Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Venom and Song

Title: Venom and Song

Series: The Berinfell Prophecies #2

Authors: Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Excerpt from “The Dark Veil,” Chapter One of Venom and Song:

Guardmaster Olin Grimwarden stopped and passed back the order. “Hold.” Elf-to-Elf, the command traveled until the entire line came to a halt. Grimwarden, Elle Goldarrow, Flet Marshall Brynn, Regis, Nelly, Miss Finney, Mr. Spero, Anna, and Mr. Wallace silently formed a perimeter around the seven young lords. Edward, from Dalhousie Castle, kept a close watch out behind, covering their retreat.

Tommy felt a tap on his shoulder and jumped.

“Sorry, lad,” said Brynn. Tommy couldn’t see her, just a phantom outline. She held something out. “Take these,” she said. “Grimwarden commands that you put them in your ears.”

Tommy felt something drop into his hand. There were two objects, both small and very spongy. “Earplug…why?” he asked.

“It is litigen,” she said. “It grows on stumps and dead trees. But earplug is a good name.” Then Brynn was gone.

Grows on dead trees? thought Tommy. Great. And I have to stick it in my ears?

Tommy heard Sentinel Goldarrow’s voice, “Grimwarden, you sly fox…at last I understand.”

At least someone understands something, Tommy thought.

Mr. Wallace strained to see back through the Veil, but his eyes couldn’t penetrate the gloom enough to tell if there was any movement or sign. But his hearing was better than the Elves’, and he heard the faint rustle of many leather boots on stone. The Spider King’s forces were coming…not far now. Yes, he thought, staring at Kat’s silhouette, during the melee she will breathe her last…
Seven teen eleven lords, newly rescued from Earth, train to fight the powerful Spider King.

Craft: Venom and Song is a novel of mixed elements.

The plot continues to be the strongest element of this story, with large amounts of action compacted into a tight space while the stakes and tension are ever-rising. Characters are unique and distinctive, quite a feat with a cast of this size. The world-building is solid and vivid.

However, on the flipside, there is little to say about style. It’s not bad. It’s not great. Just unimpressive.

Nor am I wild about the use of an unlimited omniscient point-of-view (which in this second novel is clearly the POV of choice). This POV allows the ability to know anything and peer into any head at any time, expediently delivering information but often distancing or confusing the reader. While the unlimited omniscience in this novel is handled deftly enough to not be annoying, it remains somewhat jarring—at least for me personally—and appears to fragment the characters’ development and growth.

But while Venom and Song lacks some in the area of flow and style, its storytelling is strong overall.

Content: Like its craft, Venom and Song contains some solid thematic material. Getting along despite difference, trusting your elders’ wisdom, taking responsibility, waiting, and the destructive force of bitterness, besides others, all appear within these pages.

However, the character arcs, which themes spring from the most naturally, are somewhat fragmented and incomplete (e.g. having a beginning and end but lacking the connections between). Perhaps this is due to the POV used or just the sheer number of arcs trying to be maintained? Either way, the result weakens the power of themes to delve into the heart, creates some events that seem manipulated to make a point, and occasionally triggers dialogue with a “moral of a story” feel, often delivered to a teen by an adult (e.g. page 180).

I am also a little concerned by the way God/Ellos comes across in the story. While I understand that the characters’ understanding of God is still very much developing, the spiritual element often seemed to work as following: Characters get into trouble, they pray, God answers, and the characters move onto the next thing, without thanking God or even the brief realization/awe that God answered. As a result God almost appears to be merely a divine wish-granter and the concept of God as One to have a relationship with seems to be vague. Maybe this is just an unfortunate backlash of the character arcs being fragmented and the fact this is still the middle of the series. I do, however, seriously doubt this protrayal of God (or my perspection thereof) was the authors’ intention and look forward to seeing the issue addressed soon within this series.

Summary: Venom and Song isn’t the type of novel I personally fall in love with. But it has some strong elements both in craft and content, and many teens will probably find this novel to be a good read.

Ratings: Craft—4, Content—3, Overall—3.7 out of 5 stars

Missed the review on book one, Curse of the Spider King? Find it here.
Disclaimer: In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.


Keanan Brand said...

Good review! You articulated some of my thoughts better than I did. It's like I have to read everyone else's posts in order to solidify what I think about the book. Sad, huh?

I was glad to read about kids praying! (But gratitude for answered prayer is important, as well.)

Chawna Schroeder said...

Hey, Keanan, I'm glad my post helped you to articulate what you were thinking. And there's nothing wrong about using others to help that along! We live with a limited perspective, have different gifts, and see different things as a result. So we need each other's perspectives to get the full picture. And therefore, maybe your job is not to articulate as much as to collect all the different parts to make a whole--a very important job indeed!