JEANETTE READS FANTASY! (really?)
The Wolf of Tebron – #1 in The Gates of Heaven series
By C.S. Lakin
AMG/Living Ink Publishers
(An Advanced Reader Copy Review)
The invitation used as the frontispiece in C.S. Lakin’s allegorical fantasy, The Wolf of Tebron, was surely included just for my benefit. She quotes C.S. Lewis: “Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” Having abandoned reading that genre some 30 years ago, I admit I hesitated to reenter that world, even for my friend and fellow editor, Susanne Lakin, and her first published novel, which just happened to be a fantasy.
But how could I resist? The cover art alone promises adventure as a barefooted young hero attempts to scale a castle with walls of sand, a weird-looking moon laughs from high above him, and a huge wolf lurks nearby.
Lakin takes her readers on an intriguing “hero’s journey” to the four corners of the Earth with Joran, an angry, misguided blacksmith and his unlikely companion, a silver wolf. The quest is allegedly to find Joran’s young wife, whom he sends away one day in a fit of jealousy, but who keeps haunting his dreams in her struggles as a captive in a castle near the sea—a place neither of them had ever seen. The journey’s true purpose is for Joran to discover his real identity and redeem the love he needlessly threw away.
I found Lakin’s narrative in keeping with the story-telling style of a classic fairy tale. Some have compared her book to C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series. In any case, you won’t find the snappy dialog or page-turning action one finds in a modern legal thriller, for instance. Rather, you will be drawn in as you might have been drawn in to a tale by Anderson or Grimm—as a child listening to an adventure of “once upon a time.” You always wonder, what happens next? And something always does, to Lakin’s credit. In addition, her use of allegory and allusions to classical and biblical sources enriches the storyline and makes the book appealing to more discerning readers of fantasy.
A word about the prologue. I really liked it. I wanted the story that began to unfold there to continue—well, (without giving anything away)—more obviously. I was more intrigued by wizards, dark forces, and brown bears called Anya than I was by a sulking blacksmith in a rural village. Eventually, though, Joran won me over, and I cared about what happened to him.
I’m not yet convinced that I’m ready to plunge back into reading fantasy on a regular basis. But I’m glad I took the time to read C.S. Lakin’s The Wolf of Tebron, and I applaud her efforts to reclaim this genre for “grown ups” like me.
Try James Scott Bell
Try Dying, Try Darkness, Try Fear
Set against the backdrop of Los Angeles’ sprawling freeways, nightclubs, back alleys and quirky coffee houses, Jim Scott Bell’s newest series published by Hatchett Book Group, Inc. is another successful page-turner that is packed with action, tension, sometimes implausible but always possible entanglements, and surprise-twist resolutions.
Criminal attorney Ty Buchanan swears he never saw a single episode of Dragnet. Nevertheless, his first-person film-noir-type observations and nose for trouble belie his ignorance of the popular 1950’s detective series. Ty could be Sgt. Joe Friday’s grandson.
Of the three (Try Dying, Try Darkness, and Try Fear), my personal favorite was Try Darkness because of the development of the strong female character, Sister Mary Veritas. A nun? Yes, a nun. Not your usual idea of a strong female, right? Would it help to know that Sister Mary is a whiz at Internet research, makes one heck of a private-eye, and isn’t shy about throwing an elbow now and then in a not-so-friendly hoop match of one-on-one? I like this woman. And Ty likes her too. He’s mourning the death of his fiancée, and Sister Mary is safe (or is she?)
The plots in this series never drag because the snappy and better-than-real-life dialog pulls you right into the first scenes of murder and mayhem and keeps you there until the last. Bell’s gift for this aspect of the writing craft is unmatched (in my opinion). I also enjoy the authenticity that permeates all of Bell’s novels. Formerly a Los Angeles trial attorney, he knows the ropes, knows the way crimes come down there, and brings his personal knowledge of the setting into these novels. I know this because I grew up in the midst of many of his scene locations. Fun for me to “be there” again.
Previously, Jim Bell wrote and published legal thrillers for the inspirational market. In this departure from genre and publisher, he skillfully includes spiritual elements (in addition to the psychological and emotional) which mimic life without preaching or proselytizing. Christian authors—take notice.
Notwithstanding all the respect due him for his success, I say: move over John Grisham. Your writing has become flabby, passive, and predictable. Legal thrillers should be thrilling! James Scott Bell delivers!