CSFF Blog Tour: The Hero’s Lot

Even if your enemy has any number of vicious cutthroats, and still more vicious ferrals, at his command, one could see reason in hunting him down, if the necessity were great enough. But when your enemy can see you coming from a thousand miles away, one would strain hard to see any reason in taking up the hunt.

So it’s doubtful that anyone in Illustra saw the sense of going after the traitor Valon, least of all the people who actually did.

The Hero’s Lot is the second book in the series The Staff and the Sword, written by Patrick W. Carr. As in the first book, politics and intrigue worthy of our own world combine with the first principles of epic fantasy – kings, prophecies, swords, other-worldly beings, other-worldly powers and dangers.

I believe that, on the whole, the second book was better than the first. It got to the heart of the matter, weighing what hangs in the balance, painting sharply the looming threats. This novel also provided a more nuanced view of the Church, portraying more good along with the bad, and giving hints as to how so many in the Church had lost their way.

I noticed the unnecessary repetition of the first book here, too. Overall I thought the problem was lesser, but it did manifest itself in a new way. Rather than the author repeating a word, the characters repeated each other’s thoughts once or twice. For example, one character tested the veracity of the lots by asking a very simply question: “Is Martin a priest?” Many pages later, a different character – one who missed the previous demonstration entirely – also tested the lots’ reliability with a question: “Is Martin a priest?”

There was more violence in this book than I liked; it got quite dark a few times. Yet I felt, in The Hero’s Lot, more of the heart of religion, and not merely the forms: in the revelation of truth, in the guidance of Aurae and in characters’ submission to him, in seeing – if only briefly – the change and the brotherhood faith brought to men in the dark city of a lost country.

I hope to see more of Liam in the third book. He’s vital to the story but rarely involved, and it would be good if he could take a place on the stage; he is, after all, in the same boat as Errol.

The Hero’s Lot is a complex fantasy, detailed in the peoples and history and religions of its world. Sword-swinging alternates with scheming, action with deep exploration. The series continues next year, with A Draw of Kings, and I hope to be there.

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

Not to put too fine a point on it, Errol Stone is a drunk. Drinking is the only thing he’s good at.

That, and running errands over the Cripples. In an effort to earn more ale money, he agreed to take a message to the hermit-priest. So he got involved in the Church, and the watch, and discovered all sorts of things he was good at. Living is not necessarily one of them.

With A Cast of Stones, Patrick W. Carr begins his adult fantasy series The Staff and the Sword. In his world there are echoes of our world; blond hair is signature to the Soedes, and red hair and lilting speech signature to those from Erinon.

The Church, above all, rings with the echoes – with their sacrament of bread and wine, their divine Trinity, their priests and monks and liturgy. It hails, too, back to the worst days of the Catholic Church – with its wealth, its power and abuse of power, its persecution even of believers.

The most original idea of the book is the readers and their ability to cast lots. Compulsions form another fascinating, other-worldly element. Another such element, the malus, are plainly based on the Christian doctrine of devils, with, perhaps, some inspiration from the Nephilim. It’s by no means a new idea, but it is a compelling one and Carr executes it with skill.

A Cast of Stones is Patrick Carr’s first novel, but you couldn’t tell from the writing. It had a high degree of polish, though I would offer this piece of advice to Mr. Carr: Avoid too much repetition of certain words. You should only describe a character’s eyes as “glittering” so many times in the same chapter, and you should almost never use two slightly different versions of the same word in a single sentence. (The worst instance of this in the novel was, “A line of shelves lined the wall” – for which, oddly enough, I almost blame the editor more than the author.)

I think the greatest error of the novel was that the author didn’t do enough to sell the vital point of preserving the kingdom. Important characters – protagonists, what’s more – are primarily motivated by saving the kingdom, to the point that they will sacrifice themselves and others.

But readers could well wonder why the kingdom is worth the sacrifice. Every authority, every institution seems dominated by corruption and arrogance. Injustice is painted again and again – in the punishing of the innocent, or the overly-harsh punishing of the guilty. The anarchy of the caravans suggests a society in political and moral disarray. Worse, readers were not made to feel the suffering that the kingdom’s collapse would cause, nor did the characters who wanted to save the kingdom give much impression of loving it.

A Cast of Stones is a fine novel – well-written, with a well-constructed fantasy world that gives the feel of complex societies, of vast and diverse countries. I enjoyed the real-world texture, as well as the fantastical threads. A Cast of Stones sets out to be a fantasy novel for adults – and succeeds.

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

CSFF Blog Tour: Unfashionable Furniture

When I saw that A Cast of Stones – showcased this week in the CSFF blog tour – was listed as adult fantasy, it made me happy. Maybe unduly happy.

I was glad for the adult label for the reason that the majority of the speculative books I’ve recently read are labeled YA or younger. I have enjoyed these novels; the YA label means that the principal characters will be under twenty, but not much more. These books – sold as they are to a younger crowd – are fit for adults, too.

C.S. Lewis once weighed forth – or possibly it was Tolkien; either way, an estimable person you ought to listen to weighed forth – that fairy tales ended up in the nursery for the same reason old furniture did: It had gone out of fashion. That was a long time ago. Today speculative fiction – in many ways our modern fairy tales – is often directed, as the old fairy tales were, to the very young.

And I wonder why. Why are so many speculative books, perfectly decent for adult reading, pitched to teens and children? Why are so many speculative books written to them, reducing the age of the heroes, reducing the page count?

Is it a matter of fashion? I don’t think so; I don’t know. The current fashions are not an area of high knowledge for me.

Is it because adults won’t read speculative books? In my observation, adults read even speculative fiction that stars twelve-year-olds. But maybe it’s the crowd I’m around.

Is it driven by the market understanding of publishers? At the Realm Makers conference early this month, Jeff Gerke said that, in the mainstream publishing houses, the speculative genre is not expanding – except in YA. Maybe writers feel that to get an audience they have to aim their stories beneath adults.

Whatever the explanation, I’m glad to read a Christian fantasy written for adults. I’m glad to read a Christian fantasy about adults. To learn more about this rare bird, follow the links –

To the author’s website;

To A Cast of Stones [Book One] on Amazon;

To The Hero’s Lost [Book Two] on Amazon;

To the blog tour (reviews up in some places today!):
Julie Bihn
Jennifer Bogart
Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
Jeff Chapman
Laure Covert
Pauline Creeden
Emma or Audrey Engel
April Erwin
Nikole Hahn
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen

Krystine Kercher

Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Writer Rani

Nathan Reimer
Chawna Schroeder
Jojo Sutis

Steve Trower
Phyllis Wheeler

Rachel Wyant

Realm Makers

With Realm Makers come and gone more than two weeks ago, the initial Internet buzz has begun to subside. Already most bloggers who want to throw in their two cents have done so.

So here am I, late to the party.

I first heard about the Realm Makers conference in May, through Speculative Faith. They said it would be a conference for writers and readers – mainly writers – of Christian speculative fiction. Also, it would be on a university campus in St. Louis – only a couple hundred miles from my town. I was sold.

Two of my sisters went with me – Meghan, who does a lot of script-writing over at Myristica Studios, and Keenan, who was up for an adventure in St. Louis.

Now, St. Louis is a bona fide big city; it has a card and everything. You start feeling it thirty miles out on the interstate. By the time you get near, the highway is fluxing between four and five and six lanes, to accommodate the multitude of drivers getting off and on the multitude of exits. It doesn’t necessarily help that the obvious natives flash across the lanes with great purpose and even greater speed. Meghan, who was driving, said it reminded her of Alice in Wonderland: “People come and go so quickly here.”

Getting off into St. Louis from the interstate required a handful of highway changes, all in fairly short order. We worried about getting lost in the city’s web of highways, but we didn’t.

We got lost on the campus. Later we got lost on the elevator. But we worked that out, and the next morning we went to the J. C. Penny conference center for Realm Makers’ opening.

Realm Makers is the first conference of any order I have attended, and I didn’t know that eighty people is really good for a Christian speculative fiction conference until Jeff Gerke said so. Jeff Gerke gave the opening and closing speeches of the conference – entertaining and informative, both of them. L.B. Graham delivered an interesting speech about worldview in fiction, and Bryan Davis taught a very good session about the hero’s journey. (He does these things a lot, and you can tell.)

Kathy Tyers was a premier highlight of the conference; it was fun to hear about her writing career, Star Wars and otherwise, and it was encouraging to hear how Jesus is a part of her story. Also, she seemed like such a nice, sweet person; it was enough to make you want to buy her books.

The audience was very appreciative of her. But the audience was appreciative generally. There was a lot of applause, a lot of laughing and joking, and a sense of camaraderie. (Particularly when the word weird came up. Make of that what you will.) The people at the conference – speakers and otherwise – reminded me of what Woody said when he was trying, in Toy Story 3, to convince the toys that being in the attic wasn’t so bad: “And those guys from the Christmas decorations box. They’re fun, right?”

The last event of the conference was a multi-author book signing, in which I obtained autographs from Bryan Davis, Kathy Tyers, Robert Treskilliard, and Jeff Gerke. That was fun.

I have no thoughts to offer here about where Realm Makers will go from here, or where it ought to go. I’ll content myself with the observation that it was good as far as it did go, and I’m glad I attended.

So are Meghan and Keenan, by the way.

CSFF Blog Tour: Dual Worlds

The back cover of Captives declares it “Teen Fiction”. I would need to think about that.

My fourteen-year-old sister showed interest in this book, after she saw me reading it; I warned her off it. Though discreetly handled, the drug addiction and sensual indulgence were more than I felt comfortable with her reading; nor was I sure that this is the time to initiate an exploration of how pregnancies can be created via medical procedures.

There are things in Captives that some parents would reject for their teens, too-vivid pictures of sin that innocence doesn’t need. Yet I can see how the morals and themes of the novel are suited for young adults more than anyone else – older teens, maybe younger twenties. For, you see, the dual worlds of this dystopia are not too unlike the dual worlds of our present time.

The world is not as dissolute or libertine as the Safe Lands; the Christian community is not as strict or isolated as Glenrock. Yet the parallels may be drawn long.

The Christian community, like Glenrock, has a sternness – you could almost say a harshness – that stands against the looseness of worldly ways. “Take the straight and narrow path, or you’ll go to hell;” “Don’t do that, don’t go there, don’t even think about that.” A Christian is called by the unyielding will and holiness of God to a web of commands and duties.

And the young, brought up in that web and looking out, see the world – all awhirl, glittering with lights and flashing with colors. It promises all you could ever want.

So the Safe Lands were to Mia and Omar, and they believed the promise. But as the whole book shows, the beauty of the world is shallow, and beneath the foam of pleasure is an ocean of despair.

The lessons of Captives – how one can be corrupted by bad company, how the small falls make the large ones easy, how deceptive the world’s seduction is – are good for anyone, but best for those who are facing the temptation of the world for the first time. There are teens who could be invaluably instructed by this book.

But it must be said, there are other ways to learn the same lessons, and some of the scenes are gritty. Whether Captives is indeed “Teen Fiction” is a question I give up to discretion and authority of the parents.

CSFF Blog Tour: Captives

There are two worlds, separate of their own choosing. In the Safe Lands, all is pleasure and comfort and convenience, greased by the omnipresent wonders of technology – except for the thin plague, and until the time of liberation.

In little Glenrock, life is harder and the rules are stricter – but there is the freedom to go, and even to stay much longer.

These two worlds disdain each other on the basis of what they think they know, and keep wide apart – their orbits separated by a stretch of miles, a rising mountain. But that distance – though so long honored – is easily crossed. And when it is, in all the meetings and conflicts that follow, many will have cause to revise what they think, on the basis of what they really do know.

