Prism Tour: Dragonwitch

Dragonwitch (Tales of Goldstone Wood #5)The North Star, if you follow it, will lead you north, which gets very cold during the winter. In the North Country, Leta lives a dull life expecting dull things, and Alistair leads a promising life expecting death. Neither yet has any notion of the Far World beyond their world – a world that even now is creeping into their own, and soon enough will burst into it. Then everything they expected and knew will be rearranged.

Dragonwitch is the fifth book in Anne Elisabeth Stengl’s Tales of Goldstone Wood. It may be read as a stand-alone, but it would be better to read Starflower – the immediately preceding book – first. Dragonwitch builds on Starflower to a great extent. And frankly, Dragonwitch is complicated enough in its own right. (Part of this is due to the time-bending of the Far World – an interesting and useful idea, but one that left me thinking a couple times, “What? When did that happen?”)

The book begins gradually, acquainting the readers with the characters, establishing a broad range of elements. Anne Stengl builds a world of legends – some sad, some beautiful, a few horrible, and all compelling. She gives a realness to the places and the people she creates, and as many as they are, they have definition.

I enjoyed seeing Eanrin and Imraldera again, though Eanrin seemed somewhat off to me. He had a mean streak in this book that I did not see in Starflower. Still, he had his charm and his vim, and remained an entertaining and likeable character.

As with Starflower, I was impressed by Anne Stengl’s ability to make her characters – villains and heroes alike – nuanced and sympathetic. There is hardly a character in all of Dragonwitch who is not either likeable or pitiable.

In a way, it made the book sadder. The greatest theme of Dragonwitch is redemption – redemption offered, redemption accepted, redemption rejected. The things that drew characters onto the broad way that leads to destruction, and the things that kept them there, are profound. One character reached to another, offering love and hope, only to be rejected – and there is a deep truth in this. There are always people who spurn grace.

The cost of this profundity is a pall of sadness over the novel. Some characters had a happy ending, and there was a triumph and a hope at the end more important than simple happiness. Yet Dagonwitch felt a little sad to me.

The universe of Dragonwitch is woven not only with fairy tales, but with a sense of spiritual things and spiritual truths. The prose  is tremendous – beautiful and evocative; the story twisted unexpectedly, and the characters made good – or, in some cases, at least interesting – company. Dragonwitch is a lovely book, a book worth reading.

Dragonwitch is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. To find reviews of the book, information about Anne Elisabeth Stengl, and a giveaway of the entire Tales of Goldstone Wood, go to the Book Launch.

As part of the Prism Tour, Anne Stengl has been answering questions about herself and her work. Here is my question, and her answer:

Like the Chronicles of Narnia, your series is written out of Chronological order. In what order would you recommend people to read your books?

Well, I tend to think the Tales of Goldstone Wood are best read in the order they are written. While Heartless is not the first chronologically, I wrote it first because it was the simplest story and, therefore, the best entryway into my rather complex and intricate world. It follows the most classic of fairy tale storylines—Princess, Prince, Dragon—and introduces the most important characters and themes, particularly the dragon mythology. So I think it’s the best place to start since everything builds from there, even the stories that come earlier in the timeline.

That being said, I try to write all of the stories as standalone as possible so that they can be picked up and enjoyed in any order. The only two that have to be read sequentially are Veiled Rose and Moonblood.

And, finally, an announcement from Anne Elisabeth Stengl:

I’m excited to begin hinting at the newest Goldstone Wood project . . . one that will be releasing between Dragonwitch and Shadow Hand. That’s right, dear readers! I am going to be releasing a novella this fall, a little tide-you-over piece until the next novel is ready.

I can’t  share the cover just yet, though that will be coming quite soon now.  But I can let you know what the title will be . . . .

Can you guess what this story might be about?

You heard it here first … possibly. Anyway, thanks for joining on the tour!

Character Profiles: The Spoiled Princess

Gleamdren sulked. She was good at sulking, whether she knew it or not. Her face fell naturally into all the right grooves, letting anyone with eyes know exactly what she thought, which was that the world was not behaving as it ought.
What was this fascination with mortal women? First, Rudiobus falling for the glamourized dragon (which, granted, only looked mortal) and now this! The Eanrin she knew wouldn’t be caught dead speaking to a mortal girl. He certainly wouldn’t drag one along on a noble quest! Was he going to start writing poetry in her honor too? Insufferable man.
And now even the Dragonwitch was enthralled by the little insect. Her dragon. Her captor.
– Anne Elisabeth Stengl, Starflower

Lady Gleamdren Gormlaith was cousin to the queen, the prettiest woman at court, and a renowned collector of suitors. A hundred suitors, all eager to court her, all melting like butter before her every word and gesture.

