon the waves.

“I’ve never seen anything like that.”

Munny looked down to where Leonard clung to the mast just beneath him, staring wide-eyed out at the waves. “How could this have happened? Were they sick? Caught in a sudden gale? Are they tangled in fishing nets?”GoddessTitheBlogButton

There was no fear in his voice. Not like in the voices of the sailors. He did not understand. He did not realize. It wasn’t his fault, Munny told himself.

But it was.

____________

Author Bio

Anne Elisabeth StenglAnne Elisabeth Stengl makes her home in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she lives with her husband, Rohan, a kindle of kitties, and one long-suffering dog. When she’s not writing, she enjoys Shakespeare, opera, and tea, and practices piano, painting, and pastry baking. She studied illustration at Grace College and English literature at Campbell University. She is the author of the Tales of Goldstone Wood, including Heartless, Veiled Rose, Moonblood, Starflower, and Dragonwitch. Heartless and Veiled Rose have each been honored with a Christy Award, and Starflower was voted winner of the 2013 Clive Staples Award.

Giveaway

Anne Elisabeth is offering two proof copies of Goddess Tithe as prizes in a drawing! Sadly, only U.S. and Canadian residents are eligible. Click on the link below to sign up for a Rafflecopter giveaway

Fantasy Friday: Dragonwitch by Anne Elisabeth Stengl, A Review


DRAGONWITCH coverI have to say, I’m happy I have occasion to post this bookcover again. I think it’s stunning. Last time I displayed it, I wrote about the worldbuilding of Dragonwitch, the fifth book in the Tales of Goldstone Wood by Anne Elisabeth Stengl. But discussing the setting alone hardly does this book justice. There’s much more readers should know if they are considering picking this one up.

My Review

The Story. Lord Alistair, nephew and heir to the Earl of Gaheris, is betrothed to Lady Leta, arranged by his mother as a means to form a political alliance that should catapult him to the throne of the North Country. Lady Leta is resigned to her role, but she finds spending time in the castle library with the Chronicler, a dwarf who teaches her to read, the only saving grace of her stay.

As Earl Ferox’s health declines and Alistair’s moment to take his place of power and position draws near, he experiences unrelenting nightmares that lead him to despair. He has mixed emotions, then, when Earl Ferox makes a dying declaration, revealing a secret that will change the course of events in the entire kingdom, and which casts doubt upon Alistair’s own future.

Amid the upheaval, a hellish army from The Other Side attacks and seizes control of Gaheris. Their goal is to discover the House of Light which most people in the North Country believe to be a myth. But they also believe faeries and goblins are myths, too, until this disruption pulls the veils from their eyes.

Alistair, Leta, and the Chronicler team up with the faery Eanrin, a cat-man, and another young woman called Mouse to save Gaheris, the Silent Lady who had guarded the door to the world of the mortals but was taken captive, and her country which has once again fallen under tyrannical rule, this time by the Dragonwitch.

Strengths. This story is stunning. There are characters I soon care about who are at odds with one another and with other forces in the world, and I was quickly pulled into the tense and conflicting events.

The plot is dense. There are two worlds that need to be saved and a hostage that needs to be rescued. There are prisoners and a chase and magic and a battle and a prophecy and a secret and a discovery and a betrayal and a sacrifice–well, several, actually. The events are complex and intertwined, the solutions seem elusive and tenuous. All told, it’s a captivating story. And there is no cheesy ending that could have undermined everything Stengl accomplished through the majority of the tale.

The characters are endearing, believable, true to the motives each has. Their actions are understandable and often heroic. More than in any other of the Tales of Goldstone Wood, I related to these characters early on, and that was especially true of those characters who were new.

The themes of the story are so gently wrapped around the various parts. Nothing hits the reader over the head or stops the story so the author can make a point to the reader. Rather, the characters act, and the reader is left to consider the ramifications of what took place.

The worldbuilding as I noted previously is exceptional. Anyone who loves the topsy-turvy world of faeries, who relishes the imaginative chaos of wonderland, will fall in love with Goldstone Wood.

The prose and story structure are artistic, beautiful. Like fairytales of old, Dragonwitch is told in omniscient voice, so the reader can know things the characters don’t. It’s fun and refreshing and different from so many novels today.

