The May Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Tour is featuring The Ale Boy’s Feast by Jeffrey Overstreet. True to form, the fourth
novel white strand in the Auralia series thread is the aesthetically stunning poetry in motion his fans have come to expect. Seriously, this is beautiful writing and if he has the tons of writers I imagine are reading his work to study his description techniques and word choices, it’s well deserved.
He does use a large, diverse cast living in a small, diverse world, features the reader will either love or hate. Personally, Overstreet did weave together so many characters’ stories that I had trouble latching on to one to root for and hence also had difficulty figuring out what the main story was. The central characters I picked out are King Cal-Raven, his mage advisor, the ale boy, and possibly Aurelia and her two sometime thief guardians, Jordam the beastman, and Princess Cyndere, too. So, if you need a single hero(ine) rather than a whole society to root for, take note.
Mechanics wise, other than my pet peeve (thought tagging), the only other issue that might make some readers wary is the amount of back story and narrative summary–and readers of that mind should stop reading the series of well-known authors altogether. They almost always are rushed into print and given little editing. For the record, I had no problem with the amount of back story or how it was worked in. I simply know some readers who have been following a series dislike it even though I haven’t found one yet that doesn’t have any significant rehashing in it.
Regardless, the world he creates is nearly as beautiful as God’s. (Forgive my bias!) He says in his acknowledgments he set out to “capture and reflect some of the glory I see in creation.” That goal he has most certainly done.
Not to exclude the other goal he mentions in his acknowledgements page of showing gratitude for God’s grace. The (mutual here) love of the redemption plot/theme comes through clearly, too. The pages also nigh shout (for Overstreet, or at least my impression of his style rather) the futility of worshiping of the created rather than the creator as all man-made myths and meta stories do. He is correct that such inevitably fail and leave the lost in a place where they must either willfully embrace a story they know is a lie or fall into despair, though we see less of raw atheists living the old philosophy of the self-worshiping maxim, “Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.”
I do see a bit of a common sand trap for Christian authors who seek to keep their faith subtle and simply write an excellent story. In such stories, the truth whispers, but the liars shout. When that happens, the liars can be so loud, they can drown out the truth. The books affected end up, in the reader’s eyes, promoting the very thing we wanted to warn against.
Since I do not personally know Overstreet, or where he stands, I honestly at times had to keep on reading on blind faith in his publisher’s Christian brand and that it was being toured on a carefully screened Christian blog tour.
This issue arose for me, I think, due to the novel also taking on the topic of how to carry on when your faith crumbles and even those you trusted to spiritually guide you fail you. While that is a worthy issue to address that could potentially bless others, this plot line adds to the liars some characters the reader naturally assumes to speak for the author.
So readers should take note if they seek to avoid exposure to the postmodern message, “life has no absolute meaning or truth, but we personally can’t live like that, so just make up your own story to explain how and why all this order and beauty around us exists.”
Relatedly, anyone especially sensitive to ghosts, communication with the dead, reincarnation of any sort, and depictions of consuming alcoholic beverages should consider skipping this book. (I realize the rest of my readers may disagree with the choices and views of the folk I am addressing in these last two paragraphs, but Overstreet doesn’t need this sort picking up his book and leaving reviews hurling accusations anyway.)
In fairness, the characters in the story truly don’t have what we have. They don’t have the absolute, trustworthy revelation of Truth we have in the Bible and the person of Jesus Christ. Most of us who have been Christians a while could use a reminder of where the spiritually lost are living. Our great challenge today is assuring them that our story is different from the myths of man and the actual truth. If we want to win today’s lost, we must convince them God Himself gave our revelation and that we can depend on him to do what His word says he will, and to be what it says he is.
I would hesitate to give it to an unbeliever, or a weak brother caught or struggling in the grip of post-modernism. Sorry to have to say that, since most of us want to reach them with our books, but I fear a postmodernist’s filters will interpret the book as an affirmation of beliefs endangering their soul. That concern could be off base. I do doubt anyone who reads all the way to the end could rightly take away an endorsement of humanism and it’s worship of man, and that’s even more pernicious in our culture, if possible. Regardless, the strong, discerning brother who loves Fantasy would greatly benefit and absolutely should consider reading this. Anyone who wants only an entertaining story should be delighted.
Related Devotional Thoughts: Embrace God’s Certainty and God’s Mystery
Other Stops on the Tour:
Morgan L. Busse
CSFF Blog Tour
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Rachel Starr Thomson