You know a book has captured you when you start bargaining with it.
"If you end this way, then I will review you on my blog tomorrow. If you end this way, then I shall be really unhappy and THINK about reviewing you on Friday."
I'm sure the book was terrified at the possibility of delay.
Jennifer Freitag's The Shadow Things has been on my docket for a long time, and with the upcoming release of her new Plenilune, I wanted to do my homework and learn a little bit about her style. The Shadow Things has gotten a lot of popular press, and I always get a little nervous with books that have received rave reviews. I feel like I am expected to love them in advance, and for that reason this one was a little hard to connect with at the beginning. But very soon the story worked its magic and I slipped into Indi's world with little thought of what anyone else experienced, savoring the tasting and living of it for myself.
And truly, savoring is the best word for it.
Indi map Matheorex lives with his hound and his blood brother Cynr, happy with life and the prospect of becoming the Chieftain after his father dies. Happy, that is, until his mother dreams of a little brown voice that will bring trouble on their tribe, and Indi hears the hoofbeats of the god Tir in the thunder.
Things get worse when he kills a god in the form of a black wolf. Angog the priest views him as a curse upon his people. The stalks of corn wither and die, and his father falls ill. Indi seals his fate when he listens to the priest who saved his life from the wounds he got from the wolf. A little brown man who brings tales of a humble Christos, God become man, who came to save his people from their sins.
When blood brothers break fellowship, and the little brown voice splits them asunder, Indi enters a world where he is not the son of a chieftain but slave to the blood brother he loved with a thrall ring around his neck. And though Christos slays him, yet is he determined to trust in him.
"Paul writes that creation groans, awaiting the revelation of the sons of God. It remembers, I think, in dreams, the wonders of the sinless, perfect world. You can hear it in the wild tinkle of the wind through the beech leaves, the splashing of water through cold, crystal streams, the beauty of a hind poised against the sky on a hilltop, and all through heartbreaking, beautiful things that surround us each day. They are memories, dear Indi, memories of long-lost days when God walked with man and all was well, when the lion lay down at peace with the lamb, when the wolf and pony ran together on the heights and laughed at the joke the mockingbird made." ~The Shadow Things, by Jennifer Freitag (Ambassador International)
There are many things to admire about the story crafting; the first of which is what others have mentioned before me. Word weaving is a skill to be learned, mostly through reading good books, and I can tell in The Shadow Things that Jenny has read the right books and put them to good use. The story was bleak, so the chalky landscape and dying tassels of corn fit in well with the impending doom of the characters, but the bleakness wasn't overpowering. All the little things combined to make a grand, big thing. The slash through Tir's carving over the door; the apples like red rubies; the fabrics and fires and horses (Jenny makes grand descriptions for horse lovers, especially with a tribe that breeds them to sell.) They're beautiful.
Jenny opened up the story conflict with tension that captivated me right away.The first conversations with the Christian priest were not my favorite, but after a time I grew used to them and loved his talks and the way Indi thought through Christianity with the very words of Scripture. I'd buy the whole book just for chapter 12.
I don't know enough about her style to know if she likes sympathetic villains, (some don't) but I wouldn't have minded a little more insight into the thoughts of Cynr--he's pretty much straight evil. And I think I could understand why, for the war between Tir and Christos was told in Cynr's angry eyes. The false god had one man and the true God had the other. But he seemed so sympathetic as Indi's blood brother at the beginning, and then it was like a switch flipped and he wasn't.
Though Indi struggled at the beginning to accept the Christian faith, after his initial reservations he in essence struggled with grief, but didn't seem to struggle with doubt. I didn't mind that. He was a convincing character--faithful to the God who had saved him from Taranis, willing to face famine and servitude and pagan sacrifice for the sake of Christos. My favorite scene with him was the night he got saved. Staring up in the dark, enjoying the feeling of a burden lifted. I've done that time and time again, and there's nothing quite so intrinsically human as staring in the darkness, wondering that something bigger than you, that you cannot touch or see, and can only laud and worship, saw fit to reach down and fellowship with you. Indi has a place among my book friends now, and I love him.
This book contains violence, some with children (one instance of which I wouldn't have done, but probably because it felt like she had committed it on one of the characters in a book I'm writing. ;) and unfaithfulness between a husband and wife that was honestly yet appropriately handled. Jenny isn't afraid to plunge the knife, and that is another sign of strength as an author--not delaying, but doing what needs to be done. And not with callousness, for it hurts, and the weight of the pain of the shadow things bears down even heavier. But in the heaviness of the broken now there is hope that the morning will come. I'd say 15 and up for plotline if you're looking for a safe age, and maybe later depending on the child.
As far as the ending goes, though one particular thing wrenched my heart--the Thing I Wouldn't Have Done--I think Jenny struck the right balance between bitter and sweet, realistic and healing. It is a true and fierce book and sweeps up the heart in a clear picture that this world is not our home and Christos is worthy of the ultimate sacrifice.
By the end I couldn't put it down, and the way she ended on one little detail was brilliant. But I can't give it away, so I'll keep quiet and let you read it for yourself.
"God will not settle for imperfection, but He works in His own ways in His own time. One day He will look down upon the close of this time and the opening of the other and say, ‘It is very good.’ That is what we are living for, that is what stirs our sweet dreams each night, both us and the world, and that is what keeps us going through the dark: knowing that a morning is coming. And while we love the beauty of our world, we must remember that it is only a type, a shadow thing, very faintly resembling what is to come.” The Shadow Things, by Jennifer Frietag (Ambassador International)