Beyond the Summerland
L. B. Graham
Where do all these authors get reviewers’ quotes putting them in the same league as Tolkien? I guess it’s just the popular thing to do these days. In any case, in spite of having acquired a couple of these quotes for its back cover, Beyond the Summerland isn’t Tolkien. That said, it’s not horrible, either. The first book in a series (“The Binding of the Blade”, although to be honest I have no idea what binding or what blade is referred to), this book details the adventures of a group of Novaana, that is, people from the noble class in the island country of Kirthanin. Every seven years, all the Novaana between the ages of 18 and 25 gather at the idyllic city of Sulare, where they undergo training in the history of their nation and the art of warfare. This particular gathering goes wrong, though, when the forces of evil begin to move, necessitating decisive action in order to undermine the malevolent plans of the wicked spirit Malek.
A simple plot, stock characters, and a rather dull writing style mar the book’s quality. Somehow, Graham’s writing, while not bad (except for a few glaring editor’s oversights), failed to grab me. I think his problem is a lack of attention to the old adage “show, don’t tell”. Of course, some masterful authors can tell and tell well, but mediocre authors are usually better off showing, and Graham doesn’t do this much; his straightforward, plodding narration got boring after awhile. (Also, his narration and especially his dialogue employ colloquial, modern-sounding phrases that clash annoyingly with the high-fantasy setting and subject matter.) The book’s strongest stylistic point is probably its historical worldbuilding; the plot draws on millennia of events, which are put together coherently, if a bit simply. (Perhaps it is this talk of Ages and events of the distant past that earned the book the Tolkienian comparisons — still undeserved, however.)
Morally, the book is solid — emphatically Christian, with extensive claims regarding the plan and providence of God (here called Allfather) and His mercy and forgiveness. A tendency toward preachiness definitely comes out here, and preachiness tends to annoy me; I think once again the author’s inclination to tell rather than show undermines the effectiveness of his work. However, preachiness is not immoral, and I found the book of high moral quality.
The book’s ending surprised me quite a bit, and honestly I’m not quite sure where some of the talk about God’s providence and plans is headed now. I wonder whether the author will fill it out properly, or whether his desire to deliver a shocker ending got in the way of his vision of the book’s overarching plot. Unfortunately, I don’t think I wonder quite enough to read the second book of the series.