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Christian Speculative Fiction Challenge: A Cast of Stones

Cast-of-StonesThis post is the result of a conversation begun HERE in which Becky Miller threw down the gauntlet:

I’d like to offer you a counter challenge–sort of like the one you took up with the romance writers. Would you be willing to read a Christian speculative novel that I choose for you and then answer the question yourself–if and in what way Christian speculative fiction differs from mainstream Christian fiction.

Being the good sport that I am, I chose from a list of books Becky recommended. For no specific reason other than that I like epic fantasy, I selected Patrick Carr’s A Cast of Stones, first in a trilogy published by Bethany House. Coincidentally, not only was this novel free on Kindle (I learned this AFTER I made my decision, thank you very much!), but apparently the book is featured on the CSFF blog tour this week. Great timing, huh?

So I took up A Cast of Stones not just to read and review, but as part of a challenge regarding Christian speculative fiction and whether or not, as Becky contends, “There are publishing houses that are making serious attempts to broaden their market by adding books that break the perceived mold.”

So is A Cast of Stones one such book? Is there now reason to be optimistic about the future of Christian speculative fiction?

I’m going to be honest right up front: The last epic fantasy I read was Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind… and this novel doesn’t come close. That’s probably an unfair comparison. Forgive me. I had pretty much vowed to not read epic fantasy again. It all seemed SO derivative. Until some of the readers here (namely Katherine Coble) plead with me to give Name of the Wind a try. I posted shortly after finishing the book how the author had revived my hope for the epic fantasy genre.

So while I hate to judge Carr’s book by Rothfuss’, this was my initial reaction. And frankly, if Christian speculative fiction (and Christian fiction in general) is out to provide comparable alternatives to general market fare, The Name of the Wind is the exact type of target we should be measuring ourselves by.

OK. On to a brief analysis of pros and cons.

Upsides of A Cast of Stones:

The writing is solid. Not spectacular, but easily read. There’s no laboring through complex sentences or hacking through adverbial jungles. Carr’s style is inviting and facilitates the story.

Kudos to the author and publisher for placing the lead character as a town drunk. Please note: This is primarily a plus in that the Christian fiction market gets touchy-feely about their heroes being saintly. Props to Carr and Bethany House for taking this risk!

The religious themes are subtle, natural, and felt organic to the tale. The story isn’t preachy. Nor did I feel like biblical ideas / imagery were being shoe-horned to fit the world’s religion. Great job!

The “reading” device was original. The story involves “readers” who can intuit events and receive “guidance” using a “divination device.” I liked the way the author developed this device and thought it was conceptually unique.

Downsides of A Cast of Stones:

There’s not enough story for the size of the book. This novel felt drawn out to be more “epic.” It’s been suggested elsewhere that, rather than offer one 700+ page novel, as Rothfuss’s was, Christian publishers tend to want to stretch these things into trilogies. Well, this book felt like that.

A lack of plot complexity. At times, I felt my interest waning simply because there wasn’t much to the story. Other than lots of names, there were few multiple story lines, and minimal historic / world elements to grasp.

Minimal world-building and setting descriptions. This was a major weakness, in my opinion. The cities, culture, and landscape could have taken place almost anywhere. They simply weren’t developed enough.

The protag’s weakness is belabored. He’s a drunk. I got that after about the twentieth time it was mentioned.

If I was giving out stars, I’d give A Cast of Stones three-and-a-half.

Which brings me back to the main challenge and my purpose for reading / reviewing this in the first place: Does A Cast of Stones signal a sea-change in the Christian fiction industry? Are we on a path to see Christian speculative fiction transcend the strictures of the previous generation of Christian lit?

Answer: I’m not sure.

On one hand, it is encouraging to see the religious elements of the tale be more organic to the story. I liked that about A Cast of Stones and would definitely consider that a plus. This doesn’t feel like a forced allegory. Nor did I feel like Carr has some agenda to sneak the Gospel in and sucker punch the reader at the end. If this is the direction of Christian fiction, then I am definitely encouraged.

