Tag: Christian fantasy

Lands of Ash: Epic Fantasy

If you like epic fantasy, you should consider Lands of Ash by H.L. Burke. It is an epic story with an intriguing world.

I “met” this author at a Christian indie author release party. I was excited to read her newest book since fantasy with a Christian bent can be hard to find.

When I agreed to review her book, she sent me an advanced reviewer’s copy. I immediately set about reading it while running on the treadmill (the best way to pass the miles).

Summary

Book one is about the war between humans and the fire elementals, who have been burning their forests and cities for decades. Most of the story centers on two brothers who are determined to stop the elementals – or die trying.

Book two follows a boy who occasionally narrated scenes in the first book. His sister was born the day the elemental war ended and she is the portal keeper. This brings all sorts of unsavory types out of the wood work, and he ends up seeking refuge in Haven, the settlement of the brothers from book one.

Book three follows the story after they’ve all returned to Haven. Many new voices begin narrating scenes, but the action is so constant that the changes aren’t noticeable or distracting.

In my opinion, adding scenes from the fire elemental lord’s perspective stole tension from the story and gave away too much information. There would have been more suspense if the author would have allowed the reader to learn about those plans at the same time the characters did.

Review

It was awesome to read fantasy with a Christian worldview. I loved the elements of forgiveness and redemption woven throughout the book, and especially in the third part. The Christian allegory is clear while not being intrusive.

Unfortunately, this book started out very slow. In the way of epic fantasy, we bobbed between narrators and I struggled to connect with the all-male cast. The foreshadowing wasn’t subtle and I called all the early “twists.”

The premise was excellent. The world well-conceived and revealed. The cast of characters – mostly shallow. With the exception of Ketyl and Brode, most of the point of view characters didn’t get enough screen time for me to get inside their head.

Sometime after the midpoint of the story, I was finally vested in the story. Things were moving along. We’d finally gotten out of the set up and background and into the STORY. This means, the author started the story too early.

Another problem I had with the book was that it was actually three books in one. Each told a different person’s story, but all of them had more than a single narrator. Most of the time, I wondered, “Whose story is this? Why do I care?”

According to the blurb, this should have been Pet and Brode’s story. The first book was mostly Ketyl’s story, and he remained a prominent point of view character. The second book seemed to be Brode’s story, and I can’t reveal who I believe the third book followed because I don’t want to spoil anything. This layout kept me disengaged.

My biggest issue with this story is the “turn to the dark side” of two characters. We know I’m not a fan of the dark side. But we need antagonists to add conflict to our story. I will say the motivation was present for the turns; they didn’t appear out of thin air.

One of the traitors is a minor character. His turn involves something as small as leading people to their camp and scaring someone. His special abilities make him susceptible to the “voices.” Afterward, he feels so guilty about his betrayal, he begs for banishment or death.

The other character is a major player. His motivations are authentic, but his actions kicked me out of the story in a second. His betrayal involved murder. And he didn’t feel remorseful. Here is someone we considered heroic and he isn’t even second-guessing his sudden compulsion to murder a CLOSE friend?

Recommendation

If you’re looking for fantasy that is more than just magic and epic battles, you will enjoy this book.

I suggest reading each book independently of the others, maybe even taking a breather between them. Don’t read the blurb. It sets your expectations in the wrong place (or it did for me).

Prepare yourself for a story of set-up. Feel free to skip over Brode’s scenes in book one and return to read them before you start book two. I found they distracted me from the flow of the story of Ketyl and Karvir versus the fire elementals.

This book is suitable for readers twelve and over. The violence isn’t graphic, so younger readers won’t be traumatized by the death portrayed here (there’s a war).

A Cast of Stones by Patrick W. Carr

Image from Goodreads

Like several other fantasy series, I found this book because the author offered the first installment for free on Kindle. A book for free? I’m there.

Two reasons I pushed this book to the top of my “to be read” list and the plethora of other books previously waiting on my Kindle:

It is from the Christian fantasy genre I’m trying to break into (even though it is really more of a “New Adult” rather than “Young Adult” book).

The allegory seemed to be strong and subdued at the same time (hopefully I’ll make this clearer than Northwest Fog before the post is done).

I have to admit, I didn’t really like this book in the beginning. The main character was a drunken sod whose only goal was getting enough coin for his next tankard of ale. Not my sort of hero. A dark reason for his obsession is hinted at but not revealed until well into the novel.

It took a few hard knocks before Errol was able to let go of that craving and embrace the destiny thrust upon him. Carr did a good job ramping up the tension and throwing another monkey wrench into the plot when things seemed to get a little better for the hero. By midpoint, I was routing for Errol and trying to figure out the huge secret everyone kept hiding from him.

The allegory in this book is clear to me but not too overt as to be offensive to people who don’t want to see it. Carr has built an entire religious system around worship of “The Three” and shows us the divisions among that system. There are heroes and villains inside the church system; people who are only in it for power or wealth or position, which relates well to the world in which we live.

The fantasy elements contain both the tried and true and unique. Rather than using familiar beings like elves and dwarves, Carr creates his own unique races of people and steers away from using any of the classic terms. This creates more work for him, but he does a great job dropping the information we need to understand along the way.

I found the “magical” system intriguing and will be interested to see how the author develops it in the next book. As you read, you will see that the mystical is tied to the religious beliefs of the participants. No wizards or witches here. Instead, healers and herbwomen or readers and omres.

Yes, there were a few things that seemed to happen too easily or made me think “really? That’s how you’re going to solve that?” But is there a perfect book? No. Even the books I love contain little things that could be improved. After all, I’m a perfectionist and an author.

My Recommendation

This is a New Adult novel, I think, but mature young adults and older adults like me will also find it enjoyable. There is plenty of tension and action and the characters are engaging.

As I mentioned, this is the first in a series called “The Staff and The Sword.” I purchased the second book from Amazon for my Kindle. I didn’t start reading it immediately, but as I finish this post for my blog, I’m halfway through.

What’s the rush? After all, the third book won’t be released until February 18, and it is priced beyond the top of my “I’ll pay that amount for an eBook” range.

Guess that means I might have to buy it in paperback.