Writing a novel is a big charge and I, as reader, approach the work knowing that I am accomplishing the lesser task: it is so much easier to critique a work already written than having to write the work myself. I do not presume to know more than the author. Instead, I offer my perspective as coming from one who has read the text and can respond to it with “outside eyes.”
Janet Ursel’s Christian fantasy novel, Disenchanted, is a novel involving men—priests, wizards, kings, sons of kings, soldiers– in various positions entangled in a web of paramount deception. Her work with world-building is tremendous as she creates names of towns and people that sounded awe-inspiring. In addition, original vocabulary like “mage born”; “Truesight”; and “sky god” got my attention and pulled me further into this new world.
Convincing Character Building
Of all the creative parts of building the novel, convincing character building is one of the novel’s strengths. I can truly believe that Edgar is a villain and I want to see men like Martin and Blayn vindicated when they are wronged. The credibility of those characters and the weave of deception in the plot keep the suspense moving forward. I want to know what is going to happen next: Are the good guys going to be vanquished? Is the outcome going to be believable? Who will triumph at the end? (Yes, I know it’s a Christian fantasy, but I want the satisfaction of a great story!) How will all the loose ends resolve themselves? Will the ending be credible? Will I be able to “savor” the story as it unfolds? What will happen to the High Priest in Nortland? Will Black Magic win over a young wizard who has given up using magic as a weapon? What will happen to Peter and the rest of Morwen and Blayn’s children? What will happen to Morwen?
Morwen, My Favorite Character
Yet in a world involving various men and paramount deception, Morwen is my favorite character. Call me a feminist, but I am SO tired of seeing weak women preyed on in media—like the blonde who always falls when some kind of monster is chasing her or other women going out on their own and being squashed by those who are “stronger” and more vicious. Morwen is a strong woman who is able to cry when she expresses herself. She is a woman who can be trusted with great responsibility and shows a depth of wisdom when she goes and speaks to Chief Roberts for the benefit of her missing child, husband who left in search of him and for the welfare of her people. What a great combination of feminine character and strength: she is beautiful, she is a compassionate AND she possesses wisdom. She is wife, mother and politician. Morwen is bold. In addition to understanding people and politics, Morwen understands life and is able to make a contribution through her herbalist skills. Did I mention that she has hips? This is no size two Barbie doll beauty with no brains; this is a very real woman shown through a combination of strength, wisdom AND femininity! Did I mention she has hips?
A Surprising Twist
The weave of suspense through the novel carried me through to the end as I was anxious to see how the story would resolve itself. Though a curious wizard at the beginning in search of knowledge and then vindication at the end, Blayn becomes a Biblical King David-type of hero. So much of the second half parallels the time that King David was running from King Saul, his enemy and the man he would succeed as king. David hid out incognito amongst the Philistines when he was hiding from Saul (I Samuel 27); Blayn hid incognito in Nortland while he was also searching for his son, Peter, and preparing to confront the High Priest of Nortland. David was a young shepherd boy when he was called to be king (I Samuel 16:11-13); Blayn is a young wizard who rises to the Council of Wizards and he is the youngest on the council. When Blayn prepares to confront and defeat the High Priest of Nortland, he puts “five smooth stones” in his pocket. Here is where I expected him to pull out a slingshot and hit the Goliath of a High Priest in the forehead! But I did not expect God Himself to become a part of the story at the end. I expected Christianity to be more of an undercurrent in the text, not personified in God Himself. I was surprised at the end, but enjoyed this tale’s “wicked” ending.
The Drama Continues
Part of the drama I enjoyed at the end is the dramatic speech of Blayn that also mirror King David’s in II Samuel of the Bible. The story is familiar to most people: The Philistine giant Goliath is tormenting the Israelites and every one of those men is afraid to retaliate. Young shepherd boy, David–who happens to be on the field because he is bringing food for his brothers–hears the giant’s blasphemous speech and cries out in faith: “Who is this pagan Philistine anyway, that he is allowed to defy the armies of the living God?” (I Samuel 17: 26b, NLT). You know the rest of the story…In Disenchanted, Blayn is at the end of his journey. He finds the High Priest of the Black Temple in Nortland, yet he comes without the help of his magic and he only has “five smooth stones” in his pocket and his trust in the sky god ready for the confrontation. When Blayn is asked if he has come to “swear allegiance to the Highest Priest,” his response is: “I choose to be neither. I have come not to join you, but to oppose you; not to swear allegiance, but to bring you down in the name of the Most High God” (396 of 428).
Again, like Golitah, the High Priest taunts Blayn, “You have no hope of defeating me, you know. You babies of Coventree commune with birds and trees, but you have no notion of how to do battle. And this Most High God of yours, if he exists at all, obviously has no intention of coming to your rescue, let alone defeating me. He has abandoned you” (397 of 428).
I won’t tell you how it ends, but there is screaming and more drama in this weave…
One more thing
With Disenchanted, Janet Ursel has gained entry into the marvelous world of fantasy. Yet this is a genre that is well-defined and that has great expectations of its writers, so while most of Ursel’s work with world-building is very credible, there are a few instances where more contemporary language is used and in some of those instances, I found the text distracting. Words like “hangover” instead of “he was drunk with ale,” or that someone “burned through” something instead of using more simple language made me question whether or not this tale was supposed to be set in Older World times. I was not sure what the author had intended to do and since I was distracted from engaging with the story, I concluded that the author had not succeeded in what she was trying to accomplish in those instances. Still, I feel that those problems are logistics that the writer can choose to revise in her next book. Overall, however, I feel that the book is worth reading and that it has what it needs to pull the reader into its weave.
Please note that I read an ARC copy of the manuscript and was encouraged to write an honest review. I have not nor will I receive remuneration of any kind from my engagement with this book.