Venom and Song Tour Wrap

Great tour! Venom and Song by Wayne Batson and Christopher Hopper stirred a lot of conversation, with more on the way. The books to our Canada members arrived late and while each posted during the tour, they said they would also be adding a review when they had read the book.

In all thirty-nine bloggers posted seventy-seven articles, some humorous in keeping with sections of the book, and others serious, aligning with the over all tenor of the story.

Now all that’s left is to name the September Top Tour Blogger. Here are the eligible participants and links (the check marks) to their articles. Then it’s up to you. 😉

CSFF Blog Tour – Venom And Song, Day 3

My turn. I’ve spent a good part of the day reading other blog posts from CSFF tour participants, and now I get to say what I think. One of the cool things about the tour, though, is that as I read what other people are saying, my thoughts crystallize a bit more. And I have to say, they needed some crystallizing.

I recently read (on an agent’s blog, I think, but don’t quote me on that) the best way to evaluate a book is to see if it accomplished what it set out to accomplish. That made sense to me. As a guide, it helps me give an assessment of a book that goes beyond, Well, I liked it (or not)! Which brings me to my review of Venom and Song by Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper (Thomas Nelson).

The Story. This second in the Berinfell Prophecies continues the story where Curse of the Spider King ended. The young elven lords, three teenage girls and four teenage boys, newly arrived from earth, must train in the history, culture, fighting techniques, and use of their individual powers. But most importantly, they must learn to work together, which is where their true strength lies.

Clearly, they will need all the strength available to them because the plan is to take the battle to the Spider King. The time is right, the prophecies give every indication that victory is at hand. And yet, there will be a cost.

Strengths. The greatest aspect of this book, I think, is its appeal to the target audience (see yesterday’s post for a more detailed analysis of this point). The authors “get” young teens and late pre-teens. They understand how they think, and the story will resonate with those readers.

There are also important themes woven into the story, the greatest being the need to work in unity as opposed to disharmony (see Monday’s post for further discussion of this point)—the greatest theme, but by no means the only one. The story also shows the need to accept one’s gifts (abilities) and work to grow them for the good of others. There are examples of sacrificial love, submitting to those who are wiser and more experienced or to those in authority, depending on God, and not underestimating someone based on appearance. In fact, the falsity of the outward appearance is a recurrent theme first introduced in Curse of the Spider King.

Beyond these important lessons—all good things for teens to learn—the story is fast paced and unpredictable. There’s not really a point when I felt like I knew for sure what was coming next. About the time I thought I saw which way the story was going, it changed. Not in a random way, however. The surprises were, for the most part, set up well.

The imaginative elements were another strength. There were cool hidden rooms with old parchment and wicked birds that turned out to be good. There were amazing capturing devices and some impressive natural powder used for offense. There were some hideous baddies and a bear of an ally (who reminded me of three-headed Fluffy). Lots and lots more. A room that was booby-trapped. A betrayer that betrayed more than once. You name it—from places to powers, the imaginative elements were impressive.

Weaknesses. I’m pretty sure that what I consider to be weaknesses, the target-age reader won’t even notice. But I tend to think these things might be the difference between Venom and Song being a well-liked book versus a well-loved book.

Others have mentioned the omniscient point of view and the many characters. These two factors keep readers at a distance. This may work for teens. And yet, I would like to see the reader drawn in closer so that when danger comes, when tragedy strikes, there’s an emotional response, not just an adrenaline rush.

In addition, this story felt big and yet it went by so fast, it didn’t go down deep. Some things were introduced that showed great potential, then faded away to insignificance. (I. E. how did the seven lords continue on their way when the gnomes had burned their boots? Were they so toughened by their training that it wasn’t an issue—apart from the initial pain they experience upon waking? That’s a tiny example. I’d rather see the point omitted altogether rather than introduced and go nowhere).

My guess is the writing and editing was fast because of deadlines. Consequently there was an abundance of telling. At times I felt like I was reading a screenplay with the action delivered via exposition rather than carefully sculpted for the reader to experience along with the characters.

There were some bobbles, too, such as Jimmy going down the zip line twice.

But will the readers to whom the story is aimed notice these things? I doubt it very much. If they do, they’ll tuck it away and keep on going because they’ll want to keep up with the break-neck pace.

Recommendation. For “tweeners”—young people between the ages of twelve and fourteen—this is a great story. Some middle graders as young as ten may also enjoy the book, though there is considerable violence, none of which is graphic. Parents should read this with their children, and as Jason Joyner discussed on day one of the tour, perhaps they should read it out loud as a family.

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

CSFF Blog Tour – Venom And Song, Day 2

I may have mentioned that Venom and Song by Wayne Batson and Christopher Hopper (Thomas Nelson) is a young adult fantasy, but apparently Amazon has it listed as a middle grade novel. Neither is quite accurate. A better description, though book stores don’t have a section labeled in this way, is a “tweener” book—not middle grade, not young adult.

