Song Of Seare Trilogy: I Did Not See That Coming…

The Song of Seare trilogy follows a young man named Conor Mac Nir and his journey to overcome the evil threatening his world, and, on a more personal level, Conor’s journey as a man.

In the first book in the trilogy, The Oath of the Brotherhood, we meet Conor Mac Nir, a puny, scholarly boy who has powerful gifts as a musician. Conor does not really seem to fit in anywhere. When Conor’s foster father dies, Conor fakes his own death to cover his trail and joins the Firein, a group of monk-like “brothers” – the difference being that the otherwise monastic brotherhood are trained in the fighting arts as well as spiritual disciplines.

But Conor soon grows restless and wants to leave the brotherhood to do something about the darkness that has begun to threaten the outside world.

Finally, Conor leaves Ard Dhaimin, to join Calhoun Mac Cuilinn’s army. Calhoun is the older half-brother of Aine, a beautiful young girl Conor fell in love with in the short time he stayed with her family before joining the brotherhood.

Aine, in Conor’s absence, has developed her own unique gifts and has gained renown for her incredible healing abilities. When Aine is kidnapped, Conor risks everything to save her and the two are reunited and married aboard a ship that they hope will carry them to a new life.

This first book really sets the stage nicely for the other two books to come. It’s a little slow in the beginning but interest really soars when Conor joins the brotherhood and really becomes a hero worth cheering for.

I have to say, when a character is described as puny, it kind of gives you a mental picture of that character that is irreversible, even if the we are told that the character really beefs up later on in the story (which, of course, they always do, because where’s the attraction in a guy who does not have bulging biceps and a perfect six pack?). Fortunately for Laureano, this is not the case with Conor; his progression from wimpy boy to muscular man is slow enough and convincing enough that your not permanently stuck thinking of Conor as that toothpick-limbed guy we envision when we were first introduced to him.

In the second book in The Song of Seare Trilogy, Beneath the Forsaken City, Conor and Aine have been separated in a storm at sea and now must pursue separate journeys.

Conor is made a slave but is set free and escapes with one of his fellow captives, Prince Talfryn, there under cover to save Conor. As his honored guest, Conor remains with Talfryn while he awaits news of Aine.

But while there he comes up against unforeseen obstacles – things are not what they seem within the kingdom. Briallu, the only daughter of his friend, holds a strange attraction for Conor that he struggles to resist.

Aine makes her way to her native land, where her aunt is currently in power and magic of all kinds – such as Aine now wields with more power than ever – is held in extreme suspicion. While some welcome Aine back, or grow to love her, her aunt’s veiled dislike of her serves to make her even more lonely and distraught. Aine struggles desperately against doubt and confusion, and is bewildered when attempts on her life become disturbingly frequent and there seem to be veiled threats on every side. Aine no longer knows who she can trust.

Both of their paths eventually lead them both back to Seare, however, and Aine and Conor are finally reunited once more.

Beneath the Forsaken City builds well on the first book. Separating Conor and Aine the way she does is a masterful move on Laureano’s part – it allows readers a chance to get to know them as individuals, apart from one another, something we got to do in Oath of the Brotherhood with Conor, obviously, but not as much with Aine, and since her role is only increasing, it’s important that we really get behind Aine. This is the closest thing to a flaw that I foresee for this trilogy. That we won’t ever get to know Aine enough to ever like her. Honestly, when we first met her back in Oath of the Brotherhood, she never appealed to me. I like her better in this book, but the connection between her and the reader is not as strong as it should be – something Laureano will have to remedy quickly if she wishes to redeem Aine.

That is the trouble with reserved, sweet characters. While the writer may just think of them as quiet or shy, or just kindhearted and compassionate, they come across to the reader as boring and dull, lacking life and personality. Such characters give us very little reason to get behind them, to laugh when they laugh and cry when they cry, because we don’t really know what would make them laugh or cry. They have remained so aloof and distant, hiding behind that facade of reserve or kindness, that We The Reader don’t really know them at all.

In the last book in the Song of Seare Trilogy, The Sword and the Song, Aine and Conor are reunited in Ard Dhaimin and the future is looking bright for them. The couple is expecting their first child, they are happy, and Ard Dhaimin has become a refuge for many fleeing the darkness and danger that has become rampant in Seare.

But it soons becomes apparent that everything is not as perfect as it seems. Eoghan, Conor’s closest friend, is the fulfillment of the prophecy, and as such, he should be taking leadership of the Firein. But Eoghan is hesitant to step up, which causes friction between Conor and him. Eoghan reached out to Conor when he first arrived friendless in Ard Dhaimin, Eoghan mentored and trained Conor until he became a better swordsman than Eoghan himself, Eoghan risked severe punishment to leave Ard Dhaimin and help Conor, saving his life, and Eoghan saved Aine’s life when she returned to Seare after struggling with doubt and defeat in her homeland. So the bond between the two men is still strong… but it’s strength is being tested. Especially as it becomes more and more obvious to everyone, Conor, Aine, and Eoghan himself, that Eoghan is falling for Aine – the pregnant wife of his best friend.

