Tuesday, July 20, 2010

CSFF Blog Tour: Starlighter Day Two

Davis tells his story, primarily through the eyes of Jason and Koren, with two parallel plot lines that converge in Starlighter's last chapters. The pacing of the novel is very fast. Aside from memories and stories from the past, the action takes place over two days.

In the case of Jason, we rarely see him in situations that are not fraught with danger and stress. We do not get many opportunities to see him musing over his situation at leisure. The exceptions are in the early chapters. On his return from the tournament, Jason considers the relative boredom and monotony of his life. While he doesn't believe in the story of the Lost Ones as his brother Adrian does, Jason thinks rescuing slaves would be an exciting and welcome change to his life of military training. In another instance, Jason discovers his brother Adrian's Courier tube and considers reading the message. At the last moment he decides against it, wishing to honor his brother's privacy over his curiosity. Jason's worldview undergoes a radical change after he has viewed the message which his brother has given him permission to watch. His oldest brother Frederic, feared dead, appears at the end with proof that the old stories about dragons and slaves are true. After that revelation, events pile up. Jason is accused of murdering Governor Prescott; he frees two prisoners--his childhood friend Elyssa and Tibalt Blackstone, the son of the escaped Lost One--from the castle dungeon. Jason, Elyssa, and Tibalt elude some castle guards and it becomes clear that Jason and Elyssa cannot hope to live if they are captured. Finding the portal seems the only reasonable course of action.

After a dizzying series of double-crosses--it's not clear on whose side some of the castle guards are fighting--Randall agrees to join Jason and the others in their quest. Randall initially appears to be a bully, spoiled and eager to put others beneath him. When Randall is shot in the back with an arrow, Jason decides to help him rather than leave him to die. Jason evinces a strong sense of compassion and sacrifice throughout the story. At the time, Jason wonders why he is helping Randall, but ultimately his decision proves wise as Randall becomes invaluable in the fights with the dragons. The punishment that Randall endures stretches the story's verisimilitude to the breaking point. Within a twenty-four hour period, the poor guy sees his father's murdered body, is shot in the back with an arrow, nearly drowns, and then has most of the life squeezed out of him by a bear. To his credit, he bounces back for more punishment each time.

I expected the search for the portal to occupy much of Jason's story but after walking for a few hours, Jason and Elyssa literally fall into it. The portal is located at the bottom of an underground river that reverses course when the portal or various levers are activated. The four members of the quest endure some harrowing moments on the river and Jason all but drowns, preferring to sacrifice his own life rather than endanger Elyssa who has gone back to get Randall and Tibalt. They find that only Tibalt can open the portal, once more proving the value of compassion for someone who does not initially appear all that useful.

Koren's story moves at a slower pace but does not lack for dramatic events. We see her in the home of her master, the dragon Arxad. She gathers honey, sneaks a bit of bread to the orphan children in a camp, serves food to Arxad and his family, and tells the dragons a story to entertain them. We see her studying--the dragons educate the humans in the hope of making use of the intelligent ones. We see her interacting with her fellow slaves in Arxad's household. The three orphan children (Koren, Natalla, and Petra) and Madame Orley form a family unit. Most of what the reader learns about the dragons comes through Koren's eyes, and her green eyes and red hair are a mark of distinction and intelligence from the dragons' perspective. Koren considers her assignment under Arxad to be the best of her life. Other dragons are cruel to their slaves. Petra's former owner had the girl's tongue cut out. Arxad seems to be an exception, and as events unfold, one wonders if Arxad bought Koren with a specific purpose in mind, something more than domestic chores.

As with Jason, compassion and sacrifice motivate Koren. She learns one night that Natalla is to be "promoted." The dragons tell the slaves that this is a good thing, that the promoted slave will go to the more hospitable climate of the Northlands. The slaves are not so sure because they never hear more from promoted slaves than a single letter. Natalla fears that she will be eaten and plans to escape with her brother Stephan. Koren implores her not to take such a drastic step and offers to sneak into the dragons' basilica and discover the truth about promotions. Koren uses her skills as a storyteller to hypnotize the guard dragon. Although she explores the basilica, she never learns what happens to promoted slaves. (I guess we'll have to wait for the next book.) Arxad rescues her from the guard, who has awoken from his hypnotic slumber, and takes her to meet Zena--a human tasked with caring for a black dragon egg containing the crown prince. Zena's loyalty is to the prince in the egg. Zena and Arxad agree that if Koren is a starlighter--a kind of visionary who can see the past and future--she will serve under Zena as a slave to the unhatched prince. At the Zodiac, the dragons' temple where Arxad is a prominent priest, Koren passes the test to prove she is a starlighter. In her vision, she tells Arxad what really happened between Magnar, the ruling dragon, and the Lost Ones. Arxad's reaction suggests that Koren's vision differs from the story Magnar has told. Arxad takes Koren back to Zena who places Koren in chains next to the egg. To Zena's consternation, Koren discovers that she can talk to the prince directly and that he can talk through her. Zena does not have those talents.  

I should say something about the dragons. As a group, they are easily angered, perpetually grumpy, and quick to flog or incinerate any human that defies their authority. Any slave attempting to escape commits a capital offense and can expect a summary execution if caught. They place a high value on honesty, loyalty, and following their laws. They are not supposed to lie to the slaves or break bargains made with them, at least in theory. The dragons practice a religion based on astrology. Some dragons are cruel to their human slaves, others less so. Arxad is the most complicated of the dragons. A conflict between him and Magnar simmers beneath the story's surface, and while Arxad does things to preserve Koren's life, his motives are not clear. Is he helping Koren out of a sense of duty and honor? Does he see intrinsic value in humans beyond their worth as slaves? Or is Koren a pawn--more likely a queen--in his duel with Magnar?

For more information on Bryan Davis and Starlighter, visit the author's blog or website.

For more commentary on Starlighter from other tour members, visit their blogs listed below.
Brandon Barr
Beckie Burnham
R. L. Copple
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Andrea Graham
Tori Greene
Nikole Hahn
Ryan Heart
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Dawn King
Jane Maritz
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Donita K. Paul
Crista Richey
Chawna Schroeder
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Dona Watson
Phyllis Wheeler
Jill Williamson
KM Wilsher

1 comment:

  1. That's the most thorough description of the story I have ever seen. Well done!

    Bryan Davis