Since I taught “tweeners” (ages twelve to fourteen) for years, I am somewhat familiar with that audience. In fact, when I first started writing, I wanted to create stories for this group that was, at the time, overlooked. Consequently, I’m happy that Wayne and Christopher, along with a handful of other Christian fantasy writers, have stepped up to meet the challenge.

Here are some reasons why I think the Berinfell Prophecies, of which Venom and Song is book 2, give tweeners what they’re looking for.

Tweener humor. This is slightly different than regular humor. A part of the requisite elements is bodily functions, and Venom and Song provides just the right touch with the little problem the gnome king has. 😳

A distant perspective. Tweeners are self-conscious and consequently not at the “getting in touch with yourself” stage. Above all, they want to feel normal (though most don’t) and fit in. The omniscient perspective in which Venom and Song is written allows for some distance—some non-threatening distance that I think the target audience may prefer.

Fast pace. In response to one reviewer, Wayne used the term “high energy” about his co-author. I think the term fits Venom and Song like a pair of Spandex biker shorts. 😆 From the first page, the story is action oriented. Danger, intrigue, and betrayal alternate with near-death experiences. Nothing slow or meandering about this one.

Tweener themes. The story has well-crafted themes that tweeners won’t miss but also won’t reject because of a strong-handed delivery. I suspect instead, many will see themselves in at least one of the characters—the unloved son, the bully who lashes out because of his anger, the pushed-to-perform daughter, the girl who doesn’t fit in, the nerd, the jock, the perfect student.

Each of these true-to-life personas was established in book 1 of the series, Curse of the Spider King. Now in book 2, the characters find the assumptions upon which they constructed their paradigm for living no longer hold true. In fact, maybe they never did.

Was Kat ever ugly because she was different? She thought so, but now she finds it isn’t true. Was it ever true? Was Kiri Lee’s worth only in the applause she received for her performance? Was Jimmy’s life ever worthless because he didn’t receive the love at home he so desperately craved? On and on the story takes the teens who will identify with these types of struggles and questions.

I suspect there are factors I’m leaving out, but I’m quite confident the elements I’ve named make this a very appealing book to tweeners.

Lots of buzz on the CSFF tour about the book. You won’t want to miss the excellent interview Amy Browning has with Wayne or John Otte‘s confession leading to an analysis of Christian fiction. Jason Joyner has some heartfelt words about reading the book aloud to his sons, and Jeff Chapman once again has some worthwhile analysis of the book.

These are just a few of the highlights. Any number of reviews are available, and it’s through the accumulation of comments, I think, that you can get a real feel for how readers are receiving this book.

Take time to check out the check marks in the list at the end of yesterday’s post. Each one is a link to a specific tour article.

CSFF Blog Tour – Venom And Song, Day 1

This week the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour is featuring Venom and Song by Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper.

Unfortunately, I’ve been late on this one—late and hasty. So here are my errors. After telling co-author Christopher that I would correct the errant link to his blog, I forgot, so most of the tour participants are posting an old link (there’s no /blog after the .com).

I also sent out the notices to our members late in the week, so some didn’t notify me in time to have their links included on everyone’s list. Then there is our month-old member Sarah whose link I mangled last month … and failed to correct on the list I sent out. 😳

Confession, they say, is good for the soul, and I’m hoping it’s good for the CSFF blog tour so visitors interested in learning what bloggers are saying about Venom and Song can find what they’re looking for.

As per my usual pattern, I’ll be discussing aspects of the book or its content today and tomorrow, then give my review on Wednesday.

The most striking theme, to me, in this YA fantasy is unity in diversity.

This second installment in the Berinfell Prophecies features seven main characters. Seven. Seven different teens. One is a jock, another a musician. There’s a bully and a kid who never succeeded in anything. You get the drift. Each is unique.

Upon reaching their teen years, however, each develops an equally unique magical gift. But as they discover their place in the fantasy world to which they go, these seven teens learn they must work together to accomplish what they need to do.

It’s a wonderful point, one made clear through the plot elements. I couldn’t help but think a lot of adults need to read a book such as this to learn about working together rather than pulling apart.

God gave Christ’s followers very specific commands—love our neighbor, love our brother, love our enemy, to “malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men.”

Here’s the contrast:

But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned.

– Titus 3:9-11

Somehow, no matter how clear the Bible is, this point doesn’t seem to get home. A handful of professing believers assume the mantel of purity police. I read a post today (not from anyone in CSFF, I assure you) who began by decrying the evils of Narnia and C. S. Lewis as a heretic.

Certainly, while I believe readers must be discerning, must think about and evaluate the books we read, there’s a point of foolishness and a way of speaking about others that becomes divisive.

May the Berinfell Prophecies teach young adults and adults alike that being different doesn’t have to mean being divisive.

See what others on the tour are saying about Venom and Song:

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