“It’s the truth that counts! And you’ll rarely find more truth than in Faerie tales.”
— Eanrin from Dragonwitch
While hopefully searching through various books in need of quality clean fantasy, I stumbled upon a Wood. Though I first perceived it as a book, it soon revealed itself to be an entire other world.
Anne Elisabeth Stengl introduced Goldstone Wood to me in her debut fantasy novel, Heartless, a delightful fairytale that paralleled Christ’s love for us. I was surprised by her excellent writing and powerful story-telling, and eagerly continued on to Book 2, Veiled Rose, which gave me a new perspective on characters and events of the first book. And when I continued on to Moonblood, I realized I’d discovered a fantasy series unlike any other I’d read before. With the creativity and insight of C.S. Lewis, the epic scale of Tolkien, and a vivid voice all her own, the author drew me into deep adoration of The Tales of Goldstone Wood series.
Certainly, her world-building is fantastic, connecting the Far Faerie demesnes with the mortal Near Kingdoms through a mysterious and dangerous Wood, along with the spiritual realms of the Netherworld and the Farthestshore, I haven’t encountered other worlds so vast, complex, bizarre, and intertwined. Throughout her stories, delicious hints are dropped and legends are whispered, only to be later fully revealed in future novels. And the books keep coming! Though Book 6, Shadow Hand, just released, and book 7, Golden Daughter is due for release in November, many more novels, plus novellas, are promised. It’s enough to make my fan-girl heart squeal!
Each book, though a satisfying story of its own, is intricately connected to the others, so it is certainly best to read them in the order published. This certainly isn’t chronological order, for Anne Elisabeth Stengl has created a world where Time is a fickle thing, and her books sometimes range a thousand years apart … and sometimes side by side. It’s complicated, but completely worthwhile.
But above all the beautiful writing, endearing characters, and surprising twists on familiar fairy-tale themes, I was most deeply struck by the heart and truth woven in each story. For though only the first book might be considered an allegory, the characters come to life with startling reality.
This is what causes these books to be so greatly praised and so heavily criticized. For the characters are written with truth. From Una, spoiled, slightly silly, blinded by her misconceptions, to Lionheart, aching to be a hero, but fallen under intimidation, to Eanrin, haughty and selfish, these characters reflect our own fallen nature with painful clarity. Many readers don’t like that. They prefer their heroes and heroines to, sure, have struggles, but ultimately to kick the bad guys down and conquer their own problems with surety and triumph. These characters don’t. They fail. Horribly. To the point, that readers despise them. And that’s where the truth comes in.
The undeserved grace, love, and power of Christ. There is a Prince always calling to us, no matter how we might ignore him like Una and Rosie, ready to defeat the Dragons and Dreams that are anxious to destroy our lives. Though we are weak and looked down upon like the Chronicler and Foxbrush, He sees us as something magnificent. He sees our true names, even if we’ve become like wolves. He longs to take us, His fallen, weak creation, call us His own, and transform us into the heroes we so long to be.
And that’s what makes these tales truly golden.