Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Book Review: Auralia's Colors

Jeff Overstreet, the author of Auralia's Colors, works for SPU (like I do) and was in the SPU honors program in the early 90's (like my wife was) and so I'd like to meet him someday! For now I'll just have to settle for reading his first novel.
This is a fantasy novel and so I'm very familiar with most of the conventions of the genre. The good news is, as far as plotting, character, and underlying philosophy, this novel is about as original as they come. One of the first things a fantasy novel reader wants to know is "what is the system of magic like?" and this one's got potential, with a natural, even artistic vibe that resonates with the setting, although it's not spelled out very much. Hey, Tolkien never spelled out magic much either. When it all comes together at the end there's quite a few plot surprises that make this a decent fantasy novel for the 21st century. This novel is "deep" and "thick," definitely more so than the average fantasy offering. It has a theology that is as deep and original as that of the Narnia books, perhaps even more practical than those.
The thing it lacks is narrative drive. Perhaps in the storytelling there's a little bit too much originality -- sometimes the plot jumps around in time, introducing us in the middle of a scene and jumping back to the beginning. I'm just not personally a fan of too much of that. Neal Stephenson is somebody who does this a lot, too, and it can end up being more confusing than intruguing, especially if done too much. For the first half of the book, the pieces don't really connect and the characters aren't quite differentiated enough to pull the reader along. What are they doing? There's no quest, really. That's partly good because it's original, but the reader always needs a reason to keep reading, and I didn't feel like I had one till about 2/3 of the way through the book.
So overall it's a very good first novel, and my advice is to stick with it, the strands really do come together in the end. I'll be searching out the sequel some day soon.

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