July CSFF Blog Tour Day 3: Starlighter, by Bryan Davis

Starlighter Review Part II: Mostly About Humans

Although dragons are a powerful force in Starlighter, the story is ultimately about the humans’ struggle to reunite their society. Davis populates his novel with an interesting cast of characters, divided between two worlds–one free (though laboring under semi-feudal authoritarian rule), one enslaved. They share a powerful desire for freedom, which can only be achieved when the Lost Ones (those kidnapped by the dragons) are found and returned home. Some reviewers are skeptical about Jason’s and Adrian’s obsession with finding a few long-missing people, but it’s the same spirit that drives the shepherd in Jesus’ parable, who leaves the ninety-nine sheep to find the single lost lamb, or the yearning of a scattered people to resettle in their historic homeland and establish themselves as a nation.

I Need a Hero: Every story needs a hero, and I think young-adult stories carry an extra burden to put forward heroes worthy of emulation, though they don’t have to be perfect. Davis gives us Jason and Koren. They personify a host of noble qualities–courage, self-sacrifice, endurance, ingenuity, humility, loyalty, and an unwavering faith in the rightness of their cause, coupled with determination to see it through. At one point in the story, Jason acquires an artifact that is progressively energized whenever he performs an heroic action, and that heroism is integral to the success of his quest. Both Jason and Koren are gifted with special abilities, and Koren unhesitatingly risks her life to embrace her gift and use it to help her friends. If there’s a shortcoming in the development of these characters, it’s that their progression and growth is perhaps too linear. The barriers they confront are external, and they don’t wrestle with any significant internal flaws along their journey, at least not yet. Jason’s artifact, for example, steps directly to full function in an unbroken series of noble deeds.

Someone To Watch Over Me: While discussing any work of Christian fiction, somebody will eventually inquire about its faith content, beyond the simple embrace of Christian values. The humans of Starlighter acknowledge the “Creator of All” and believe He guides and influences the events of their life. They follow a written Code that defines the Creator’s expectations for their daily life. They ask for His help and direction in prayer. The Creator remains offstage and silent throughout the story, but one could easily credit His orchestration of its events and His protection of our heroes and their friends through some very hazardous situations. Is Starlighter Christian enough to merit the label? Yes, I think so, especially considering its recurring theme of redemptive self-sacrifice.

No Easy Choices: (spoiler here) One of the most gripping scenes in Starlighter finds Jason, Koren, and their friends barricaded inside a mine, with some powerful dragons lurking outside. The dragons offer the miners a choice: surrender several people for summary execution, or your children will be sent to the “cattle camps,” a horrific confinement area where they will suffer starvation and abuse. The miners go through several iterations of possible responses to the dragons’ offer before Jason and Koren offer themselves in exchange for the miners and their children. Davis presents here a very challenging ethical dilemma worthy of individual contemplation or discussion between parents and children. What is the right course of action when any of my options will result in the death or suffering of others? What guidance should I look to in making such a choice? God willing, none of us will ever be required to face such a situation, but these questions speak to the heart of how and why we make decisions that affect others, and it’s not as simple as just taking a head count of how many people might get hurt.

Prithee, wouldst text me anon?

Cellphones at the Renaissance Faire: As with the dragons, we encounter a human civilization functioning with a very odd mix of technologies and cultural characteristics. They fight with swords–and plasma guns. They secure items with padlocks–and DNA keys.  It’s not a huge deal, especially for a young-adult book, but as I said yesterday, I’ll have to wait for succeeding volumes to resolve this incongruity.

Mr. Davis assures me that all will be explained at the proper time.

My Ichthos Blaster vaporized your Darwin Fish. Nyah.

What’s This Fantasy Doing in My Sci-Fi? Which leads me to something several other reviewers have commented about–the author’s inclination to mingle fantasy and science fiction elements in a story. I really don’t have any problem with this, and it can be very cool if handled properly. There’s a whole sub-genre of science fiction called “science fantasy,” in which futuristic or high-tech elements serve primarily as a vehicle for storytelling, without much analysis of how or why things work. There’s also Clarke’s Law, coined by science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke, which states that any sufficiently-advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. If the mingling doesn’t distract my attention from the story so much it disrupts my willing suspension of disbelief (that unspoken contract between writer and reader in which the reader doesn’t bother looking too deeply into the details if he’s enjoying the story), I’m fine with it.

The Bottom Line: Minor grouches aside, I enjoyed Bryan Davis’ Starlighter very much. It’s an intriguing, fast-paced story with strong, likable characters and solid values that would be a fun read for anyone from early teens on up who likes science fiction or fantasy adventure. Or dragons.

Coming Attractions: I have no idea what we’ll be talking about next month. We lost our planned review book, but our fearless leader, Rebecca Miller, assures me she has a plan. I love surprises! Hope you do too. See you in August.

