In AURALIA’S COLORS, which marks the beginning of The Auralia Thread fantasy series, culture critic Jeffrey Overstreet makes a compelling first foray into fiction.
Overstreet opens his story in the imaginative world of The Expanse. A soon-absent and arrogant queen convinces the remnant of Abascar to give up all its bright colors. Soon, wearing colors are only for the privileged; others must turn in anything beautifully pigmented. The former wealth of colors from days gone by are stored in the vaults of the palace, presumably to be brought out when “spring” arrives --- which it never seems to do. And somewhere, “the Keeper” calls to those who listen. (If you think there are Christian metaphors here, you’re on the right track.)
All of this is about to change. The rascally old Gatherer, Krawg, and his comical sidekick Warney discover a baby girl in a monster’s footprint alongside the River Throanscall. When the common folks outside the palace walls take the mysterious Auralia in to raise her, they quickly find out she’s different. She grows up semi-wild, at home in the natural world. When she becomes a teen, she has a chance to enter the House Abascar and to make her pledge at the “Rites,” away from the perceived drab colorlessness and drudgery of the Gatherers’ existence. But Auralia doesn’t see the point.
Auralia questions the system and gently encourages subversion. Defying the law, she pulls colors from nature and gifts the Gatherers with her creations: slow-burning gold honeycomb candles, stonecutters with scarlet sheaths, a pillow of white and yellow and burgundy. But, as Auralia soon learns, House Abascar punishes orphans who do not follow the rules.
Overstreet’s narrative is poetic, with vivid splashes of color, verve and ingenuity. “The child became twigs and burnt autumn leaves, thin and fisty fingers clutching acorns and seed as though they were stolen jewels. Her hair hung in tangles, silver and brown like the bark of apple trees.” To read AURALIA’S COLORS is to indulge in a cornucopia of prose pleasures like these.
A whole fantasy world emerges as you turn the pages --- one with beastman creatures who roar (different but reminiscent of the “Orcs” of J.R.R. Tolkien), ride-able visorcats who purr and curl up on “a bed of intoxicating madweed” and rainhounds who bark. Even the dialogue is full of oddities related to this mystical place; a soldier might call another “you crusty old vawn nugget” or brag, “I earned that valor medal for killing two Cent Regus reptiles.” Most of it the reader will be able to follow; occasionally it becomes confusing.
The characters are no less spellbinding: the beautiful princess and queen mad for power with twisted hearts; the impotent king who is addicted to a powerful potion; an ale boy who has a back story that tells us he’s not all who he seems to be on the surface; and an advisor of wizardly dimensions who appears and disappears on the scene to mentor the prince Cal-raven, who we are unsure of whether will be a force for good or benign.
What the reader isn’t prepared for is the violence that suddenly shocks with its intensity in the very last pages of the book. It’s a startling contrast to the early part of the story, and the audience may well wonder if it is a precursor to more violence in the coming sequels. The violence might be upsetting to younger readers, although it is certainly no stronger than what you see on previews during a cable television commercial. It also vividly illustrates the evil found in Abascar. Still, this is the only caution I’d have about recommending the book to younger fantasy fans.
But the biggest warning to take away is this: If you read AURALIA’S COLORS, “The Red Strand” in The Auralia Thread series, you’ll be hooked. I know I’ll be eagerly awaiting the next installment.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on September 4, 2007