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.

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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.

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 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

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