Friday, 5 June 2015

Book Review: Draven's Light, by Anne Elisabeth Stengl

Image and Description from Goodreads.com
In the Darkness of the Pit
The Light Shines Brightest

Drums summon the chieftain’s powerful son to slay a man in cold blood and thereby earn his place among the warriors. But instead of glory, he earns the name Draven, “Coward.” When the men of his tribe march off to war, Draven remains behind with the women and his shame. Only fearless but crippled Ita values her brother’s honor.

The warriors return from battle victorious yet trailing a curse in their wake. One by one the strong and the weak of the tribe fall prey to an illness of supernatural power. The secret source of this evil can be found and destroyed by only the bravest heart.

But when the curse attacks the one Draven loves most, can this coward find the courage he needs to face the darkness?

REVIEW:

Draven’s Light by Anne Elisabeth Stengl is not as dark as I expected it to be. Rather, it reminded me somehow of Perelandra by C.S. Lewis, with its ethereal, dangerous beauty, its link to the past that is so essential, the world within worlds, the questions that did not necessarily have answers, but without being questions… In this, it moves beyond the classics of Lewis (whose great work was giving us aid in finding answers) and more towards the epic push-and-pull between characters and their “historic moment” (a university professor of mine taught me the phrase, I believe) that is characteristic of Tolkien. Stengl makes the intimate epic in the same way Tolkien made the epic intimate to the reader.

                What I especially appreciated was the good use of superstition; it made the world feel more real. Even as I disagreed with the characters’ fears and was the sort to dismiss them, I still appreciated the history behind their fears.

                Of course, Draven’s Light is beautifully-written. Some ways of description may have been used slightly too much (there was an emphasis on the eyes), but this was not noticed upon my read-through and does not detract in any way from the actual story.

                Another reviewer mentioned that she was uncomfortable with Ita’s tendency to kick her brother. I understand this completely, but I also believe that it’s a subconscious reflection on her part of her very violent world. In Ita and Gaho’s relationship, you see a microcosm of the flawed network of relationships in which they struggle to thrive. No, you should not agree with it, but on the other hand, perhaps you’re meant to be uncomfortable with it.

The interior design of the story is absolutely gorgeous; the font for the chapter titles looks otherworldly! I especially liked how you could look for the links within the story between the present and past, as there were little clues here and there. In this series, everything seems to mean something, and I was having a great time trying to guess as I went along. Even now, I realize how much Ita reminded me of another character in Stengl’s books, and I wonder if they are related…

Now, this was perhaps one of my favourite parts, but I’m biased: DINOSAURS. Anne Elisabeth had dinosaurs and people living alongside each other!!! I read that, and my inner dinosaur-loving geek squealed!! I suddenly wanted to dive through the screen, steal Draven’s canoe, and go up the river to where the dinosaurs lived and try to tame one to be my pet. That is how much I adore dinosaurs and everything related to them. I loved the inclusion of Hydrus (a river dinosaur/fish thing) and the scene with him, that again I realize now parallels in a different way with Stengl’s scene between a girl and a creature in another book (Leta and the star...). Basically, just so you can appreciate how to build a creative world that reflects the complexities of ours in a way that does not detract from darkness yet does not glorify it in a way much of modern literature does, read Stengl’s work.

As in the rest of her work, Draven’s Light does paint a lot of links to Christian theology, but trying to create too many direct links will not work. I’ve tried, and I realized that Stengl takes themes common with our faith but makes the story all her own. Attempting to fit the characters and situations into an exact Biblical parallel will lessen the impact of the message on the reader, and, if you’re like me, you may even end up confusing yourself and over-thinking things.

The one thing that does bother me a little is this: if faith in the Wood Thrush is what gets one to the “heaven” of this world, is Draven there? That’s one question that haunted me, and at the end I wasn’t sure if he believed, or what he believed. This does reflect, however, our state in everyday life—we can never know until we get there.


Stengl has a great flare for “the last word”, and the last line was absolutely lovely in this book.