Purchase Starlighter
Author blog
Author website

CSFF Bloggers:

Brandon Barr
Beckie Burnham
Jeff Chapman
R. L. Copple
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Andrea Graham
Tori Greene
Nikole Hahn
Ryan Heart
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Julie
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Dawn King
Leighton
Jane Maritz
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
The Galactic Overlord
Donita K. Paul
Crista Richey
SarahFlan
Chawna Schroeder
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Dona Watson
Phyllis Wheeler
Jill Williamson
KM Wilsher

>>This review is based upon a copy of the book provided to me free of charge by the publisher, a courtesy I appreciate, but which does not guarantee my recommendation. I strive to evaluate every book I review purely on its intrinsic merits.<<

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10 thoughts on “July CSFF Blog Tour Day 3: Starlighter, by Bryan Davis

  1. Great analysis. I enjoyed reading it very much.

    Regarding Jason’s linear progression, I think you will find what he encounters in book #2 to be very intriguing. And Koren runs into an obstacle that challenges her to the deepest levels.

    I designed the first book to show readers Jason’s and Koren’s virtuous attributes and how these make them heroic. The second book dives quite a bit deeper and delves into other aspects in their characters.

    1. Since this is a multi-volume series, Starlighter is essentially the first few chapters of a very *long* book, and from that perspective, what you’ve done makes perfect sense. Now that we’ve met the characters and come to care about them, we’re ready to learn more. The board’s set up, and the pieces are in place. A few pawns have been pushed forward, and a pair of knights move toward the center. Now the real game begins.

      These blog tours are challenging, because I want to provide something more substantial than an Amazon-style “love it, love it, want more of it” review, and I think talking about things that didn’t quite work for me provides at least the sense of even-handedness and the assurance that I’m not in the pocket of Zondervan or Thomas Nelson or whoever. On the other hand, I don’t want to give the impression of putting the beat-down on any author and his/her work, particularly one I like, so it’s always a tightrope act.

      Thanks again for sharing your work with us, Bryan. Starlighter is a great first act in what I expect will be a very popular series, and I’m looking forward to the next book.

      Fred

  2. Fred, I think your reviews are always even-handed. I suspect most of us realize our work can improve, so I don’t think it’s shocking for a writer to see what someone else thought could be strengthened.

    I always put a “Weakness” section in my reviews. I figure readers need to know what I see, and they can decide if they think I’m right or if what I see is not a problem to keep them from wanting to read the work.

    And yes, I think blog tour posts ought to be a step above Amazon reviews. In fact, when I paste my reviews over to Amazon, I often leave out my “Weakness” section.

    Over there, I think readers want to know, Why should I buy this book.

    Here on tour I think we are giving our blog visitors reasons to talk about the book.

    Which is most helpful to book sales? I suspect they both are.

    Becky

    1. Hi, Becky!

      That’s a good point about the different focus for the Amazon reviews. It seems like you’ve mentioned this before, but you might want to reinforce the idea of our folks cross-posting a trimmed review to Amazon after the Tour to give Bryan’s book a boost there.

      Offering criticism in an encouraging manner is difficult, as everything feels harsher in print, and it’s easy to fall into a condescending or self-righteous posture. For example, I took issue with a plot point in a story we reviewed a few months ago and felt like I alienated the author in staking out my position. It wasn’t anything too dramatic, but I thought I could have handled it better. Thinking of the authors as guests in my house as I write seems to help.

  3. Fred,

    Your criticism of my book was hardly negative at all. You did a great job with being encouraging.

    And it’s important to be gentle. An author pours his heart into his work, so it’s tough to take criticism without feeling a sting of some sort. With your review, I didn’t feel it at all. I was truly encouraged.

    It would be great to see some of these positive reviews on Amazon. I would appreciate the support.

  4. I like your little bit about cell phones at the Ren Faire, it made me chuckle.

    Nice review, I liked both parts, and your question about what to do when faced with a hard choice is spot on. It’s not something that any of us ever expect to face, but it does make you wonder how someone would come about to making the right decision.

  5. I enjoyed your commentary, Fred. I’m not a big fan of science fiction, so I found the sci-fi elements more disruptive than other reviewers. I hope the pace slows in the subsequent volumes. The good part about the blog tour is that we have to think deeply about a book in order to have something to say for three days. You can’t help but learn something about writing that can be applied to your own work.

    1. Hi, Jeff!

      I agree completely. I’ll often read a book and finish it with little more reflection than, “Gee, that was a nice story.” The blog tour has forced me to spend more time considering what it was about the story I liked, what I didn’t like, why I liked/disliked it, and what it all might mean in the larger scheme of things. At the very least, it’s made me a more *aware* writer, too.

  6. Fred, I enjoyed reading your thoughts about of my book during this tour. You have an entertaining style. Actually all bloggers on the tour, with one or two exceptions, did a great job.

    Anyway, one of my publishers has joined a program that will allow serious reviewers to gain access to pre-publication galleys in pdf format. You can download the file, and it will expire after 15 days. If you are interested in participating, please let me know. The file for the adult book, Masters & Slayers, is available now. It is best to contact me by email – bryan (at) daviscrossing (dot) com.

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