Book Review Wednesday – Secrets of Gwenla

Secrets of Gwenla by Laurie L. Penner

Amazon Book Description:

Breaking through fear and tradition…. Dealing with corrupt officials…. Struggling to understand the truth…. They must reveal the truth in time, or all will be lost! Imagine living in two worlds at the same time—the physical one around you and another one inside you that no one else can see. Once these valley dwellers go through their process of “Understanding,” they begin an unseen life in their hearts, where anything can happen. Some hearts dwell in cozy, peaceful places, while others are assaulted by fearsome powers. Like their ancestors before them, these people remain locked away in their secret valley for 400 years, with none going in or out. The abundant rocks inside provide natural light and heat, as well as workable metals and building materials, while a spring waters their crops and herds. But the people know their hearts are susceptible to a dark power that seeks to destroy them. To keep their hearts safe, they rely on their leaders, who prohibit leaving the fortification or hearing unaccepted music, assuring the people they will remain safe if they follow the way their ancestors have taken. When Gwenla led the original group to safety, she also foresaw the future. Unable to safely pass on what she knew before she died, Gwenla wrote down her knowledge in riddles, so that only those who sought the truth would understand. Julyiah’s adventurous heart wants to find Gwenla’s secrets and understand them; but when pressing to know the truth, Julyiah sees wonderful places outside the walls and hears forbidden music, disrupting her world and relationships. In spite of several obstructions and evil forces trying to stop her, Julyiah discovers the truth and realizes she alone has the answer that will free the valley from deception. Yet her friends need urgent rescue as well. Can she accomplish both missions at the same time? In a whirlwind of twists and turns that involve a severe time crunch, Julyiah must make connections from one end of the valley to the other, or she and those she loves will die, and the Secrets of Gwenla will remain hidden for all time.

This is the kind of description that always nabs my attention when I’m browsing through books. However, the book doesn’t always live up to the intriguing description. That is not the case this time. When the author approached me about reviewing Secrets of Gwenla, it was the combination of the description and the preview sample available through Amazon that ultimately led me to say yes and to buy the book.

Plot – Grade A

The focus of the book is on Julyiah and her determination to uncover the Secrets of Gwenla and then to share them with her loved ones and the valley as whole. The plot was well-written and kept me invested in the quest. Julyiah is a well-rounded heroine who, while flawed, never comes across as too dumb to live or too annoying to stay alive. She has her moments of weakness but I never wanted to shake some sense into her; instead, I waited and rooted for her to get back on her feet. The initial plot is nicely tied up by the end of the book, allowing it to stand on its own. But, there’s just enough intriguing questions introduced by that ending to leave you eager for the next book.

Content – Grade A

This is a clean fantasy. While there is a definite romance between Julyiah and her fiancé (later husband), it’s quite chaste. Just kissing and hugging. No bedroom scenes. Their relationship is important and provides motivation at key points, but it doesn’t detract or overwhelm the story. There is also an instance of one-sided love, which also plays a key role in a very important part of the story.

There is some referred violence. Primarily, one of the characters is beaten by the villain and while the actual beating itself is not shown, you are able to tell from the other characters’ reactions that it is brutal. There is also a reference to murder and plots to murder people who are in Jonar’s way. There is one instance where a character acts as though he is going to commit suicide but it turns out that he’s rescuing a child AND following the answer to a riddle.

On the spiritual side, you can definitely tell this is an allegorical fantasy with references to many different scenes of the Bible. There are also scenes where the spiritual forces, the Voice and the Wind, interact with each other or with their respective servants. It surprised me when this first happened, but it wasn’t jolting and it fit well with the more mundane scenes. It reminded me of both the scenes in the beginning of Job where Satan presented himself before God in order to test Job and of Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness. The end of the book also reminds me of some of the more potent pieces of the aftermath of Christ’s death on the cross. It’s spiritual and the allegories are obvious to anyone who has studied the Bible, but Penner doesn’t make the mistake of writing things so vaguely you worry about a mixed message nor does it feel as though she’s attempting to hit you over the head with the Bible. The characters all go through their individual spiritual journeys at their own pace and they are imperfect with doubt and bitterness threatening to topple them from their beliefs but this is not treated as being unusual or unexpected. They are not perfect followers and that makes them all the more relatable.

Technical – Grade A-

This book was an editor’s dream. There were no obvious typos or grammatical errors that jumped out at me. There were a couple places where my inner writer was musing about how I would have picked a different word but I understood what she meant. There was also one flashback scene toward the end that confused me at first because there wasn’t a good transition or indicator that this is a flashback. The person having the flashback was thinking about his past and then we’re suddenly having the person from the past speaking and I did not realize it at first. I kind of wished she had placed that short flashback in italics to better delineate that this was, indeed, a flashback, but because it was so short, it was easy to catch my misunderstanding and re-read the paragraph or two from the proper perspective.

Final Grade – A or 5 stars

This book was excellent and I was actually disappointed when it ended (a very rare occurrence for me). So I was very happy to see in the back that there is a sequel planned. This is the kind of book where you want to get two copies so you can pester your friends into borrowing one copy and keep the other copy for yourself. The plot hooks you from the first page and doesn’t let go until the very end. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys fantasies, both allegorical and epic, and also enjoys a very sweet, G-rated romance in the background. Recommended for ages 10 and up.

Secrets of Gwenla is available through Kindle and paperback.

*Please note I was asked to review this book by the author. I was not paid to provide a positive review. My opinions are my own.

Next Week – Duty: a novel of Rhynan by Rachel Rossano



One thought on “Book Review Wednesday – Secrets of Gwenla

  1. Pingback: Favorite Books and Authors in 2014 | So You Want to Write Christian Fantasy?

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