Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Shock of Night, by Patrick W. Carr.

  This is the first book of The Darkwater Saga, whose medieval setting is in the twentieth year of King Laidir’s reign. The key figure is Willet Dura raised to minor nobility by Laidir, King of Collum whose citadel is Brunard. Dura served as the king’s reeve and the story begins as he is summoned to investigate the brutal murder of Robin, a guard whose keep was Elwin, a member of one of the religious orders known as the Servants. In an attempt to glean information from Elwin who survived the attack, the Servant pronounces “Domere” upon Dura and expires. From that moment on, Willet Dura is able to delve the minds of all those whom he touches.
  The story unfolds in a tale of Dura’s encounters with the rest of the higher nobles who despise him, a mysterious group known as the Vigil, the four religious orders (Servants, Vanguard, Clast, and Absold), and the menace of Laewan whose minions are those who were once lured into the Darkwater Forest to become his blind followers.
  Willet Dura himself is a survivor of the Darkwater - in a past war, he led a band of warriors into the dreaded forest as a matter of survival against an overwhelming enemy; only Dura escapes, the details of which he is not able to recall and marks him as mysterious and dangerous.
  The singular bright spot in his dismal existence is his betrothed, Lady Gael, with whom he shares an indomitable love. Yet, the prospect of their marriage is increasingly threatened.
  Dura continues his investigation and slowly discovers that there are as many who seek his death as those who are sworn to protect him. As his inquiry becomes more involved, he unearths a plot that threatens the survival of kingdoms and all that he holds dear.

  I grant that the story itself is intriguing and goes a long way in sustaining one’s interest. However, I am quite distraught. One might take issue with its anemic theological world-view (there is an obvious Trinitarian Godhead that corresponds to the Three Persons of the Christian faith) in which little of redemption in this present evil world is artistically dealt with. But that is not what disturbs me. It is the writing itself.
  When I first considered reviewing this novel, I read cursory samplings of some of Carr’s other works, which seemed to hold promise. But I found the writing in this novel to be extremely disappointing. I suspect there are few on this tour, if any, who would agree with me, or at least not to the same extent.

  There is a constant commentary whose purpose, I guess, is to bring the characters to life, but I found to be unrealistic and very distracting. The relentless narrative of body language and facial expressions was simply overbearing: shrugging shoulders, furrowed brows, lips thin, lips tighten, lips quiver, gazes go flat, blossoming anger, blossoming heat, arched eye brows, bile in the throat, chewing the inside of cheeks, faces knotting, standing on the balls of feet, etc. Combined with this were silly metaphors. I catalogued a list of examples, which could have easily been extended. Here are some of them:

p. 46, Invisible hands reached inside my gut and started kneading my stomach like dough.
p. 77, He scowled down at me, his brows meeting over his hooked nose.
p. 77, He spat and growled a curse that could have stripped paint from wood.
p. 78, I gnawed on the inside of my cheek.
p. 112, I felt a trickle of sweat begin to trace an icy path down my spine.
p. 114, My stomach, still queasy, started tumbling in my gut, like an acrobat but not nearly as graceful.
p. 160, His voice rose as the rage trapped behind his eyes broke free.
p. 167, A network of wrinkles radiated out from her mouth, a tight circle at the center of a spider’s web that communicated anger and fear.
p. 170, I could feel the tension in my throat, like lute strings tightened to the breaking point.
p. 172, Uncertainty drained from her like water through the sluice of a dam.
p. 172, She smiled, but her lips imitated the quiver in her fingers.
p. 174, A tremor began in the outer two fingers of his right hand, working its way up his arm until Gael nudged me.
p. 179, A distant rumble of thunder rolled across my hearing like a drummer’s knell before an execution.
p. 206, My stomach collapsed into a hole in my middle, pulling my breath and heartbeat with it.
p. 228, He could feel his eyes trying to start from his head.
p. 232, Cold like the point of a dagger in winter, traced its way through my middle.
p. 238, Anger welled up through my middle, spreading to my arms and legs until the chill from the air faded and my face burned with shame and anger.
p. 260, His eyebrow, as thick over his nose as it was over his eyes, lowered some more.
p. 262, Her brows made half circles over her dark brown eyes.
p. 284, I shook myself like a dog in the rain and stepped behind the barrel.
p. 297, Fear ripped through me like the disturbance of a pebble dropped in a reflecting pool…
p. 309, Her brow lowered, and a vertical line appeared between her eyes.
p. 384, I smiled, forcing my face to don an expression that belied the fear churning in my gut.
p. 399, He eyed Bolt, his dark eyes squinting until they almost disappeared.
p. 401, A giant hand had hollowed out my middle leaving naught but a shell of skin and bones. Spots swam in front of my eyes.
p. 402, Bile built at the back of my throat as more puzzle pieces slipped into place.

