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Friday, January 4, 2008

"Auralia's Colors" by Jeffrey Overstreet

Official Jeffrey Overstreet Website
Order “Auralia’s ColorsHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE
Read Interviews with Jeffrey Overstreet HERE
Read Reviews of “Auralia’s Colors” via Of Blog of the Fallen & Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review
Enter HERE to Win a COPY of "Auralia's Colors"

Every year, whether you’re talking about movies, music or books, you have what are commonly known as ‘hidden treasures’. You know the album that never cracks Billboard’s Top 200 list, the film that is forever relegated to ‘indie’ status, the novel that can’t be found in your local bookstore… For whatever reason, these releases just don’t get the respect they deserve even though they’re just as good, if not better than any of the so-called bestsellers or blockbusters that all the major publications are praising. Well here’s another gem for you—Jeffrey Overstreet’sAuralia’s Colors”, a debut novel released back in September ‘07. In all honesty I probably would have overlooked this title if it hadn’t been for The Swivet. Even after receiving a copy, I admit that it wasn’t high on my reading list, but I’m glad that I finally read the book because I had no clue what I was missing…

Blending traditional fantasy elements—Jeffrey’s influences include Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Patricia McKillip, Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy, Guy Gavriel Kay—with the enchantment of a children’s fairy tale, “Auralia’s Colors” is the magical story of a mysterious orphan girl with otherworldly powers who brings change to the people of House Abascar… I know, at a glance it doesn’t sound that extraordinary, and in truth, “Auralia’s Colors” is peppered with a number of generic fantasy ingredients like orphan protagonists with enigmatic pasts, tortured kings, beneficent princes, an exiled mage, and a deadly threat from the North, but it’s the little things that Mr. Overstreet does that help his novel to stand apart.

Of the most significance is the theme. As the title alludes, Jeffrey Overstreet’s debut explores the importance of colors. More specifically, the author asks what the world would be like if there was no color in it… The Expanse is governed by four kingdoms—five if you include the fallen House Cent Regus—and among these, House Abascar is considered the weakest. To correct this oversight, Queen Jaralaine comes up with an ambitious plan “the Wintering of Abascar”, during which the people of the House would sacrifice “their colors, their craft, their weaving, their bounty and their treasures” to enhance the splendor of Abascar. Once the House is recognized for the power it is, the King would then declare “Abascar’s Spring” whence color would return and the people rewarded based on their contributions. Unfortunately, after twenty years the Proclamation of the Colors is still in effect, the Queen long vanished, and the people have forgotten the meaning of color. Into this drab world enters Auralia who is gifted with the ability to weave the very essence of nature into incredible inventions that capture color in all of its wondrous beauty. Yet while Auralia may be the key to House Abascar remembering what they had lost in the absence of color, it will be up to the people whether they are willing to see it or not…

Interwoven into this central theme are a myriad of subplots including an ale boy who possesses his own mysterious power, a Prince that is discovering what it takes to be a good ruler, the Captain of the guard and the secrets he harbors, the Captain’s daughter who has been Promised to the Prince, a King who can’t let go of the past, a thief who seeks revenge, the Beastmen threat, a potential uprising, and various other threads which may make it seem like there’s a lot going on in “Auralia’s Colors”, but in reality the story is pretty straightforward. In fact, Jeffrey keeps things pretty simple, which I think benefits the novel. Too much more and I think readers would start losing focus on the fundamental issues that the author is trying to explore.

Apart from the color angle, music also seems to be an important element in the book as evidenced by the Songs (Midnight Verse, Evening Verse, etc.) that are a part of the Housefolks’ lives, and magic of course which exists in the form of the divine-like Keeper, the transformed Beastmen, stonemasters, firewalkers, and the phantom-like Northchildren. Additionally, Mr. Overstreet introduces a couple of other interesting customs such as the Gatherers—orphans and lawbreakers who are forced to live outside the House to work off their transgressions—and the Rites of the Privilege where certain Gatherers may be pardoned if they have been good enough, and orphans who at the age of sixteen may join Abascar if they have something of value to offer the House.

What makes “Auralia’s Colors” work so well as a novel is the author. Jeffrey had a unique vision in mind regarding color and he stayed true to that vision throughout the book while making sure that the story, characters and setting didn’t suffer. On top of that, Mr. Overstreet just has fantastic prose, reminding me of the lyrical quality that has infused the works of such authors/poets as Nicholas Christopher and Catherynne M. Valente, and which just seems to suit this kind of storytelling. Finally, I just loved the extra mile that Jeffrey goes to in giving most of the book’s flora & fauna (fangbear, snowcave wolves, spiderbats) distinctive names and properties. You know, it doesn’t seem like much, but not enough writers do it in fantasy fiction and I think it makes a world of difference.

The only thing that I found strange about “Auralia’s Colors” is that the novel is classified as Christian fiction. Now that’s not a knock against the genre because I enjoy those types of books, and I understand that Mr. Overstreet is a Christian writer himself, but I don’t agree with the categorization. Sure, the Keeper could be an allusion to God, the views on good & evil could be skewed towards Christianity, the novel as a whole is definitely family-friendly, and the story can be quite inspirational, but compared to other fantasy that I’ve read, the religious aspects are actually pretty understated. In short, I wouldn’t describe Jeffrey’s debut as Christian fiction, not that it really matters either way. All you really need to know is that "Auralia's Colors" is an eloquently composed tale of vibrant magic that lets the imagination soar much like Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles or Narnia does, and I would highly recommend the novel to anyone who has an appreciation for the fantastic…

NOTE: “Auralia’s Colors” is also known as The Red Strand in the Auralia Thread, a proposed four-volume series that continues in The Blue Strand—“Cyndere’s Midnight”.


Calibandar said...

Can't wait for your review of Sharp Teeth, a novel -in- verse. I wonder what's going to be like.

SQT said...

This sounds wonderful. I checked-- it's supposed to be in stock at the bookstore--I may head over today and get this one.

Robert said...

Calibander, yeah, I'm really looking forward to reading "Sharp Teeth" myself. I've heard some good stuff about it :)

Theresa, the book would make a great buy in my opinion, and I think you would really like it :)

John (Grasping for the Wind) said...

I was not as impressed as you, my review will be up this month as part of the CSFF blog tour (date not yet set) so you can see why in a couple weeks.

Still, it is worth reading if you enjoy a lyrical style of writing (I don't so much).

Robert said...

Well, I'll be looking forward to your review!

John (Grasping for the Wind) said...

Thanks for the comment! I realkly wanted to highlight your review because my reactions was so very different from everyone else's. I do love how readers can get so many different things out of the novel. Check out my interview with Jeffrey Overstreet tomorrow!

Anonymous said...

ive read this book, and yes i have to agree with you. although he is a christian writer, this book isnt a religious piece. this is a great book, overstreet ranks up there with goodkind and tolkien in book... except there dont seem to be any areas of the book that i could consider dry. anyway, i cant wait to get my hands on cynders midnight.

Museifu said...

As an atheist from a muslim family I was a little reluctant to read this book - if it wasn't for the under £1 price I probably wouldn't. But I enjoyed it greatly. This is not Christian fiction as I understand what it is.

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