Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Warden and the Wolf King


Title: The Warden
          and the Wolf King

Series: Wingfeather Saga #4

Author: Andrew Peterson

Genre: Mid-grade Adventure/Fantasy

Rating: Craft—4, Content—3,
Overall—3.5 stars out of 5
 

Excerpt from “The Slog of War,” Chapter 1 of The Warden and the Wolf King:

“What happens next?”

“How am I supposed to know? I’ve never been in a war.”

“But we’ve been here for three hours at least. And we haven’t eaten a thing.”

“Look, all I know is we’re supposed to sit here and be quiet until the tribes are finished pledging—or whatever it’s called. And we’re all hungry, but at least you don’t get cold.”

“How many tribes are left?”

“You can count.”

“Wait, how many tribes did we start with?”
“Kal, can you just find some way to be interested in what’s going on? Mama said this hasn’t happened in decades. And they’re here for you, after all. The least you can do is show some interest. Shh! Here comes a tribesman.”

Janner and Kalmar sat on a wooden platform overlooking the Field of Finley, now covered with snow. These were the fields, Janner remembered, where many years ago Podo Helmer had won the heart of Wendolyn Igiby by competing in the games of the Bannick Durga against the roughest and rowdiest of the Hollowsfolk. But there were no games today. Today was about war. Which meant boredom.

Three siblings work to use their gifts to end an evil ruler’s reign of terror and reclaim their homeland.


Craft: The Warden and the Wolf King marks the end of the Wingfeather Saga, and it does so in dramatic fashion as the Lost Jewels seek to reclaim their homeland from the Nameless one.

As a result, the story is filled with intense action and high tension for the most part. The opening drags a little, as various elements are set into place, but soon battle lines are drawn, wars are being fought, and risky plans are set into motion. From that point on, there is no catching one’s breath.

The cast, which has grown with each successive book, now stretches across two continents. Yet the characters remain unique and easy to identify as each faces their own personal battle within the larger scope of the story. Arcs are completed with satisfaction, though some of the secondary characters’ feel rushed a bit at the end (Sara, Artham) in order to bring the story to a rapid close. 

The one downside to all this is that The Warden and the Wolf King is very serious and even dark in tone. It is the logical conclusion of the story that has been built, as each book in the series has become more somber. Nonetheless, the tongue-in-cheek humor and rollicking fun of book one, the elements which first drew me to this series, have now been shoved far into the background of the story, and that saddens me some. Sometimes it is nice to have a lighthearted series that provides a simple, comical adventure to lose yourself in.

But once I get past my original expectations of the series, The Warden and the Wolf King offers a sound conclusion to the Wingfeather Saga.

Content: I only say The Warden and the Wolf King provides a sound conclusion, because though it is the logical end, it lacks, at least for me, the final pressure release that comes with the satisfying end of a good story—you know, the kind that allows you to close the cover of a novel with a big sigh of contentment (or that bittersweet smile with a sadder ending), knowing that all has cumulated as it should. 

Again, it’s not this ending is ill-chosen for the story; indeed, it suits the story, the logical end for both the book and the series. However, it doesn’t satisfy. Instead, it feels oppressive, suffocating and even a touch hopeless. Perhaps it because the end is kept short, so we don’t get a chance to really absorb the shock of what has happened in the final climax, much less savor the results in a way that convinces us that this really was how it had to happen. Nor does the predominance of death throughout the story help, especially when you remember the target readership is from elementary school to early middle school. Indeed, if it weren’t for the brief epilogue, even I, as an adult, would have found the end crushing.

That said, this story has much going for it thematically, as it provides strong illustrations of the power of a name and the impact of fulfilling one’s calling, among other things.

Concerning other typical gray areas, there’s no sexuality and only some light romantic threads. Violence is a bit higher in this book—there is a war going on—but it is done in typical fantasy style.

The supernatural also comes more the fore in the story. Much of the “magical” elements are perceived as either evil, attributed to non-human characters, or straight from the Creator. It does push the boundaries some with the three children’s abilities to use their supernatural gifts basically on whim. But for the most part, I don’t see the use of the supernatural as problematic.

 
Summary: The Warden and the Wolf King turns in the final installment of the Wingfeather Saga with high dramatic fashion. But while the ending fits the story, it is more unsettling than satisfying, and extra caution may need to be exercised with younger readers due to the resulting darker tone. Otherwise, many readers will find this a thrilling conclusion to a rollicking adventure.

Rating: Craft—4, Content—3, Overall—3.5 stars out of 5

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

Monday, July 21, 2014

July 2014 CSFF Tour

This month the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy tour is featuring final installment in the Wingfeather Saga, The Warden and the Wolf King, by Andrew Peterson.