Nothing like this is found in the Christian writing that is worthy of emulation (C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Andrew Peterson). Perhaps this is what is being taught at our Christian Writer’s conventions or approved by editors of Christian Fantasy. I hope not.

I received a review copy  from BethanyHouse for this blog tour.

Amazon The Shock Of Night
Author Website

Participant's list:

Thomas Clayton Booher
Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
Carol Bruce Collett
Carol Gehringer
Victor Gentile
Rani Grant
Rebekah Gyger
Bruce Hennigan
Janeen Ippolito
Carol Keen
Rebekah Loper
Jennette Mbewe
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
Audrey Sauble
Chawna Schroeder
Jessica Thomas
Robert Treskillard
Shane Werlinger
Phyllis Wheeler
Nicole White


  1. Hmm, guessing this won't be your vote in the upcoming ISPY awards. Thanks for the examples it helps to understand the point you are making.

  2. Interesting thoughts! I actually enjoyed all of those creative metaphors and didn't find them cheesy at all. Vivid description of feelings is the style in much of modern fiction to make it more visceral, rather than the removed of Tolkien or Lewis. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

  3. I thought about this overnight, Thomas. I think you're comparing tennis balls to golf balls. Tolkien and Lewis both wrote in an omniscient point of view. Carr does not. Willet's part of the story is in first person and the other in a close third person, which means that the POV character in either section must only report what they know about others from what their 5 senses tell them or what they surmise from what those senses reveal. So "he was angry" is not a line you'll find in this kind of style. Instead, the author must show the hints at his emotion. It is visceral, as Janeen said, and allows readers to enter into the story along with the characters in a way that the omniscient doesn't.

    Of course the omniscient POV allows for things the others don't, so there's a gain and a loss when choosing POV.

    All that said, none of the metaphors or similes you pointed out bothered me in the least. Maybe one or two bordered on . . . not really cliche, but "oft used." That didn't bother me in the context at all.

    But the main thing, Thomas, I expected you to have more to say about the content. This book has so many layers and says so much about many things. If you haven't read Bruce Hennigan's Day 1 post, I'd recommend it. It's a good example, I think about the kind of discussion I was hoping we'd have. (The link is )


  4. I agree with Becky, and personally think you're being a bit too hard on Patrick. Admittedly, these kinds of descriptions can go too far (my own earlier writing being an example of that, I openly admit---and I am learning).

    Patrick's descriptions, however, I thought was creative and fresh, and not overboard. He can improve, of course, but I really do think that Becky has nailed it that this is a certain POV methodology and is an acceptable way of writing today.

    It's fine, though, that you don't enjoy it ... let's just not act like it's some abnormal and unacceptable form of craft, as if all novel writing techniques ended with Tolkien and Lewis. Even Andrew Peterson writes very different from those two.

    Authors lay their heart on the page and a bit of encouragement to balance things out is always in order.

    Personally, I'm pretty thick skinned and purposely ask for critique so I can learn. Other authors can be very sensitive. Once during the CSFF tour I criticized an author in what I considered a mild way. Five years later they were still deeply hurting from it and let me know. I learned a lesson from that. These are real people with sometimes deep hurts and cares.

    Not that we should coddle, per se, but there are more diplomatic ways, I think, to share our thoughts, and it is always important to point out the good with the bad at the same time so readers and authors get a balanced view.

    Anyway, sorry for the soap box. I appreciate that you've been a faithful member of the tour for such a long time and are helping to promote Christian spec-fic.

  5. To all,

    Thanks for your reactions. They are precisely what I expected. I detected 'heat' behind some of your comments, which is all right with me. After all, I do not deny there was heat in my post.

    I agree with Becky about the different perspective of Tolkien and Lewis, which is the perspective of high fantasy. Carr's work, whether intended or not, comes closer to that than what we find elsewhere in Christian fantasy today. But it falls short (again, high fantasy is probably not his intention, so that is expected, and it is NOT a defect).

    However, even when writing from the first person, which does limit one's authorial POV, this inundation of body language, facial expressions, and silly metaphors is tedious and less then professional. Should there be a complete absence of it? Obviously not. But human language has the ability to creatively, artfully, and powerfully place the reader right there in the middle so he can imaginatively and vividly experience it himself. The novel's writing falls way short of that, I think. Frankly, that no one comes close to thinking there is a problem here is a good barometer on the state of our Christian fantasy writing on both sides, author and editor. That's my opinion, and it apparently is a reed in a hurricane.

    Please keep what I say in perspective with other reviews that I have done on CSFF. I try to be honest and fair, yet critical. I have often given praise where praise is due. At the same time, only once have I rated one with five stars, Andrew Peterson's 'The Monster in the Hollows.'

    I am very critical because I think Christian fantasy does not match its secular peers, and it should. No excuses. We Christians, of all people on this planet, understand the truth behind fantasy, and know what its purpose is. Just as in every other aspect of the cultural mandate, creative writing is integral to imitating God and bringing glory to him. In my mind, it is more so than any other field. It is serious business, and we cannot tend to it with rose-tinted glasses.

