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Monday, August 23, 2010

The Light of Eidon, by Karen Hancock

I occasionally post about fantastic literature that I have read. I recently decided to try a book that won a Christy Award, namely The Light of Eidon by Karen Hancock. (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2003) The book is a first novel, and also the first in a series of four. The first three of the books won Christy Awards, but the category names were not the same each year.

I have nothing against so-called faith fiction. But I prefer to read mainstream fiction -- fiction that is likely to be read more widely. I have been inspired, in various ways, by some well written fantastic fiction. I have mused in this blog about Christianity in books that were not aimed at a conservative Christian audience. See here for one such post. Light of Eidon, and other books that have won the Christy Awards, are written for and marketed to a primarily conservative Christian audience, most of it women.

So what is Christian about Light of Eidon? Well, Christianity, in slightly disguised form, is there, all right. Eidon is God. God has a son, Tersius:

"Why do you think Tersius had to die?"
"To make the Flames, of course."
"The Flames are a lie, created by the very darkness they claim to ward. But you're right about Eidon's being perfect and that He can't ignore our failings. There is a price to be paid. It's just that Tersius is the only one who could pay it." (p. 305. The first speaker is Trap Meridon, a follower of Tersius, or a Terstan. The second is Abramm, prince of Trap's country.)

So, there are clearly Christian elements in the book, including sacred writings. But this isn't surprising. Other works of fantastic fiction, especially sword and sorcery fiction, not apparently Christian, often have lots of religious aspects, such as the theology of Lois McMaster Bujold's Chalion novels, for an example. But the Christian elements in Light have a twist. That twist is that Terstans have an object, shield-like in shape, embedded in their chests, just below the neck. This shield, in addition to being a symbol, also imparts certain powers. One is that the wearer can produce another such object for another person. The shield has healing powers, and is able to repel magic from evil enemies. (No one can receive such a shield unless they want it, and unless they have faith in Eidon. Receiving such a shield is not a guarantee that the person will remain a true worshiper of Eidon. Someone who receives such a shield, and later becomes evil, gets sick. The main symptom of this is a crust, or curd, produced by the eyes.)

Evil is personified. There are evil people, who explicitly and purposefully serve an evil god. There are also several types of malevolent evil animals (or perhaps spirits -- I'm not clear on that).

I wish to say a little about the plot of the book. Abramm is a younger son of a king. He begins life wishing to do nothing but serve Eidon as a priest. So he enters priestly orders. But these priests, who use the Flames as part of their worship, are, as indicated in the quotation above, evil in nature. Eidon is good. The priestly order is evil, actually serving an evil god. Abramm's main instructor has not only been preparing him for service to an evil supernatural being, but he has been expecting to use him for political reasons. Abramm's brother, the king, is a lapsed Terstan. Abramm, and Trap, who is a master swordsman, flee from the capital, but are captured and enslaved. As slaves, they are trained to swordfight. They become gladiators, in other words. Eventually, they escape, and encounter a nation that has a majority, or nearly so, of Terstans.

In the meantime, Carissa, Abramm's sister, keeps looking for him. She finally finds him, just after Abramm, who has resisted Trap's continued invitation to become a Terstan, accepts it. Abramm resisted because he had such a bad experience with what was supposed to be representatives of Eidon. But Abramm finally agrees, and sees, immediately, that his spiritual quest is at end. Carissa, who is not a Terstan, and whose brother, the king, is the example of one that she knows best, is horrified. Abramm, as the book ends, fights the leading representative of the the evil god, which representative is also the king and general of a country which is trying to destroy Abramm's family, and subjugate his country. With the help of his newly acquired powers, he defeats the evil being both with his sword, and by repelling the magic that is used against him. He feels that he should go home. Carissa separates from him.

One aspect of the plot that I had better mention, for the sake of anyone who decided to read the book on my recommendation (an unlikely eventuality!) is that there is a sex scene in the book, between Abramm and a young woman who loves him. Both of them are slaves at the time, so marriage wasn't an option.

I've certainly read worse fantastic fiction, in terms of plot, characterization, and general writing. Hancock deserved the Christy Award, I believe. (Although I haven't read any of the non-winning nominees.) I would suspect that Light would have held its own if published by a mainstream publisher.

Thanks for reading. I hope to post on the additional books in the series soon. I also expect to post on the religious aspects of the book.

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