On the other hand, there is still this sub-culture of Christian readers who demand “Christian” fiction be more overt and less nuanced. Take this Amazon reviewer who gave the book two stars because “the undercurrents are worrisome.” Those worrisome undercurrents are…

1. There is a new savior/king for each generation.
2. The boundary that keeps evil from invading the land was purchased with the blood of a human not Eleison (who represents Jesus in the story).
3. Aurae (representing the Holy Spirt) is unknowable according to the “church” but certain herbwomen claim to communicate directly with him.
4. Errol’s transformation does not come from a relationship with Deas (the God figure in the story)but through facing his past, getting to know himself, and self-discipline.
5. None of the main characters have a personal relationship with Deas or Eleison or Aurae. The main focus of the story is on tradition and ritual.
6. There is a yin/yang element to the story in Errol/Liam (a young man from his village).

This is what I just LOVE about the Christian reading community, don’t you?

Are Christian authors and publishers ready to dismiss this reader’s concerns? And how would those (like Becky) who endorse this genre, rebut such concerns? Frankly, this is one of the huge internal, cultural issues at work in this conversation: How subtle can biblical themes be to a tale and it still be “Christian” enough?

Another thing: The author and publisher are definitely taking a risk with the lead character being the town drunk. Again, this is a risk specifically because of the fundamentalist moral culture the industry has its roots in. Nevertheless, as Becky said in the first day of her CSFF blog tour for A Cast of Stones, this signals a change in our demands for “conservative behavioral standards” on our fiction:

What [Mike] doesn’t believe (and again, I agree) is that there is a set of conservative behavioral standards often adhered to by an element of the more conservative evangelical churches which defines or even identifies Christians–things like no drinking, dancing, smoking, swearing. A number of readers who admittedly don’t read Christian fiction believe that these stories still hold to those standards. More than once I’ve heard how Christian fiction can’t show someone drinking, for instance.

It’s a laughable statement, and has been for at least five years, but A Cast of Stones ought to put the issue to bed because the protagonist of the story, Errol Stone, is the town drunk.

As I said, I definitely see this as a plus. However, this doesn’t resolve the issue… it only makes it worse. Why? Because at some point, Christian readers (especially of the ultra-conservative ilk) will demand adherence to “conservative behavioral standards” in their fiction. I mean, what if Errol, the lead character, was to lust over a fair maiden’s breasts (something fairly common to most 19 year-old males, methinks!)? Would THAT be a positive step forward for the genre? Or what if Errol, in a fit of drunken rage, calls his mentor a “fat, blasted, damned, udder-sucking, dolt”? Would THAT be a positive step forward for the genre?

So what Becky considers a “positive” can really go both ways.

Anyway, as I’ve said elsewhere, I really want to see Christian writers and Christian speculative fiction succeed. This challenge has been helpful and I think I’d have to concede there are some positive things going on in Christian fiction. But whether or not A Cast of Stones signals that, I’d remain lukewarm. A good step forward on the journey, indeed! I just happen to think we’ve still got a long way to go.

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{ 29 comments… add one }
  • Jill August 29, 2013, 9:24 AM

    I haven’t read it, but given that your review is quite similar to Katherine’s, I’ll pass on it. Lack of world building in an epic fantasy is pretty much a death sentence. It’s just not going to fly with the majority of fantasy readers.

    • Mike Duran August 29, 2013, 10:02 AM

      Jill, I totally agree with you about this. World-building is essential to good epic fantasy.

  • Teddi Deppner August 29, 2013, 9:43 AM

    Thanks for the review — and boy, are you fast (reading)!

    I don’t think the Christian culture issues you mentioned are going away anytime soon. Yet another reason for authors to seek publication in the general market and keep their Christian background quiet. Why invite the kind of theological reviews you mentioned above? The second something (or someone) is called “Christian”, the scrutiny and critical judgment begins. Ergh. There are days I hate facing reality.

    • Mike Duran August 29, 2013, 10:06 AM

      Teddi, for some reason I read a lot faster on my Kindle. Haven’t quite figured out why. Plus, as I said, the book was easy reading.

    • Jessica Thomas August 29, 2013, 12:36 PM

      “another reason for authors to seek publication in the general market and keep their Christian background quiet.”

      I don’t think this is a good alternative either (the ‘keeping your Christian background quiet’ part). At what point does it become denying Jesus before other men, doing so in order to acheive wordly success? I’ve struggled with this issue myself lately, and have decided that even if I do break into the general market I want my readers to know I’m Christian via my social media presence. I’m not branding my press as a Christian press. (Can an entity be ‘Christian’?) But on my individual author site, I think my worldview is pretty clear.

