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.



REVIEW: 3 OUT OF 5 STARS FOR EACH



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? 


Conclusion: 

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

Called To Be Saints (Part 9): Called to Glory




By: Thomas Clayton Booher

1 Pet: 5:10: And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

The saint is called to eternal glory. It is not glory in the abstract, but it is ‘His eternal glory.’ The Greek constructioneis ten aionion autou doxan, can be interpreted in twoplausible ways, both of which are in accordance to the grammatical usage of the words:‘into the glory’ or ‘unto the glory’ of him. The word into depicts a movement from one sphere into another, while unto focuses on an end or purpose. Hence, if we translate ‘into the eternal glory’ we see that the saint is to be transferred from the sphere of his current existence, which is by comparison a banal one, into a sphere of glory. If we translate ‘unto the eternal glory,’ we understand that the end to which God has called us is glory.There is an interrelationship between the two ideas; if we are transferred into a sphere of glory whose attribute is eternal, then that is obviously our end or final state unto which God is irrevocably bringing us.

The significant element in the context is Peter’s allusion to the saint’s suffering, not only in 5:10 itself, but elsewhere: 1 Peter 3:13-18 where Peter proposes that in the unlikely event one should suffer for doing good, it would be a blessed thing; 1 Peter 4:1 where the rationale to suffer is to be of the same mind of Christ who suffered for us; 1 Peter 4:12where he warns not to be surprised or emotionally upset over ‘the fiery trial which is to try you,’ but rather to rejoice because in it one is partaking of Christ’s sufferings. Peter is not referring to the sufferings of the cross, as though there were a mystical participation in them, but the kind of sufferings Christ Himself alluded to when he confronted Paul on the Damascus road and asked, “Why are you persecuting me?” Acts 9:4.

Unlike many megachurch leaders and tele-evangelists, Peter does not try to comfort his readers by deflecting their attention away from the fiery trial (4:12), or promising that no harm shall come to them because of their faith, or assuring that they are about to experience their best life now because God sees their value. He has placed theinevitability of the fiery trial right in front of their eyes. He’s not hiding it. But he does assure them that the though the God of all grace will not demonstrate his grace by taking them out of it, but rather by bringing them through it, it will have a positive result. It will not move them away from their faith, though it is tried by fire (1:7), but result in the confirmation of their faith. This confirmation is not merely that they will continue to believe the facts of their Christianity, but it is more solid. They will not be moved away from Christianity itself. They will persevere and remain faithful to the One who has called them to eternal glory, though this may also be a calling in which they must suffer.

The New Testament has several examples of this kind of encouragement in the midst of sufferingJames offers Job’s patience as an illustration reminding his readers that the Lord’s purpose in it was to show compassion and mercy in the end (James 5:11). The writer to the Hebrews asks his readers to consider that the Lord chastens every son whom he loves, and that though the chastening is not pleasant in the moment, it works for their good and afterwards yields the fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:4-11). Paul encourages Timothy, whose tendency seemed to lean toward unconfidence and fear (2 Tim 1:7, 8) to share in suffering as a good soldier of Jesus Christ (2 Tim 2:3), to endure suffering (2 Tim 4:5), and to be clear that all who live godly in Christ will suffer persecution (2 Tim 3:12).

Paul relates to the Corinthians his own experiences of countless imprisonments, his being beaten, lashed, stoned, shipwrecked and adrift in the sea, facing dangers in the wilderness and the city, dangers from Gentiles and false brothers, enduring sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, and exposure to the cold (2 Cor 11:23-27). Paul relates how God sent a messenger of Satan to harass him resulting in what Paul describes as a thorn in the flesh, presumably a physical malady of which Paul asked the Lord three times to remove but was denied with the answer, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Paul took courage in this answer and became content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities so that the power of Christ may rest on him (2 Cor 12:7-10). It is in this context that Paul puts everything in perspective when he writes to the Romans, For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory which shall be revealed in us (Romans 8:18).

