Truth be told, I would not have expected this book to be published by Bethany House Publishing. I grew up with Bethany House printing the fiction my grandmothers loved to read—Old West historical romances, mainly, and a lot of Janette Oake and Judith Pella. The book and its contents surprised me—a good surprise, but a surprise nonetheless. Despite none of the overt spiritual references and strong Christian characters I had come to associate with Bethany House, I still found myself marveling at some of the spiritual truths hidden in plain sight.
I am a fan of the fantasy of Lewis and Tolkien, but little contemporary fantasy. Stengl, however, weaves such an integrated world it was hard not to get drawn in. Some of it, of course, comes from this book being late in the series and the author having had time to interact with her world properly. Most of it, however, comes from the author’s ability to paint pictures with words to create a world where you can feel the moss of the Wood under your feet, you can watch the Path spread out before you, and you can smell the stink of fear hovering over the goblin’s human captives.
The story takes place in four separate, distinct realms. It begins in the cold reaches of the North Country, where young Lord Alistair is reluctantly learning to read, and the castle Chronicler is reluctantly teaching him. He is being groomed for an earlship and, everyone hopes, the throne. He never feels comfortable with his mother’s scheming, or with Leta, the girl that his uncle and mother have chosen for him to wed. When his uncle, the earl dies, a surprise deathbed confession changes everything Alistair knew.
As I mentioned above, the religious themes are subtle and sometimes hidden. In one such passage, the Chronicler and Leta—who is clandestinely learning to read and write—are having a discussion about the faerie tales which the Chronicler simply calls, “Silly superstition.”
“Maybe,” she replied. “Maybe not. But I believe it.”
“What you believe cannot affect the truth of the matter.”
“Cannot the same be said for unbelief?”
“A good point, m’lady, and a fair one,” said he.
This particular theme—that whether or not we believe something to be true has no bearing on its actual fact—is repeated throughout the book if one cares to look.
In the printed book I received, I did notice a few layout issues, but nothing to detract from the story.
Any time spent reading the work of a true wordsmith is never time wasted. I will definitely be reading more of Stengl’s works in the future.