I was supposed to have finished this review months ago, but a lot of things jumped in the way, namely school, work, other books, etc. Anyway, I’m back in the saddle, and ready to proceed with my special double review. I purchased two Christian fantasy books not too long ago at about the same time.Each of them has a similar premise, and I decided for fun to review them bothat the same time. The two books are Ryann Watters and the King’s Sword by Eric Reinhold and Hunter Brown and the Secret of the Shadow by the Miller Brothers.
I’ll briefly recap what both stories are about. In Ryann Watters, the titular character is visited by an angel who gives him special items and a mission to find the King’s Sword. He eventually enters the land of Aeliana, a land inhabited by talking animals. In Hunter Brown, the titular character and a friend of his end up in the land of Solandria, where Hunter joins a force called the Codebearers, who fight for the Author against the evil Venator and the forces of Sceleris, a being who once was the Author’s scribe.
Given the growing number of Christian fantasy authors, we’ve got an opportunity to how they put spins on a familiar theme. In this case, we have two good stories that take the same idea:young person ends up in fantasy world to fight evil-and fashion different takes on it. I’ll first look at each book separately.
Hunter Brown reminded me a lot of Wayne Batson’s The Door Within. Both stories feature a villain that was once favored of the God-like character (The Author in Hunter Brown, King Eliam in The Door Within), but became greedy for more and instead is punished for his transgressions by being thrown into a lesser state-Paragor from TDW) both attend a dinner and are acclaimed as a special guest that is chosen for a special duty. Aidan and Hunter are surrounded by colorful warriors with boisterous personalities, and also are paired up with a strong warrior-gal. Both boys have a vision that the elder warriors take seriously,with one going to consult in private about the matter. Both books feature a battle against a city by the evil army (though in Hunter Brown it occurs off-page), and a subsequent journey into the dark forces’ lair. Hunter Brown even slips in at least two times the phrase “Never alone.” (I’m not saying Hunter Brown is a rip-off, I just found the similarities interesting. I have seen stories that seem like shameless rip-offs; this isn’t one of them)
Okay, some of the story elements weren’t all that new, but the execution was very good. But the last few chapters took the story from cool to awesome land. The revelation about Venator actually wasn’t that surprising considering Ventator’s age, but it was still great. But as it goes on, the story just gets plain…unpredictable. Things happen that you don’t expect, and Hunter doesn’t always make the best choices, or even choices you think he’s going to make. Even his allegiance-to the Shadow or the Codebearers, isn’t really settled until the final few pages, and for a moment,Hunter actually makes a choice that protagonists usually don’t make in these stories-(SPOILER)-he decides not to choose either side. Granted, his choice doesn’t work out like he wanted, natch, but I actually like that for a moment that he doesn’t know if he should trust anybody but himself. The last part of this story is a head-spinning, riveting conclusion, and it hands this story a big thumbs up.
Stylistically, I like the book cover and the illustrations that popped up at times. Also, the book is written from a first person perspective, which is not very common in these fantasy books,and the authors deserve kudos for making it work. It’s generally hard to write in this fashion because you can’t cut away from the main character, at least not very easily.
Now to Ryann Watters. This story focuses on three human characters and three talking animal characters, with the main hero being Ryann. While it is a fantasy story, it actually doesn’t focus a lot on the fantasy world of Aeliana.Ryann and his friends make brief stops there for about the first two thirds of the tale, while being pursued by their arch-nemesis Drake. The emphasis in this story is actually on Ryann’s spiritual education. To solve mysteries, he frequently consults the Bible, and many of the good guys quote Scripture extensively.
The story is pretty straightforward, and it won’t knock your socks off with a “wow, I wasn’t expecting that” moment. But it’s a pleasant read. One of things I liked is the dual storyline of hero and villain. In this case, the antagonist, Drake, is another teenager, matching Ryann with a peer opponent, a reverse of the “chosen one”trope. Here the bad guys also recruit a young person for adventure, albeit a bad one. And Drake isn’t entirely unsympathetic. He’s a villain, but one who’s had a hard life, and you wonder if Eric has redemption plans for him down the road.
On the downside, Aeliana is not described much in detail. There’s very little to distinguish this place from say, Narnia, and many of the visits don’t build the world up very much.
So, how do these two stories compare? Hunter Brown was more allegorical in its spiritual themes, while Ryann Watters is a lot more direct, with few or no stand-ins for God, Scripture,and angels. For example, Hunter consults the Author’s Writ for wisdom, while Ryann goes right to the Bible itself. The protagonists themselves are different. Hunter is an unbeliever who spends the whole story trying to pick his allegiance, while Ryann is already a good kid who’s trying to mature in his faith. They’re both good avenues to explore; I think you need stories about an unbelieving protagonist who finds the light, and about a believer who learns to persevere and mature.
Tone-wise, you could compare Hunter Brown to Nickelodeon, with gross-outs, rebellious kids, and lots of action. Ryann Watters on the other hand is more like Disney, with a lighter, more “magical” world with talking animals and plucky, good-natured protagonists. Actually, I was struck by how non-violent Ryann Watters was. It has some action,but it’s actually quite light for this genre. I could see this book as very accessible for the younger set, a stepping stone for other works in this genre.
I’d say pick up either one of these books. I think both of them are good, though I’d give Hunter Brown a higher grade. Both stories also have sequels out,which I hope to review again, perhaps in another double-review. And hopefully,I will have that review out in a timely fashion-before book number three in both series debuts on the bookshelves…