Four hundred years after a deadly virus and nuclear war destroyed the modern world, a new and noble civilization emerges. In this kingdom, called Chiveis, snowcapped mountains provide protection, and fields and livestock provide food. The people live medieval-style lives, with almost no knowledge of the “ancient” world. Safe in their natural stronghold, the Chiveisi have everything they need, even their own religion. Christianity has been forgotten–until a young army scout comes across a strange book.
This is the basis for The Sword, the first book of the Chiveis Trilogy by debut author Bryan Litfin. As a lover of speculative fiction, I am very interested in any new such novels in the Christian marketplace. The premise sounded appealing to me, so when I was offered a free copy for review through the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance, I accepted. I wanted to love this book. I didn’t.
Why? I glanced at the prologue and skipped over nearly six pages of history of the aforementioned plague and decimation of the world. I read the one page (um…second prologue?) labeled Winter 2045, about the last days of the plague. Then I turned to the beginning of the novel itself and found the first paragraphs:
The lone man deep in the woods of the Beyond knew a good sword could make the difference between life and death. Now, as the massive brown bear approached, he gripped his sword’s hilt in his strong, sweaty hand and resolved to live. He had just dealt the death blow to a wild boar. Downed by heavy arrows, but still kicking and thrashing, the animal found relief in the finality of the sword’s thrust. With a last squeal, the boar quit struggling and went limp. The hunter pulled his blade free of the carcass and was leaning on it to catch his breath when a rustling in the bushes signaled danger.
Turning toward the new threat, the man felt his heart jump as the enormous bear crept from the underbrush, its ears laid back, its eyes staring, its face contorted in a snarl. The hunter tightened his grip on his sword, discerning from the bear’s aggressive behavior he might soon require the aid of steel. The weapon was decent, and the man was well-versed in its use. All his skill at arms would be needed if the menacing bear charged.
After a few pages, ‘the woman’ comes on the scene. Neither is given a name until the bottom of the fifth page, when they introduce themselves to each other. For me, this was a problem. Not only did the writing feel stiff, but I felt distanced from the characters, in part because they had no names and little to identify with. Also, throughout the first paragraph, I kept wondering if ‘boar’ was a misprint for ‘bear.’ I’d been promised a bear, and all I saw was a dying boar that had somehow gotten into the current timeline.
After awhile the characters discover the ancient book and begin translating it into their current tongue. For me, the best part of the novel was watching them discover God’s word for the first time, but the story took on a preaching aspect after this point.
The novel has lots of action and contains food for thought, but sadly, I’ll be giving the rest of the trilogy a pass.
Fwiw, it's the telling not showing in the intro paragraphs, and the clunky passive sentences that'd put me off. There's no way to connect to that character and I'd think, hmm… Are we supposed to relate to the sword? You're right, it distances the reader from the story and that's never a good thing. Maybe the writer thought that starting with action, a 'battle scene' was the way to open the book? Lots of folks confuse physical combat with what writers call 'conflict'.
Writers are more adept at noticing such things, though. Readers may feel that something is off but can't quite put their finger on what.
Tam, this book had some HUGE names endorsing it. Interesting thought on connecting with the sword instead of the character. But…now that I'm thinking about it, I don't think The Sword is the most fitting title either. Drat. I DID want to like this book.
I think I would have given it a shot until you mentioned the “p” word–preachy.
The book cover is absolutely gorgeous and honestly the other parts you mentioned sounded intriguing enough to give it a look, even though you didn’t like it.
That’s too bad. I’m curious what other people said about it.
Chris, give it a shot, or read some of the other reviews from the CFBA site (link in sidebar, if you need one) I know I'm not in the majority. And like I said to Tam, big big names endorsed it. I think you can read the first chapter from his site, too. That would give you a larger chunk to make a judgment on.
Hey, some 'big names' endorsed my stuff. That just means that either A) the author met/begged big name and they were feeling charitable or B) the publisher sent them the book and said BLURB THIS. Which is the most likely option. I now know that cover blurbs really don't mean squat. They look nice, but there isn't even a guarantee that the blurb-er read anything more than the title, let alone the whole thing.
That could be. Or it could be that others saw things in this story that I didn't. I am constantly shocked to discover that not everyone loves the books that I do, and vice versa!