Thursday, 21 February 2008

The Shadow and Night by Chris Walley

CSFF Blog Tour

I have travelled far in the realms of fantasy and sci-fi... to Narnia, Empyrion, Middle Earth, Byntar and Albion, but never have I journeyed so far away as this book has taken me. Nor does anything even come close to the distance we encounter in "The Shadow and Night". As I opened the book and read the first pages, the thought came to me: perhaps this is the story I have been waiting all my life to read - or the tale I have always wanted to write. Well, not quite. But darned close to it.

In the Year of Our Lord 13000, the Lord's Peace is about to come under attack. Over eleven thousand years have passed since the Great Intervention; since that time there have been no wars, indeed no evil at all among humans. The Assembly's far-flung colonies have been created from inhospitable planets over thousands of years of terraforming and atmospheric adjustments.

But I'm not just talking about physical or temporal distance. The people on these worlds are redeemed, almost unfallen, incapable of sin. Far-advanced technologies are a part of daily life, but not overbearingly; simple, useful concepts are a joy to behold, such as the personal diary: a computer, telephone, camera, journal, dictaphone all in one; and the perfection of the Internet to a virtual-reality library containing all the information in the known universe.

The most distant Made World is Farholme, six hundred light years from Earth. Merral, the forester, finds himself an unwilling fighter for the cause of good when he becomes aware of strange happenings at his uncle's farm. The array of characters surrounding Merral is headed by Verofaza, a visitor from Ancient Earth, sent to investigate reports of a possible threat at Farholme.

The sudden re-entry of evil to the universe is all the more terrible because no one has any experience to deal with it, whether on a global or personal level. Temptations go unrecognised at first, and negative feelings are puzzled over as unknowns. Clues to the impending threat are woven in from the beginning, almost utterly harmless to start with, but creeping in with unabated increase of the suspense factor.

The author is an advocate for "slow creation", in other words, God-designed evolution, as this is taken for granted by all the characters. In the story, evolution appears to have passed from being a theory and is presented as a proven fact.

Nonetheless, the writing and the story drew me in from the first page. Descriptions and characters are sharp and vivid, from sunsets to animals to spaceflight, and particularly the unknowing innocence of saintly heroes in the face of insidious evil. Yet they too must grow, and that is what they do.

I’m glad the two books are joined in one volume here, because the first, while ending at a quiet moment, provides no conclusion to the mystery of what is going on. That is the epic quality of these stories; there is no quick-fix solution anywhere to be seen, but at the same time the reader is dragged into a personal journey of unimaginable proportions.

In the second part, things get exciting. If the first part is gripping suspense, then the second is pumping adrenaline. A peaceful people must prepare for war, and the tale moves increasingly from sci-fi to include the realm of fantasy - but it fits. After all, in a tale at the very end of time I would consider it normal for angels and fallen angels to appear. It’s like seeing a war from the inside, up close and personal, with all the emotional reactions of those involved.

Vero changes almost overnight from a timid graduate to a decisive army organiser, studying ancient war histories and pondering a good many Ancient English metaphors along the way. Of course they don’t make much sense to him, but that doesn’t stop him using them. There is also much telling revelation of the first-time soldiers’ initial excitement at battle, followed by the grim horror of reality.

This book will make you think. It will shoot you into the far distant future and make it believable. And it will take you all the way back to the roots of evil, and the triumph of good. If you’re anything like me, it will surprise you, shock you, and bring you to the edge of laughter and tears. You will see yourself in its pages, and you will be reminded of the almighty power of the Lamb among the stars. Certainly a most incredible feat of writing (it took me around fifteen hours to read!) - I look forward to getting hold of the next installment. Much more is yet to come for the people of Farholme.

Author site
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Be sure and check out the posts by these other bloggers:

Brandon Barr Jim Black Justin Boyer Jackie Castle Carol Bruce Collett Valerie Comer CSFF Blog Tour Gene Curtis D. G. D. Davidson Chris Deanne Janey DeMeo Jeff Draper April Erwin Marcus Goodyear Rebecca Grabill Jill Hart Katie Hart Michael Heald Timothy Hicks Christopher Hopper Heather R. Hunt Jason Joyner Kait Carol Keen Mike Lynch Margaret Rachel Marks Shannon McNear Melissa Meeks Rebecca LuElla Miller Mirtika or Mir's Here Pamela Morrisson Eve Nielsen John W. Otte John Ottinger Deena Peterson Rachelle Steve Rice Ashley Rutherford Chawna Schroeder James Somers Rachelle Sperling Donna Swanson Steve Trower Speculative Faith Robert Treskillard Jason Waguespac Laura Williams Timothy Wise

Thursday, 14 February 2008

GOLDENEYES by Delia Latham

This is my first taste of Delia's writing, and I must say I’m intrigued by her intricately woven work. Come back in time to 1936 to glimpse a mysterious scenario, then jump to 1959 and watch the consequences of that night in the lives of several families.

