The Tulip Driven Life Podcast

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Orphan King and Fortress of Mist Book Review

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

Purchase The Orphan King here and The Fortress of Mist here.


I have decided to review both of these books together since they belong together. I remember Sigmund Brouwer from when I was a kid. He had a snowboarding book out that I think I owned. Now, he has over three million books in print. Clearly he is an established author who has had success. 

I can understand why from these books. I will break my review down into sections. 

The Story:

The story is good and super fast paced. Do I find it altogether believable? No. Do I think it hits the ball out of the park every time it swings for the fences? Not by a long shot. But Brouwer seems to be a cleanup hitter, spattering several doubles and a few home runs in his story at the cost of some strikeouts. 

I think the pacing is great for someone who is wanting a breezy, twisting story where you have to guess who is good, who is bad, and who will trust who. There are some clever faux miracles set up in the story that may lead some to wander prima facie if the author is doubting the resurrection of Christ or miracles in general. This, I think, is resolved toward the end of the second book, where the strongest Christian ties are seen. Further, I think one can actually call these books "Christian" because the gospel is at least strongly alluded to in The Fortress of Mist. The use of deceptive miracles in the story to feed the superstition of the people toward Christ is... pragmatic. Wrong. I do not know, however, where the story will go in future entries, so I am not concluding that Brouwer is saying it is justifiable to make something appear as an act of God to win converts to Christ when actually it is the trickery of men. I am, however, left with that impression, unless I am missing something. 

The pace of these stories are both blessed and cursed by their torrid pace. It keeps you guessing, and thankfully it seems clever enough that you can suspend your disbelief and go with the flow, but only to a point. By midway through the second book I was shaking my head at some of the leaps and liberties that were being taken. Every story must have some credibility to be enjoyed, and at times the books bordered on the absurd. Yet at other times I felt the story was believable enough and quite interesting and unexpected. 

There are many good little moral ditties in the story that I think are good. It is preaching, but it actually works in this story, believe it or not, because it is couched well and seems rather natural to the story itself. No doubt this is due in large part to the journey of faith that young Thomas is on himself. Brouwer should still be commended, however, for much of the time I think Thomas' skepticism is believable and if/when he begins to soften it is usually due to a tandem of hearing biblical wisdom (thought not labeled as such) and going through at trying, even life threatening experience that makes everyone ask ultimate questions. I'm not so sure many unbelievers will pick this up and get converted, but they will at least know that the Roman Catholic corruption of the gospel and the evil of being cruel and unmerciful to the poor and downcast is something that Jesus was militantly against. Thus the book implicitly admits hypocrisy within Christianity, and serves as a self-examination for other believers who read these books. That, I think, is very healthy. 

On a final note regarding the story, I am pleased with the direction the love triangle is heading and the emphasis placed on the beauty of the gentle, quiet spirit rather than the outward beauty of a woman. Young Christians that read this need to hear that message loud and clear, that looks can very much be deceiving and beauty is fleeting, but it's what is in a person's heart that we should love and base our dating and marriage decisions on. Having said that, I think this is where Brouwer strikes out again and again. The direction of the love story is great, but it is not believable to me. It comes off as phony (except for the situation that puts Katherine in angst, though the delivery of it isn't great), and more care needed to be taken in establishing valid reasons for the love between Thomas, Isabelle, and Katherine. A fast paced story does not have time to develop such things, however, and thus by taking that shortcut you lose much credibility.

The story is the highlight of the book, however, and if other aspects matched the story the book would have at least a 4 star rating. 

The Characters:

The characters are largely one dimensional. They feel a bit like paper cut outs, or perhaps released prisoners from the holding cell of stock medieval characters. They can at least be related to that mold, which is one that I like. 

The premise with Katherine is enjoyable and different to me, and though I grew tired of her personal thought bubbles constantly opining and reminding on every page how much she wanted to lay a wet one on Thomas' lips, I could at least feel bad for the situation she is placed in. That, to me, is the only real character tension in the story. William is your typical advising knight, the kid thief is your typical kid thief, and the earl of York is generic, except that he makes a horrible judgment that for me was incredulous and misleading in the context of the story. His decision to doubt Thomas and act on his fears sets up the final climactic scene. The story kind of jumped the shark at that point, though I think the way Thomas survived the bull stampede is controversial enough to keep those who love the first two books reading.

Thomas is a solid protagonist and really is an orphan King, which is neat. At times the story read like Brouwer was a bit pleased with his own cleverness and wanted everyone to know about it, which bugged me on one hand but on the other hand some of Thomas' tricks and wisdom were rather clever and kept me interested. A few fell through for me however, and detecting some subtle smugness didn't help. As I said earlier, his faith in God has developed rather naturally so far, which is refreshing to see. Brouwer hasn't cheated with an inexplicable conversion yet, something many other overly eager Christian authors are want to do. Thomas' charity despite his lack of faith is a good indictment on us Christians today- oftentimes it is unbelievers who are being more charitable and compassionate on others than we are. 

The Writing: 

The writing pulled me in two directions. I am often appalled at some of the cheesy dialogue or cutesy, overused aliteration that authors in this genre fall into for some reason. Brouwer does this, but less than most, and helps remedy it by some good writing in other places. The back cover says the book is for young adults, and if that is the case, as a young adult myself I am left scratching my head wondering where all the description went. The story seems to jump without a lot of rhyme or reason at times, except to shortcut to the next climactic event. The short chapters keep you reading, but at a high cost- the cumulative effect is eventually going numb. The big moments do not seem so big anymore after a while, because there have been so many before and you are sure another will come soon. It would be like going to a football game and watching each team return the kickoff for a touchdown every time. After a while, it just isn't exciting anymore. Not to mention you would think the game was fixed. I am overstating to prove my point, but the thrust remains I think. At some point I would like to care about these events more, but that cannot be done when no character development is invested. I do not think that character development is primarily done by throwing your protagonist into action, which is how Brouwer seems to operate in these books. It is what comes before the action, and the character's reflection upon the action and how it changes them, that produces a character with layers and one that we can understand and better relate to. Forty or so more pages in each book could have done the trick, and each book would still be short, weighing in around 250 pages or so. I don't see how that would compromise the fast paced aspect of the story which is suiting in this case. 

One last note on the writing: why does he use the word puppies so much? 


These are good books. The biggest problem, though, is that they read at the level of a ten year old but the material is most suitable for teenagers and older. The easiest remedy I believe would have been to add some meat to the story, some pacing and development of character, more descriptions of the story world. The art is only in the action in these two books, but thankfully the art is done well. 

Here is the full list of those who are participating for this month's blog tour of book one and two of the Merlin's Immortals series.

Gillian Adams

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