A Draw Of Kings Review Continued


The Staff & The Sword trilogy covers

I ended the first half of my review of A Draw Of Kings by Patrick Carr by saying I wished for more. There’s a difference in saying the story left me wanting more, and I wanted more from the story. I’m afraid my reaction was closer to the latter position.

In reality, I thought the plot was filled with conflict and intrigue. As I described it last time, it had three distinct facets–the civil war, the three quests, and the face-off battles against evil.

I could make a case for each of those being a book in their own right. In fact, if Peter Jackson were making this into a movie, I’m pretty sure it would actually be three movies.

The point is, the story was dense, and in my thinking, too dense. This coiled and twisted plot created a couple problems. First, parts needed to either be played out fully, requiring many more pages, or resolved quickly in order to move on to The Next Important Thing.

If each had been played out fully, the book would have run closer to 800 pages than to 400. But resolving the issues quickly meant that the problems didn’t require a true struggle. Rather, they were solved in short order, with little difficulty, though some loss or failure was accrued.

Quick resolution has a way of lowering stakes, I think. If something isn’t hard to accomplish, or if losing doesn’t cost dearly, there’s a reduction of tension.

The civil war, then, ended with a minimum of conflict and some loss, but because of the ease with which it concluded, I never had the feel that the loss would make much of a difference. After all, when the circumstances appeared insurmountable, they were actually quickly and quite easily dispensed with.

The same played out in each of the three quests. Something dire appeared, but the struggle to overcome didn’t entail a great re-thinking of goals or strategies. There was no struggle apart from an initial conflict that ended up becoming a success through this clever maneuver or that act of bravery or the other display of character or strength.

Each quest, then, even when resulting in failure or partial failure, left me thinking the ensuing Battle would boil down to the same type of one plan, one confrontation, one quick result.

Furthermore, these conflicts didn’t seem married to the inner struggles the characters faced. I would like to have seen Errol struggle with the presence of his cruel father-priest, for instance. Instead, he made a rather quick business of moving on when he’d struggled mightily in the previous book.

And perhaps that’s why he didn’t need to deal with the issue again. But then the question is, why insert Antil into the story again? Adora’s anger toward him felt artificial. He was not someone she knew, and in the face of the death of hundreds of civilians, it seems petty for her to try and exact revenge, not for herself, but for Errol.

All this to say, the wonderful epic story begun in A Cast of Stones deserved more, from my way of thinking. Errol is a character much to be admired. He has real doubts, deep hurts, and great skills–some with which he was born, and some he developed through long hours and hard, hard work. He could have become bitter, but doesn’t, though the choice not to follow that path seems easily arrived at.

The world itself has layers of authority, political intrigue, allies and enemies, betrayers and deceivers. I would like to have had more time with the interplay of these elements.

Finally, a story this big requires an equally big cast, and there were so many characters in A Draw of Kings, it became hard to keep them straight (which is why most epic fantasy has a list of characters to go along with a good map!) Of course, if there had been more story, then these minor characters would have earned more page time and therefore become more fully developed and therefore more memorable.

How can I sum up this book? I’d say it was an adequate ending to a great story. It answered the questions and entertained. It moved quickly, without snags or delays.

I suppose I’m being hard on the novel because I think it could have been great. I think Patrick Carr is an excellent writer who could make the end as great as the beginning, if given enough time to do so.

Honestly, to complete this third book and have it on the shelves in the short amount of time since the release of The Hero’s Lot is a remarkable fete but perhaps not the best decision. I don’t know who determines these things, but I’ve voiced my thoughts on the six-month novel before. I’d rather see more time given writers to get a story right than to get it done.

Would I recommend The Staff & The Sword to readers? Absolutely! It’s a worthwhile story, highly entertaining, with lots to think about on the way. Would I buy the next Patrick Carr novel? Absolutely! He’s a wonderful writer and just needs time to do his magic. I hope he gets all he needs from here on.

CSFF Blog Tour – A Draw Of Kings


A-Draw-of-Kings-cover
A Draw Of Kings by Patrick Carr is the concluding book of The Staff & The Sword trilogy. CSFF Blog Tour has been privileged to feature the previous two books as well, so it’s fitting that we follow this epic fantasy to its conclusion.

Speaking of the previous two books, both A Cast Of Stones and The Hero’s Lot have been nominated for the Clive Staples Award for Christian Speculative Fiction. Voting started today for the three finalists. Voters must have read at least two of the nominations.

So it seems fortuitous that CSFF is featuring the third Staff & Sword book this week.

I’m eager to see what others touring this book think of this action-packed ending. Here is the list of those who will be posting.

Tour Wrap-A Cast of Stones and The Hero’s Lot by Patrick Carr


CSFFTopBloggerAug13First, congratulations to Shannon Dittemore who won the first August tour CSFF Top Tour Blogger Award with her posts about Captive by Jill Williamson.

The second tour, a two-fer kindly made possible by Bethany House Publishing, featured A Cast of Stones and The Hero’s Lot, Books 1 and 2 of The Staff & the Sword series by Patrick Carr. In all twenty-two bloggers participated by posting forty-one article related to the novels.

What’s more, lively discussion centered around A Cast of Stones continues at Spec Faith with Patrick’s response to a number of issues that came up in various posts and reviews–some related to CSFF and some connected to the challenge I gave Mike Duran.

Of all the CSFF’ers talking about the books, these are eligible for the second August CSFF Top Tour Blogger Award because of their three articles posted during the tour. As usual the check marks are linked to specific articles, so you can read or review the articles, then vote for the blogger you think most deserves recognition for their insights, entertainment, research, or whatever else you think makes for good blog writing.

The poll will be open through Friday, September 13. I appreciate all who take the time to vote. Thank you.

Published in: on September 3, 2013 at 4:28 pm  Comments Off on Tour Wrap-A Cast of Stones and The Hero’s Lot by Patrick Carr  
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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 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

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