      • Teddi Deppner August 29, 2013, 2:50 PM

        I agree, Jessica. Notice I said keep it “quiet”, not deny it. 😉

        Nobody can have any doubt that I’m Christian if they come to my personal blog or social media profiles. But I don’t need to put the label “Christian fiction” on my work. I don’t need to put the label “Christian writer” on my author page.

        For me, I’m not selling a “Christian” product. I’m selling a great story. I’m not selling to the Christian market. My stories are for any people who have certain tastes in fiction.

        I’m beginning to accept the fact that if people see the label “Christian” on a product, they expect certain things. Believers expect it “clean” and “orthodox” to an impossible standard (especially given the differences in Christian doctrine between various major denominations). Non-believers expect it to have low quality art and to push Jesus in their face.

        I’m also beginning to accept that it’s not just my books that are seen as a product and should be appropriately labeled — but also my brand as an author.

  • Mir August 29, 2013, 10:22 AM

    And that reviewer’s quibbles are the sort of thing that drives me to hollering. Why can they not simply accept a story’s created world and see what it has to offer within its story-world framework? Why always bring it to, “Well, it’s not exactly like our religiously-viewed world in X, Y, Z?” It’s not supposed to be like our world to a tee. It’s a fantasy world. It is a created world with its own rules and deity and cultures. One must fight off the urge to yank out clumps of hair!!!!

    I still can’t wrap my brain around why dancing and drinking are wrong, when there’s so darn much of it in Scripture by godly folks. Like, you know, the imbibing Savior of Mankind. And I say that as someone who rarely imbibes liquor and often has to toss bottles of wine bought for family events that turn bad from being just left there, neglected and unsavored. Booze doesn’t call to me, but I certainly see no Biblical prohibition of drinking, only drunkenness. The legalism is a daunting thing to come against. We never learn the lesson of the Jesus vs the Pharisees, it seems. Never fricken ever. And the Pharisees seem to like to review speculative fiction according to their narrow little rules, too….


  • D.M. Dutcher August 29, 2013, 11:00 AM

    I still have the book on my e-reader, and I have to get around to it. Only one book ahead of it, though. So little time…

    I agree in general Christian fiction lacks in complexity, especially in epic fantasy. However, the trend to increasing complexity is one of the big reasons many fans have soured on that genre, with series in double-digit features sapping the will of them to continue. The trick would be to make it complex, but not too much so.

    Worldbuilding…again I agree, but it’s not like modern secular fantasy is all that creative, either. Pretty much all fantasy these days dissolves into paranormal, neo-Tolkien or pseudo-historical; you don’t see something like Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser books, or Cherryh’s Rusalka novels. It seems like innovation is “we’re do all the tropes straight, except our magic is squishier! Or our world has no magic! Or there’s lots of sex and violence, because you didn’t read Melanie Rawn in the 80s!”

    The breast thing…I’m torn. I so agree we need more realism and willingness to push the boundaries, but I’m also jaded as hell. I think we need to admit at times that many of us who read secular books have been desensitized to the way they often use sex, violence, and profanity as the equivalent of jump scares in a film; to evoke an effect. I mean, reading The Stand makes me wonder if a pseudo-Christian message is going to balance out the Kid forcing the Trashman to have sex with him at gunpoint, in a very pointed place. A lot of this seems to me to be more about trying to perk the ears of the jaded, to get listened to, and not every Christian is such. It’s a tough thing to think about.

  • T. W. Johnson August 29, 2013, 12:26 PM

    Well, Mike, as a conservatively-raised Christian, I often find myself wondering if you’re wanting Christian books to mirror secular ones—why?

    I mean, what’s a Christian publisher’s reason for existing if their material sets no distinction between themselves and the world? I just don’t get it. Not only that, but how’s a non-Christian to determine a difference if there isn’t one? There’d be no cause for them to change who they are.

    The biggest reason many conservative Christians turn away from some of things you mentioned is probably due to the following:

    Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
    (Exodus 20:7)

    But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness.
    (2nd Timothy 2:16)

    But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.
    (Colossians 3:8)

    It’d be a strange irony if Christian books someday were full of obscenities, with the reverse for secular ones. Of course, Star Wars novels seem to usually shy away from vulgarities to maintain family-friendliness—kudos to George Lucas, by the way.

