I wanted our relationship to be based on honesty, I really truly did. But when I started dating John I started keeping a big secret from him, one that I feared would send him screaming for the hills.
I read speculative fiction. Read might be too weak a word for what I like to do with dragons, wizards, elves, fairies and the ordinary mortals stalking medieval-esque castles feasting on game while apocalypse bangs on the door. I ravage books with elaborate maps on the opening pages, and characters whose names need a pronunciation guide. And I knew within minutes that my intellectual beloved had never once dreamed of wielding a sword against a monstrous horde.
We were engaged when the truth emerged, over dinner with a college friend and his girlfriend. The topic of books came up, and Don said, “She likes books about vampires in space.” Melissa replied, “He likes to tease me.” I said, “Have you read any CS Friedman?”
Nowadays I’m out and I’m proud, while John rolls his eyes in the background. And now I’m going to take things a step further, and tell you that I’m recommending you read a work of fantasy even if you’re just like my husband. I’m sick of the tyranny of realism. I’m tired of seeing fantasy ghettoized. Genre was made to be transcended, and Jeffrey Overstreet’s The Auralia Thread seems to be doing just that.
The recently published second book in the proposed four-book series, Cyndere’s Midnight spins the story begun in Auralia’s Colors in a mournful direction. In Auralia’s Colors, Overstreet introduces us to the Expanse, a land dominated by four house and threatened by a fifth fallen house, the Cent Regus, comprised of hideous, savage beastmen. Auralia wove life-giving powers that transformed the tyrannically oppressed House Abascar, then was spirited away by The Keeper, a creature most believe is only a legend.
Now, in Cyndere’s Midnight, the beastmen are amassing an army to take over the expanse, but one beastman, Jordam, has been awakened by Auralia’s colors and fights against his nature to find her and bring her colors back to heal his people. Meanwhile, royal Cyndere mourns the loss of her husband Deuneroi, slain by a beastman, while factions and politics swirl around her in an attempt to depose her altogether.
“This is nothing like real life!” So you think. But before you go back to that intricate triumph of verisimilitude detailing the day in the life of a dental hygienist, stop and ask yourself why you are reading in the first place. If it’s to pad your Goodreads feed with Booker nominees in order to impress your Facebook friends, then you probably stopped reading this article after the second paragraph.
But if you read because you want to be swept away by a story with epic ambition, intimate characterizations, poetic language, and relevance to your life and our world, then please set aside any genre bias you might have, take a deep breath, and dive into the Expanse. If you’re already a fan of the genre, I hope I pique your interest by saying that the Auralia Thread so far combines Patricia McKillip’s atmospheric mysticism with a lack of derivativeness worthy of Robin Hobb.
I found myself deeply moved at several points while reading Cyndere’s Midnight, overcome by the power of the emotions that Overstreet conjured through his judicious use of words. In particular, he kills off one minor character with such heartbreaking poignancy that I had to brush away tears while I rode on the subway. With two more books to go, Auralia remains missing, the Keeper remains a mystery, and the beastmen remain bestial, but I will follow Overstreet wherever he wants to take me.
Oh, and this all goes double if you found Overstreet’s book in the Christian Fiction section. It bears about as little resemblance to books like Left Behind and the Mitford series as does Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke. Don’t let signs at Barnes and Noble or tags on Amazon.com tell you what kind of books you like to read. You’ll miss out on countless worlds of beauty.