- The prologue tells a story that I was sure would be the first half of the book (based on what had gone before). In other words, Jeffery Overstreet managed to both fulfill my expectations and take the story in some wild new directions in just a few pages.
- The book covers even more of The Expanse in vivid detail.
- There's a story (told by Krawg) that absolutely blew me away near the middle of the book... and the implications of what happens to that story speaks volumes about the way we deal with truth & art in our culture.
- Some key story lines are resolved here, while others are advanced and left hanging... thankfully, there is at least one more book coming!
Tuesday, March 09, 2010
Book Review: Raven's Ladder
I'm never quite sure what to expect from fiction by an author of Christian faith... for every wonderful reading experience (like Stephen Lawhead's Celtic Crusades or C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia), there are numerous slogs through preachy & cliched schlock. (Insert obligatory reference to the Left Behind books here.) It's a little like Tim Burton films - you never know when an "Edward Scissorhands" is going to bloom amongst a field of weeds like "Batman Returns" and "Planet of the Apes." It helps, of course, when you trust the author as someone who appreciates story & subtlety, which is certainly true of Jeffery Overstreet. As a long-time reader of his articles & reviews at ChristianityTodayMovies.com and his blog, LookingCloser.org, I was excited to find his first book, Through A Screen Darkly, which is a series of essays on movie-going & faith. So when Mr. Overstreet released the first book in The Auralia Thread series, Auralia's Colors, I... checked it out from the library & felt really guilty about not reading it. Yeah, I know, that wasn't the story I wanted to tell either, but it's the truth. I'm not sure what kept me from digging into the first novel - some of the reviews I'd read made it sound "artsy" and I never managed to pick it up and get into it before I had to return it. Fast forward a couple of years to the early part of 2010 when I agreed to blog/review Raven's Ladder, the third book in the series. I quickly realized that I didn't want to read book 3 before I read the first two books. So, for the past couple of weeks, I've carted around The Auralia Thread books and read them whenever I could... waiting for my boys at the park, taking a break at work, even squinting at them by the light of a bedside lamp. Yes, the books are that good. It's my assignment to review Raven's Ladder... a task which I'm finding daunting. I want to try & paint a picture of the book (and the series that leads up to it) without spoiling the joy of discovery that comes from reading a fantasy series set in a new world. I hope to get you to pick up Auralia's Colors and find yourself swept up by Jeffery Overstreet's beautifully crafted descriptions & plotting... leading inexorably to you buying all three books. As I've thought about how to do this, I realized that The Auralia Thread reminds me of the TV series, "Lost." No, there's not an airline crash or a smoke monster or even a four-toed statue... but Mr. Overstreet uses the same kind of cinematic style of storytelling to move his plot forward. We get to see important moments from the viewpoints of different characters. Hints are dropped & questions are raised at odd moments that pay off chapters (or sometimes even books) later. The author, much like the writers on "Lost," isn't afraid to kill off characters or radically alter their lives rather than simply pander to our desires for things to be tied up in a simplistic package. And while the story has definite philosophical & spiritual themes (esp. the relationship of art & faith), those themes don't seem to drive the plot. Instead, they flow out of the natural development of the characters and their lives. Importantly for me, this is NOT a Christian allegory. Playing the "who's the Christ figure?" game with Christian-penned fantasy novels quickly grows tiresome and takes me out of the book and into "theology debate" mode. Jeffery Overstreet deftly avoids this while still dealing with questions about blind faith, the relationship of art & theology, legalism & freedom, desire as the arbiter of truth, and a plethora of other important themes. I realize that writing about "serious themes" is likely to turn off some readers. I wonder if my initial hesitation to read Auralia's Colors has to do with other reviewers writing similar things. Pleased, give the story a chance... let the wonder & mystery of this fascinating fantasy world pull you in. Some specific notes about Raven's Ladder: