CSFF Blog Tour: Creative License

Yesterday I wrote that, in Karyn Henley’s Angelaeon Circle, God is not really God and the angels are not really angels. Chawna Schroeder and Julie Bihn wrote similar criticisms, going into Scripture to show the difference between Karyn Henley’s angels and God’s.

Becky Miller wrote that the angels in the Angelaeon Circle are invented beings who should not be taken as representative of true angels. She also pointed out that the debate about which fantasy novels are Christian includes works as respected as Lord of the Rings.

We all would agree that, in telling and enjoying stories, Christians have broad creative license. New worlds with strange races and different natural laws – that is permitted. The question is this: What sort of creative license do we have in portraying God and angels in these speculative worlds?

I will take the question regarding God first, because it is more important and also easier to answer. Whenever Christians write of God – even in fantasy worlds – everything they write must be true. There’s enough room in this universe to imagine a thousand different planets and races, but there is not room enough to imagine a different God.

I don’t think that every Christian fantasy has to bring God into the picture. But if any does, it must be true to Scripture. Silence is better than a false portrayal. In the Angelaeon Circle, everyone acknowledges that the Most High exists – and usually acts as if it doesn’t matter. Even the angels rarely take him into account. A story like Lord of the Rings, where the heroes don’t talk about God, is more Christian than a story where the heroes treat Him as negligible.

As for the angels, I wouldn’t lay down an absolute principle there. Some reviewers have been bothered by Karyn Henley’s unbiblical angels, some haven’t been, and I understand and respect both positions. Each to his own conscience and his own judgment.

But it might clarify things if writers would decide at the beginning whether they really want angels. Do they want holy, celestial beings who do not marry, die, or procreate? If the answer is yes, then they should portray angels as they are.

If the answer is no, and what they really want is beings who are only sort of like angels, then they should invent a new race and a name for them to go by. After all, if it doesn’t walk like a duck, and it doesn’t quack like a duck, and it doesn’t look like a duck – why call it a duck?

CSFF Blog Tour: Eye of the Sword

Trevin, newly made a comain for the king, was sent on a quest to find allies for the kingdom. And the missing comains. And an oracle. And a magical harp. And himself.

He quickly got sidetracked into the right direction. On a ranging search, from the mountains to the edge of the sea, he found more than he would have dreamed.

In Eye of the Sword, Karyn Henley irons out many of the wrinkles of the preceding book. The story is more focused, the characters steadier in their objectives – and more analytical in their actions.

The writing is smooth, the style pleasing. Other successes of the first book hold up: The plot moves at a good pace, the characters are individual and real. Although small in scope – no place seems hard to get to – the world is varied and rich.

Eye of the Sword suffered a little from repetition. You can only describe a character as husky so many times, especially in a 233-page book. What is more important, the “I am your father” card is overplayed in this series. Karyn Henley’s uses are interesting and emotionally compelling, but this sort of thing should not be done often even when it is done well. This is the only book I have ever read where the entire main cast could be put on the same family tree.

The Angelaeon Circle is billed Christian fantasy, and the influence of Christianity may be felt. But it has also the feel of a kind of cleansed pagan mythology. The old gods are dethroned and tamed; now servants of the Most High, they’re generally good and go under the name “angel”.

Which they aren’t. They wander about, well-meaning but flawed, exercising their special powers and ruling their special domains, mating with humans and raising superpowered offspring. Also, they die. And they can’t get back to heaven without their stairway.

But the troubling thing is not that the angels are not really angels. It’s that God is not really God. The novels are firmly monotheistic, but the monotheism itself strikes one discordant note after another.

A few stray mentions are thrown to the Most High, but for all that it matters to the story or the characters, he might as well not exist. Even the priests and priestesses show only rote devotion. Neither humans nor angels waste much thought or emotion on their creator.

In their defense, he doesn’t appear to waste much on them, either. The Most High seems distant, almost cold. He may have created that world, but he has largely signed off the running of it. There is a character called Windweaver, an angel who directs the winds, and I enjoyed him. But our God doesn’t appoint a Windweaver; He is the Windweaver. He feeds the birds, and He clothes the grass of the fields.

Nor is it only winds and oceans that the Most High leaves to angels. He even lets them figure out what to do with souls that are trapped on earth after the stairway to heaven is destroyed.

I recall two serious discussions of the Most High in the series. In the first – written in Breath of Angel – Melaia asks why the Most High doesn’t intervene. She is told: “What human will destroyed, human will must restore.”

The justice of that cannot be denied. Yet think of what our religion would be if God had that attitude toward us. “You made this mess. You clean it up.”

In the second discussion, this one in Eye of Angel, the Most High is called the “father-mother of the universe”. I don’t know what, exactly, Karyn Henley meant by that. But the formulation is unquestionably pagan.

And it is reinforced by two unfortunate coincidences. “The Most High” is gender-neutral – and I cannot recall anyone in the novels referring to the Most High as “he” or “him”. Furthermore, the Most High is served by priestesses in temples – another thing that carries the taste of paganism. The God we call Father chose only priests to serve in His temple. But it makes sense that the “father-mother of the universe” should have priestesses, too.

I have dwelt a long time on this, but it was only a small element in the novels. It can be ignored; it can even be missed. I am also bound to note that the wrongful impression is created in large part by omission. Karyn Henley can, if she chooses, reverse it in succeeding books.

It is only fair, after all this, to stress the good in Eye of the Sword. As a story it was well-crafted, and it has the proper fascination of the genre. If the mythology is as much pagan as Christian – that is for each reader to weigh according to his own judgment.

And now, for further elucidation and for buying opportunity, we have the tour links:

Eye of the Sword on Amazon;

Karyn Henley’s website,


and Facebook page;

And, always last but never least, the CSFF reviewers:

Julie Bihn
Thomas Fletcher Booher
Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
Jackie Castle
Brenda Castro
Jeff Chapman
Theresa Dunlap
Cynthia Dyer
Victor Gentile
Ryan Heart
Janeen Ippolito
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Emileigh Latham
Rebekah Loper
Karen McSpadden
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Anna Mittower
Mirriam Neal
Faye Oygard
Nathan Reimer
Chawna Schroeder
Kathleen Smith
Donna Swanson
Jessica Thomas
Steve Trower
Shane Werlinger
Phyllis Wheeler

And before I forget:

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

CSFF Blog Tour: Breath of Angel

It is one thing to wonder if angles are real; it is another to wonder if you should trust them.  And it is something else entirely to wonder if you are an angel.

Karyn Henley’s Breath of Angel begins in a temple, where everything is clear and the world is limited. When the novice priestess Melaia is drawn out, she discovers that certainty is elusive and the truth is wild – even the truth about herself.

The world of Breath of Angel is painted with precision, with colors deep and bright. It feels tangible, each part crafted individually. Henley has populated it with all sorts of creatures – some wonderful, some strange, and some horrible.

The characters are also varied, also well-drawn. Melaia herself stands out – a more memorable and more flawed heroine than fantasy usually gives. The plot feels a bit flighty – without steady objectives, dangerous turns in the story given no meaning – but it keeps you entertained beginning to end.

Artistically, the book had two main errors. For the first, Karyn Henley plunged into the story without laying the groundwork. Halfway into the book, she was still springing basic facts on the readers. The first revelations, and some of the later ones, came without proper build-up.

The second error is that characters repeatedly did things that made no sense. It makes no sense that the villain should waltz in and proclaim his secret identity to four young girls; it makes no sense that the heroes set off on dangerous missions without considering the details. (“Say, does anybody know where, in this large building full of hostile persons, we need to go?”)

On the moral side, the tactic of dressing like a “street woman” to slip past guards was wrong on several levels.

These missteps dampen the novel, yet it remains enjoyable. Breath of Angel weaves a vivid world and a rich mythology, in a story that never stops.

Note: Breath of Angel is Book One in the Angelaeon Cirlce; Book Two, Eye of the Sword, is the featured book of this month’s CSFF blog tour, and I hope to review it tomorrow.