    Then there’s the indie route, of which I’ve found several titles, (favorite genres, too), that are well written, story-driven, and quite sanitized.

    Oh well, if you’re looking for titles that “break the mold”…here’s one. I found it in 2003, in a local bookstore, though it’s a few years older. Unless the author made changes, you’ll find a good handful of cuss words or better.


    • Teddi Deppner August 29, 2013, 2:58 PM

      T.W., I just re-read Mike’s post and I don’t see anywhere on the list of “downsides” to the book he reviewed that it was missing swear words and needed more.

      It’s funny how polarizing the sanitization issue gets. One group of people is saying, “Christian fiction is so sanitized that it does not ring true, it does not appear authentic and therefore does not connect with many readers.” Then the other group knee-jerks, “You’re sick! Why do you want more cussing and sex and gore? That stuff is evil and we Christians shouldn’t be promoting it!”

      The point isn’t to look like the world. The point is to look like real life. To show real people dealing with real issues — and ideally, depending on your genre and target reader — to offer a general sense of hope and redemption or even to overtly show a real God at work in the real world.

      • T. W. Johnson August 29, 2013, 5:51 PM

        Teddi…Mike has posted articles concerning this issue before. About the possibility of Christian publishers being more lenient when it comes to such things as cursing.

        My question is still why? Why even entertain the idea? It’s supposed to be Christian Fiction for a reason…or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Christians aren’t supposed to have their own form of entertainment.

        The point I’m trying to make is that the world has their own form of entertainment; they don’t need more of the same.

        As far as ringing true goes: does “The Twilight Zone” not “ring true”? Look at how popular it is. So many people love the show. Is it because of the curse words…no, because it’d be rare to find any, and if so, they’d be mild.

        Here’s a link to a seven-year old article from NBC about the rise of profanity:

        What about this: since there shouldn’t be anything wrong with cursing in Christian Fiction, then let it be the same for Christian music. Michael W. Smith’s next hit song needs some cursing in it. Better yet, his next hymn or praise and worship song needs a good dose of profanities so everyone in the congregation can join in. What a lovely sound that’d make—all those little children chiming along with D this or F that. Let’s start them young.

        Why would a Christian want to listen to music littered with curse words? They most probably wouldn’t, I’d imagine. However, if I’m wrong, and they don’t care, then they shouldn’t mind listening to praise music with the same junk.

        I mean, why not…if it’s good for their Christian-labeled books, it’s good for their Christian-labeled songs. It can start a new trend: Praise God with Profanity. Hey, that rather “rings true” nowadays. Someone could print it to T-shirts, coffee mugs, bumper stickers, etc.

        • Teddi Deppner August 29, 2013, 6:22 PM

          As I said, this topic tends to polarize folks. It’s like all you hear me saying is “I want curse words in my fiction!”

          That isn’t my point. I don’t use swear words, I don’t prefer to hear them (whether from people in real life or in my entertainment).

          But as someone who has intimate experience with legalism and its crippling effects, I am against any form of it.

          As for the realities of the publishing world, I think it’s vital to understand the expectations of a reader. If you violate the reader’s trust, if you do not meet their expectations, you will fail.

          I totally agree that a book with the label “Christian fiction” presents the expectation that the contents will be clean of content offensive to the bulk of mainstream Christians. We need to recognize that expectation and deal with it.

          Some of us want to deal with it in part by trying to change it. Some of us think it’s not biblical to create an artificial world in which you try to live after becoming a Christian where everything around you is clean and safe and unoffensive and won’t tempt you to sin. Where you only talk to Christians and only do business with Christians and only read Christian books and watch Christian movies and have Christian friends and go to Christian schools and never engage with the world itself.

          I know that’s an extreme, and most people don’t actually do that. But. The paradigm under which the Christian book market (and sometimes the Christian church) operates seems to be based on that sort of an approach.

          That said… I encourage every person to follow their conscience. Don’t read what violates your conscience. Don’t write what violates your conscience.

          The sad part is when we try to demand that everyone else follows the exact same rules we do or we will deny them the label we all share: Christian.

        • D.M. Dutcher August 29, 2013, 7:04 PM

          I don’t think people are saying we should just throw anything into Christian Fiction willy-nilly, but that at times, it’s just more realistic to have a coarse sailor, street thug, or prostitute swear if the story demands it to show how harsh their life is, or how their anger and character is. If we’re going to write realistic types of fiction like thrillers, police procedurals, or deep character studies of troubled people, it’s odd to sanitize some aspects and not the others.

          You can write genres and stories without the need for this kind of characterization, but like the Twilight Zone, you walk a fine line between “entertaining, clean story,” and “too mannered and restrained to seem plausible.” To use a counter-example from old TV, most of the old war series like Combat! or Rat Patrol seem unrealistic today for a generation that grew up on Saving Private Ryan and more realistic war films.

        • Mike Duran August 29, 2013, 7:35 PM

          Tim, when you say “the world has their own form of entertainment,” you are drawing a line that, I think, is rather difficult to define. How is “Christian entertainment” different than “worldly entertainment”? Shouldn’t it be as much about “telling the truth” as “keeping it clean”?

          When you suggest that I’m saying “there shouldn’t be anything wrong with cursing in Christian Fiction,” you’re mischaracterizing my position and making what is a complex subject into something simplistic. I answered this charge and the tactic of using it in this post: The Crusade for Profanity (and Other Ploys).

          “Praise God with Profanity”??? C’mon, Tim. If you want to discuss this issue, fine. But let’s not be silly, okay?

          • T. W. Johnson August 29, 2013, 8:21 PM

            My position is still the same: a Christian book should remain as such. The label is Christian for a reason.

            If a writer wants to use curse words, then they can write for a secular company. If reader wants to read books with cursing…buy a secular book, chances are it’s in there.

            Teddi Deppner said, “As for the realities of the publishing world, I think it’s vital to understand the expectations of a reader. If you violate the reader’s trust, if you do not meet their expectations, you will fail.”

            Not so…here’s an example:




            A.P. Fuchs has been an indie publishing for nine years, publishing not only his work, but others’ as well. Though he’s a professing Christian, he doesn’t tout his company as being so. I’ve read a good amount of his work, which is has been vastly void of profanity. Sometimes it has zilch.

            In his ongoing “Metahumans” anthology (of which, if all goes well, I’ll be a part of very soon), various writers come together to create individual vs. type stories. One of A.P.’s stipulations for being a part of this series is to “watch the language, and other stuff” (my emphasis), because he wants everyone to enjoy it.

            A.P. regularly attends Comic Cons, etc., and has a very large following. Publishing is what he does fulltime.

            Mike, you said, “Shouldn’t it be as much about ‘telling the truth’ as ‘keeping it clean’?”

            What “truth” are you suggesting? If it’s to show non-Christians that they curse, no one needs to show them, they already know. Wouldn’t they expect a Christian to refrain from cursing, or at least try?

            I formally worked at the phosphate mines for almost twelve years. During that time, an awful lot of the employees swore continually, and I never once questioned them. It was in one ear and out the other for me. Then one day, a co-worker hesitantly asked, “Are you a Christian?”

            I said, “Yes,” and they started not only watching me all the time, they’d pretty much watch how they spoke when around me—the ones that knew.

            I’m not wanting to come off as prudish, Mike, or portray myself as just another “holier than thou” type. I like the same stuff as you: horror, mystery, suspense, fantasy, action, drama, etc. It’s just that it’s already hard enough to find those things I like the way I like them. I’m not alone, though. My wife, parents, and friends are of the same consensus.

            • T. W. Johnson August 29, 2013, 8:35 PM

              Yes, I see the typos. It’s late, and I’m tired.

            • Mike Duran August 30, 2013, 4:38 AM

              Tim, I have no problem with people writing or wanting to read “clean fiction.” Most of my stories have no cursing. My contention is that when that’s a DEFINING characteristic of Christian fiction, we’ve got a problem. I contend it’s a theological problem. Again, I would suggest that our big difference lies in our view of the secular / sacred divide. When you refer to “a secular book” or “a secular company,” what exactly do you mean? Is the Lord of the Rings a “secular” series? Are Flannery O’Connor’s stories “secular”? Was the film, The Apostle “secular”? Is Bethany House “secular”? Is Walmart “secular”? Is U2 a “secular” band? Frankly, I don’t see these types of distinctions pertaining to art or entities in Scripture.

            • Teddi Deppner August 30, 2013, 10:19 AM

              I said, “As for the realities of the publishing world, I think it’s vital to understand the expectations of a reader. If you violate the reader’s trust, if you do not meet their expectations, you will fail.”

              I have the impression that you thought I was saying, “If you don’t put swear words in your fiction, the world won’t like reading it.” That’s not what I was saying.

              Your example is perfect. If he is selling books and gaining repeat customers, A.P. Fuchs knows his readers and has met their expectations. That’s my point.

              And I agree with you — the label “Christian” on a fiction book has come to mean “clean” to a certain expected standard. I made that point in a recent blog post on this subject. Thus, if I put the label “Christian” on my book, I will get backlash if it’s not “clean” up to the reader’s expectations. I will get backlash if the theology in the story is not orthodox enough or if the reader thinks I’m pushing a doctrine that doesn’t fit inside their box.

              We need a different way of defining things, because the current definition is not inclusive enough of what God is doing in fiction. “Christian fiction” is a misnomer. It does not represent all of us. As Katherine Coble put it so well on another blog, it is merely “some fiction for some Christians.”

              There are Christians writing excellent fiction from a Christian perspective that is getting rejected by “Christian” publishers. And NOT because there are swear words or sex scenes. These are people writing stories where characters deal with important issues in today’s world: post-traumatic stress disorder, human trafficking, addiction, spousal abuse. Not comfortable topics. But important ones. Things that are on the heart of God, things He’s moving authors to write about.

              The current standard is simply too narrow.

              However, trying to change the Christian fiction industry may not be worth the effort. As sad as it is to see the label Christian be so limited, it might be best to walk away and just publish books. No “Christian” label. Just good books. Let readers choose them for their merits, let them gain a reputation for their content, on their own.

              What is sad is seeing “Christian” fiction missing whole parts of the body of Christ. No matter how beautiful and presentable the parts that are there… other necessary parts are missing, even if they aren’t so beautiful and presentable. Still necessary, for the functioning fullness of the body.

              Thanks for the discussion, Tim. I’m glad you’re out there, and your family of readers who want a certain kind of fiction. May we all grow up together as a body into the fullness of Christ and fulfill all that He has prepared for us to do in this world until His return.

              • T. W. Johnson August 30, 2013, 12:32 PM

                Well, I see what you’re saying, Mike, which is why I enjoy your work. It’s entertaining, mysterious, eerie, and cerebral…and, anyone can read it. “The Resurrection” felt to me as if Lovecraft had penned it. You literally created a “clean” horror tale, proving that it was possible to do so.

                When I think of the word “secular”, however (and this is my personal view), I usually link it with an extreme synonym, like profane or blasphemous—not just worldly or earthly.

                Therefore, The Lord of The Rings and definitely Star Wars are without a doubt secular or worldly, but there’re not profane. That can’t be said of Rod Zombie’s version of Halloween, though (of which I’ve only read about), or any form of entertainment where almost every line or scene delivered is filled with smut.

                Anything that doesn’t glorify God is secular or worldly, but that doesn’t necessarily make it profane or blasphemous.

                I’ve been a Christian since the age of eight…so, thirty-two years. Not everyone can say that. There’re plenty of “young” Christians out there that don’t have much of a foundation, who are more prone to influence. So Christian Fiction needs to remain Christian, at least for their sake, it seems.

                Teddi, your first paragraph reminds me of (if I remember correctly) what Stephen King said in his book “On Writing”. He said something to the effect of, “…not violating a reader’s trust…meeting your readers’ expectations”. If I remember, he also made comments about cursing. He said to use cursing only if your readership accepts it. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m almost certain he mentioned it in “On Writing”.

                As for the theological stuff…it’s always going to be that way, until the Lord returns, when He “reveals the hearts of men” (and women, to be PC), as scripture says.

                I fully agree with your following statement, though:

                “However, trying to change the Christian fiction industry may not be worth the effort. As sad as it is to see the label Christian be so limited, it might be best to walk away and just publish books. No “Christian” label. Just good books. Let readers choose them for their merits, let them gain a reputation for their content, on their own.”

                I couldn’t have said it better myself. You should post it everywhere.

                I believe that’s exactly what A.P. has successfully done. Now I haven’t read all of his work, and only some of the authors he’s published, but I think he’s really trying to do just what you stated. He wants to write (and publish) good, entertaining stories, of the sort he’s fond of, in hopes others well enjoy it, maybe even be uplifted at times, and possibly come away with something to reflect upon.