Captives – written by Jill Williamson – is a dystopian novel that takes place in the year 2088. There are some hints of what destroyed our present world – pandemics, the pollution of the earth’s water – but the main focus is on the fractured world that replaced it. Glenrock and its nearby villages are juxtaposed against the Safe Lands, with a few tantalizing mentions thrown toward places such as Denver City and Wyoming.

Jill Williamson explores these societies in great depth. Captives is one of the finest examples of world-building I have ever seen. Williamson’s treatment of these cultures is comprehensive – their family and power structures, their laws, their moral codes, their technology, their history, their cultural suppositions.

Also their benefits, flaws, and blind spots. It is part of the complexity and realism of Captives that no individual or culture is represented as entirely good. One world is clearly better than the other, but both have their own errors, and no one living in either one is entirely right or wrong.

Williamson handles the meeting of these worlds with consummate skill, and allows it to guide the spiritual themes of the story with utter naturalness. The worlds don’t only clash; they intrigue and even tempt. Through the story – what is done far more than what is said – Williamson delivers a powerful lesson in temptation and how people are led astray.

Although always well-done, there were times I did not enjoy Captives. The ‘grit’ – the sin, the temptation, the dissolution – wore on me. There was an excellent moral in watching a neglected teenager fall into bad company and a drug habit, but it was no fun. I am not sure the story needed every bit of grit it had; I know I didn’t.

At one point in the story, one of the outsiders said that the Safe Lands were “both fascinating and discouraging”. So was Captives, to a large extent. I’m still interested in the series – I’m hoping that, having set up the libertine dissolution of the Safe Lands, it will move on a bit – and it is fascinating.

Captives is a phenomenally well-crafted dystopia, guided by Christian spiritual understanding and with enough sympathetic characters* to add human interest to the dystopian intrigue. Take under advisement.

The links to other reviewers are at the bottom of my last post. Captives is marked as teen fiction – a label I will have something to say about tomorrow, but not today. I’ve already said plenty today.

[minor spoilers] * Like Omar and Mason and Shaylinn and Ciddah, but not Levi. He was kind of a jerk sometimes, especially when he was told that a woman’s baby was going to be taken away and Mr. Compassion responded: “Not my problem.” I hated that.

CSFF Blog Tour: Dystopian Dreaming

In the 1930s, civil war wracked Spain. Under the banner of the Republic, socialists and anarchists and Communists threw in their lot together; the Nationalists – granted force by the military and the Catholic Church – responded to the fears of the middle class.

Josef Stalin supported the Republic with arms – always for a price – and controlled the Spanish Communist Party through his agents. In 1937 he reached for even greater power over the Republic, and Caballero, their chosen leader, resisted him; that was the end of Caballero. In due time the Soviets arranged a coup, overthrowing Caballero as head of the Republic and replacing him with a puppet of their own choosing. Thus enabled, the Communists – themselves under the terror of Stalin’s brutal enforcers – took over the Republic of Spain.

And then – following the script Stalin had already written for Russia – the Communists began a purge, the slaughter of their erstwhile political allies. The Republic, while still in a civil war with the Nationalists, entered into a civil war with each other. The Communists tortured and murdered their fellow Leftists by the thousands. Many foreigners were marked for murder; some managed to escape.

George Orwell was among them. After fleeing the bloodbath, he attempted to expose it in print. One editor turned him down on the grounds that it would damage Western support for the Republic.

That editor was wrong. When Orwell finally got his story printed, it affected the Republic very little. The 1930s intellectual elite were more entranced with Communism than the truth, more concerned about Stalin than about the cruelties engulfing life after life in Spain. They assured the victory of the brilliant Communist propaganda.

In a 1946 essay called “Why I write”, Orwell stated, “The Spanish war and other events in 1936-37 turned the scale and thereafter I knew where I stood. Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it.”