Conor has thought of a way to protect Seare and fight back against the Red Druid, Diarmuid – but it requires leaving Ard Dhaimin.

He gets back in plenty of time to witness the birth of his child – but almost as soon as he returns, he has to leave again.

On an even longer journey this time.

Conor’s mission is almost complete when Diarmuid attacks Ard Dhaimin. His goal is to kidnap Aine’s soon-to-be born, specially gifted child. Because of Aine’s growing powers, she is able to communicate mentally with Conor – but he is experiencing difficulty as well: he has been badly wounded, and help cannot reach him. In an unexpected twist, Conor’s foster sister who has been living in Ard Dhaimin, once a confederate of Diarmuid, turns on him suddenly, killing him. But it is too late for Conor.

With his last words, he names the son he wanted to desperately to witness the birth of, the son he so desperately wanted to be a good father to, the son he will now never meet… his son is born only minutes later.

Wow. I did not even see this ending coming.

It is superb. I was so close to tears.

I’ve read a lot of books, a lot of endings, a lot of good endings, even. But I don’t know that I’ve ever read an ending quite like this one. It is unique and so oddly moving.

I think because it really is very surprising. Conor is so very afraid that if he dies, Aine and Eoghan will be together and forget him, that you never think that that will actually happen! You just assume that because they want it so much, because Conor and Aine deserve it so much after all they have been through, all the separation and pain and doubting each other and not knowing if the other is even alive, and feeling unworthy of the other’s love, you just naturally assume that they will get that happy ending… You want them to have that happy ending.

You want Conor so see his son. You want them to be able to be a family. And so it is really depressing when Conor dies when he is so close to achieving this dream.

This last book really highlights Conor’s strength as a character. He has become the hero. And that is something I find rather fascinating: Conor didn’t start out the hero that you were hoping for – he becomes that hero.

You really begin to see his depth in this last book, his brokenness and disappointment with himself, his frustration and anger as he starts to really snap and kind of lose his grip on sanity. (I don’t believe there’s any such thing as a completely sane hero anyway.)

Aine, though, actually regressed, in my opinion. She effectively loses all the ground she gained in the second book.

Overall, this last book was not only by far the best but was a great way to end the series; Laureano got better with each succeeding book.

The Shack: Not Quite What I Expected

“Am I supposed to believe that God is a big black woman with a questionable sense of humor?”

The Shack, written by William Paul Young in 2007, is the story of middle-aged Mack meeting God personally in an old run-down shack where his daughter was murdered several years earlier.

To be honest, it was not my intention to read The Shack. I first heard of it right around the time it began gaining popularity because both my father and older brother read it and I remember it being a topic of conversation between them several times. For some reason, this gave me a bad impression – ever since I had thought of The Shack as a vaguely “scary” book and never had the slightest desire to read it. But when I saw that William Paul Young had put out another book, Eve, and read the little blurb about it, it piqued my curiosity and I decided to go ahead and add it to my already lengthy list of books to read. And then I threw The Shack on there for good measure.

Unfortunately, when I got to the library, Eve was only available in digital form not as a hard copy so I satisfied myself with getting The Shack and promising to check back later to see if Eve would become available in hard copy format.

I had always thought, because of the whole murdered daughter thing, I suppose, that The Shack was a criminal thriller with a fantasy twist. I assumed the story would go something like this: “Mack’s daughter gets abducted. Mack turns into a crazed maniac with an insatiable thirst for justice. Mack and his daughter’s abductor have a reunion at the shack. Mack loses it and physically assaults the man, demanding to know where his daughter is. The sick pyscho reveals that Mack’s daughter has long been dead. Mack takes the law into his own hands and murders his daughter’s killer. Somehow this brings him closure.” I’m not sure exactly how I thought the author would work God into the narrative – I did know that there was some spiritual element to the story. Maybe I thought God arranged the meeting, or maybe I thought the killer would turn out to be God – what a twist that would have been, right?

Either way, I was in for a bit of a shock. The Shack was not what I was expecting at all, and I must admit that part of me was not a little disappointed. Instead of the thriller I was expecting, I was greeted with a theological meandering lamely cloaked as fiction, kind of a Max Lucado-meets-Touched By An Angel.

Though I will admit I did not recognize “God” at first, Young’s portrayal was nothing I haven’t seen before. The most unusual part is that God consisted of not one, but three characters, who interacted with one another – a big black lady, a Middle Eastern man, and a little Asian woman. That, I suppose, was something rather new.

Individually, however, I’ve seen all of these before. God portrayed as a big black woman, Jesus as a Middle-Eastern guy – the only exception, of course, being Sarayu, Young’s idea of the Holy Spirit. As by far the most neglected member of the Trinity, there was something rather refreshing about having “her” finally get some time in the spotlight. All the portrayals of the Holy Spirit I am familiar with have been sadly lacking in imagination – doves and wind are about as far as anyone seems willing to go.

I did not particularly like Young’s portrayal of God, to be honest. While Sarayu’s statement that “humans are clumsy” seemed uproariously funny, most of the other attempts at humor fell flat. Doesn’t it seem a bit presumptuous on Young’s part to try and act like he knows what God would find trivial enough to joke about? I came away feeling like God-as-a-black-lady was perhaps not the best comparison after all.

So far, the only portrayal of God that has hit home for me was Ted Dekker’s, as a little ten-year-old boy called “Elyon.”

The only part of The Shack that seemed terribly profound was the idea that responsibility and expectations are limits that we impose upon ourselves and were never apart of God’s plan for us. Overall, I found The Shack to be a disappointment.

Whispers In The Reading Room: What Genre Is This?

Recently, I read Whispers in the Reading Room by Shelley Gray. This was an unexpected, unplanned read for me. I received a free, Advanced Reader Copy, sat down and read it in an afternoon.

Shelley Gray is an author I am unfamiliar with. I had never heard of her and haven’t read any of her other books.

Why am I telling you this? I anticipate that my review will reflect my lack of experience with Gray as an author, and I want you to know why.

Though her name sounds very British, Gray actually hails from Ohio. In addition to romance, she also writes Amish fiction, and is apparently best known for her Heart of a Hero series.

Whispers in the Reading Room is actually the third book in the Chicago World’s Fair Mystery series, a fact that I was unaware of when I read the book. Perhaps that was the reason for some of the disconnectedness I felt? The two other books in the series are Secrets of Sloane House and Deception on Sable Hill.

Set in the late-nineteenth century, Whispers in the Reading Room centers around a “reading room” or library where Lydia Bancroft works. There she meets Sebastian Marks, a mysterious club owner. Inexplicably drawn to one another, Lydia and Sebastian’s lives become intertwined when a murder occurs at his club – and Lydia is on the suspect list.

I don’t know why this is considered Christian fiction – there is no reason whatsoever for such a label. There is nothing Christian about this book. Not to say that there is anything morally objectionable in it – I just think that a few references to God or the Bible doesn’t make a book “Christian.”

It’s also labeled as a mystery. I beg to differ. There is no mystery in this book. It has none of the elements of a typical mystery, aside from the murder – and a murder does not necessarily make a mystery. It’s more of a romance novel… but even then, not all the necessary elements are present. For example, the marriage proposal occurs in the middle of the book instead of at the end, and there is absolutely no kissing to be found – what kind of romance is that! As I read the book, I was unable to figure what exactly it was that I was reading and found it extremely frustrating.

Sebastian Marks reminded me a little of Rhett Butler from Gone With The Wind, and, since I liked Rhett, I found myself liking Marks’ character. That said, I found his actions laughably unrealistic. Marks is street smart and knows better than to get into a relationship with the naïve young librarian. In the beginning of the book, he has resolved to keep his distance because he cares what Lydia thinks of he him – and he knows that if he gets close to her she will inevitably find out about his underhanded business operations. And then he deliberately inserts himself into her life and doesn’t even withdraw in horrified shock when he realizes what he has done but insists on continuing to see her and even proposes?

Yeah. That seems like a perfectly natural way of handling things. Oh, wait! No, it doesn’t.

But I think that the really major flaw of this book is its inconsistency. This drives me crazy – more than anything else, I want consistency in a story. There is no believing a story that is not consistent.

Take one of the side characters, Hunt, for example. When the book opens we meet Hunt, a kind man, a widower who misses his dead wife, and wants nothing more than to take care of his little girl as best as he can. Hunt is disconcerted by the lack of feeling shown by his employer, Sebastian Marks. But later in the story, Hunt comes across as hard and unfeeling himself, capable of coarse vulgarity. He angrily opposes Marks’ relationship with Lydia, but a reason is never given for his seemingly random dislike. At other times, he is all care and concern. This doesn’t make any sense. Real people wouldn’t act like that without any reason.

I didn’t feel like, as a reader, that I got to know the characters well. Lydia, particularly, is left largely to your imagination. Marks’ past is only ever hinted at. Hunt is inconsistent, and Bridget, a character I felt more of an interest in than the heroine herself, is entirely undeveloped. When I am dissatisfied with the characters, I find that I end up being dissatisfied with the book in general and this was certainly the case with Whispers in the Reading Room.

Though I came away with an unfavorable impression of  Whispers in the Reading Room, I may read the two preceding novels to see if context improves my opinion.