Anyway, to the review. Auralia's Colors, published by Waterbrook Press, is the first fantasy released by a specifically Christian publisher that I have read in quite some time. However, I kept hearing good things about it, so when I came across it accidentally while browsing through Chapters with megancrewe a couple of months ago, I decided to pick it up.
When I started reading the book I could tell right off the bat, even if I hadn't heard rumors of this already, that author Jeffrey Overstreet shares some of my own favorite books and influences -- specifically Patricia A. McKillip and Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast books. The rich, lyrical tone of the language Overstreet uses is definitely McKillipesque, and the world he creates blends the transcendent, the mysterious, the humble and the grotesque in a way that's reminiscent of Peake. Still, even if the influences are evident I was pleased to note that the setup of Overstreet's fantasy world didn't strike me as overly derivative of other classic fantasy works -- Overstreet does have his own fertile imagination and his book reflects that.
The problem is, even though I finished the book a couple of days ago, I'm still undecided as to how I feel about it. If you've ever tried to get a book published, you know how agents and editors sometimes give you that deadly phrase, "I liked it, but I didn't love it"? I think that's how I feel about Auralia's Colors. I really wanted to love it wholeheartedly, but it didn't quite happen for me. The omniscient narration and the constantly shifting focus of the story kept me from being able to latch onto any of the characters and really come to know or love them the way I'd hoped. The beautiful language sometimes served to obscure what was going on rather than to illuminate it (which is also a problem I've sometimes had with McKillip), and the emphasis on external narration rather than action, dialogue or internal monologue made it difficult for me to connect emotionally to the characters. There's one scene where Auralia experiences a shattering realization about her destiny, a pivotal point in the book, where I truly did feel connected to her and involved in her inner life for the first time... but soon that feeling was gone again as the narrative went elsewhere.
On the other hand, though the story was anything but predictable or straightforward, the various seemingly unconnected threads of the narrative did weave themselves together neatly (but not too neatly) at the end. There were a couple of characters (specifically Cal-raven and the ale boy) that I did want to know more about, and find what would happen to them. There were some moments of breathtaking beauty, and a longing for goodness (true, potent goodness, not some saccharine substitute) that reminded me of the writings of George MacDonald. And I am curious to know how the next two "strands" of the trilogy will tie the whole narrative together. So I am not sure that if I come across Cyndere's Midnight, I won't pick it up after all, and give Jeffrey Overstreet a second chance to fully win me over. Especially as it promises to be a bit of a "Beauty and the Beast" tale, and I'm a big sucker for those...
Oh, and one last thing in the books' favor: the covers are utterly gorgeous. And they're trade paperbacks, so not that expensive if you feel like giving them a try.