Saturday, September 7, 2013

Wings of Dawn, oops, I mean The Orphan King and Fortress of the Mist

Wings of Dawn
by Sigmund Brouwer
450 pages, 1999

There is a danger in overhyping a book. One of my very favorite novels is Sigmund Brouwer's Wings of Dawn. It is a book I've shared with many of my niece and nephews, and while each has enjoyed it, none has been nearly as effusive in their praise as I, and that is, I'm sure, partly due to the raised expectations created by my own enthusiasm for the book.

But it is a very good book. What grabbed me was the inventiveness of the premise. It takes place in the 1300s, and the hero of the story is a young man of seemingly humble abilities - Thomas is but a servant. He is, however, a servant who has at his disposal the wisdom of that present time, from the four corners of the world, in the form of some very helpful books. So, for example, he knows the secret of making a powder that burns the throat and blinds the eyes which can make it seem, to those not in the know, that Thomas has a wizard's ability to cast blindness on his enemies.

He has more tricks in his bag, all things that would seem magical to ordinary peasants and even lords and kings at that time, but tricks that someone, somewhere in the world, had, in fact figured out by this time in history. So it is at least theoretically possible that someone could have gathered all this knowledge together and, in doing so, given themselves the ability to seem quite the wizard.

To sum up, it's a very cool premise, and pulled off by an excellent storyteller.

The Orphan King
by Sigmund Brouwer
220 pages, 2012

When I learned the author had reworked the one book into at least four, to give him room to further flesh out the story I was quite excited. The first three, The Orphan King, Fortress of Mist, and Martyr's Fire have been released, with no date yet on the fourth. Wings of Dawn was 450 pages, and each of these stories is 220+ so it looks like the story will be expanded by at least 100 per cent. After finishing the first three I am very pleased. It is very much the same story, but he has managed to improve on what was already excellent.

In The Orphan King we are introduced to Thomas as a servant intent on conquering a kingdom. You might think that sort of task would take an army, but all Thomas wants is one single solitary knight. But what knight in his right mind would sign up for such a suicidal task? To make matters even more challenging Thomas has a enemy who is intent on either killing him or recruiting him but Thomas has no idea who it might be. Unsure of who to trust, it seems if this boy is really to conquer a kingdom, he is going to have to do it alone!

Fortress of Mist

by Sigmund Brouwer
220 pages, 2013

Thomas has his kingdom, and an impenetrable castle. But can he keep it? And can he figure out who to trust? In Fortress of Mist Thomas takes part in two enormous war campaigns, and emerges unscathed, due to the knowledge contained in his books. But he discovers that it is those very books that his mysterious enemies are after. Thomas still doesn't know who to trust, but learns that just as there is a hidden enemy after him, there also seem to be hidden friends who want to help.

Some of the added depth to the expanded storyline in this trilogy is more on Thomas's rejection of, and reluctant search for, God. Thomas has had a hard life, orphaned as a child, then raised by monks who had no love for him. So he wonders how a good God could allow so much evil. It is a question asked but unanswered in the first book. In the second he gets to know a good Christian man, and starts to see the difference between the "christianity" of the corrupt Church, and Christianity as it is outlined in the Bible. In the second book, as in the first, Thomas's investigation into who God is only amounts to a few pages, but it is well integrated into the story - this is no clumsily presented Christian subplot. The life and death situations Thomas faces drive him, quite naturally, to start asking about the most important issue of life: why are we here?

Martyr's Fire
by Sigmund Brouwer
216 pages, 2013

Thomas took his kingdom with trickery, but now a group with even better tricks has arrived in Magnus. Fifteen "priests" of the Holy Grail are swaying the people to their side, under the threat of eternal condemnation, and they have signs and wonders providing their credentials as God's spokesmen. With the people now against him, Thomas seems destined for a stay in his own dungeon. But he still has one friend in Magnus and with his help Thomas might still escape to fight another day!

The author devotes a few pages in Martyr's Fire to exploring just what faith is, and unfortunately, he gets it wrong. Brouwer seems to believe that faith is simply a blind leap into the unknown that we have to take because we have no other options. He makes it out to be almost irrational - just believe! But, as apologist Sye Ten Bruggencate noted, we have a pump, in our chest, made out of meat, that works continuously for 70-80 years, fueled by donuts. So it is hardly a blind leap to belief there is a loving God, who made us. Sometimes if might feel like there is no evidence of God, particularly when we are neck deep in sin, doing our very best to avoid Him. While it might feel that way sometimes, that isn't how it actually is.

But this discussion of blind faith only amounts to a few pages and the rest of the book is a rollicking ride. Boys in their teens, particularly if they are at all interested in knights and castles, will enjoy this immensely... or at least if their uncle doesn't overhype it. And this is something their dads can enjoy too, if they understand it is actually aimed at a teen/young adult audience.

Blades of Valor
by Sigmund Brouwer
????, 2014

This is a solid, but not spectacular ending to the series. There were a few too many instances where the only reason things aren't brought to a quick and final resolution is because Thomas won't trust the very lovely and in-love Katherine, and vice-versa. That distrust was a part of the other books too, but by the fourth it has started to wear a little thin. So while I liked that the original one-book version of this story, Wings of Dawn, was expanded, it probably would have been better to expand it to just three books and not four.

That said this is still a solid ending to a really great series.

Inexplicably the publisher decided to release the fourth book only as an e-book (which is why I haven't listed a page count). And that is beyond annoying. I have paperback versions of the first three books, but have to loan out my Kindle for someone to read the fourth? It so bothered me I've emailed the publisher twice, but gotten no response. At this point it looks like they are not going to release the fourth in paperback at all.

If they don't, then get an old copy of Wings of Dawn instead, because you are going to want to share this story with your friends.

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