I'll be posting a full review tomorrow, but in the meantime, here's the pertinent links for those participating this month:

Keanan BrandBeckie Burnham
Pauline CreedenVicky DealSharingAunt
Carol GehringerVictor Gentile
Ryan HeartBruce Hennigan
Jason Joyner, Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher, Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller, Nissa
Writer Rani, Nathan Reimer
Jojo Sutis, Rachel Starr Thomson
Shane Werlinger, Phyllis Wheeler

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Dream Treaders

Title: Dream Treaders

Series: Book #1

Author: Wayne Thomas Batson

Genre: Teen Fantasy (Multiple Dimensions)

Ratings: Craft—4, Content—3, Overall—3.5 out of 5 stars


Excerpt from “Night Terrors,” Chapter 1 of Dream Treaders:

The howls grew louder. The hounds were closer, closing in.

“They’ve got my scent!” Archer Keaton growled as he raced down the moonlit mountain path into a misty dell full of black pines. “Gotta throw them off.” But how? Then he knew.

Archer launched himself skyward. He let his feet brush the treetops a moment, and then purposefully let himself crach down through the crisscrossing pin branches.

Creak. “Ouch.” Crunch. “Oof!” Crack! “Oww!”

The fourteen-year-old yelped with each bounce, smack, and breaking branch. He tumbled to the ground in a sticky heap. When he stood up and tried to brush the pine needles from his coat, vest, and pants, the sap kept most of them glued tight. “Good,” Archer whispered. “The more sap, the better. Now, gotta go!”

He broke out from beneath the pines and sprinted across the uneven ground. The howls were still there. Deep, throaty, mournful howls. And they were still getting closer.


Craft: Dream Treaders presents a fascinating premise where dreams gain substance and meshes with reality in unexpected ways.

For the most part, the adventure promised is delivered with high action in a surreal fantasy realm. Unfortunately, I still struggled to get into the story. I didn’t connect with the characters at first, but rather found them reckless and somewhat self-centered. Their more redeeming qualities were simply buried too far into the book. So while the plotting is strong, it wasn’t compelling enough to propel the first half of the book without the character connection.

However, in the end, all the elements come together, creating an exciting adventure through the latter chapters of the book.

Content: I found the content of Dream Treaders . . . mixed. On the one hand, though the book doesn’t seem to have a strong, central theme (at least as far as I observed), Dream Treaders has many good things to say about keeping one’s word, the consequences of choices, and the problems of ignoring authority or wise advice.

On the other hand, I am slightly concerned about some of the spiritual/supernatural elements. The ability of a human to change/distort reality (e.g. turn a knife into flowers), seemingly on whim, seems to border on certain traits of occultic magic. Also I question how the main character can have such close ties to the angelic (Gabriel) while ignorant of the God Gabriel serves. Likewise, Scripture is also conspicuously absent, all authority and instruction pulled from the special “Dreamtreaders” book.

Yes, I understand about the use of allegory. I also realize some of the spiritual elements may be concealed, even suppressed some, in order to reach a wider audience with this first book. But the character of God does not change nor the basic principles derived from that character, no matter the storyworld—and especially not in one rooted in the real world.

Now I haven’t seen a direct violation. Rather, my concern arises from areas of potential problems. However, since Mr. Batson has proven trustworthy in other books I’ve read of his, I’m willing to wait a bit longer for explanations, in hope they will resolve those potential problems.

Concerning other gray areas, there’s no language that I am aware of and no sexuality, though there are hints of a romance thread. There also exist moderate amounts of fantasy violence and a couple of school fist fights. Finally, the main character disobeys a direct order and shows a tendency to defy authority, but each time with consequences, some of them quite severe.


Summary: Dream Treaders offers a fantastical adventure full of action within a well-built storyworld. I personally found the characters difficult to connect with and some of the content raised my eyebrows. However, based on trust built from other books, I don’t foresee major problems and believe that, with moderate discretion/discussion with an adult, many teen readers will enjoy Dream Treaders, especially boys.

Ratings: Craft—4, Content—3, Overall—3.5 out of 5 stars


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

June CSFF Tour Stats

Featured book: Dream Treaders
Author: Wayne Thomas Batson
Participants:
Beckie Burnham, Jeff Chapman, Pauline Creeden,
Vicky DealSharingAuntCarol Gehringer,
Victor Gentile, Rebekah Gyger, Christopher Hopper,
Jason Joyner, Carol Keen, Jennette Mbewe,
Shannon McDermott, Meagan @ Blooming with Books,
Rebecca LuElla Miller, Nissa, Writer Rani,
Nathan ReimerJojo Sutis, Steve Trower,
Shane Werlinger, and Phyllis Wheeler

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Illusion of Control


Letting go is one of the hardest tasks that we humans have been called to do. It goes completely against the grain of what society tells us, of what we desire, of who we are.

Even more, letting go is terrifying. It taps into many, if not all, our greatest fears: It thrusts us into the unknown. It makes us vulnerable to pain and betrayal. It forces us to admit we are weak, broken, limited.

So we clutch and grab. We manipulate and calculate. We scheme and plot and plan. We erect barriers, extract revenge, school ourselves to not care, and defy anything or anyone who gets in our way. All because we do not want to let go. It is safer that way, we try to convince ourselves.

Yet this is a lie, a grand deception we’ve talked ourselves into believing because we want to believe it. We want to control our destiny, produce our own happiness, “become like God.”

The problem is that we have no ability to bring about any of these things no matter how much we might want it. We are powerless, unable to master ourselves much less anyone else. Desires drive us. Cravings control us. Temptations exploit our every weakness, proving resistance truly is futile.

And so in the end we discover our control is only illusion.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

One Realm Beyond

Title: One Realm Beyond

Series: Realm Walkers #1


Genre: Teen Fantasy

Rating: Craft—4, Content—4,
Overall—3.9 out of 5 stars


Excerpt from “Raising a Ruckus,” Chapter 1 of One Realm Beyond:

Cantor straddled the thick tree limb suspended less than three feet over his favorite fishing hole. He’d fished from this spot for more than eighteen years, from the time he could barely straddle the fat limb ’til now, when the tips of his sandals almost brushed the surface of the clear, cold water. He watched the small fish circling below him, waiting for the big one just as he had been taught. His fishing mentor, Odem, probably took him fishing here before he was out of diapers. Cantor wouldn’t want to share the limb now. Though the tree had grown with him over the years, he didn’t think the branch would hold the weight of two grown men. He wasn’t eager for a bath in the frigid water from the mountain’s runoff.

Still and patient, Cantor waited for the large carp he called Bully to rise and push the other fish out of the way. A sprinkle of thumb-sized chunks of bread floated on the water. One of the smaller guppies darted off to the side, and a huge, open mouth appeared under the surface. The fish snapped up a sodden crust.

Cantor hurled the stone in his hand.

A teenage boy sets out to find a dragon companion—the first step in becoming an official walker between realms—and gets more than he bargained for.

 
Craft: With One Realm Beyond, Donita K. Paul has delivered another fun, low-key adventure for teenage fantasy readers.

One Realm Beyond introduces us to a new fantasy world, separate from Ms. Paul’s other books. However, the story is still marked by the same quirky, off-beat characters and humorous twists found in all of Ms. Paul’s books.

At the same time, this book also exhibited stronger plotting. No, it’s still not a suspenseful page-turner. I did not expect—or necessarily want—it to be. But the storyline gels cohesively, moving you forward at a steady pace.

Perhaps due to this, the book has a slightly darker undercurrent. This causes some of the whimsy to be lost, which I have loved in earlier books. This isn’t necessarily a good or bad change, but it is definitely different.

Also the end didn’t resolve as well as I like. While I know One Realm Beyond is only the first book, it is also possible to finish a story with a cohesive completion while leaving the ending wide-open for the next book in the series. Instead, this novel feels like it merely stops.

But this is a small defect—if it can be called a defect at all—and it is one which will be solved somewhat with later books.

Content: Like the craft, One Realm Beyond presents typical content for a Donita K. Paul book. There’s no sexuality, and even the romance thread is very low-keyed at this point. I wasn’t aware of any explicit swearing or other language concerns. Violence does exist, but most of it occurs off the page with only broad-stroke results shown.

Magical elements, expectedly, are very strong again. The supernatural is primarily attributed to natural giftings, non-human characters, or objects with special powers, which are handled much like our science’s technology. The way this is handled doesn’t seem to be a problem, but those with a high sensitivity to the supernatural should exercise care when considering whether to read this book.

The spiritual threads rely heavily on clear allegorical parallels to the real world. As a result it is not uncommon for the characters to talk about God, His precepts, and what it means to serve Him. The concepts of allegiance to God and learning to appreciate others in all their strangeness are two threads running through this book.

 
Summary: One Realm Beyond is a fun adventure with quirky characters. Some caution recommended for those with high sensitivity toward magic and the supernatural, but otherwise a good read for preteens to adults.

Rating: Craft—4, Content—4, Overall—3.9 out of 5 stars

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

 Other participants in this Christian Science-Fiction & Fanatasy Tour:
 
Julie Bihn Keanan Brand Beckie Burnham
Mike Coville Pauline Creeden
Vicky DealSharingAunt Carol Gehringer
Rebekah Gyger Janeen Ippolito Jason Joyner
Carol Keen Krystine Kercher Emileigh Latham
Jennette Mbewe Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Melanie @ Christian Bookshelf Reviews
Rebecca LuElla Miller Joan Nienhuis Nissa
Donita K. Paul Audrey Sauble James Somers
Jojo Sutis Jessica Thomas Steve Trower
Shane Werlinger Jill Williamson Deborah Wilson

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Celebration!

During the past year and a half, I have been hard at work on several non-fiction pieces in addition to my novels. There’s been a list of 500+ Christian sci-fi and fantasy novels, for those who read voraciously genre. Then there’s been the high school curriculum, which teaches discernment and critical thinking through Scripture and story. A basic list of artwork has also been in the works throughout this time.

So I decided that since today is my birthday, I need to celebrate. And being a book lover, what better why to celebrate than with books?

Therefore, I’m making a special offer on my books from today through Sunday, February 16th. Make a purchase of $30 or more during that time, and you can choose any one of my mini-books for FREE. Just add a note in the “instructions to the seller” section of which mini-book you’d like to claim (“Practical Discernment,” “Life in the Twilight Zone,” or “Why Story, Why Speculative?”).

For more information on my books, click here.

To purchase, click here.