“Where there is no vision, the people perish…” Proverbs 29:18
I’m going to go out on a couple of limbs in this review and stake out positions on two things that really struck me about Raven’s Ladder.
This Story is Mostly About “The Vision Thing”: Visions are powerful. Visions move people. Visions provide direction and hope for the future. Every successful leader across the span of history possessed a vision for his or her followers and was able to bring it to life within their hearts and imaginations.
In Raven’s Ladder, King Cal-raven assumes the full weight of the mantle of leadership. He seizes a vision of his people’s destiny and begins the difficult work of bringing that vision into reality. He understands that, without this vision, the people of Abascar are doomed to a short, brutal life of huddling in the caves of Barnashum, waiting to be consumed by the corruption growing beneath the Expanse.
Visions are also fragile. When Cal-raven presents his vision of a glorious New Abascar to his ragged band of refugees, it lands with a resounding thud. They don’t believe him. They question his youth and inexperience. His talk of actually seeing the mythical Keeper smacks of someone gone soft in the head, grasping at fairy tales. They’re frightened at the idea of traveling into the unmapped north, where all manner of unknown, terrifying dangers await. Cal-raven begins to realize that being the keeper of the vision is a lonely and thankless job indeed, and there’s a very real chance he may fail to make his vision come true.
Even worse, Cal-raven’s vision isn’t the only one out there. Just about everybody in Raven’s Ladder has a vision, and all these visions are in competition with Cal-raven’s. The Bel-Amicans pursue a vision of fortune, glory, and unlimited expansion of their borders, and the remnants of Abascar, including Cal-raven, are mightily tempted to abandon their identity and assimilate themselves within that bountiful society. The beastmen of Cent Regus have dreams of bloody conquest and vengeance. The Seers seek power and control through political manipulation, magic, and drugs. Even the noble vision of Cyndere and her brother Partayn, who work with Rescue and Jordam to heal the beastmen and free their slaves, hinders Cal-raven’s plan to restore his own nation.
It is this meditation on the nature of vision that, in my opinion, really ties this story together, gives it a weight that I felt was missing in Cyndere’s Midnight, and poses profound questions that will linger in my mind for a long time. What does it mean to have a vision? What makes a vision strong enough to bring people together and move them toward a common goal? How can we discern the difference between true visions and counterfeit visions? How do we cope when visions of equal worth and nobility come into conflict? Why can’t we see the truth sometimes, even when it’s standing right in front of us?
Heavy stuff, and it’s certainly not the only powerful theme in this book. There’s enough material in Raven’s Ladder to keep any book club immersed in thoughtful conversation for a long time, and I’ve got to get this post out today. Just one more thing…
I Don’t Know if the Keeper is God, but I’m Pretty Sure Krawg is Jeffrey Overstreet: If you want to understand what Mr. Overstreet is trying to do with the Auralia Thread series, you need to spend some time in Chapter 11, in which reformed scoundrel Krawg spins his tale of The Six Tricksters. As he becomes caught up in his own story, seized by an inspiration even he doesn’t fully understand, Krawg creates a shatteringly beautiful parable that reaches into the meaning of “life, the universe, and everything” in the Expanse, and perhaps in our own world as well. Unfortunately, his thunderbolt of enlightenment is lost on the Bel Amicans, who seem to have forgotten what storytelling is all about. As he grumbles afterward about their lack of comprehension, the mask slips a bit, in a good way, and I think we see the author’s face behind this crusty old thief with a heart of gold and a silver tongue:
“I may not know what’s happenin’ in the world, but I can think of what might happen. And to me, that’s a stitch more interesting. Don’t even plot it out ahead of time. I just picture the people, and off they go a-talkin’. It’s like reachin’ up and snatchin’ stray threads from the air that’ll weave a perfect jacket. Now I know how Auralia felt.”
“Oh, and Krawg, make it short.” Tabor Jan forced a straight face. “Too many characters, too much description–an audience won’t have patience for that.”
Krawg looked crestfallen. “I would.”
As with Cyndere’s Midnight, the urge to tie myself in knots trying to make allegorical connections with Biblical characters and themes among the story’s characters and themes was very strong. Prospective readers, please resist that temptation. Read the story on its own merits and let the characters speak for themselves. The truth is in there, and like a flower, it emerges with much more grace and beauty if you let it blossom on its own than if you try to dig it out of the ground and force it into a bouquet of your own construction.
Okay, maybe just one more thing.
If You Can Make it Here, You Can Make it Anywhere: Having missed yet another deadline for getting a review copy, I went to Books A Million to find Raven’s Ladder, and thankfully, there it was–in the Christian Fiction section, right next to Cyndere’s Midnight. A week later, I was browsing through the racks at Barnes & Noble, and found Raven’s Ladder front and center in the New Science Fiction and Fantasy display. Crossover appeal? Yes, I think so. More evidence that a well-written story with a Christian message can and does have appeal in the secular world.
With Raven’s Ladder, Jeffrey Overstreet continues an immersive epic fantasy series with memorable characters, a strange yet hauntingly familiar world, and themes both powerful and timeless. It just keeps getting better.
Note to FTC: I paid cash money for this book–at a bookstore. I can say whatever I want about it. So there. Nyah.
Tomorrow, a look around the Tour for more multi-layered goodness. Beat me to the punch by looking around yourself, right now!
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Donita K. Paul
Rachel Starr Thomson