Archive for January, 2011

CSFF Blog Tour: Breaking the Love Triangle

Book Reviews | Posted by Shannon
Jan 26 2011

I’m going to start off by putting a Spoiler Alert on this whole post. From here on in I’ll make free in discussing details from the book.

One of the interesting aspects of Dragons of the Valley was the love triangle. Bealomondore loved Tipper, Tipper loved Jayrus, and Jayrus loved … well, you couldn’t tell. Then, at the end, Jayrus eloquently proposes marriage, Tipper joyfully accepts, and they just step on Bealomondore’s heart.

At least that’s how I reacted. I don’t know how Bealomondore reacted, because the book ended without him giving a thought to the matter. Up until that point, he had been the main focus of the love triangle. Its most eloquent summation was when Bealomondore watched Tipper and Jayrus together and – simply, bittersweetly – thought of them as his princess and her prince.

I really thought that Bealomondore might be in the running. He had more far interaction with Tipper than Jayrus did, had in fact most of the sweet moments – and the funny ones, and the dangerous ones. It was also his journey more than anyone else’s, and matching him with the princess would have the virtue of being surprising. And when you add that Tipper’s emotions were still in the crush stage, and for all we knew Jayrus’ emotions were not in any stage – well, the only compelling reason not to bring Bealomondore and Tipper together was that he was a foot shorter than her.

Jayrus and Tipper feel natural together, and one can’t help feeling happy for Tipper. One also can’t help feeling sorry for Bealomondore. I’d be curious to know what other readers thought of the love triange and its resolution. I’d also be curious to know what Bealomondore thought of it. It was probably what he thought would happen, but you’d think he’d still sigh. I would.

The emotions and reality of the love triangle were brought home mainly by Bealomondore. Then, at the end, he was cut out without a second glance. It would have been nice if we had seen him react a bit. But maybe – just maybe – we’ll get a chance in Dragons of the Watch. Because, although Bealomondore didn’t get the girl, he did get the next book.

CSFF Blog Tour: A Judge, a Priest, a Paladin …

Book Reviews | Posted by Shannon
Jan 25 2011

One of the main characters of the Chiril Chronicles is Jayrus, dragon-keeper and prince of something. A wizard proclaims him to be Chiril’s Paladin.

What is a paladin? According to my Dictionary, it is “a champion of a medieval prince”. According to Donita K. Paul, it’s some sort of spiritual leader who, by the by, is also a military champion.

Before joining the CSFF blog tour, I had never read any of Mrs. Paul’s work. When I saw that Dragons of the Valley was the second book in a series, I read the first. I understand she wrote another series with another Paladin, whom many readers took to be a Christ-figure. I am not going to consider Paladin as an archetype of Jesus. I have not read the previous books, and the Paladin of the books I did read never struck me as a Christ-figure.

He made me think instead of human deliverers God sent – the judges, the priests, the prophets, the kings. This is the angle I’ll be considering him from. (And luckily Fenworth will not see that last sentence!)

As I said, Paladin is a military champion. God sent many champions to Israel, and they had a curious habit of becoming – if they were not already – rulers.

Let us make a distinction: There were many – Jonathan, Barak, the Mighty Men – who were known for their exploits. Sometimes they brought about great and even miraculous victories. But it was the judges, not they, who were said to be sent by God to deliver Israel (Judges 2:16-19). For the judges, delivering Israel was contingent upon, or a presage to, their rule over the whole nation. The pattern holds with other men: Joshua, chosen to lead Israel into their inheritance, governed the nation as well as the conquest; both David and Saul, after being anointed king, saved their people from oppressors and invaders.

It didn’t seem to be assumed that Jayrus’ elevation to Paladin meant he was on his way to ruling Chiril. Indeed, he always submitted to King Yellat. However – spoilers, people – his marriage to Tipper pretty much locks up the country. Which happens after he becomes a military savior. Hmm.

Still, Paladin is not equivalent to a judge. The Paladin is even more strongly a spiritual figure than a military one. The judges were occasionally spiritual leaders: Deborah was a prophetess, Samuel a prophet, Eli the high priest. But these were cases of dual roles; they were the exception, not the rule. In the Paladin, champion and religious leader are one.

