CSFF Blog Tour Wrap – The Ale Boy’s Feast by Jeffrey Overstreet

Thirty-one bloggers posted forty-nine articles (thirty-two and fifty, if you count Matt Mikalatos who opted out but still posted links to the book and tour participants, or thirty-three/fifty-one if you add in Jeff Chapman who opted out because he couldn’t post in time to officially be part of the tour), all discussing The Ale Boy’s Feast by Jeffrey Overstreet.

Of note Sarah Sawyer is holding a book give-away. If you would like a chance to win a copy of this much-anticipated final volume of the Auralia Thread series, leave a comment, and you’ll be eligible for the drawing.

In addition, Robert Treskillard sent Jeffrey an excellent question which he answered in a YouTube video. (See below.) How cool is that!

And now it’s time to take a look at the bloggers eligible for this month’s CSFF Top Tour Blogger Award.

Of course, the power has shifted to the jury ( 😉 ) because your vote is for the winner. You have ten days to peruse the posts and decide who you think kept your interest, made you laugh or think or gave you the most information. In other words, which blogger deserves special recognition for the three articles they wrote for this month’s tour?

CSFF Blog Tour – The Ale Boy’s Feast by Jeffrey Overstreet, Part 3 A Review

I love epic fantasy, which is why I write it. The Auralia Thread series by Jeffrey Overstreet is epic fantasy — a grand, involved, heroic story, in this case, one that took four books to tell. The Ale Boy’s Feast is the conclusion of this sprawling tale.

The Story. The Ale Boy’s Feast begins where Raven’s Ladder left off. King Cal-raven, having tried to free the slaves the beastmen were holding, is wounded and left for dead, thinking that he has failed. He receives surprising help, however, and is off to meet up with a band of his people seeking the site he has dubbed New Abascar.

The Ale Boy, also an apparent causality of the events in the Core, is resuscitated and in turn, uses the healing waters to revive the captives that had been ambushed. His intent is to lead them out of the putrid underground wasteland and to find King Cal-raven.

These are two central figures, though there is a host of others, each playing a critical part in the weaving of the complex story. Ultimately, each battles to defeat or to spread the Curse that overshadows The Expanse. Some side with evil in a subtle, duplicitous way. Others side with good after they have come to their senses. Their redemption contributes to the overall theme, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Strengths. An epic fantasy, in my opinion, depends on the world building. Readers must be sold on this place where the story unfolds. It must feel real, must have its own set of consistent rules, must seem tangible. In that aspect, Jeffrey couldn’t have done better.

His world is imaginative, dense, textured, rich. While it is totally unlike in kind, I would compare his world building to that of J. K. Rowling in its density. The reader is saturated in this world, and none of the aspects of the magic, religion, topography, social or political structure, history, etc. breaks that fictive dream.

Regarding the theme of the book, Jeffrey uses several extended metaphors (or perhaps metaphysical conceits), particularly the thread image used in the series title, to address ideas of beauty and how it points to “mystery” — the meaning and purpose behind all of life. Of course, as a Christian, I understand “mystery” to be God. For those who do not know Him through His Son as revealed in His Word, I suspect He does appear as a mystery. Clearly, Jeffrey wasn’t trying to make a statement about God in this work, but about art and its affect on the cursed, broken world in which we live. I believe he accomplished what he set out to do. (For an excellent look at the spiritual aspects of the series, I suggest Sarah Sawyer’s Day 3 article).

A third strength that bears repeating is the beauty of the prose. Reviewers who compare Jeffrey’s writing to painting have it right, in my opinion. His words give the reader a visual rendering of the scenic background. At the same time, his words have a poetic quality.

Another worthy aspect of this book is the rendering of the characters as real people, with flaws and strengths, willing to try, often failing, sometimes willing to repent and change, sometimes choosing heroic actions, and sometimes dying because of their choices. No one, if he is honest, can come away from an Overstreet novel thinking he has read about flat, undeveloped characters.

Weaknesses. In each of the other volumes in the series, I’ve commented on the multiple points of view and how following such a large number of characters causes me to be disengaged from all of them. Unfortunately, that issue was front and center in The Ale Boy’s Feast. Because I didn’t have an emotional tie with any of the characters, I consequently didn’t feel the danger, suspense, tension that many of the confrontations and intrigue should have engendered.

I wasn’t helped, I don’t believe, by how fragmented the narrative was, as one after another of the story lines was interrupted and left to be picked up later, only to be dropped all too quickly.

Yes, in an adequate way, Jeffrey resolved all these diverse threads. However, this was not a story I ever felt lost in because I was too busy constantly trying to reorient myself to the place, time, circumstances, and character.

Recommendation. The Ale Boy’s Feast is an artistic triumph. However, this one isn’t for readers wanting a story that sweeps them along at a fast pace. This story may not satisfy a reader whose burning question driving their reading experience is “What happens next.” On the other hand, for someone who prefers a literary flare and who loves epic fantasy, this is the perfect book.