Weaknesses. When I reviewed the previous book in the series, Snowflower, I noted that the beginning was somewhat slow and that the title character didn’t take a central place in the story until the tale was well underway. Dragonwitch does not have a problem with pacing, in my view, but I did begin wondering when the Dragonwitch would make an appearance. It seemed odd to me that she was front and center on the cover but not front and center in the story.

Except she was. I just didn’t realize it immediately.

Also there’s a prologue, though it isn’t called that, which I read and forgot. As is so often true with prologues, it didn’t seem to connected to the story. Until it did. At some point when I realized its importance, I went back and re-read it, and WOW! It was a key to understanding this layered plot. I’m wondering, though, if there might not have been a more judicial method of giving the “Legend of Two Brothers” when the reader needed it, not before.

Recommendation. Dragonwitch is a stellar example of Christian fantasy. It is artistic, imaginative, unpredictable, interesting, complex, hopeful, endearing, and so much more. It’s a book that could easily become a classic. I encourage readers to get this book. It’s a must read.

You may wish to read Snowflower first, however, so that you’ll be grounded in the world of Goldstone Wood. If you do read that one first, bear in mind that as good as it is, Dragonwitch laps it in the first hundred or so pages. It’s just that good.

Published in: on September 13, 2013 at 6:30 pm  Comments Off on Fantasy Friday: Dragonwitch by Anne Elisabeth Stengl, A Review  
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Fantasy Friday: Worldbuilding In Dragonwitch by Anne Elisabeth Stengl


DRAGONWITCH coverWorldbuilding, some say, is vital to epic fantasy. I’d argue that worldbuilding is vital to all fiction but is perhaps most noticeable in speculative fiction. Epic fantasy and space opera might have the greatest requirements put on them to develop a world that is at the same time vividly realistic and other.

And then there are faery tales.

Some faery tales may read a lot like epic fantasy. I think of Cinderella, for example, and the main thing that sets it apart from traditional good versus evil stories such as The Chronicles of Prydain, is, well, faeries. The magic of the story comes about at the initiative of a faery godmother (or, in Disney’s version, three fairy godmothers). In fact a good many of the most famous faery tales involve kings and castles, faeries and witches, princes and fair maidens in distress.

That was then. A host of writers today have taken the threads of those old stories and are turning them into a different type of faery tale–one that utilizes the craft of contemporary fiction.

When it comes to worldbuilding, perhaps no one creates a more realistic and at the same time, fantastic place as Anne Elisabeth Stengl does in her Tales of Goldstone Wood series. With each book I think this talented author grows, and so does her world.

As I thought about explaining the worldbuilding of Gladstone Wood, the closest I could come to was the Wonderland into which Alice stumbled. There is a similar disorientation in entering the world Anne Elisabeth Stengl has created.

Things don’t work the same way they do in the world of mortals, because this is the Wood Between, where the River plots against any mortals that stray, where stars come in human form, where paths change direction, and trees aren’t where they once were. Where time is swallowed up and where faeries guard gates, lest those who don’t belong end up slipping into the land of mortals.

In my post about the worldbuilding in A Cast of Stones by Patrick Carr, I said, besides a description of location,

[worldbuilding] consists of culture and language, politics and religion, alliances and enemies, races and rules, hierarchy and economics, beliefs and superstitions, history and literature.

So how does Dragonwitch measure up? The landscape is vivid, in spite of the fact that there is no map. In part, I’m convinced that a map wouldn’t help because the paths in the Wood Between simply aren’t reliably stationary. Things move. Trees reshape and the path itself is apt to go off on its own.

But outside the wood, in the Near World and the Far World, the terrain is just as explicit, though much more familiar. There are castles and stables, crypts and courtyards, mountains and deserts, villages and temple buildings.

In addition, each of these places has its own history, prophecy, economy, government, literature, language, and hierarchy. The fabric of each place is rich, made more so when people from the different parts of this faery world come together.

A sample of the story can say far more than I can describe. Below is an excerpt from a place near the middle of the story (pp 188-189). A faery named Eanrin has just helped rescue three mortals (the Chronicler, Alister, and Mouse–a young woman) from a host of goblins and has led them into the Wood Between.

“What in the name of Lord Lumé–” the Chronicler began.