But what sort of religious leader? Not a priest, as Aaron was and Jesus is; not what we now call pastors or priests. Not even, really, a prophet. A prophet is defined by proclaiming, “Thus saith the Lord.” As far as I can recall, Jayrus never did.

A closer biblical archetype is apostle. Jayrus is chosen to bring the message of Wulder into Chiril, as the apostles first introduced the Gospel to the world. And he does seem to be the leader and founder of true religion in Chiril, as the apostles were leaders and founders in the Church. Yet playing deliverer and ruler would be wholly alien to “those reputed to be pillars”.

There are two things that set Donita Paul’s Paladin apart from all these figures. For one, he teaches largely through the use of parables. “He never seemed to make a point without using a story” – an obvious echo of Matthew 13:34, “Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable.”

Secondly, Paladin has powers that seem more magical than miraculous. Three examples:

(1) The illusions he weaves at the end of The Vanishing Sculpture. It was a nice effect in the story; you simply can’t see it being done by any prophet or apostle.

(2) His healing of Tipper’s foot. I don’t think any miracle was more often performed by Jesus and His apostles than miracles of healing. It is the execution that is different. Jesus and the apostles healed with a word; Jayrus seemed to have to work at it.

(3) Paladin interrogates a prisoner and causes bile to rise in his mouth whenever he lies. Later he threatens the man with a worse punishment if he disobeys. The flavor of this is fairy tales and fantasy – and not at all Scripture. Paladin’s powers as deliverer and spiritual leader greatly resemble Verrin Schope’s powers as wizard. It could be – I’m not sure how it works in Mrs. Paul’s world – that wizards and Paladins alike receive their abilities from Wulder.

Paladin is a unique creation – somewhat like a judge, somewhat like an apostle, a little like a wizard, and not exactly like any of them.

CSFF Blog Tour: Dragons of the Valley

Book Reviews | Posted by Shannon
Jan 24 2011

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

It’s been said that good fortune follows good fortune, and bad fortune follows bad fortune. This may be why Chiril’s first armed rebellion in many years is followed by its first foreign invasion in many years.

But never fear! An artist is here – and a librarian, and a couple wizards, and several royal personages, and an enormous parrot. This may not sound like a recipe for deliverance, at least until you add an army. But it is certainly a recipe for an interesting story.

Donita K. Paul has created a fantasy world, in an unusually precise sense. (The geography is more comprehensive than normal, with characters talking about continents and countries on the other side of the planet.) Here be dragons. More uniquely, here be emerlindians and kimens and bisonbecks and ropmas. The list goes on. Mrs. Paul populated her world richly.

And that goes twice for the characters. This is where Mrs. Paul most excels. Fenworth, Lady Peg, and The Grawl would be a credit to any author. The good characters are properly likable; the bad ones, properly despicable. Even despicable, the villains have some depth, and their evil is painted with a fine and sometimes chilling touch.

Mrs. Paul’s style is clear and clean. She avoids long and complex sentences; she rarely uses metaphors or similes. This tendency to go down a straight line can be seen elsewhere in the book. The story lines, and the character arcs, take few sudden turns.

But there are so many of them. Mrs. Paul juggles a large cast of characters, and all their intersecting story lines. This is where her novel’s complexity lies. The names can also get elaborate – Odidoddex, Groddenmitersay, Graddapotmorphit Bealomondore. There is actually a scene between Bealamondore and his father, who calls him by his first name. Can you imagine how exhausting it would be raise a child named Graddapotmorphit? “Eat your vegetables, Graddapotmorphit.” “Time for bed, Graddapotmorphit.” And suppose you had to find him. “Graddapotmorphit! Graddapotmorphit!”

Dragons of the Valley is a good story, but there were events that needed more handling. Months of battle, the fall of a capital city, and extensive conquest are mentioned almost in passing. At the end – spoilers ahead – the heroes go from nearly complete defeat to total victory in about three pages. If the battle in the valley really were such a turning point, it should have been given much more emphasis. It should have been narrated. I think there was about half a scene devoted to recounting the battle.

One more thing – and more spoilers: The Grawl is an excellent character, and I fully sympathize with Donita Paul’s desire to keep him in the cards. In fact, as a reader, I support it. But she didn’t manage to justify Fenworth’s decision to spare him. She brought the point up but never really answered it.

