Wednesday, February 22, 2012

CSFF Tour Day 3 - The Realms Thereunder

I left off yesterday's post with somewhat of a cliffhanger.

I was still trying to finish the book we are touring.

I received a couple of exhortations (thanks Keenan and Eve). I managed to finish this morning on the commute. No, I wasn't driving.

However, I have one more confession. I have avoided most posts on our feature book, The Realms Thereunder, by Ross Lawhead. One of the best parts of the CSFF Tour is the camaraderie and intelligent discussion on the various books. However, sometimes I find my opinion shifting in reading other blogs. I didn't want to do that this time, to see if my feeling is unique and to keep it honest.

Unfortunately, my honest opinion is that I didn't really like the book.

I wanted to. I was very excited for this tour, and jumped right into it when it arrived. Yesterday I mentioned that Ross's father is acclaimed fantasy author Stephen Lawhead. I'm a big fan of the elder Lawhead, so I knew I had some expectations going in. I tried to keep them under wraps, but I'm also giving the full disclosure here.

As with most stories, there are elements that were enjoyable. Ross is as imaginative as his father, and he pictures a series of realms connected to our own, with the passages that connected the worlds starting to open and bleed into each other. He uses an Anglo-Saxon base for his main underground realm, which is different enough from the common Celtic fantasy troupe to make it stand out, yet familiar to fantasy fans.

He uses a varied structure that others on the tour have commented on. He tells the story of Daniel and Freya both in modern times and when they were 13 and lost as schoolkids for months while in an underground realm. The back and forth of time was not difficult for me to follow.

In particular, 13 year old Freya is encouraged in an encounter with an elderly woman who acted like one of the Fates weaving everyone's destiny into a grand tapestry. The language and ideas presented there were a real high point for me.

There was just too much that distracted me from his overall story thrust. I think a major problem was that I didn't enjoy his "voice," the way he writes. This is very subjective, and his voice never won me over. We've all had authors we love, but when we recommend them to friends, we are disappointed when they don't enjoy it as much as we do. That may be the main problem, so take it for what it is worth.

Other aspects of the writing were more objectively an issue for me. He shifted point of view between his main characters all the time. I've heard many say this is something only another writer would complain about, but I've seen omniscient POV done in such a way it wasn't a distraction, but it constantly threw me here. There were large sections of the book that I don't feel added much to the story progression or world-building. I would argue that some of these sections could be curtailed and tighten the flow of the plot. Perhaps they become significant in later books, but I didn't detect any of that occuring.

I didn't even have much empathy for the characters. They were not developed deep enough, so I didn't have much connection to them.

It disappoints me to give a negative review. I enjoy fantasy and I really wanted to like this book. I also feel that an honest opinion is better than papering over my differences with the book to go along with the crowd. I hope any readers today will check out Becky Miller's blog, where she keeps tabs on all of the posts for this tour, and read what others are saying. I am only one voice, and I plan on checking them out now myself.

Legal Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book without obligation for a positive review in return, which I think is evident.


  1. I think you'll find your opinion dovetails in many aspects with others on the tour, Jason. Me, I have mixed feelings, which I'll share in my review. Glad you finished it and glad you gave us your honest opinion. It counts for a lot, I think.


  2. I agree I agree!! You just worded it so much better than I...