catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 7, Num 8 :: 2008.04.18 — 2008.05.02


A beautifully woven tale

Genre fiction often gets a bad rap for following blueprints drawn up by great predecessors. The bad rap is often deserved; as much as I like mysteries, I’m fine with never reading another story with a crafty serial killer or wise, eccentric European gumshoe.

So when I say Auralia’s Colors is a different sort of fantasy novel, that’s meant as high praise. Even though it took a few chapters to draw me in, I fell in love with everything about the book. I’m already impatient for the sequel, slated for this coming fall.

The people of House Abascar are in perpetual winter.  Not only are the citizens are under constant threat from the beastmen that lurk in the forest, but the kingdom was stripped of color years before by the since-vanished queen. Now, only Abascar’s royalty can bask in bright colors while the commonfolk are draped in grays and murky browns. Morale is low, and fear and paranoia are ever-present. All await a promised spring, a grand return of color and joy, that may never come.

At the center of the novel is Auralia, a young girl living with the outcasts and criminals camped at the foot of Abascar’s walls. She spends her time exploring, often collecting materials for the richly-colored weavings she makes. Her joy and compassion are a blessing for the downtrodden outside the city gates, as are the magnificent—and illegal—gifts she makes for everyone.

While Auralia is the heart of the book and the catalyst for much of what happens, she isn’t the focus; Overstreet populates the Expanse with a great cast. There’s King Cal-marcus, the ruler of Abascar, broken by his wife’s disappearance and the ghosts of the past; Prince Cal-raven haunts the woods outside of the kingdom’s walls, drawn more to the fugitives there than to the aristocrats that he’s expected to accompany; and a humble, un-named ale boy who is quickly swept into the adventure. There are also countless minor characters who are as rich and interesting as those who get more focus. From a conniving career criminal to Cal-raven’s spoiled betrothed, Overstreet populates his world with nuanced, believable people, not matter how large or small their role.

Overstreet sidesteps some of the standard fantasy tropes and delivers something different, something wonderful. None of the characters fits into the standard fantasy archetypes.  Auralia isn’t a harmless waif or tough princess, but an intricate, tattered young girl who has a deep love and faith in things she doesn’t entirely understand. And instead of a novel based on swords-and-sorcery action or medieval political intrigue, Auralia’s Colors gives the cast room to breathe and move about and take their own path.

Sometimes the prose is a little too lush (I had to re-read a few parts several times just to figure out what was happening), but Overstreet writes beautifully. He’s not writing the story of Abascar—he’s painting it with words. I do wish the book could’ve been longer, fleshing out a few ideas or plot points that seem like they were glossed over.

The allegorical aspects and themes are also woven into the story well enough that they don’t fall out on to your lap. It’s all pretty powerful stuff, from the childrens’ whispers and trust in the Keeper that haunts their dreams, to the power of imagination and beauty, no matter how rugged or worn it may seem.

In addition to acting as contributing editor for Seattle Pacific University’s Response magazine, he spends most of his time writing film reviews for magazines like Christianity Today and Paste.  He’s also written a great account of his journey as a film lover in his book Through a Screen Darkly. I’ve gotten to know him over the past few years on the Arts & Faith message board, and I’ve seen that the attention to detail and nuance that he utilizes in Auralia’s Colors stems from his life-long love of film. Auralia’s Colors is an accomplished and satisfying debut, minor blemishes and all.

And in a way, I’d say it’s even better because of the blemishes.

Auralia’s Colors
is the first strand in the Auralia Thread. The next in the series, Cyndere’s Midnight, is due in September 2008.

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