“Hush!” The cat appeared at his feet and stood up into the tall form of Bard Eanrin. The Chronicler’s stomach turned at the sight, and his knees buckled so that he sat down hard on the marble floor beneath him. The legend stepped around the Chronicler to draw back a green-velvet curtain emblazoned with small white blossoms, and peered out.

Except–and the Chronicler knew he must be mad when he saw this–there was no curtain. There was only the branch of a hawthorn tree heavily laden with clusters of blooms. But when the cat-man dropped it and stepped back, it was again rich fabric falling in folds.

“We’ve lost them,” Eanrin said, crossing his arms as he addressed the three mortals. “They’ll not find us here.”

Alistair still lay on the floor, though he’d rolled onto his back and stared, openmouthed, at the vaulted ceiling above him. Mouse stood nearby, trying to disguise her own surprise at the sudden change in their surroundings. She looked more bedraggled and waif-like than ever in this setting . . .

How frail and foolish these mortals looked here in First Hall! By the standards of Faerie, the Haven’s proportions were humble and reserved. But this was an immortal’s abode, built by immortal hands at the direction of the Lumil Eliasul, who was neither mortal nor immortal but who stood in a place beyond either. Here, the little humans looked so imperfect in their Time-bound clay bodies.

Yes, Dragonwitch definitely has a feeling of place, especially of an Other place, though the scenes that are set in Gaheris and its castle resonate with historical reality. And the Near World evokes images of an amalgamation of ancient Egypt and early America before anyone thought to name it.

What a place. What a story. But I’ll give a full review of Dragonwitch another day.

Cover Reveal – Shadow Hand by Anne Elisabeth Stengl


ShadowHand_completeI’m posting an anomalous Saturday article–a sort of Fantasy Saturday (as opposed to Fantasy Friday) post–as part of Anne Elisabeth Stengl‘s cover reveal for Shadow Hand, the next book in her Tales of Goldstone Wood series (due out in February 2014). Ta-da!

Here’s the description of the book:

“She Will Take
Your Own Two Hands
To Save Your Ancient,
Sorrowing Lands.”

    By her father’s wish, Lady Daylily is betrothed to the Prince of Southlands. Not the prince she loves, handsome and dispossessed Lionheart, but his cousin, the awkward and foolish Prince Foxbrush. Unable to bear the future she sees as her wedding day dawns, Daylily flees into the dangerous Wilderlands, her only desire to vanish from living memory.
    But Foxbrush, determined to rescue his betrothed, pursues Daylily into a new world of magic and peril, a world where vicious Faerie beasts hold sway, a world invaded by a lethal fey parasite . . .
    A world that is hauntingly familiar.

And now, you have a chance to win a cool prize in conjunction with this cover reveal–a Tales of Goldstone Wood mug with this banner on it.

BannerwithSixBooks

All you need to do is click on the link below and sign up with Rafflecopter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Also, be sure to check out the cool new Shadow Hand blog site where you can find some added fun!

CSFF Blog Tour – Starflower by Anne Elisabeth Stengl, Day 3


StarflowerGrimm or Tangled? Once Upon A Time or Snow White? Since fairytales aren’t what they used to be, readers may not be sure what they’re getting when they pick up a book touted as a fairytale fantasy.

Starflower, book four of the Tales of Goldstone Wood series by Anne Elisabeth Stengl is somewhat of a mix of the two extremes. While the covers of each of the books in the series might lead a reader to think along the lines of the happy-ever-after stories, there’s a great deal of the dark side of fairytales in the pages behind those placid pictures.

A Review

The Story Eanrin, a faery who can take the shape of a cat, is the poet of Rudiobus Mountain. He, like the others in this faery kingdom, is light-hearted, self-assured, perhaps a little bored. His world turns around when he sees the Golden Hound–something that would not have happened if he hadn’t stopped to help a mortal girl caught in a curse because she went too close to the river.

The girl turns out to be cursed in more ways than one because she cannot speak. Against his better judgment, Eanrin saves her more than once and determines he must see her safely out of the faery realm.

The problem is, he’s on a mission. The professed love of his life has been taken captive by a dragon woman. In order to win his love’s hand, he must rescue her before Glomar, the captain of the guard, does. The race is on! But the cursed mortal makes Eanrin’s life … confusing.