Juliana is offered a long-coveted job writing for a Christian magazine, and the boss first mistakes her for his lookalike cousin before trying to resist strong feelings. Gillian cares for her weak mother, who aches to reveal a long-hidden secret. Daniel, Gillian’s childhood friend, sets out to seek God and makes some surprising discoveries, and Juliana’s parents set about telling her the real truth of what happened all those years ago.

What if you had relatives you never knew about? What if a drunkard’s remorse could finally lead to astonishing revelations for his children? What if twins can feel each others’ pain, and what if God sends an angel that looks more like a tramp? One by one, the dots are joined, slowly, carefully, until the picture is complete. I think you’ll like what you see when you step back to take a look.

It’s a wonderfully convoluted double-triple romance peopled with a great many preachers, writers, dreamers, and mothers. Old diaries, a golden ring, a mysterious traveller with golden eyes, and many unexpected twists make this story highly enjoyable - a very clever piece of sweet inspirational romance with a delightfully satisfying conclusion.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Nor Iron Bars a Cage - by Caprice Hokstad

I've been on an epic journey...and it cost me a good few sleepless nights. I'm usually not this keen on fantasy, but this time the author drew me in so strongly that I couldn't put the book down. It is a long book, and a deep read - one of those stories that takes you into another world and keeps you there until you turn the last page. And that lasted five days (or rather, nights) for me.

The curtains open at the point where the last episode ended. Having also read "The Duke's Handmaid" some time ago, I enjoyed the benefits of some familiarity with the world of Latoph and Byntar - customs of slavery and royalty, colourful peculiarities of language and grammar. In this second volume, we get to know the characters better - most of them were also in Book One, but now it goes deeper and we get a long look at their reactions under pressure of all kinds. Yes, there is cruelty, but the folks we're rooting for consistently deal with it in an honourable manner despite their suffering.

Duke Vahn's freewill slave Keedrina, known here by her slave-name "kee", undertakes a dangerous mission to recover the duke's young son, held captive in the dangerous neighbouring realm of Ganluc. This story, involving the cage in the title, takes up most of the first half of the book, but that is by no means all you will discover. During kee's absence, the duke himself accepts a hasty challenge and must deal with the unpleasant consequences, providing an insightful view of his behaviour in what is certainly a humiliating experience for him.

The storyline is at least as unusual as the title, and you can't tell from the back cover where it's going to end up. It's chock full of cliffhangers and climaxes, and also challenges for the characters we have come to love. They must endure a series of highly unusual and uncomfortable situations, which most accomplish with uncommon grace. In fact, kee is almost too good to be true, but it's clear she is motivated by her great love for the duke.

At first glance, things may seem very black and white. The good guys are exemplary in personality and behaviour, while the bad guys (and girls) are completely bound by their self-centred thinking. However, on reading further, the human weaknesses of heroes and heroines are also visible, and likewise a measure of true understanding on the part of their enemies. Of course, I mean "human" in the broader sense, since in Byntar the people are Elva and Itzi. Interactions between these complementary breeds make a fascinating level of dynamics within the tale.

The reason I don't usually go for fantasy is that most of it is set in a world largely resembling medieval Europe, and that can get predictable after a while. But here, that is not the case at all. Sure, there are similarities, and the level of technology is comparable with our own Middle Ages. Yet in every line we are made aware that these events are taking place on a different planet, and the action is upheld by two non-human species living under double suns and moons.

There's a delicious rhythm in the telling. You can tell that the writer has studied her craft and knows what she's doing. This lady can WRITE. Each word is deliberate yet gentle, painstakingly carved out, a fragile thing of beauty indeed. The language is emotive and evocative, colourful and contoured, warm and tangible. I doff my hat to Caprice, in wonder at her authorly diligence while keeping up a household and homeschooling all those kids, too. That's what I call a hardworking mom.

You'll enjoy the breadth of situations in these pages, and the thorough exploration of deep questions and wonderings. How would a royal person deal with slavery and cruelty? It made me remember how the King of Heaven came down to earth to live as a lowly man. There is no word of reference to God or Christianity, but you will find richly-woven themes of sacrifice and humility, love and friendship, good versus evil, and the final victory of justice and hope, like a fairytale for grown-ups. Go ahead and dive into the intensity of this experience - take the journey, and come back changed.

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