Which brings us back to Peter’s statement that God has called us to his eternal glory. It is in the hope of that glory that we, like Paul, can become content to suffer whatever God has deemed good for us.

Consider this glory. It is God’s glory. Does that mean we are somehow assimilated into the Divine Glory effectively becoming divine ourselves? There is nowhere in the Bible that support a human’s transformation into deity. Peter’s reference to our being partakers of the divine nature (1 Peter 1:4) should be understood in context where we see he is referring to our living in character with God’s nature, that is, living godly and escaping the corruption of this world’s sinful way of life (1 Peter 1:3).

However, there is significance that it is specifically God’s glory that we are called to. The motif of God’s glory, if it is traced through redemptive history as recorded in the scriptures, coincides with his theophanic presence. God’s presence is customarilyaccompanied by a glory that is all his own. This thematic thread of God’s theophanic glory starts at the very beginning in the garden. It provides a paradigm that helps us to understand what Peter ultimately means when he says that we are called to God’s eternal glory.

God and man were co-dwellers in Eden. Before man’s fall into sin, he and God were co-residents in a finite locality. This is evidenced in the post-fall account of God’s ‘walking’ in the garden and calling out to Adam who had hidden himself. The fact that Adam had done so admits to a customary communion between him and God in the garden, and thatsuch a face-to-face co-residency was no longer appealing as a result of his sin and newly acquired awareness of his nakedness. The point – man was created to dwell with God and enjoy his presence. Man’s blessing was tied inextricably to his proximity to God.Disobedience changed that, and one of the immediate consequences of Adam’s sin was to be expelled from the garden (Gen 3:22-24), not only that he may not eat of the tree of life, but that he may no longer partake of the blessing that comes from dwelling in God’s presence.

We often define judgment and salvation in judicial terms, that is, we are guilty sinners justly condemned and under the sentence of death, and salvation comes as the removal of our guilt and sin through faith in Christ’s atonement for our sins bringing forgiveness and justification. However, taking the experience of the garden, we gain another perspective in terms of God’s presence and glory: to come under God’s judgment is to be thrust from his presence; to be saved is to be brought back into his presence and therefore into his glory.

That perspective lends new meaning to the oft used word of darkness to describe the state of this world and those who are born into it (cf Matt 4:16; Luke 1:79; John 1:5; 12:46; Acts 26:18; 1 Cor 4:5; Eph 5:8; 6:12; 1 Pet 2:9). To be outside of God’s presence is no longer to have access to his glory and light. To be brought into the light, that is, into the sphere of God’s glorious presence, there is great blessing, peace, and rest.

There is an eschatological fulfillment of this motif. There is a final thrusting from the presence of God by Christ at his second advent, who will come and in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to beglorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe (2 Thess 1:9). But there will also be a gathering together of the saints into his presence at that same advent(2 Thess 1:10; 2:1), at which point they shall ever dwell in the presence of God and his glory (1 Thess 4:17), where God and man will co-dwell once again, where there is no more suffering, pain, or sorrow, and where God and the Lamb are their light (Rev 22:3, 4, 22-25).

It is in the confidence that God is working toward our final state of co-dwelling with him in glory that we persevere. It is this confidence that kept the early church faithful in spite of persecution. It is this knowledge that gave boldness to the apostle’s witness of the resurrection of Christ, in spite of threats and dangers.

We Christians in America are not facing such dangers and persecutions. There are Christians in this world who are, and it is their assurance that God is faithful and will bring them into his final presence and glory that keeps them going. It is our assurance as well, and though in our struggle against sin we have not resisted to the point of shedding our blood (Heb 12:4), there is still a struggle, a battle that is going on with the sin within us and the sin that is in the world. Temptations abound, the flesh is weak, and the struggle is continuous and sharp, but we have been called to glory, where we will have rest (2 Thess 1:7) in the presence of God. It is in that hope that we purify ourselves (1 John 3:2, 3) and persevere to the end (Phil 1:6; James 1:12).
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