Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Remarks on The Ale Boy's Feast
I learned a valuable lesson from Jeffrey Overstreet's The Ale Boy's Feast, the final novel in The Auralia Thread. You cannot read a book out of sequence in a series like The Auralia Thread and hope to appreciate it, no matter how many summaries or reviews you read of the previous books. I suspect this series is tightly integrated, more like The Lord of the Rings than the episodic Chronicles of Narnia. What's worse is that The Ale Boy's Feast is the last of the four-book series. All the threads are coming together at this point. It's like reading The Return of the King first. I had reservations when I started but the title sounded so intriguing that I decided to jump in. Like the Ale Boy, I suffered a long fall.
I was supposed to read The Ale Boy's Feast for the CSFF Blog Tour but I didn't finish in time. It took me an extra week. It's not the case that Overstreet's prose is laborious or the story difficult to follow. His prose and imagery are beautiful, the stories (there are multiple plot lines) are engaging, and the characters complex. The difficulty was fitting the parts of the stories together when I did not have first hand knowledge of the previous parts. While the resolution of the plot lines for Auralia, Cal-raven, and Rescue (a.k.a. the Ale Boy) are powerful, I couldn't help but think I was missing out on their significance and power.
The Ale Boy's Feast centers on the quest to find Inius Throan--an ancient, deserted city--where Cal-raven, the former king of House Abascar which is now in ruins, hopes to establish a new House Abascar from the scattered survivors of Abascar and anyone else who wants to join. The ancestors of Cal-raven and his people once lived in Inius Throan. The people of Abascar are scattered, some in captivity and some in exile. The Ale Boy plays a key role in rescuing some of the captives and leading them on a journey across the continent on an underground river. In broad outline, this tale shares some elements with the Exodus story. A downtrodden and defeated people journey through many hardships to return and reclaim their original homeland.
The source of evil in Overstreet's world is the Seers, a group of "fallen angels" who cannot create anything new but are highly skilled at perverting nature. The Seers have cursed the people of House Cent Regus, transforming them into hideous beastmen. They have perverted plants into deathweed, a fast-growing plant that kills people and animals. In their final act of evil, they transform trees into viscorclaws, branches that walk about like spiders and shred people with the points of their legs. The only weapon against the plants is fire and the only cure for the accursed beastmen is a very pure water from a well that has run dry.
I've only scratched the surface with my summary. There are dozens of characters in Overstreet's novel that I've not mentioned and many places--some not so pleasant--that I haven't sketched. I've added the other three books in the series--Auralia's Colors, Cyndere's Midnight, and Raven's Ladder--to my reading list. I want to know how this story began.
In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of The Ale Boy's Feast from the publisher.