Tag Archives: Christian

Book Review: Black is Colorful but Too Forceful

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There are many spoilers in this article, and they are unmarked but very revealing.  Ye be warned.

Black, the first book in the Circle Trilogy by Ted Dekker tells two stories that I have yet to connect as thoroughly as the hero, Thomas Hunter, comes to believe them to be.  Thomas lives in two worlds: the present-day Earth, where he somehow becomes the center of a plot to release and a plot to stop a powerful biochemical weapon, and the utopia that Earth will become if that weapon is released, where God is very present, and evil is contained in the lower hemisphere.

Honestly, I kept hoping that Black would get better.  Like Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and other apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic literature, the plot of Black is gripping.  With the world dependent on the governments’ belief in one man’s outlandish dreams, the threat of a biochemical weapon that will eradicate the human population in three weeks, and (in Thomas’ dreams) the threat of demonic, oversized bats, it’s difficult not to race towards a conclusion, to be dragged along by the intricate plots and schemes of madmen, assassins, unlikely rescues, death threats, and deaths.

I have a difficulty liking novels that rely so heavily on such fear and danger because I feel like I’m being tricked into hurrying through the novel; I feel like the author has me by a nose ring and is dragging me along with them forcefully.  I don’t read because I want to; I read because I have to, and I don’t like feeling forced and rewarded with nothing more than more danger, threat, and fear.  (I realized as I wrote this paragraph that a) I may need to reevaluate my own style of making journeys more interesting, and b) Rick Riordan frequently uses the apocalypse coming plot, but he rewards me with humor, mythology lessons, and generally victory and so his books seem to rely less heavily on threat, and I consequentially love their breakneck pace.)

Further force is employed by the ending, which is perhaps the most precarious cliffhanger I’ve ever read (if, at least, I consider The Lord of the Rings a single book).  If I want to discover which world is real, if the virus is stopped, who lives and who dies, I will have to complete the trilogy because the book ends with no conclusion and Thomas at gunpoint.

What Dekker does do really well in Black is bring reality to fantastical dreamscapes and less-fantastical fictional realities.  It’s easy to question with Thomas which reality—the Earth as we know it, or the Earth of a hypothetical post-apocalyptic future—is “real.”  With his description of setting and feeling—perceptions, emotions—Dekker creates the realities of these worlds.

As Christian literature—which it very plainly is, the future world’s plot being a retelling of Eden and the Fall—Dekker escapes some of my usual critique of being too “preachy” by placing God in a dreamscape where he manifests himself most as a small boy too wise for his years called Elyon.  Dekker has some very interesting ways of describing God’s love for the world and for Man, but I don’t think that for me, personally, his descriptions were very illuminating.  Perhaps that was his point: that it is impossible to fully explain or comprehend God, but that we can feel his love without fully understanding.

**1/2

Dekker, Ted.  The Circle, Book One: Black: The Birth of Evil.  Nashville: WestBow-Thomas Nelson, 2004.

This review is not endorsed by Ted Dekker, WestBow Press, or Thomas Nelson, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

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Book Review: The Exciting, Humorous, Journey North! Or Be Eaten

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I reviewed the first book of The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson as one of my earliest blog posts.  I finally returned to read the second, North! Or Be Eaten.  By the fruit of the Hollows and the Holes in the Mountains, this man has a way with words!

The dreaded Fork! Factory! is indeed dreaded as the back cover warns and as difficult to escape as the Overseer says.  You may have noticed by now that I have a habit of avoiding a book when I know that bad things will happen to the characters whom I love.  It should be a great compliment to Peterson that it took me so long to escape even just that section of the story.  And still no sign of the nameless evil, Gnag the Nameless.

The last few chapters are absolutely gripping, danger or no, however.  I tore through them all in one sitting, loosing appropriate cries of dismay and warning.  The book actually has a note of symmetry.  The first chapters were equally gripping and action-packed, the first sixty pages or so recounting the Igibys’ Fang-dogged flight across perilous landscapes.  This flight I found to be almost too much.  Though the chapters are short, I read but a few at a time, needing to stop and catch my breath if the Igibys and Fangs could not.  I worried then though that this book’s platoon of Fangs seemed less appalling than the first’s.  Peterson remedied that.  My diminishing fear of the Fangs was quickly halted and the sickness returned by perhaps the last quarter of the book, though it was a different sickness, mingled with more pity for the monsters.

But Peterson’s dreadful scenes and certainly the brief times between the dangers are peppered with his humor, much of which relies on ridiculousness, but also pointed critique and brilliant analogy.