Starflower is cursed, but not in the way Eanrin thinks. After he saves her from certain death, yet again, she determines she will help him rescue his professed love. To do so, she makes a bargain with the dragon that unleashes more than the captive faery.

Strengths. There are many things to love in this story. The writing is beautiful; the characters memorable, unique, creative, realistic; the plot, unpredictable; the theme, woven subtly into the fabric of the story.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of the story is the portrayal of the title character. The mortal girl Starflower is a heroine to love. She is not weak and helpless, suffering as a victim, awaiting someone to rescue her. Nor is she a macho woman, out to conquer or to shed blood trying.

Rather, she is a character who withstands. She chooses to do what is right when it goes against her culture, to love when she is shamed for it, to sacrifice rather than give in. She is truly noble.

I also loved the way the theme is subtly woven into the story. There is no long exposition detailing how and why and who at the appearance of the Golden Hound. He simply is who he is.

Another wonderful strength of this book is the creativity of the world. From the river to the enchanted and vacant city of Etalpalli to the lands of the Crescent Tribes, the world is rich, detailed, unexpected, sometimes magical in the best sense of the word and sometimes in the worst.

An interesting aspect of the story is the humor–the light-hearted behavior of the faeries who don’t take too much in life seriously, who have little worry and less fear. Eanrin in particular reminds me most of Shakespeare’s fairy Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He’s not such a great prankster, but he has the same “faery-ness.”

Weakness. I am a huge fan of Anne Elisabeth Stengl’s, as you can probably tell by what I’ve already said. Nevertheless, I’d prefer a story that had a stronger start. Because the book is entitled Starflower, I’d prefer to see the title character front and center. I realize that withholding her backstory is designed to create intrigue, but since her past is such a huge part of the story and comes out as a fairly lengthy flashback, I think I’d have connected sooner and cared more deeply if the story had started with Starflower and her plight. As it was, I thought the story unfolded too slowly.

That’s my only complaint, but it’s a big one because I can see readers mistakenly setting the book down and not coming back to it, thinking the pace isn’t going to pick up.

I’d like to shout loudly, keep going! 😉

Recommendation. Fairytale fantasy is an interesting genre. Not everyone will enjoy the Alice in Wonderland feel that seeps into Starflower at times. That’s too bad because they’ll miss out on some of the most inventive fiction in the Christian speculative genre.

I personally think “young adult” isn’t quite the right market group. I’d say this one will best be enjoyed by the twenties and thirties crowd. Anyone who is a fan of the fairytale genre, especially the new iteration made popular by the TV shows mentioned earlier, must read Starflower and the entire Tales of Goldstone Wood series.

Faery Stories – CSFF Blog Tour: Starflower, Day 2


Starflower Banner
Good fiction always means something. Literature teachers spend any amount of effort teaching their students to look behind a story to find a greater truth, a universal moral. Fairytales are no exception. In fact, they may suffer from literary snobbery because their themes seem too transparent, too simplistic.

In part I think such snubs come from readers associating fairytales with stories for children, designed to teach them not to talk to strangers or to obey their parents—in other words, stories that don’t demand much of adults.

I believe this view in part comes from the Disney-fying of fairytales in the twentieth century in which they were pushed into the corner of make-believe suited for children.

Welcome to the faery stories of the twenty-first century! These are more closely aligned to the original tales told and retold until they were collected and written down by people like the Grimm brothers and Hans Christian Anderson.

Those original stories were not intended exclusively for children. In fact, they were not set aside as a special class of story. Rather, they constituted the fiction of the day. Instead of being light stories fit for children, most had a dark edge, a bit of the macabre or the paranormal.

In our day of assiduously categorizing our fiction, we have had some work to reclaim faery stories from the trivialized classification of the last century. Authors like Anne Elisabeth Stengl are doing a remarkable job accomplishing this feat for readers of Christian speculative fiction.

Her latest, the CSFF feature for December, is Starflower, book four of the Tales of Goldstone Wood series.

Fourth in a series might scare off some readers–I mean, who wants to jump into the middle of a string of stories and be lost? As Anne Elisabeth herself said, however, Starflower is a great place to start because it is a prequel to the first three books. It reads very much like a stand alone, but knowing the title to the next book, I’m confident there will be a strong connection between that story and this one. In short, Starflower is the book fans of fairytale fantasy need to pick up.

