Book Review Wednesday – Illuminated

Illuminated: Book One of The White Road Chronicles by Jackie Castle

Amazon Book Description:

Welcome to the kingdom of Alburnium
If the Wizard of Oz swept you away and Narnia enchanted you, then follow the White Road Chronicles for a new kind of adventure.

Illuminated: Book One- begins with a girl in search of the truth.
Alyra, mockingly known as Princess, was captured at an early age by the evil ruler, Darnel, and brought up in the dark land of Racah. Now, at the age of seventeen, she considers herself nothing special. She has no recollection of who she is or where she came from. Her hope of ever finding freedom dims.
Until the messenger arrives. Until he brings to light the meaning behind the medallion she’s kept hidden. Until she accepts the blinding truth.

Now she flees for her life.

Alyra’s journey leads her down a narrow road with strange traveling companions. Together, they encounter a kingdom where nothing is what it first seems.

I stumbled on this trilogy when I found the third book, which immediately caught my attention for two reasons. First, it was a true Christian fantasy complete with fantastic creatures and even magical abilities. Second, it came with centaurs. I was impressed to find a Christian author who dared to go beyond the current Christian fantasy standard of dragons (who may or may not be evil) and use more mythological elements. And then the description for the first book intrigued me even further.

Plot – Grade A

The book is built on the premise of a girl with no name and no memory known for the first third of the book as ‘Princess’ but who also rebels subtly against the tyrant Darnel despite his claims of being her father. When Alyra finally escapes, she continues to struggle with and question the lies Darnel had spoon-fed to her and others for all her known life. The quest to follow the narrow white road to meet the true King is one that mirrors the Christian walk. However, the story line is not bogged down in an attempt to make sure everyone knows this is an allegory.

Content – Grade A

This is an allegory so the spiritual side is quite obvious with the narrow path, the words of wisdom from the “The King’s Book of Letters” being almost word for word quotes from various Scripture passages and various other elements such as Issah and especially the throne room scene with King Shaydon. However, it does not slow the story down nor seem out of place with the rest of the events. There is also a lack of feeling as though you are being bludgeoned with Scripture and “you must repent” monologues. This is a Christian fantasy that has struck just the right balance between The Chronicles of Narnia and Pilgrim’s Progress. This is a journey of faith and you met a number of characters at various points in their travel along the white road who are all at different places in their personal journeys. Some take longer than others and some must leave behind family, home, and trade in order to follow the White Road. Alyra and her companions are relatable in some way.

There are what most people would refer to as “magical” abilities present in this book. Darnel warps his prisoners and followers using dark rituals and there is a brief scene where he summons a demon in order to collect ingredients for his secret ingredient slipped into the food and water of his land. The people of the lands also have differing abilities that would be considered magical but it is clear that these are genetic, inherited abilities that were woven into them from the moment of their creation. There are also dragons, brownies, dwarves, trolls and other creatures to go along with the centaurs. This is part of a subplot point of tension between Humans and Creatures and whether the Creatures can really belong to King Shaydon.

There is no real romance in this story. Alyra does have a bit of a crush on a boy she left behind (although it takes her a while to see it) and one of her traveling companions has a crush on the warrior maiden Carah of whom I suspect we shall see more of in the rest of the trilogy. I did like the break from we’re barely adults and are traveling with our “true love” route. However, I believe based on the ending and how the summaries for the next two books read, there will be more of a romantic subplot in the next two novels.

There is violence present in this story, including references to prisoners being eaten by dragons and the terrible wounds achieved in battle. One secondary character almost dies. Another one does die. There is also one character who is beaten by an authority figure for choosing to ignore his orders and not only help Alyra but also follow the White Road. This is not shown but the character is bruised and hurting when he next comes on the scene. However, none of the violence is gratuitously graphic. There is no language in this book. Although, there are derogatory insults, e.g., “mule,” exchanged between a human character and a centaur as well as when that character refers to other Creatures.

Technical – Grade B-

While the story flows well, there are some technical and grammatical errors. For example, “Your” is constantly switched out with “You’re” at the beginning of sentences even though when “your” is used in the middle of the sentences it does not experience this problem. The same difficulty occurs with “Were” being switched out for “We’re” at the beginning of sentences. There are also a few misspelled words and once a proper name lost its possessive apostrophe so “Lotari’s” was written as “Lotaris.”

There was also a lot of modern language being used such as “Duh.” That was a surprise and I felt it could have flowed more smoothly if the dialogue didn’t feel quite so jarringly modern at times since the world has the high fantasy medieval-esque feel to it.

Final Grade – a B or 4 stars

Overall, I enjoyed this story. The plot is interesting and can stand on its own while also connecting with the sequel. The main detractions could be resolved with a tighter round of technical editing and some changes to certain dialogue choices. I recommend this book to people who enjoy the same sort of allegorical fantasy found in The Chronicles of Narnia. Recommended for ages 13 and up.

Illuminated is available through Kindle and paperback.

Next – Wren (The Romany Epistles) by Rachel Rossano


One thought on “Book Review Wednesday – Illuminated

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

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