She was a Spoiled Princess. The Spoiled Princesses of fiction come in a variety of ways. Many of them are literal princesses. Others, like Gleamdren, are of high birth, but not quite that high. Some have reached their status (social and spoiled) through a father’s wealth. This last group crosses with the archetype of Little Rich Girl, and often Heiress, too.

Authors match this diversity of Spoiled Princesses with a diversity of uses for them. In the old fairy tales, they were often included as counterpoints to the Good Princess. A classic example of this is found in certain versions of Beauty and the Beast, where Beauty has two sisters who are rendered endlessly complaining by the loss of their father’s fortune. These Princesses are more moral points than anything else.

In Dragon and Slave, Her Thumbleness is one small step up the ladder – more unlikable than Beauty’s sisters, but also more of a character. A minor character, but at least she has the dignity of providing a vital plot point.

Gleamdren is a secondary character, entertaining and reasonably important to the story, but a clear step behind the main cast. She does not, as they say, experience personal growth. Yet sometimes the Spoiled Princess does experience growth; sometimes she is the heroine.

Demonstrating this – and also why the Little Rich Girl can so easily be the Spoiled Princess – is Charlotte, the English heiress of Masquerade. She gets to take center stage, and consequently endures the painful reckoning so necessary when the heroine is, however slightly or charmingly, a brat. Princess Una, the protagonist of Heartless, is charted a similar heroine’s journey.

I am also going to include, as an example of the Spoiled Princess, the princess who complained about the pea beneath her mattress, because that story has always annoyed me.

The archetype of Spoiled Princess, simple though it seems, may be shrunk or expanded to fill any role from a moral exclamation point to a heroine. You do not expect Spoiled Princesses to be much good, but they are – whether for humor, or for plot twists, or even for a story of redemption.

CSFF Blog Tour: The Hound of Heaven

Among Starflower‘s fine points is its spiritual themes. I found them interesting, and ultimately moving, and in the various devices of Christian fantasy, they were fresh. Fresh, but familiar. I had read something similar in a poem once.

In her Author’s Note, Anne Elisabeth Stengl wrote, “Many of themes found in Starflower were inspired by a beautiful poem written by Francis Thompson. The poem is called ‘The Hound of Heaven’.” Principal among those themes is the imagery of God as the Hound, and us as the quarry, fleeing His love. The conversation between Eanrin and the Hound contains lines adapted from the poem – and, one might add, lines adapted from Paul’s words and from John’s.

Here, then, is a link to the poem, with a lovely and elegant layout; beneath the poem is a brief commentary G. K. Chesterton once gave on it, and a biography of the poet. And here you may hear Richard Burton read The Hound of Heaven.

This poem is not easy reading; I think that anyone besides a Cambridge professor of literature who wants to understand all the words will have to use a Dictionary. The narrator is not afraid to say things like, “Banqueting / With [our Lady-Mother] in her wind-walled palace, / Underneath her azured dais, / Quaffing, as your taintless way is, / From a chalice / Lucent-weeping out of the dayspring.”

Yet there is, first to last, something arresting about the poem. The style and the imagery are astounding – some might say confounding, but never merely dull. More even than that, the poem’s power is the story it tells of Man and of God, of the flight and the chase, the love and the fear. Hard as The Hound of Heaven is, it is worth the effort.

What Is In A Name

If you ever go to the Faerie realms, there are things you should know. One of the first is this: Your true name is your real self. Don’t share it lightly. You are not likely to hear a Faerie’s true name, for they are bound by the same laws and keep their names carefully. But if you do hear a Faerie name – usually by chance, voices drifting from a cottage as you wander by – hold on to it tightly. There’s power in such things.

It’s an idea immemorial in legends and myths and fairy tales: Knowing a person’s name gives you power over him. A variation is that you can dissolve an evil creature’s power over you by naming it. This is classically seen in Rumpelstiltskin, and even better seen in the legend of St. Olaf and the troll.

The importance of names has traveled up these old roots to modern fantasy. In The Hobbit Bilbo riddles his way out of telling Smaug his “proper” name. This, the narrator tells us, is wise. But he did tell Gollum, and that was foolish – though for the prosaic reason that it allowed Gollum to track him down.

Later Treebeard was not so hasty as to give Merry and Pippin his real name, even when they were hasty enough to give him theirs. Aragorn once warned Pippin not to speak the name of Mordor loudly, and he himself went disguised under the name Strider. His true name was revealed with his true nature.

In the Wingfeather Saga, the villains take away the names of their victims. The Overseer called the children in the Fork Factory tools, and told them they had no names. When the Stonekeeper turned people into Fangs, she gave them new names, and they forgot their old ones.

Against this, the Wingfeather children heard their mother’s voice: “Remember who you are.”

Starflower uses the significance of names more traditionally. “There is great power,” says the Dragonwitch, “in a Faerie lord’s name.” And there is. But the true power is in true names, given by the One Who Names Them. Before a creature may truly live, someone says, it must be known by name. Every living thing, be it man or woman, animal or angel, sleeps inside, waiting for that day when it will wake and sing. But until it is called by its true name, it will remain asleep.

A given name does, in Starflower’s world, grant one power to command others – or to be free of their command. But by a true name their souls are wakened and live.

The Bible, too, makes mention of naming, almost from the first. At the creation God named things: the day, the night, the sun, the stars, the moon, the sky. He named Adam, and He brought the animals “to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.”

And that is the real significance of naming: In it, we reflect God’s image. Animals don’t name things, or know their own names. But God names things, and knows His name, and He has given it to us to do the same.

Sometimes, as God worked His will through people, He renamed them. Abram He named Abraham, Sarai He called Sarah, and Jacob, Israel. When God comforted His people, He sometimes told them the new names He would give them. The Holy People. The Redeemed of the LORD. Repairer of Broken Walls. Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. Sought After. The City No Longer Deserted. Beulah, married. Hepzibah, my delight is in her.

In Revelation Jesus Christ declared this promise to His church – to each of us, if we will accept it: “To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.”

CSFF Blog Tour: Starflower

Eanrin has always known to never get involved in the affairs of mortals. If all Faeries had that policy, the Hidden Land would have lived out a happier story. But as the lost daughter of the Eldest walked a road darkened by Faerie, so her path will fatefully cross a Faerie’s again. And again.

In Starflower, Anne Elisabeth Stengl tells the story of Faeries who became involved with mortals, and mortals who became involved with Faeries. Not all were the better for it; nor were all the worst.

Starflower is sold as a fairy tale, and indeed it is. Pieces and elements from all sorts of fairy tales swirl in it – refined, changed, and woven together into a new whole. A few of the old tropes are played for humor – the lady in the tower, princes turned to frogs. Most are used more seriously – enchantments, fairies, shape-changing, dragons.

One of Stengl’s most effective uses is of the law of Faerie. Everyone who has read fairy tales knows that Faerie has its laws, just as immutable as nature’s. In Faerie blessings are true, and curses are facts; vows must be kept, and names have power. Anne Stengl takes this strange code, builds it as surely into her world as the law of gravity, and lets the story flow in its courses.

The Faerie characters are realized in the uniqueness of their nature and experience. But different as they are, they are not wholly alien, and readers can understand them like people. The humans in the story are just as finely done. Stengl handles her cast with great sympathy, making flawed characters likeable and villains pitiable.

The world – or worlds, I could say – of Starflower beat with life. Some are grim, some are beautiful, some are treacherous, most are dangerous – but all are alive. You can almost feel the hot streets of Etalpalli, the humid swamp, the stony way to the Place of the Teeth.

There is very little to criticize in this book. The most I can say is that I did not understand Starflower’s sudden distrust of the poet, nor did I consider it believable. In all its main elements, Starflower excelled. It is beautifully written, a pleasure to read. The spiritual strains in the story were profound and moving. The story was unexpected, and landscapes and people rose up brilliantly from the pages. This book was a surprise to me. I had expected it to be good, but I didn’t think it would be incredible.

And now, for the interested reader, we have –

Starflower on Amazon

– the author’s website

– the author’s Facebook page

– And the roll for the blog tour – we few, we happy few, we band of brothers …

Phyllis Wheeler

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