And now a couple tour highlights

  • Meagan @ Blooming with Books has an outstanding interview with Anne Elisabeth. Here’s the first question and part of the answer.
    1) Tales from Goldstone Woods has such a depth to it. Where did the inspiration for this series come from?

    The initial inspiration for this series was simply my love of all things Fairy Tale. I wanted to write a series of inter-connected novels that used classic and familiar fairy tale themes and took them in unexpected directions.

  • Gillian continues her book-giveaway contest with a discussion of the characters in Starflower. Leave your comment to become eligible for the drawing. Leave your comment each day and increase your chance to win.
  • Shannon McDermott, an astute CSFF reviewer, gives her impressions, ending with this:
    The story was unexpected, and landscapes and people rose up brilliantly from the pages. This book was a surprise to me. I had expected it to be good, but I didn’t think it would be incredible.

Are all the reviews uniformly favorable? No, actually not. But one that was sort of so-so, yet nonetheless accurate, was written by Robert Treskillard‘s daughter. Since this book came to us as a young adult fairytale, he asked his twelve-year-old to read and review it, figuring she was bordering the target audience. She herself concluded otherwise, ending her review with this: “Overall I would recommend this book for readers 16 and up.” Spot on, Ness!

Be sure to visit the other participants (listed at the end of this post) and read their thoughts about this book and the others in the Tales of Goldstone Wood.

CSFF Blog Tour – Starflower by Anne Elisabeth Stengl, Day 1


Tales of Goldstone Wood
This month, as you visit the sites of those involved in the CSFF Blog Tour, you might find more than one person reviewing a different book than the one we’re featuring or linking to a past review instead of posting one hot off the presses. You might also notice that there aren’t as many participants as usual. There’s a good reason for this (besides December busy-ness).

The Christian Fiction Blog Alliance (CFBA), another blog tour group, beat CSFF to the punch and already featured Starflower, fourth in the young adult fairytale series, Tales of Goldstone Wood by Anne Elisabeth Stengl. Hence, several of our usual participants, having previously reviewed and/or discussed this book, chose not to join in this time. Others, however, chose to post during our tour too because they wanted to give Starflower a wide exposure, but their posts might be a little different.

No matter. Blog tours are fun. They give blog visitors a chance to learn, from a variety of people, about a new author, book, and series.

In this case, Anne Elisabeth Stengl is hardly new to A Christian Worldview of Fiction. I featured her in my occasional “introduce the fantasy author” series and more recently participated (however tardily) in a promotion for the book following Starflower, Dragonwitch, which revealed that cover.

Nevertheless, Starflower is the first of her books that CSFF has featured, and I’m happy a greater audience will learn of her work.

For one thing, Anne Elisabeth is an excellent writer. She’s put time into learning how to write fiction, and it shows. The Christian publishing industry has noticed, as well, awarding her back-to-back Christy Awards.

She’s an artist by nature, and that shows, too. Plus she’s tapping into interest in a kind of fantasy–fairytales–that is quite popular in our culture at large.

I’m happy to see her publisher (Bethany House) stepping into the arena of fantasy, as I noted in an earlier post this year.

In short, there’s lots to be excited about in this tour. To get things started, Gillian Adams is hosting a give-away:

Since I enjoyed this book so much, I’d like to offer you a chance to do the same, so I’m hosting a giveaway of a copy of Starflower.

Your name can go into the proverbial hat simply by leaving a comment at Gillian’s site, or by following her blog or by following Anne Elisabeth’s blog. Your name will be entered each time you participate in one way or another so the more you interact, the greater your chance of winning a free copy of Starflower.

One more to whet your appetite for this tour–best quote so far:

if you love Narnia; if you miss Middle Earth; if you enjoyed such stories as Alice in Wonderland, then you MUST read this book. Anne Elisabeth Stengl has created a setting in which rivers and trees come to life; a world in which animals talk and faeries can take on human or animal form. I haven’t encountered such a rich environment since I went back and rediscovered George MacDonald’s fantasy worlds.
Bruce Hennigan

Check out what the others are saying. As always, a check mark links you directly to a CSFF article.

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