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

CSFF Blog Tour – The Ale Boy’s Feast by Jeffrey Overstreet, Part 2 The Beauty

Beauty in the midst of darkness

After looking at components that create darkness in Jeffrey Overstreet’s fantasy world depicted in The Ale Boy’s Feast—book four, or the White Strand, of The Auralia Thread series—today I want to consider the “haunting beauty” R. J. Anderson referenced in her endorsement.

Seemingly no one can write a review of Jeffrey Overstreet’s fiction without invoking the word or idea of beauty. Jonathan Rogers said, “Jeffrey Overstreet has made something beautiful here.” Another endorser says he “writes like Van Gogh painted.” Another said it’s a work of art and yet another likened it to a beautiful dream. At Amazon, reviewers say things like poetic, wonderful language, descriptive.

All this points to one of the chief elements of beauty in The Ale Boy’s Feast — words. Not just words, but the way Jeffrey Overstreet strings them together.

Here’s a short snippet to illustrate the point from a page I turned to at random:

As the ale boy emerged from the earth’s crooked mouth, he breathed deep, relieved to escape the stagnant air of the maze below. Any light, even the sickly glow of the sun’s cold coin over a world drained of colors, was better than the subterranean dark.

“The sickly glow of the sun’s cold coin” — how’s that for an image!

This passage serves as an excellent illustration of my point. Even when the scene is bleak and the character is suffering, the language elevates the reader because of its beauty.

But beauty comes in an even greater measure from the characters. For one thing, some cling to hope when all seems darkest. Cyndere believes the beastmen can be restored when all around her want to destroy them, when her own experience should lead her to hatred not hope.

Cal-raven clings to the hope of a New Abascar when every reason to believe he can find such a place crumbles, and his own drive has been built on a delusion.

The ale boy holds onto his friendship with Auralia and the promises he makes to Cal-raven and Cyndere. His hope to lead the captives to the king drives him.

Jordam hopes for the infant he saves and for freedom for those he’s helped to rescue. He hopes to find Cal-raven, and then Auralia. Even several minor characters hope in the face of despair and try in the face of defeat.

Which brings up a second aspect of the characters creating beauty in the darkness. Any number of individuals do heroic, sacrificial acts when all seems lost. Above all, the ones striving for the good are not always the ones readers would expect. The old thief, the slaver, the former traitor, the would-be assassin, and of course the beastman and the ale boy once overlooked because of his insignificance — these are characters who change or who make surprising contributions to the fight against the evil that is consuming The Expanse.

Beauty amid the darkness. It’s a fitting format for The Ale Boy’s Feast, and in fact, for the entire series because the theme seems tied to these two elements as well. But I’ll discuss more about the theme in my review.

To read what others on the CSFF tour have to say about The Ale Boy’s Feast, check the links at the end of yesterday’s post. You can also read an interview with Jeffrey over at Spec Faith in which he discusses art and Rachel Star Thomson’s overview of the series and review of book four posted there as well.

CSFF Blog Tour – The Ale Boy’s Feast by Jeffrey Overstreet, Part 1 The Dark World

Jeffrey Overstreet - photo by Matt Sumi

“A darkly complex world populated by a rich and diverse cast of characters, in which glimpses of haunting beauty shine through.” So said R. J. Anderson, author of Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter and Wayfarer in her endorsement of Jeffrey Overstreet‘s The Ale Boy’s Feast.

As I read this final edition of the Auralia Thread series, I am struck by how apropos that simple description is. Today I want to think a little bit about what created the darkness of this world.

Going back to the beginning of the series, I see darkness in the political structure. Rulers are autocratic, and punishments are merciless. Consequently there is a great divide between the privileged and the “criminal element,” poor people who are left to fend for themselves without the protection of government services.

In conjunction with this divide is rampant prejudice, within particular houses, or feudal realms, based on economic and social standing, and between the various houses of the land known as The Expanse.

In addition, there is darkness in this world’s history. One of the houses has fallen to ruin because its people have succumbed to a madness that turns them into dreaded beastmen. The effect on the remaining houses is decidedly negative. They shore up their defenses against raids and have less and less to do with outsiders.

A third element that creates the dark tone of these books is the various dangers that encroach. There are dangers from outside the “civilized” communities, but there are also traitorous dangers from within. Each seems to grow as the series progresses.

Another source of darkness is the false religion, and the seers who teach it, that holds sway over one of the houses. Those following the seers are powerful but unprincipled. They pose a threat to every good character in the story.

Along with this aspect is the unknown of the “childish superstitions” that most adults deny — the existence of the Keeper and the reality of the Northchildren. Belief and disbelief create division and suspicion. At times, the most rational of people can’t tell if they are dreaming or experiencing something from a realm beyond.

Finally, the bleak landscape creates darkness. Even if Deathweed weren’t devouring all living things and turning The Expanse into a wilderness, places like The Eastern Heatlands and the Forbidding Wall still produce an atmosphere of gloom and foreboding.

Quite a dark world, indeed. But then there are those “glimpses of haunting beauty.”

I’ll take a look at that aspect next time.

For your enjoyment, spend some time with others discussing this fourth of four, the White Strand in the Auralia Thread.

Check marks are direct links to tour-related articles.

– – – – –

NOTE: Tour participants, the Amazon link you received for our featured book is broken. You may use this one, or another of your choosing.

%d bloggers like this: