Sunday, April 25, 2010

CSFF Blog Tour Day One: Raven's Ladder by Jeffrey Overstreet. A review and a few thoughts.

Raven's Ladder by Jeffrey Overstreet

First, as I always like to do when reviewing an Overstreet book, the cover. It is, like Auralia's Colors and Cyndere's Midnight before it, a beautiful cover. I believe it to be Cal-Raven on the cover of this one, I do have one problem with the cover and that is that I keep calling it by it's initial name: Cal-Raven's Ladder. A minor issue, and one only born out of following the release of the book so long before it was published. I am interested in seeing the cover of what I presume to be the title of book four: The Ale Boy's Feast. As part of the series, Raven's Ladder has the least fitting cover of the the three, only in the sense that the text is different and it carries a more painted look then the first two did, not a problem, just my first impressions upon seeing it.

That said:

Jeffrey Overstreet has a particular gift in his wordcrafting. Some people complain that flowery, or even poetic prose distracts too much from the story, I disagree. Well written writing, in my experience, has almost always been when the words themselves are almost as or as beautiful as the world within them. When I find myself disliking a book, more often then the plot, it was the prose that turned me off to it. Not so with Jeffrey Overstreet. In Raven's Ladder there were a couple scenes that in most books, I'd probably slam the book shut and consider it a waste of my time to continue subjecting myself further torment, yet in this book I was not tempted to consider them to be such, for they were there, yes, but beautifully crafted and as such, were able to sneak past them pesky watchful dragons that C. S. Lewis warned about. Do not ask me about the plot, I wouldn't be able to describe it to you in anything more then vague details. It's the world of Overstreet's books that remains in my mind, as if I looked through a window into it. This has been my experience with the first two books, and it continues to be my experience with this book.

I almost wish I didn't have to bring this up, but as this is the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy tour, it bears mentioning. I could not find any particular reason in the text itself to consider this, or its predecessors to be Christian Fiction. I view it as such to be a work of fiction that happens to be written by a Christian. I do not have any problem with that. A lot of great artwork has been made by people who happen to also be Christians. In my view, these works can sometimes be far more powerful, and vastly more dangerous. Dangerous, but good. By dangerous, I mean, life altering, idea changing, transformative literature. Books that dare to present themselves as something beautiful, to reveal in the reader, like a mirror, a portrait of something, taking something of the reader and reflecting it back, yet still remaining independent and beautiful. Raven's Ladder, I believe, is a book that dares to be beautiful. I'm not saying that books with explicitly Christian themes can't be life changing and beautiful. They can be, and have been, but with those it tends to be when the art is held as being as important as any message within it. For me I learn the most from those without messages being pounded at me, leaving that up to me as a reader to be affected rather then telling me that this particular thing should affect me in this particular manner. That is what I get from Mr. Overstreet's books, art that moves me. Do I learn things from it that strengthen my faith? Absolutely! Challenged me in my prejudices, blind-spots, misconceptions, and ideals? You bet! I still do not think I would categorize this book as a work of Christian Fiction however, in the traditional sense of the word. It's art, it's good art, and as a work of art, it does indeed draw me to God, in that sense it very much is a work of Christian Fiction.

Throughout the book the theme that kept emerging to me was something along the lines of what I just wrote above about the book, only it was about art. It is a theme that I picked up as I was reading Auralia's Colors, in many ways it seemed to be stronger there, but I still felt it as I was reading this book. This is only a private interpretation of the text, not something I am suggesting is what these scenes are about at all, but I also picked up several interesting commentaries about the world we live in. Reflections of things in our own world, for instance I saw certain ideas of our own world reflected in the beliefs of the Seers, I was reminded strongly of certain portions of the church in a chapter called “Auralia's Defenders”. I still find myself drawing parallels between the Cent Regus curse and the darker side of the human nature, that was a theme I remember strongly from Cyndere's Midnight. This I suppose brings us back to the work as literature.

Dehumanization, the Beastmen were once humans. But they became something monstrous. This is a theme that runs, not only throughout Jeffrey Overstreet's books but through a whole library of English Literature. From the classics to Harry Potter. Dehumanization is a consistent theme in literature, it is no different here. I would say that the Cent Regus curse is another example of this, but brilliantly done. Overstreet has left enough humanity to recognize yourself in the beastman's eyes, yet has created a monster that is all the more terrifying for it. It is no surprise to me that those who act like beastmen tend to act, become beastmen themselves. C. S. Lewis explored this theme in his Narnia books. It's throughout them, but a specific example is in The Last Battle when the ginger cat ceases to be a talking animal. A different twist on the theme, surely, but the theme is there nonetheless.

I like Raven's Ladder for it's beauty, for further exploring the wonderful world I loved from the first two books, for the words themselves. I am pleased to discover that interesting characters we have already met have become more interesting still. I am pleased to find new characters to be of interest, though to be honest, most of the characters I met there have been at least mentioned in the first two books. I love the prose, beautiful as I was anticipating from my readings of the first two books. I like the many themes that presented themselves to me as I read it. I did pull me in, I did have a little difficultly getting into it at first, but after about the first third I couldn't put it down as easily.

I try to always list something I like and dislike when I write a review, for what I didn't like? That requires a great deal more thought then what I liked about it, I guess I would have to say I didn't like one or two scene's implications, but other then that, I can't really say I had a high dislike for anything else in the book. I was a little disappointed that there are so many loose ends at the end of the book, but that's only a good sign that we can expect a lot of great moments in the books to come.

In conclusion, I highly recommend Raven's Ladder. If nothing else, read it for the beauty of the words. Read the three books, savoring them, allowing the words to move you. It's beautiful.

Links of interest:

My review of Auralia's Colors

Cyndere's Midnight: My first impressions from a previous blog tour.

Cyndere's Midnight: My review from a previous blog tour.

Cyndere's Midnight: An interview with Jeffrey Overstreet, from a previous blog tour.

Raven's Ladder on
Jeffrey Overstreet's Blog

As part of the CSFF blog tour, I received a free copy of the book from the publisher.


Phyllis Wheeler said...

I agree on the lovely prose and the beastman theme. You have some good insights.

Rachel Starr Thomson said...

Agreed, with pretty much all of that :). Actually, I'm a little scared of that fourth book -- I fear the publishers won't leave him enough room to wrap everything (and everyone) up in the depth I'd love to see! I suspect I'm very invested in these characters and this world by now ;).