My favorite example, English major that I am and no great friend of the exclamation point, references the sign above the Fork! Factory!:

“Janner was as unsettled by the overuse of exclamation points as he was by the dreary countenance of the place” (176).

I also applaud this description: “Since the bumpy digtoad has no teeth, its bites are said to feel to the victim like being ‘gummed like a dumpling in an old man’s mouth’” (115).

This second book returns us to Aerwiar and the Igiby family, both of which are enriched by a second novel.  On a flight to the Ice Prairies, Aerwiar is greatly expanded, with stops along the River Blapp, in Dugtown, and across the Stony Mountains.  I noticed a Tolkien-esque reality to this fictional landscape, which quite impressed me.  Peterson’s Creaturepedia looks more in line with that of the world of Nickelodeon’s Avatar: the Last Airbender (and yes, that’s a compliment), though almost always with more teeth.  The ancient history of Aerwiar is also highlighted in this book.  Further histories of particularly Peet and Podo come to light also through the Igibys’ second adventure.  New characters, equally realistic as familiar friends and enemies, are introduced that will be missed if they do not reappear in subsequent novels.

[SPOILER] And Mr. Peterson, if you’re reading this, I would really like to meet a trustworthy Ridgerunner.  I can’t think that they are as undeniably evil as orcs. [END SPOILER]

****

Peterson, Andrew.  The Wingfeather Saga, Book Two: North! Or Be Eaten.  Colorado Springs: WaterBrook-Crown, 2009.

This review is not endorsed by Crown Publishing Group, WaterBrook Press, or Andrew Peterson.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book review day!

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Andrew Peterson’s On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness is the first book in his Wingfeather Saga and his first novel-length children’s book.  I know Peterson as a singer-songwriter.  He is one of my mother’s favorite Christian music artists and he’s up there on my list as well.  His lyrics tell stories and paint pictures, but this dive into literature takes all of that to another level.

Aerwiar (pronounced like “Here we are”) is a highly developed world, full of its own myth and legend, with maps and drawings and quotes from Aerwiarian books and ballads woven intertextually and added as footnotes and appendices.  While keeping some high fantasy tropes, firmly grounding the book in the genre, he fills in the world with creative monsters, like the dreaded toothy cows of Skree, that all have a firm enough grounding in our own world as to be easily imaginable even without the offered illustrations detailing the cows’ dangerous features.

His characters are likewise well-developed and pleasant to be around–or those that should be are so.

His villains, the Fangs of Dang–and these are but pawns of the Dark Lord’s evil will, a race of minions, orc-like, if you will–made me physically ill.

That deserves its own paragraph because it’s just that impressive.  If the Fangs make me ill, I can’t wait to meet Gnag the Nameless in person!

Which brings me to his wit.  Gnag the Nameless.  Think about it.  “Other scholars disagree […]  All scholars agree, however, that Ulambria is a good sounding name for a city.”  These are just brief examples.

I will not say that this book was unpredictable.  Those who know me will know that I am easily drawn into a world (which I was here, don’t get me wrong) so that I lose all knowledge but that which the characters I’m following have themselves.  This did not happen.  I loved to play along with Janner, Tink, and Leeli,  but I their mysteries were not so mysterious to me.  That being said, like Rick Riordan (who is extremely high on my current list of favorite authors), Peterson did manage to slip in one or two surprises, pieces of the puzzle that I’d put down wrongly in my mind, which he himself had to rearrange.

All in all, I like the world, I like the style, I was surprised at least a little and didn’t mind waiting for his characters to catch up to the twist that I knew was coming (the eldest Igiby is only 12, after all, to my 22).  I liked the book.  “Charming” I decided was the best word for it.  A delightful time spent with the Igibys, fighting for our lives, yes, but with a sense of wonder and delight in the interceding pages–the pages where the Fangs of Dang did not appear with their dripping fangs and scaly, cold bodies–that made gave a sense of fun to the book despite all its horrors.

One thing more:  Frequently I find myself complaining about the preachiness of Christian literature, perhaps even the deus ex machina effect of an ever-present God.  While the Christian morality is alive in Aerwiar, Peterson does not preach.  I might even feel that I knew little about the Maker of Aerwiar if I did not know Peterson’s own Christian beliefs.

****

Peterson, Andrew.  The Wingfeather Sage, Book One: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness.  Colorado Springs: WaterBrook-Crown, 2008.

This review is not endorsed by Andrew Peterson, Crown Publishing Group, or WaterBrook Press.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.