Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Seabird by Sherry Thompson

Fans of C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia might have found a new favorite author. Seabird, the debut novel by Sherry Thompson, is reminiscent of Lewis's classic series in terms of the rich fantasy world the author has crafted, the teen protagonist, and the strong religious subtext.

The story centers around Cara Marshall, a teenager who is magically transported to the land of Narenta. Cara, selfish by nature, is told that she has been chosen as a champion who is charged with fighting the evil that threatens the land. Convinced there has been a mistake, and not at all interested in being a hero for these odd strangers, Cara sets off to find her way home. Circumstances and experience eventually take her in a different direction and, aided by a small cast of Narentans and some talking seabirds, Cara takes on the mantle of champion.

The strengths of this story begin with the mystical quality of the world. Narenta is mysterious and inviting, but also threatening and frightening. Thompson paints memorable pictures of many locales. The reader truly feels that he or she has been dropped into the middle of a tangible world. The religious themes are strongly present, but the book is not preachy and it reads like a secular book. Characterization is another strength, with Cara completing a visible character arc- something that is frequently lacking in contemporary fantasy.

Some might find the "black and white" presentation of good versus evil to be a negative. The bad guys are bad because they're bad and the good guys are good because they're good. Readers looking for a George R.R. Martin/Joe Abercrombie type story with all characters being varying shades of gray will find Thompson's traditional approach off-putting, but those who enjoy the CS Lewis type of story will be right at home.

Seabird, the first book of the Narentan Tumults, is a must-read for CS Lewis fans, and promises to be an enjoyable story for those who like traditional fantasy.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Naked Empire by Terry Goodkind

Wizard's First Rule was, at one time, one of my favorite fantasy novels. The Sword of Truth series was reasonably entertaining, but lost steam as author Terry Goodkind gravitated twoard philosophy and de-emphasized storytelling. I took a long break after volum seven- The Pillars of Creation, but finally decided to pick up the series again with Naked Empire.

The plot centers around Richard's dual quests to heal himself from poisoning and help a pacifist empire learn to defend itself from the Imperial Order. There are subplots involving Zedd and Adie's defense of the Wizard's Keep, and Emperor Jagang's creation of a soul-stealing creature whom Richard must face down in the end. The story moves along at a reasonable pace, but the overall story arc of the Sword of Truth series barely moves forward in this installment.

The positives are the characters of Zedd and Ann, who are reflective, entertaining, and carry serious depth. Nicholas, the "soul-stealer, is pleasantly evil. Some of the ideas presented are thought-provoking, and Goodkind almost makes it through an entire novel without the requisite "Richard and Kahlan are separated" plotline.

On the negative side of the ledger is the disproportionately high number of pages devoted to Richard making speeches or holding forth on philosophy. The character of Jennsen seems to exist solely for the purpose of asking questions so that Richard will have an excuse to launch into another lengthy explanation. The character of Richard has also become unlikeable. No longer the dedicated woodsman who is trying to deal with a major change in his life, Richard is now an expert in objectionist philosophy. He is always right, and does everything well. He frequently comes across as annoyed with those around him, and condescending in his communication.

Naked Empire is an entertaining read if you can get past all the speeches. Highly recommended for devoted Goodkind fans and Libertarians who enjoy speculative fiction.