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Book Review: ‘Shards of Faith’ by Allison Reid

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I found myself, as I was reading, thinking, “I like this!” I still thought so by the time I’d finished it.

We know author Allison Reid as “Weavingword,” a friend of this blog, and Shards of Faith is a “companion book” to the three books of her Wind Rider Chronicles. Somewhere between a novella and a novel, with a length of some 45,000 words, Shards of Faith takes us back in time to events preceding the main story line. It’s sort of a side trip, focused on Broguean the Bard, who last appeared as a minor character in Book 3, Visions of Light and Shadow.

In Visions Broguean is middle-aged, an entertainer who makes the rounds of taverns, not someone whom most people would take seriously–except it becomes evident that he is hiding behind a carefully constructed facade, and has a secret. In Shards we find out what that secret is.

Broguean has revoked his monk’s vows and left the monastery–run by a corrupt and evil abbot, and a prior who goes on to become the chief villain in the trilogy so far–to become a bard and a heavy drinker. He has abandoned a heritage which seems too high for him: he believes himself to be unworthy of it.

But the leaders of the faithful clergy have not forgotten whom he really is, and wind up recruiting him as a secret agent in their battle against evil men aligned with dark supernatural forces; and the job turns out to be vastly more dangerous than any of them bargained for. In the course of his adventures, Broguean has to come to terms with the conflict between what he is and what he ought to be–and that’s what makes this book special.

Once upon a time an author would have included all this in the main body of the story, via flashbacks, dialogue, etc. That can get messy. The companion book is a way to impart this information without interrupting the flow of the main story. The only problem with it is that if you read it as a stand-alone book, you won’t be reading it in context.

Ms. Reid has come a long way in her mastery of characterization; meanwhile, as usual, her quasi-medieval setting is authentic and convincing. There’s still an awful lot we don’t know about the main story–like, for instance, why the bad guys are calling monsters into the world, what they hope to gain from its destruction–but we hope that will be remedied in the next installment or two.

I like stories in which ordinary, believable people–not superheroes!–are called upon to do extraordinary things: because they have to, there’s no getting out of it, and they make do with the resources that God provides for them, sustained by their faith in His Word. Need I mention that every heroic act in all of human history so far has been performed by a real person, not a superhero?

Even when you’ve got a hero on the scene, even when you’ve got King Arthur, he can’t accomplish much without the help of unnamed, unsung men and women who share his vision, fight for it, work for it, and sacrifice for it. There’s way too much fantasy whose authors don’t get this: but Allison Reid does.


I Am So Sick(!) of Buxom Wenches…

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I’ve just received my copy of Visions of Light and Shadow by our esteemed colleague, Allison Reid (we know her here as “Weavingword”), Book No. 3 of her Wind Rider Chronicles. I’m looking forward to reading it as soon as I catch up on some other assignments. I know it’ll be good–in fact, a good book to read in bed.

One of the things I love about her books is that Allison has female protagonists who don’t conform to fantasy cliches, but instead are kind of normal people, albeit interesting ones,  who happen to be caught up in extraordinary events. This helps me to believe in the story as I’m reading it.

The fantasy genre–these books are fantasy novels–is smothered in cliches. For an art form that leans so heavily on the imagination, these toweringly unimaginative touches constitute literary crimes. The genre is notably poverty-stricken in its cast of female characters.

I can’t decide which female fantasy cliche I detest the most–The Invincible Female Warrior or The Buxom Tavern Wench. Their presence in so many fantasy novels is almost mandatory. From the moment each is introduced, you know exactly, down the most minute detail, what she is going to say or do in any situation–because you’ve already seen it hundreds of times before. They tend to form tag-teams with the male cliches, like The Thief With A Heart Of Gold or The Brawling Lusty Barbarian Warrior Who Can Drink Any Norse God Under The Freakin’ Table. These are not the only trite and overdone characters in fantasy, not by a long shot–The Know-It-All Fantastically Handsome Elf springs to mind–but it’s a rare story which doesn’t stifle the reader’s imagination with these.

Anyway, Allison’s books are all available in paperback now; and if you enjoy fantasy but hate cliches, try ’em, you’ll like ’em.

Book Review: ‘Into the Shadow Wood’ by Allison Reid

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This is Book 3 of the “Wind Rider Chronicles” by Allison Reid, also known here as our esteemed colleague, “Weavingword”–and it’s a corker.

When I reviewed Book 2, Ancient Voices, last winter, I predicted that these books, already quite good, would get better as the series went on–and how about that, I was right.

To get the most out of this book, you ought to read Book 1, Journey to Aviad. That’s because Into the Shadow Wood is sort of a mini-book, a little over 40,000 words long, written to tie up some loose ends left over from Book 1. But this little book is anything but an afterthought.

These are solidly Christian books, suitable for readers 12 and up, based on a fully Trinitarian theology, and increasingly well-written. More than that, they are important books.

Books like this have a mission. They are culture-savers; and if you can’t save the culture, you can’t save anything. When we read fiction, it’s a form of self-education. And it’s powerful: the fiction we consume does much to shape our outlook on life, our sense of right and wrong, and even our character. It’s no easy task to write books that can help carry out this mission, and we need a lot more of them. “The Wind Rider Chronicles” belong to that select category of books: books that are, as it were, special forces in the Culture War: Navy Seals, Green Berets, and Rangers charged with winning spiritual ground for Christ’s Kingdom in a fallen world. We as readers should support them.

As for the story: Einar is a young warrior who goes into the Shadow Wood–an extremely dangerous place polluted by an evil spirit–to carry out a seemingly hopeless mission against an evil force of overwhelming strength. And he is handicapped by his own doubts and lack of faith.

“No matter how hard we fought, or what we managed to accomplish despite the odds against us, Braeden always seemed to win. The bitter taste was a familiar one that had long tainted my belief in Aviad [God]. Time and time again, I had watched evil thrive at the expense of the faithful. I had never before understood how my commander and others like him had managed to continue believing that Aviad was real–that He was as powerful as they claimed–that He cared at all. At times they had seemed such fools to me, living in a dream to shield themselves from the harsh realities of life…”

So we follow Einar into his own shadow wood of spiritual darkness, and it turns into a journey that has much to tell us about the power of prayer, the power of faith, and the power of love: which is to say, the power of God.

I mustn’t say any more, for fear of spoilers, except that it’s a journey well worth making–and very well presented by the author. Her writing style has grown in expertise and power; and all I can say more is–read it!

All three books are available from amazon.com.

Book Review: ‘Ancient Voices’ by Allison D. Reid

I have taken a shine to these books. Ancient Voices: Into the Depths is Book 2 of the Wind Rider Chronicles, the sequel to Journey to Aviad. Regular readers of this blog will know Allison Reid better as “Weavingword.”

Why do I like these books? Let me count the ways.

First and foremost, they are refreshing! Imagine that–a fantasy adventure series without lusty tavern wenches, The Invincible Female Warrior, the brawny barbarian who can copulate all day and then get up and fight a battle, know-it-all elves, crusty-but-benign wizards–I mean, imagine a fantasy populated by characters who are normal people! We don’t even have to suffer through scenes of heroes getting off wisecracks and zingers as they march light-heartedly into mortal peril.

This is downright revolutionary.

And because all these characters are normal, the reader will find it easy to believe in them. I like these folks! I really do. I especially like the two protagonists: sisters, Morganne, a young woman, and Elowyn, a girl passing into womanhood. Morganne is a seamstress by necessity and a scholar by avocation; Elowyn’s passion is the woodlands. They have gotten through some hard traveling–not by magic or by secret martial arts, but by faith, loyalty, and love.  It would be hard not to like them.

Then there are the settings. Reid does take her time setting the scene, but the end result is a fantasy world that really does seem real. So you’ve got real people living in real places. I feel as if I’ve actually been there.

Now, Ancient Voices is a sequel, and reading Journey to Aviad first would be pretty much indispensable. Ancient Voices tells of a year in the little town of Minhaven, between the sea and the wilderness, the place where Morganne and Elowyn have sought refuge.

If I have any criticism of this book, it’s that the story would benefit by a bit more action. That’s just my personal opinion. But as I see it, Ancient Voices is very much a way station in a much longer narrative. I did enjoy settling down there for a while–this is a very companionable book, just the kind you want for reading in bed.

I will certainly read the next book in the series.

These books are independently published, which means the author herself had to do all the work of editing. Speaking for myself, I am so glad I don’t have to do all the editing of my own books. It would never work. Professional editing by someone other than the author would do much for these books–and I’m talking about routine editing, gentle editing, not major rewrites.

I would love to see these books professionally published and the author paid for her efforts. But I would certainly rather have them published independently than published not at all.

They’re both available on amazon.com, and it’s my pleasure to recommend them.

It’s not easy to make up people who don’t exist and have your readers responding to them as if they were real. It’s not easy to invent a fantasy setting that has an authentic feel to it–as if it were a real place, not just something cobbled together out of well-worn bits of older fantasies.

Allison Reid has done those things, and done them well. And she will do them better as she gains experience.

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