I wasn’t even sure about the nature of The Grawl’s imprisonment. I can think of two explanations, both equally unsatisfactory. One, The Grawl was trapped within the silver box. This is so nasty it is almost just, but it’s also dumb. Why carry around a little box that springs a bloodthirsty assassin on whoever opens it? But if what Fenworth actually did was trap The Grawl in his domain – didn’t he, in essence, punish The Grawl’s mass-murdering ways by revoking his traveling privileges?

But for all this, Dragons of the Valley is still a delight for fantasy readers. It engages its readers with excitement, humor, and winning characters.


The blog tour continues and I will, too. In the meantime, you may learn more about Dragons of the Valley from:

the book’s Amazon page;

the author’s website;

the author’s blog;

the other blog tour participants:
Gillian Adams
Noah Arsenault
Amy Bissell
Red Bissell
Justin Boyer
Keanan Brand
Grace Bridges
Beckie Burnham
Keanan Brand
Morgan L. Busse
CSFF Blog Tour
Amy Cruson
D. G. D. Davidson
April Erwin
Amber French
Andrea Graham
Katie Hart
Ryan Heart
Bruce Hennigan
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Julie
Carol Keen
Dawn King

Emily LaVigne
Matt Mikalatos
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis

John W. Otte

Donita K. Paul
Sarah Sawyer
Chawna Schroeder
Tammy Shelnut
Kathleen Smith
James Somers
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler
Dave Wilson

A Singing, Dancing …

Culture | Posted by Shannon
Jan 19 2011

Newsie?

Once a critic complained against the musical Newsies, “[T]he dancing is all performed by teenage boys in vests and newsboy caps. You feel more than a little ridiculous just watching it.”

And he is, of course, right. Newsboys dancing and singing in the streets of New York is pretty ridiculous. And Newsies has plenty of company. Chimney sweeps singing and dancing on the rooftops of London is on the same wavelength of absurdity. And isn’t it silly to imagine an English schoolteacher crooning to the king of Siam about a girl’s first ball? What kind of a nut actually sings in the rain?

Robert G. Lee once remarked, “I have no respect for gangs today. None. They just drive by and shoot people. At least in the old days, like in West Side Story, the gangs used to dance with each other first.” All musicals – even the great classics – are, if you take a long look, ridiculous. Someone once said that in sensible situations people do not sing. That’s only half of it. Even in insensible situations people do not sing, and they never spontaneously perform complex dances together. Never.

But let’s not miss the art for the facts, or enjoyment for analysis. If you can silence your inner nitpicker, you can have a lot of fun with the crooning schoolteachers, and dancing chimney sweeps, and break-dancing newsboys.

First, Get Your Facts …

Writing | Posted by Shannon
Jan 10 2011

Reading, they say, broadens your horizons. So does writing. In fact, it can be even more broadening. Research can take you where your curiosity never would.

Historical fiction demands the most research. The genres that demand less – that can appear to demand very little – are modern fiction and science fiction/fantasy. Modern fiction is about things everyone knows about, and SF about things no one knows about.

In a way, modern fiction is more demanding than SF. After all, if you write about reality you have to be accurate. Sci-fi and fantasy writers just make stuff up. If you write about the New York Stock Exchange and get it wrong, someone will point it out. But who can tell you that you got the Lir Verrian Stock Exchange wrong?

And yet a writer still has to do research, even when he’s just making stuff up. Here are some of things I have researched in writing fantasy and sci-fi stories:

Famous shipboard mutinies in history;

solar flares;

the meanings and legends associated with lilies;

guerrilla warfare – I read an excerpt on the subject written by Mao;

ancient mining techniques (and I have the notes, too!);

how much weight a horse can carry (don’t ask – I forget);

hyparxis;

New Year’s in various cultures;

painting;

character traits associated with scientists;

how far a horse can jump (eight feet – I remember!);

European fairytales;

theories of lightspeed travel;

Gaelic names;

list of characters in the book Johnny Tremain (it’s a bit complicated);

landslides and avalanches;

theories of who/what the Elves were;

theories of multiple dimensions.

CSFF Blog Tour: Someone’s Got to Label

Book Reviews | Posted by Shannon
Jan 05 2011

There’s been a lot of variation in how The Wolf of Tebron is classified. I’ve seen it labeled Children’s, Adult, and Youth; I’ve read reviewers say it was above children and even above teens. I’ve read that it’s good for some teens, good for young adults and up, and good for everyone.

