Sunday, February 19, 2012

February 2012 CSFF Blog Tour, Day 1 - The Realms Thereunder, by Ross Lawhead

The two characters, Daniel and Freya, in the first book of the Ancient Earth trilogy, are played out in two different worlds (modern day England and a presumably Middle Ages fantasy world), at two different times (present day and eight years prior), and of two different ages (as teens and then as young adults in their early twenties). Ross Lawhead could have told the story in a more sequential manner, perhaps with book one strictly as the story of the fantasy adventure eight years prior. I suspect he may have contemplated that when the tale first started rattling round in his head, but as one thinks upon it, there are good reasons as to why it came out as it did.

For starters, there would have been no way around the fact that Daniel and Freya are not native residents of the fantasy world, that they had their origin in modern day earth, and that Lawhead would have had to get them from here to there anyhow. So there would have been an unavoidable merging of the two worlds from the start. Once there, if he had kept them there for the duration of the book, how much more he would have had to spend on that world. Which would have been appealing, seeing that the extra attention would likely have given the world more substance and development, and it probably would have made the story ten times easier to follow. But after having had the experience of tracing the back and forth of his father’s novels (The Skin Map and The Bone House) I really did not have much to complain with this regard.

There are really two stories to be told. Though the main characters Daniel and Freya are in both adventures, the world-view and maturity of the two are starkly different in each; the early experiences had a discernable affect that continues into the present day. Freya was a happy-go-lucky girl while Daniel was a school-hater with an unhappy home life, and a yearning for recognition. The present day Freya is an obsessive, nervous college student trying to avoid the past; Daniel lives on the streets in order to carry out a mission that understands and faces the past.

In the early tale Daniel and Freya discover a hidden crypt of sorts in a church they are visiting on a school field trip. This houses two knights who have been lying there for centuries, who awaken and play a substantial part in the rest of the story. Not able to leave the church and return home from the crypt, Daniel and Freya are forced to follow the two knights, Egcbryt [ETCH brit] and Swiðgar [SWIDTH gar], back to their world. Through the friendship and protection of these two, the youngsters are spared the devilry and murder of yfelgopes [EE fehl GOHP as] and eventually arrive at their destination, Niðergeard [NI thur gayrd], a subterranean city under threat of attack by the armies of Gad. From there the tale goes on to reveal what they must do to return home and how they accomplished that. It is laden with trial and danger.

The later story of Freya and Daniel in their early twenties involves a return by Daniel to that other world, and of Freya having to contend with influences and entities from that world in this one. What happens to each has a direct bearing on the outcome of the other, which unites them in the end.

Along the way the reader encounters a number of tantalizing creatures and personalities: Ealdstan [ee ELD stan] a cranky ancient wizard in Niðergeard; a wood burner (charcoal maker) in Elfland; eight blind women on an island in the (now dried up) Sleeping Ocean, whose labor is a constant weaving of a tapestry on which the continuous history of the world is embroidered; Neiman, a despicable yet pitiable half-faerie who causes women to become infatuated with him; the merchant Reizzger Lokkich who has murderous plans for Agrid Fiall, a greedy, merciless moneylender; a young dragon and two dead trolls (feasted upon by the dragon), and more.

The writing is quite good, though there are a few places in which some lines made me cringe, being reminiscent of some of my least favorite Christian fantasy writers. The style was not consistent throughout, I thought. It assumed a manner at times (not persistently, though) that was more for young teens in those parts where the story was actually about young teens, that is, the earlier tale.

One of my favorite characters, who did not appear much in the book yet held key scenes, was Alex Simpson. Lawhead’s writing created a remarkably tangible crescendo and spike in the revelation of his role (p. 166); for me, that alone made the reading satisfying.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson for kindly providing a copy of The Realms Thereunder for review on the February 2012 Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour.

Ross Lawhead's Web Page
List of CSFF Blog Tour Participants
The Realms Thereunder on Amazon


  1. Interesting to read your reaction to the book, Tom. I think I liked Daniel in Elfland the best. Someone else thought it was a little slow there, and maybe that's true, but it reminded me a lot of C. S. Lewis's Out of the Silent Planet at that point.

    I hadn't thought about different writing styles for the different parts. I'll have to take a closer look at that.


  2. Yes, Daniel in Elfland was delightful, and perhaps reminiscent of a more mature level of The Chronicles of Narnia. It also lends weight, I think, to the contention that the story might have done just as well if Mr. Lawhead had developed that world predominantly. Imagine what other tantalizing episodes there may have been!

  3. Alex is also my favorite character. I think he might be the driving force in the next volume. I hope we go back to Elfland. I agree that Lawhead made the right choice to compare and contrast the two stories about Daniel and Freya. The narratives of "earlier" and "now" complement and inform each other.