Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Auralia’s Colors

Title: Auralia's Colors

Series: Auralia’s Thread #1

Author: Jeffrey Overstreet

Genre: Adult Fantasy

Excerpt from “Old Thieves Make a Discovery,” Chapter 1 of Auralia’s Colors:

Auralia lay still as death, like a discarded doll, in a burgundy tangle of rushes and spineweed on the bank of a bend in the River Throanscall, when she was discovered by an old man who did not know her name.

She bore no scars, no broken bones, just the stain of inkblack soil. Contentedly, she cooed, whispered, and babbled, learning the river’s language, and focused her gaze on the stormy dance of evening sky—roiling purple clouds edged with blood red. The old man surmised she was waiting and listening for whoever, or whatever, had forsaken her there.

Those fevered moments of his discovery burnt into the old man’s memory. In the years that followed, he would hold and turn them in his mind the way an explorer ponders relics he has found in the midst of ruin. But the mystery remained stubbornly opaque. No matter how often he exaggerated the story to impress his fireside listeners—“I dove into the ragin’ river and caught her by the toes!” “I fought off that hungry river wyrm with my picker-staff just in time!”—he found no clue to her origins, no answers to questions of why or how.

The Gatherers, House Abascar, the Expanse—the whole world might have been different had he left her there with riverwater running from her hair. “The River Girl”—that was what the Gatherers came to call her until she grew old enough to set them straight. Without the River Girl, the four houses of the Expanse might have perished in their troubles. But then again, some say that without the River Girl those troubles might never have come at all.
An orphan girl sculpts colors, unsettling a kingdom where color is reserved for the top echelon.

The Writing: The language of Auralia’s Colors, the vivid and well-intertwined descriptions, the masterful use of color, an almost poetic cadence—it is easy to see why Auralia’s Colors has gained the reputation of “literary fantasy.” The style is impeccable and the omniscient voice exceptionally well-handled, minus a couple annoying statements of foreshadowing by the author and a couple chapters that begin with result of the chapter’s events.

But as might be expected from a literary novel, the pace is not fast. This isn’t necessarily bad—the pace always pulls you steadily forward after breaching a slow beginning full of chronological jumps. And the colorful array of characters and intriguing premise make up for the slower pace, resulting in an entertaining and thought-provoking read.

Nonetheless, the ending left me vaguely dissatisfied. Part, I’m sure, comes from an expectation I had that this was the type of underdog story I dearly love. This, however, is not that kind of story.

But my dissatisfaction stems from more than mistaken expectations, I think. In short, the ending felt incomplete. I know Auralia’s Colors is only book one in a series, so many things—including major plot lines—need to be left undone. But there should be a sense of resolution, even if bitter sweet or partial.

I didn’t receive that sense from Auralia’s Colors. Rather, the ending made this novel feel less like a complete story and more like a long prologue with only the intention of setting up people, places, and situations.

Why did this happen for me? I’m not completely sure. Maybe because Auralia appeared to be the main character, and yet she seems to lack a distinct character arc and fails to bring change or to be changed at the climax by her direct decisions. Maybe it’s the sense of hopeless that all the pain and struggle the reader endures beside the main characters was for nothing. Or maybe Auralia's character arc seems to climax far too early in the book and does not coincide with the external climax.

Whatever the reason, the climax has many conflicts and disastrous events, yet it seems to be all external, generalized, and almost happenstance, not flowing from main character decisions and actions as a climax ought to.

The Story: First off, I’d like to emphasize that Auralia’s Colors is an adult fantasy.

Despite that most of the main characters are in their teens or a bit older for most of the book (Auralia, Ale Boy, Cal-raven, Stricia), Auralia’s Colors is written for adults with adult situations and detailed descriptions of torture, the aftermath of war, and corpses following fires and other disasters.

On the positive side, the spiritual thread, though very subtle, lacks any preachiness whatsoever. And throughout the book, Christian themes of sacrifices for the undeserving and sight beyond the physical intertwine with the main story.

Finally, since Auralia’s Colors is a fantasy, there are some magical elements, with supernatural gifts given to some of the characters. In Auralia’s case, it’s implied that she’s not quite human and that her gifts stem from what has been already given (she doesn’t make colors, but finds them). The other cases, however, are a bit more fuzzy.

Summary: Auralia’s Colors is a good read with some beautiful language, and depending on its relationship to the books that follow, a nice set-up for this series.

However, Auralia’s Colors isn’t for everyone. If you are extra-sensitive to the magical element, under the age of 16 (due the more graphic violence, among other things), or seeking a fast-paced, sword-clashing adventure, you are better off looking elsewhere.

Otherwise, pick up Auralia’s Colors and enjoy!

Rating: 4.2 out of 5 stars

To order Auralia’s Colors click here, or read my reviews for book 2, Cyndere's Midnight, and book 3, Raven's Ladder.


nissa-amas-katoj said...

Thank you for your very complete and very insightful review! I stopped by while visiting all the blogs on the CSFF blog tour. I liked what I have read of 'Auralia's Colors' so far.

God bless you,

Roheryn said...

This ish one of the most detailed reviews for Aurelia's Colors that I've yet seen

And while you do mention some of what, for lack of a better word, one might call shortcomings of the book, It seems that you really did enjoy it.
I can't wait to read it!
and I, like Nissa, stopped by while visiting some of the blogs for the CSFF tour

Robert Treskillard said...

I think Auralia did change, but her change had to be before the climax of the book since it was her actions that brought about the climax. Kind of a confusing series of events.

Great review of the book. We agree on a lot of the points!

Shannon said...

Yes, the ending makes you hungry for more ... and I agree, I think this book IS a long prologue for the rest of the series!

Great thoughts, Chawna!