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.
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.
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.
R. L. Copple
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
The Galactic Overlord
Donita K. Paul
Rachel Starr Thomson
>>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.<<