Who is responsible for all this confusion? The publisher, first of all. If they had just told us who the book was good for – if they had printed “Adult’ or “Youth” or “Children” on the cover – we’d have repeated it. Instead, they checked “All of the above.” The book’s back cover assures us that it “will delight readers of any age”.

Obviously, they don’t want to be stuck marketing The Wolf of Tebron to one age group. Some people did agree – and say – that the book is for everyone. But the cumulative effect of the publisher giving it no label was to scatter everyone to the four winds, trying to label it themselves.

I said that the confusion is due first to the publisher. It’s due second to the book itself. If The Wolf of Tebron were made definitively for any age group – think Sesame Street or John Grisham – no one would try to sell it to all of them.

That being said, The Wolf of Tebron is plainly not for children. It has themes of marital jealousy and betrayal, of uncontrolled rage and nearly suicidal despair. Intellectually, it’s also rather heavy for children. All the quotations from Nietzsche, Lewis, and Chesterton are meant for an older crowd.

Nor does the novel bear many of the hallmarks of YA fiction. It is not a coming-of-age story, it does not feature the problems of youth, and its protagonist is not an adolescent. Joran is a young man, but he is a man, with a wife, a house, and a career. (Also, at one point, an impressive beard.) The one trait it does share with YA books is its length: only 272 pages.

The Wolf of Tebron is written above children, and it does not have the most distinguishing features of YA novels. Still, those who label it as a young adult book, and even a children’s book, have their reasons. The book is short, has a limited cast of characters, and a relatively straightforward plot. It’s sold as a fairytale – a term most commonly used for Disney movies. And it is written – and advertised – as continuing in the tradition of a children’s classic.

Finally, there is the publisher’s decision to market The Wolf of Tebron to all ages, but that brings us back to the beginning.

CSFF Blog Tour: The Wolf, the Lion, and the Messiah

Book Reviews | Posted by Shannon
Jan 04 2011

Yesterday I said that there is a strong Christian aspect to The Wolf of Tebron. I wrote a little about it, but there is much more that can be said. Today I hope to say some of it.

I’m afraid that, in order to discuss certain elements of the book, I’m going to have to give away major parts of it. In other words, if you want to remain spoiler-free, abandon hope, all ye who enter here.

The wolf of Tebron is Ruyah. He’s a striking animal, even a kingly one – enormous, his silverish fur capturing and breaking “the light into hundreds of rainbow hues”. Anyone who has read the book will understand why I thought of Aslan. The similarities between wolf and lion run deep. Both reflect Christ in important ways: ageless, more than they appear, coming in a different form, guide to the hero’s journey and ultimately his savior, by a self-sacrificial death.

But the characters diverge in important ways. Aslan is not a constant character in the Narnia books; he can’t be. He’s too big for that. He would overwhelm the other characters, and even the story. His mere presence is overpowering – even to the White Witch. (“If she can stand on her two feet and look him in the face it’ll be the most she can do and more than I expect of her.”)

Ruyah does not overpower. He is constant in The Wolf of Tebron, and he has the fallibility that makes that possible. It works well in the book that Ruyah is tied up by ruffians, and driven away from the Moon’s house by his reaction to her splendor, and fallen under the mesmerizing lull of the Sun’s palace. But it’s impossible to imagine Aslan caught by anyone’s splendor or lull or desire for a valuable pelt. Perhaps the difference between Aslan and Ruyah is most concisely shown by the fact that Joran can think of Ruyah as his wolf.

All this is to illustrate what may be the most fundamental difference between them. Ruyah represents Christlike qualities in the tale; Aslan represents Christ.in Narnia. Ruyah cannot be Christ in Tebron. He isn’t big enough. Nor could Christ appear in any world as being made pure, or as having a physical wife and son, or as being on par with the forces He battles.

The South Wind is a similar case. “She searches into all things and wanders where she wishes, but you do not know where she comes from and where she is going.” 1 Cor. 2:10 states that “the Spirit searches all things.” And Jesus told Nicodemus, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

The use of verses about the Holy Spirit is not coincidental. The South Wind searches Joran’s heart and teaches him the truth. Jesus called the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of truth”. The Nicene Creed teaches that He “has spoken through the prophets”, because we find in the Bible that the Holy Spirit reveals the truth and testifies to the truth.

