Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Legends of the Guardian-King Revisited

This one took me a while to get through, a lot longer than I thought it would. Since I recently revisited The Sword of Lyric series, I decided I would take a swing through another Christian fantasy series, namely Karen Hancock's critically acclaimed Legends of the Guardian-King series. This one has four books, namely The Light of Eidon, The Shadow Within, Shadow Over Kiriath, and Return of the Guardian-King. This would be at least the second time I've read them all (I can't recall how many times I read the first two; possibly multiple times each new book came out). I've really enjoyed this series in the past and it's always lurked in the back of my mind to be reread at some point.

The overall story follows young Abramm Kalladorne, a member of the royal family of Kiriath. Abramm begins his journey, both spiritual and otherwise, as a member of a religious order called the Mataio. The Mataio worship a god named Eidon whose son, Tersius, supposedly sacrificed Himself to create a phenomenon called the Holy Flames, a mystical fire that keeps the dreaded Shadow at bay. But before Abramm knows what's happening, he's caught up in political intrigue and deception. Who can he trust as his life is torn from his grasp.

Soon he's on a crazy journey, one that he never thought he'd take. It's definitely not one that he wants to take, as it takes him on a phenomenal rise to power and brings him into a romance with a princess from the neighboring kingdom of Chesedh. And finally, he finds himself in an epic showdown with the forces of evil.

I don't want to say more than that because even though these books have been out for a few years now, you never know when someone unfamiliar might stumble across this blog and I certainly don't want to ruin anything for them. Nor do I want to bust my Godzilla spoiler sign every time I write a review.

So was this read-through just as good as the first one. It was. I still marvel at Hancock's willingness to write some darker and edgier Christian fiction. I remember the first time I read The Light of Eidon, my eyebrows nearly launched off my face at the way one chapter ended. Another character has to deal with what can only be described as clinical depression over the way her life has turned out. This is no happy romp through gilded fields, that's for sure.

Due to its edginess, Hancock deals with weightier issues and, as a result, I think the faith content is a bit stronger than in some Christian books. The best part is, these weightier topics are dealt with in a way that isn't too preachy, always a plus.

But there were two things that bothered me this second time through. One deals with craft, the other with theology.

Craft first. Hancock created an incredibly rich and detailed world for this series. She gave a lot of thought to history, cultures, religion, and so on. That's good; it's something that should be done for a fantasy epic like this one. The problem is that she often introduced new concepts and ideas with little or no warning, dropping them into the story as if the reader should just automatically know what it is she's talking about.

A few examples: in the second book, she starts talking about kohals and Terstmeets with very little explanation as to what they are. The reader has to piece it together quickly that kohals are pastors and Terstmeets are "worship services" or "Bible studies" or something along those lines. In the fourth book, out of nowhere, we're introduced to something called a "warmstar," a cousin to the Terstans kelistars (another term that was introduced out of the blue). I'm not saying that Hancock has to hold our hands as we walk through her world; far from it. But a little gentler landing might have been nice.

More problematic for me was the theological concern that slowly reared its head as I read these books again, and it has to deal with the bizarre way that Chesedhan Terstans are portrayed, specifically the royal family.

Five of them are said to be devout Terstans. And apparently they worship differently in Chesedh than in Kiriath. We're told that Chesedhan worship services have altars and gilded kelistar holders. In other words, it sounds a lot more liturgical than the Kiriathan worship services. As I read through the last three books, I kept getting this image that Kiriathan Terstmeets were non-denominational worship services and Chesedhan worship was more traditional, liturgical services.

Now this, in and of itself, would not bother me. I understand that it's a matter of adiaphora in the real world and I'd be willing to chalk it up to cultural differences in the books. But the way Hancock portrays it, I was a little offended.

Here's the reason why: we meet five members of the Chesedhan royal family. Four of them go to the more formal and liturgical kirikhal services. They seem to prefer them, as a matter of face. One of them prefers the Kiriathan Terstmeets. And by the end of the series, the four royals with the liturgical disposition lose their faith and are crushed by the enemy. Only those who go to the apparently better Terstmeets can survive the assaults of Moroq (the devil analogue in the series). Even worse, Moroq, it turns out, wishes that the surviving royal would go to the kirkhal (the implicit reason being her faith will weaken and she'll fall).

I'm sorry, but that's not cool. Maybe I'm reading into things here, but the implied message seems to be that traditional, liturgical worship is somehow inferior to non-liturgical, so-called "contemporary" worship (a misnomer if I've ever heard one; all worship is "contemporary" since it's happening right now) and those who use altars and candlesticks somehow will not be as strong in their faith as someone who doesn't.

Now, like I said, I may be overreacting to this. Maybe. But this does point to a larger problem in Christian fiction, namely the lack of theological diversity in these fictional worlds. Everything has to be shoved into the same cookie-cutter form when there's a lot of rich diversity out there in worship forms and practices. It'd be nice if the CBA would reflect that better.

But I'll get off my high horse soapbox now. My concerns over Terstmeets vs. kirkhals didn't derail my enjoyment of this series and I would gladly recommend it to just about anyone. If you're in the mood for some epic fantasy with some solid Christian roots, this is a great one for you.

1 comment:

Jason said...

Interesting thoughts. I didn't see it when I read the series, but apparantly you didn't see it the first time either.

I really enjoyed the series, especially the first couple of books. I wrote a screed against a negative review for book one because the narrow minded reviewer got hung up on one relationship- not finishing the book to see the context.

My background is all from non-liturgical churches (Baptist, non-denom charismatic) but I'm starting to appreciate the liturgical more and more. There definitely could be more diversity in CBA - ironic isn't it?