  6. I'm curious if you read much outside of Christian fantasy in the fantasy genre, Thomas, based on your review, and on your responses to other comments. While Carr's writing is by no means perfect (there's not an author on earth who can do that).

    I don't have the opportunity to jump on a lot of the new releases while they are new, in either Christian or secular genres, but I read a lot, and I keep up with a lot of industry news (including writing for Fantasy Faction). His writing fits right in with the way the fantasy genre is growing and expanding these days.

    A lot of what you're criticizing appears to me to simply be Carr's 'voice'. And Willet's voice, to an extent. Personally, I've found his descriptions of characters and the body language to be quite fitting, especially since Willet is basically a detective in a fantasy setting. The style may not be PURELY high fantasy style - it's very much like mystery fiction too - but that doesn't mean it's wrong.

    As you yourself said, "human language has the ability to creatively, artfully, and powerfully place the reader right there in the middle so he can imaginatively and vividly experience it himself."

    His writing did that for me. It seems to have done that for many other people. I've read both far worse and far better fantasy from both Christian and secular peers alike.

    Ultimately, if a story only reaches and touches one person, even if the method may seem mediocre, it's better than if that story hadn't been told at all.

  7. Thomas, in reflecting on your post, I came to the conclusion that you took a subjective view--your opinion of the use of body language and metaphor--and made it The Measuring Stick by which to judge the novel. You certainly are free to have your opinion and even to think that the state of Christian fantasy is woeful, but I guess I'm disappointed that this post doesn't say much about the story or the character or the theme or the setting.

    I thought this novel was quite complex and has a lot to say about the state of mankind. Being as it is first in the series, I wasn't expecting redemption to show at this point. The darkness which cannot bear the light seems like such a strong symbol, and I expect the Light to conquer it eventually, in the world and in the heart of the main character.

    This is precisely the kind of fantasy we need today, in my way of thinking--whether it has an excess of metaphors or not.


  8. Thanks for the critique Thomas: I often find I'm the odd man out on my takes for popular Christan titles, so I appreciate the feeling. Personally, as I wrote in previous reviews on my blog, I thought Carr's other works up this point were too limited in writing and prose style.

    I thought both this novel and its novella prequel were a major step forward for the author since it felt more natural and less stylized: I melted into the story and barely noticed the words after awhile, the true mark for me of whether the writing succeed.

    I think Becky hit it on the head in that this book reads less like a fantasy and more like a detective story. Since I love mysteries and read a lot of them, I appreciated the style and voice. The witty, wisecracking, worldweary gumshoe is a staple of that genre as much as the wise mentor/wizard figure is of high fantasy. But it is a distinctive tone that is apart from what "pure" fantasy like Tolkien (or even McCaffery) used.

    I don't think you're too hard at all, considering your critique is based on a fantasy lovers' desire to see more of a certain style. You were very consistent in your critique and offered proofs to back up your points. It's a valid point of view.

    I just don't happen to share it completely. And that's OK too. :)

  9. Michelle,

    I considered that same point, that the 'witty, wisecracking, worldweary gumshoe' element was, as you say, a staple of that genre (i.e., the detective story). Even if that is the rationale for its presence in the story, it is not very good style - for any story, even the detective. In my thinking, the best detective story shuns such devices, or uses them with care and class.

    Even so, I'm not so sure that such a genre compelled Mr. Carr to write this way here. There may be some influence from the fantasy-detective style, but not completely. I admit that I have not read Carr's other works - only in the Amazon readme type samples. But in those samples, you can detect a bit of that style, though to a far less degree.

    I did think the story in itself was very good, and if one does not get stuck on the barrage of (really silly) metaphors and the tedium of encountering the facial expressions and body language ad nauseam, he should really enjoy the book.

    For me, it was a show-stopper. It is just poor writing technique.

  10. I have to agree with Thomas and his evaluation of Carr's novel. The descriptive body language did become overbearing. Other aspects of the novel also detracted from the story for me. I was jolted the first time the POV switched to Pellin's. It was not just switching from first person to third person, but the scenes from Pellin's POV to me did not really serve to develop his character but were intended more to provide information for the reader. (As a side note, I think Robin Hobb does an excellent job of using first person POV solely in the two books of her Farseer Trilogy I read.) I also found the pacing too breakneck, although I suspect this is a trend in Christian fantasy as I have read other novels with the same fast pace. The reader and the protagonist both need time to catch their breath and reflect. Finally I felt there were almost too many twists and turns and subplots. For example, the twist with Queen Cailin at the end seemed to come out of nowhere. I agree the story premise is good, but the execution was could have been better. I just wish his editor had put the novel through one more edit, as I think some of the issues could have been easily dealt with and the novel improved.