  • xdpaul August 29, 2013, 12:57 PM

    You want epic fantasy – you need to go read all of the Selenoth tales. Start with Wardog’s Coin, move to A Magic Broken, then take on A Throne of Bones.

    It blows Rothfuss out of the water (especially the second novel in the King Killer Chronicle), and it isn’t even close. World is huge compared to the setting that surrounds Kvothe, multi-storylined.

    Far more dramatic, far more nuanced, far, far more epic. Last epic fantasy that started this well was written 25 years ago. It could go off the rails (like Rothfuss’ has begun to do in book 2), but it’s launch is very, very promising.

    • Katherine Coble August 29, 2013, 2:44 PM

      Of course that means patronizing an author known for his racist, misogynistic worldview.

      I’ve already got Orson Scott Card. Do I need another irascible Archie Bunkeresque author in my head?

      • Katherine Coble August 29, 2013, 2:46 PM

        And yes, I’ve read _Throne of Bones_ and _Summa Elvetica_. And no, it doesn’t approach Rothfuss, Martin, Kay…let alone blow them out of the water. YMMV, obviously.

  • Rebecca LuElla Miller August 29, 2013, 1:30 PM

    Mike, I think this is a good review. I agree that the worldbuilding could be stronger. I read the second book, so know that he does have a more complex world than what was presented in book 1, and that the plot is considerably more involved. But, in truth, the second book is also much more “Christian” in the sense that lines are more distinctly drawn between good and evil, and parallels with Christianity are more evident. After reading the second book, I think Carr will jangle a few theological sensibilities regarding the Holy Spirit, however.

    But let me come back to the point of this little throw-down–and thank you for taking it up. I hope I didn’t come across in the previous discussion as saying I think Christian fantasy has arrived. Rather, I think it’s taking strides. The books I listed for you to choose from are all different from what has come to identify Christian fiction. I dare say Dragonwitch is the most different, and I’d encourage anyone to give it a try. There are a few basic worldbuilding elements that a reader would have to know in advance, and I’d be happy to provide a quick overview of those.

    What about those readers who complain that overt Christianity isn’t as apparent in these speculative stories? I would hope each one of them will be replaced by two other readers who rejoice to see a story with a bit more subtlety, a lot more character development, and a lot less predictability.


  • Katherine Coble August 29, 2013, 2:53 PM

    I’d comment but I guess I don’t need to, since we’re pretty much identical in opinion.

    I am glad you brought up the relentlessness of Errol’s alcoholism; that was pretty tedious after the first couple of chapters. More to the point, the eventual resolution of it is one of the story tricks I most loathe.

    (*****SPOILER******* ‘Convenient illness’ has long been an out for authors. It’s really popular in romances with larger-bodied heroines. They always lose enough weight to get the guy by being too sick to eat but not sick enough to die or look haggard in any way. When Errol woke up from his light coma “cured” I was a bit miffed. We should have seen him fight it earnestly. ********************)

  • Jeanette O'Hagan August 30, 2013, 1:10 AM

    Hi Mike
    Thanks for an interesting post. I’m currently writing secondary world fantasy with a more nuanced faith themes so I was particularly interested in your assessment of what worked and what didn’t.

  • Nathan August 30, 2013, 8:32 AM


    I may have just missed the mention of him here or in the previous post, but if you haven’t already done so, check out L.B. Graham. He just released his newest book, Darker Road. Prior to this, he released a series of five books called Binding of the Blade. If you’re looking for good epic fantasy, this may help a bit 🙂

  • Lelia Rose Foreman August 30, 2013, 4:27 PM

    I’m a little surprised, Mike, that you thought the alcoholism was belabored. When you are addicted to something, you tend to think about it a lot.

    SPOILER ALERT: the detox did make me smile. All of us who have ever had to detox from anything (caffeine, chocolate, alcohol, cocain, antidepressants, etc) would have gladly done it during a coma.

    Honestly, Mike, how many of us, even working hard on our craft, will ever be able to describe silence as the cut-flower sound of a man waiting to die? Even you don’t write like that.
    Now I’m really curious to see what you think of Quintessence by David Walton or The Constant Tower by Carole McDonnell.

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