In The Wolf of Tebron, the South Wind does the same. But as Ruyah is not Christ in Tebron, the South Wind is not the Holy Spirit in Tebron. Jesus, and the Spirit, are God, and Ruyah and the South Wind do not reflect “His eternal power and divine nature”.

So what do they reflect – certain attributes of Jesus and the Holy Spirit? You could say that. It might be even better to say that in this tale, Ruyah represents the work of Christ in saving, and the South Wind represents the work of the Holy Spirit in searching out and revealing the truth.

CSFF Blog Tour: The Wolf of Tebron

Book Reviews | Posted by Shannon
Jan 03 2011

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

How far would you go to save your wife? Would you make good on the old lovers’ promise to go to the ends of the earth? Would you go to the most extreme north, to the house of the Moon? Would you go to the most extreme east, to the palace of the Sun? Would you travel the hot, wet forests of the south, or journey to the unimaginable sea? Would you enter your own dreams?

Most men would have to make a good guess, but Joran – lucky fellow – gets to know for sure. He will discover how far he is willing to go – how far he can go. For his extraordinary journey he has an extraordinary companion: the wolf of Tebron. The wolf is a fearsome and magnificent beast, with an endless supply of wise sayings and apparently nothing to do on the weekends.

The Wolf of Tebron is fantasy, and its world is “wild as an old wives’ tale”. It’s not merely that there’s magic; it’s that everyone knows there is. It isn’t only that people can mindspeak with animals; it’s that mindspeaking is simply a fact of life. The sea is a legend in Tebron, but Joran can believe it exists – almost as easily as he believes that the Moon has a house.

The forest of Tebron is formed by “tall trees with their tops in the heavens, and trunks so thick it would take ten men to circle one of them.” In this one stroke C. S. Lakin makes fairytale live in her story. It brings you, in a sudden rush, to Europe when its forests were huge and alien to the humans who lived alongside them. In folk tales the woods are their own domain – primeval, mysterious, filled with the secret homes of unguessable things.

This element of fantasy is the strongest part of the book. Even the vividness of the characters and the suspense of the plot are fed on it. Joran, as a character, is competent enough, but he doesn’t intrigue like his wise wolf, like the Moon – even the goose woman. You feel pretty sure, reading the novel, that Joran is going to find his wife eventually. You’re not so sure what’s going to happen when he reaches the house of the Moon. The two most compelling sequences of the book had our heroes contending against forces that were more than natural.

I said before that The Wolf of Tebron is its own world. There is no Christianity, no Judaism, no recognizable stand-in for either one. If the humans of Tebron have any regular practice of religion, I didn’t see it. Yet the book has a strong dose of Christian spirituality. At one point wolf and human discuss the “perfect law of freedom” – a phrase taken from James 1:25: “But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this …” Most fantasy novels, when they venture into the pronvinces of Scripture, settle in the Gospels. The Wolf of Tebron, with its allusions to the moral law, Original Sin, and “spiritual forces of evil”, wanders into the Epistles.

The Wolf of Tebron is a quest story, and it has much of the simplicity of the old fairytales. Also like the old fairytales, it has the wonder of a world outside Man’s, with laws that no scientist ever discovered. The spirit of wonder is well-matched by the book’s lyrical prose. If talking animals, anthropomorphic moons, and mysterious dreams ever tugged at your imagination, this book is for you.


The blog tour runs for three days. I am planning to post twice more – tomorrow on the spiritual aspect of The Wolf of Tebron, the day after on its designation as a YA novel. Much more can be learned about the book from:

– the author’s website

– the author’s blog

– the book’s Amazon page

– the other CSFF blog tour reviewers:

Noah Arsenault
Amy Bissell
Red Bissell
Justin Boyer
Keanan Brand
Grace Bridges
Beckie Burnham
Jeff Chapman
Christian Fiction Book Reviews
Carol Bruce Collett
Valerie Comer
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
April Erwin
Andrea Graham
Nikole Hahn
Katie Hart
Ryan Heart
Bruce Hennigan
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Becca Johnson
Jason Joyner
Julie
Carol Keen
Dawn King
Matt Mikalatos
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
Nissa
John W. Otte
Chawna Schroeder
Tammy Shelnut
Kathleen Smith
James Somers
Rachel Starr Thomson
Robert Treskillard
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler