Tuesday, February 19, 2008

CSFF Blog Tour: The Shadow and Night

Title: The Shadow and Night

Series: The Lamb Among the Stars #1

Author: Chris Walley

Genre: Futuristic/Apocalyptic Science-fiction

Excerpt from Chapter 1 of The Shadow and Night:

Merral Stefan D’Avanos crested the snow-flecked ridge in the northeastern corner of Menaya, the vast northern continent of Farholme, and reined in his mount. The winter’s sun had just set in a great stained sphere of orange gold. He stared at the expanse of gray hills and darker, mist-filled valleys stretching northward to the ice-edged needles of the ramparts of the Lannar Crater.

Above the Rim Ranges, layer upon layer of cloud strands gleamed every shade between yellow and purple in the dying sunlight. Merral tried to absorb all he could of the sights, sounds, and smells of dusk. Down below the ridge, away to his right, crows preparing to roost were wheeling noisily around a pine tree. Far to his left, there was a moving, snuffling grayness under the edges of the birch forests that he knew was a herd of deer. Hanging in the cold fresh air was the smell of winter, new trees, and a new earth.

The beauty of it moved Merral’s heart, and he raised his head and cried out with joy, “To the Lord of all worlds be praise and honor and glory and power!”

The words echoed briefly and a gust of wind out of the north dragged them away, down through the trees and bare rocks.

A young forester on a “newly” settled planet faces an invasion by a force not seen in thousands of years: evil.

The Writing: The Shadow and Night is a finely crafted novel.

The characters are well-rounded, each with unique personalities, quirks, and flaws. The settings are breath-taking. The detailed descriptions will delight readers who crave specifics. And the plot—well-paced with continually tension.

I especially appreciated that last one. Mr. Walley didn’t jerk you around from adrenaline spike to adrenaline spike, as some page-turners do. Instead he built the tension slowly, stretching to the maximum without exceeding the reader’s attention span or suspension of disbelief most of the time.

The one main exception might be the very beginning. I didn’t care for the prologue at all (I’d recommend skipping it), and for a long time it prevented me from diving fully into the story. There were no characters and no conflict. Only a lot of information, most of which is provided in later text, and a spoiler of Merral’s discovery and mystery in the opening chapters, which of course automatically diffuses some of the tension.

The second problem I had with the beginning is the lateness of the point of no return. That point is where the characters can no longer return to the way things were, and it’s crucial to storytelling because as long as the characters can go back, there’s no stakes—a character can simply return to “normal” if things go wrong or they fail. While this point was technically breached in Chapter One, Merral doesn’t reach it until the end of Chapter Seven (which is unusually late for a book), because he is unaware of the problem’s depth.

Beyond this, the flaws in the writing are minimal: a few overlong descriptions, some “as you know” conversations (characters discussing what they already know for the benefit of the reader), and a couple slow spots in the tension. But most of these detract little from the story’s flow.

The Story: Whatever ground The Shadow and Night lost in the craft, it more than made up for in content. As long as you’re willing to accept the premise (a 12,000-year millennia reign of Christ, if I’m reading it correctly), this vividly demonstrates the darkness of evil and the brilliance of God’s grace: no theological conversations on the problem of evil here! It’s made real and tangible in a way I’ve seen few Christian books do, because Mr. Walley shows us these things. No preachiness, few spiritual internal monologues, soliloquies, or conversations.

And perhaps more amazing—or at least rare—Mr. Walley does all this without the graphic. He demonstrates the darkness of evil and the brilliance of God’s grace without the blood, gore, murders, bedroom scenes, or torture that many books seem to rely on. (Although there are a couple battles, the violence is kept to a minimal in description and aren’t the primary force behind the conflict and tension, but more the result of them.)

In short, this story may center on characters in their twenties, but the content is clean enough for even kids in their early teens, maybe even younger depending on parental restrictions.

Summary: While The Shadow and Night scores moderate points for its craft, the content ranks in the top five of books I’ve read. Therefore, my recommendation for The Shadow and Night is one I rarely give: This book is a must-read for most readers of Christian fiction, whether or not they normally like science-fiction. The story contained within is well-worth the time and any work to push past the technical stuff.

Rating: 4.6 out of 5

Can't wait to read this great book? Order here.

(Book 2, The Dark Foundations, reviewed here, and the review for book 3, Infinite Day, here.)


Valerie Comer said...

The point-of-no-return. Yes. I'd forgotten that term and its application here, but you're right. That's a large part of what makes the early chapters drag (IMO). Merral isn't committed to interacting.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Incredibly thorough and rich review. Great insight on the "point of no return" bit, too.

PLTK said...

I agree that the content of these books was outstanding.