Three years later, he published 1984, modeling his hero Emanuel Goldstein after Andres Nin, a Spanish political leader murdered by the Stalinists in the Republic’s fratricide.

Dystopias are the nightmares of their authors, which are in some measure the nightmares of their societies. They write what they see and what they fear. George Orwell, emerging from the horrors of the 1930s, wrote about totalitarian states, their cruelty and their conquest of truth.

In Captives, Jill Williamson builds a dystopia of our own phantoms – polluted earth, Big Brother, complete social collapse, the final scrapping of all traditional morality. Today Captives begins its CSFF blog tour; I’ll be along with my review later. You can begin your exploration of this twenty-first century dystopia here:

Captives on Amazon;

Jill Williamson’s website;

and, of course, the blog tour:

Julie Bihn
Thomas Fletcher Booher
Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
Morgan L. Busse
Jeff Chapman
Pauline Creeden

Emma or Audrey Engel
Victor Gentile
Timothy Hicks
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
Asha Marie Pena
Nathan Reimer
Chawna Schroeder
Jojo Sutis
Jessica Thomas
Steve Trower
Phyllis Wheeler
Rachel Wyant

Prism Tour Review: King

Akabe’s highest aspiration is to rebuild a holy house for the Infinite. His highest priority is staying alive. As the followers of Atea seek to make him king no longer – in the most final and irreversible way possible – he struggles to stay ahead of the knife’s-edge of their schemes.

Choosing an Atean queen would probably not help. But Akabe might see it as necessary, for his highest aspiration.

King follows Prophet and Judge in R. J. Larson’s fantasy series; Prophet was one of the finalists for the Clive Staples Award. Spiritually, the book is in an Old Testament era, with a prophet, pagan deities, and hints of the coming salvation; socially, it is in a medieval era, with kings, swords, and lords.
A fantasy element is present, especially in such things as the monster-horse. But it was more limited than I would have expected. I cannot recall one instance of “magic”. R. J. Larson had a number of inventive creatures – animals, and not other sentient races; the conception of the “god-king” was intriguing and effectively executed.

King is a strongly spiritual novel, plainly Christian and occasionally echoing biblical stories. The religious themes and conversations felt genuine to the characters and the world. R. J. Larson also blended humor into the novel.

I think I would have enjoyed King more had I read the earlier books of the trilogy. I followed the plot well enough, but I’m sure I missed something. The beginning was slow to me as the author picked up the threads of her story, and it took me a little while to work out the characters’ relationships to each other. The denouement was well-done and moving, and would have felt even more so had I known the characters’ whole journeys.
With likable characters, a fresh world, and a powerful measure of spirituality, King is a fine addition to Christian fantasy.


   Amazon * Barnes & Noble 

R.J. Larson is the author of numerous devotionals featured in publications such as Women’s Devotional Bible and Seasons of a Woman’s Heart. She lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with her husband and their two sons. Prophet marks her debut in the fantasy genre.



Map Puzzle Tour…

22 – Launch!

Kien (Judge cover) is the original owner of the map… the scrolling mimics his sword…

Follow the tour to reveal the entire map!

23 – ADDLibrarian – Review
          Rose & Beps Blog  “Compass”
24 – TheWonderings of One Person – Review

25 – TheOther World  “Beginnings”
26 – Piecesof Whimsy – “Romance & Action”
29 – JoJo’sCorner  – Review
          Christy’s Cozy Corner  – Tracelands Recipe

30 – Proud Book Nerd – Munra – Siphra “upstart” king!
          JL Mbewe – Review
1 – Worthy 2Read – Review
2 – Mommasez… – Review
4 –  Backing Books – Review
5 – Shannon’sBlog – Review
          Mel’s Shelves – Review
6  – A Year of Jubilee Reviews – Review
          A Tiffyfit’s Reading Corner 
8 – TellTale Book Reviews  – Review

 – CTF Devourer – Review

9 – Grand Finale


And finally, my piece of the puzzle: