Genre fiction often gets a bad rap for following blueprints drawn up by great predecessors. The bad rap is often deserved; as much as I like mysteries, I’m fine with never reading another story with a crafty serial killer or wise, eccentric European gumshoe.
So when I say Auralia’s Colors is a different sort of fantasy novel, that’s meant as high praise. Even though it took a few chapters to draw me in, I fell in love with everything about the book. I’m already impatient for the sequel, slated for next fall.
The people of House Abascar are in perpetual winter–not only are the citizens are under constant threat from marauding beastmen, but the kingdom was stripped of color years before by the since-vanished queen. Now, only the royalty can enjoy color while the rest of the people are draped in grays and murky brown. Morale is low. Fear and paranoia are a given. All await a spring–a grand return of color and joy–that may never come.
At the center of the novel is Auralia, a young girl living with the outcasts and criminals camped outside of Abascar’s walls. She spends her time exploring, often collecting materials for the richly-colored weavings she makes. Her joy and compassion are a blessing for the downtrodden outside the city gates, as are the magnificent–and illegal–gifts she makes for everyone.
But while Auralia is the heart of the book and the catalyst for much of what happens, she isn’t the focus; Overstreet populates the Expanse with a great cast. There’s King Cal-marcus, broken by his wife’s disappearance and the ghosts of the past; Prince Cal-raven haunts the woods outside of the kingdom’s walls, drawn more to the outcasts than the aristocrats; and a humble, un-named ale boy who is quickly swept into the adventure. There are also countless minor characters that are as rich and interesting as those that get more focus.
Overstreet sidesteps some of the standard fantasy tropes and delivers something different, something wonderful. None of the characters fit into the standard fantasy archetypes–Auralia isn’t a harmless waif or tough princess, but a complex, tattered young girl that has a deep love and faith in things she doesn’t entirely understand. And instead of a novel based around swords-and-sorcery action or medieval political intrigue, Auralia’s Colors gives the cast room to breathe and move about and take their own path.
Sometimes the prose is a little too lush (I had to re-read a few parts several times just to figure out what was happening), but Overstreet writes beautifully. He’s not writing the story of Abascar–he’s painting it. I also wish the book could’ve been longer, fleshing out a few things that seem like they were glossed over. But that almost seems like a minor afterthought; Overstreet gets everything else right.
The allegorical aspects and themes are also woven into the story well enough that they don’t fall out on to your lap. It’s all pretty powerful stuff, from the childrens’ whispers and trust in the Keeper that haunts their dreams, to the power of imagination and beauty, no matter how rugged or worn it may seem.
It’s hard to believe this is Jeffrey’s first novel. In addition to acting as contributing editor for Seattle Pacific University’s Response magazine, he spends most of his time writing film reviews for magazines like Christianity Today and Paste (he also wrote a great account of his journey as a film lover with his book Through a Screen Darkly). His attention to detail and nuance as a film lover pays off. Auralia’s Colors is an accomplished and satisfying debut, minor blemishes and all.
Next fall can’t come soon enough.
Auralia’s Colors is the first strand in the Auralia Thread. The next in the series, Cyndere’s Midnight, is forthcoming.
by Jeffrey Overstreet
Published in 2007 by WaterBrook Press