Julie again, writing as part of the CSFF Blog Tour. I have a review system you may (or may not) want to look at to see HOW I come up with my ratings and what I rate on, to try to be fair.
Eye of the Sword by Karyn Henley (blog, Facebook)
Ridiculously simplified summary: 2nd in a series. A falsely-accused knight must prove his worth to his king, keep the love of his princess, save the kingdom from those who would destroy it, and find the harps that will restore the stairway to heaven, which will allow human-like angels, and departed human souls, to ascend.
Content: Now I know how ultra-conservative Christians must have felt when C.S. Lewis's Narnia series came out. (Talking beasts? Jesus is a lion? Gods? Children drinking wine????) Now, as I mentioned yesterday, I have no problem with Narnia, but the content of this book concerned me.
I did not read the first book in the series, Breath of Angel, so there may have been explanations there that someone who only read the second book missed.
Yesterday, I wrote at length about Henley's portrayal of angels so I won't go over that here.
Again, Henley is quite credentialed in the Christian market, so it could be I'm the one who's wrong. That said, this is marketed as a young adult book, but angels aside, there is a lot of content that I know my mother would not have wanted me reading as a teen.
The point-of-view character, Trevin, consistently senses the color of certain people's auras, an idea I've only heard linked to the New Age movement. He has a dark past--did he seek forgiveness from God in Book 1? In this one, he just has to learn to forgive himself. As an angel advises him, "The harshest judgments are often the ones we place on ourselves." That advice sounded secular to me; I think forgiving yourself is useless if you don't remember that God forgave you (provided you accepted Christ's gift).
An angel refers to God as "the Most High, father-mother of the universe." (Not saying that can't possibly in any sense be an accurate description of God, but I didn't feel like an aside in a Young Adult Fantasy was the place to bring that up as if it's undisputed.)
Even more upsetting to me is that God seemed utterly absent. In fairness, that's a problem one of the angels mentions, but it just made this book feel bleak and Godless to me. The angels can't get to heaven because three harps need to be assembled to form the stairway to heaven, and this must happen when the stars or planets align (which happens once every 200 years). The souls of the dead are herded into some sort of underworld because they can't get to heaven.
As a Christian, a very major portion of my faith is that God will make everything right after death. If there were any doubt that He for some reason couldn't (!!!) get us to heaven, harps or no harps, I don't know where my faith would be.
Then again, I didn't notice anyone praying, or even thinking God could or would intervene. Even the angels seem to have very little to do with Him.
Henley's website describes many non-Christian religions' views of angels, harps, and even World Trees, though if you look around, you can find what she believes. If I owned a bookstore, I wouldn't actually put this particular book in the Christian section.
Christian content is not officially incorporated into the numeric ratings, though obviously it does influence some of them.
Compelling: 8 out of 10. When you see a two-page list of characters at the start, you know things are going to get complicated. Since this is book 2 in a series, I had trouble with the early parts, when Henley is is referencing things I didn't understand, or trying to explain things that had happened. The large cast, complicated family trees, etc. are likely standard for epic fantasy. Once I got to the point where the protagonist Trevin is accused of a Very Big Crime, however, it started to flow nicely.
There is a romantic thread, but this not a romance per se.
Characters: 7 out of 10. Most of the characters seemed likable enough, and Trevin's point-of-view was strong throughout. There was no one I really loved, though; the closest was the prince. With so many characters, some blended together for me. Besides the prince and his jester, the one standout character of the ones introduced in this book was Ollena, the female warrior. (Do fantasy series have a quota of at least one female knight per series? Mine and Maggie's might come up in book 4....)
Writing/editing: 8 out of 10. I didn't notice any typos. Again, some of the exposition got to be confusing, though I'm not sure the problem could have been handled much more eloquently. A few of the characters have affectations that border on obnoxious (i.e. Ollena seeming to constantly end her sentences with "hmm" in some stretches) or oft-repeated descriptions (Ollena consistently smells like sandalwood...strangely, I don't remember what the love interest Melaia smells like). There was at least one instance where a somewhat important event involving the silver net was kind of slipped into the middle of a long action paragraph, so reading through, I missed the significance and had to go back to it later--not a big deal but I think the editor could've worked to make it clearer. Overall, though, well-written.
I thought the ending was handled very, very well. It clearly indicates there's another book envisioned, yet it wraps up enough that I don't feel frustrated.
Plausibility/believability: 2 out of 5. I think I would have given this same rating had this not been a Christian book...I'd expect any book dealing with angels to at least have some serious reference to God, and preferably not have God sleeping/ignoring the world/otherwise incapacitated. If a non-Christian book showed angels getting married and/or having children with humans in a positive light, I'd be annoyed, too.
Positive: 2 out of 5. Relatively low body count and the book is about the right amount of "darkness" to be compelling but not disturb my sleep. I just had trouble with the portrayal of angels and the limitations on and absence of God.
Gut reaction: 2 out of 5. If not for the problems I had with the world portrayed, I think I would have really enjoyed this book. Henley's style is strong and she has some truly compelling storylines. This just wasn't the Christian book I anticipated.
Bonus points: 5 out of 5.
Total Rating: 3.4 out of 5 stars
Here are the other blog tour participants (late additions that weren't listed yesterday are in bold):
Thomas Fletcher Booher
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Donita K. Paul
*I received a copy of this book free from the publisher in exchange for this review.*