In the Blue Strand sequel to AURALIA’S COLORS and second installment in The Auralia Thread series, Jeffrey Overstreet again paints a compelling, otherworldly fantasy novel full of bizarre creatures and redemption.
Overstreet picks up his story in The Expanse, moving this time from the destroyed House Abascar to House Bel Amica. Its heiress Cyndere and her husband Deuneroi share a dream of searching out the bloodthirsty beastmen of House Cent Regus and helping them find a better, more peaceful life. The beastmen Overstreet fashions are ferocious creatures who can see in the dark and varied in appearance. Some are furry with canine snouts, some sport manes, some are hairless, all are huge and intimidating. They don’t seem like good candidates for rehabilitation.
Except for one. The beastman Jordam, we learn, was once an admirer of Auralia, who in book one painted the world with her colors and brought people closer to The Keeper (a Christ figure). But it seems almost impossible that Jordam and his three fierce brothers will ever change for the good. As long as they crave the “Essence,” an elixir and curse that makes them stronger, faster and see better --- as well as corrupting them and leaving them with no self-control --- there seems no hope for the beastmen to live in peace with the rest of the world.
When the beastmen apparently kill Cyndere’s husband as he looks for survivors amid the ruins of House Abascar, Cyndere is left alone to decide if her vision is folly. Meanwhile, she loses confidence in the moon spirits, which her people have always looked to as a spiritual presence and that encourage all to follow their impulses. But the power-mad soldier Ryllion still looks to the moon spirits and Seers, and he has designs on ruling House Bel Amica. He also has his eye on wooing away the beautiful married sisterly Emeriene from her neglectful husband. Ryllion is intent on destroying the beastmen, just as the beastmen want to destroy the remnant people of Abascar who have gone into hiding after the collapse of their kingdom. Violence ensues, and Overstreet includes some battle scenes and hand-to-hand combat with a balanced amount of gore (think of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy or a bit more blood than C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia).
In Overstreet’s world, familiar flora and fauna mingle with the unfamiliar. Horses mix with vawns (over-sized lizards that can be ridden with saddles), owls shriek, tree turtles drop from branches. Madweed, glitter trees and cloudgrasper trees grow, viscorcats and foxes prowl, tetherwings keep watch. Overstreet’s prose is poetry in places, such as his description of precipice birds: “black wings spread, bellies cherry red….”
Many of the characters from AURALIA’s COLORS are back (Warney, Krawg, Cal-raven, the ale-boy), as well as a cast of new ones. Although a pronunciation guide and character list is provided, you may find yourself wishing for a short description of who each character is, as well as information about various plant and animal oddities. It requires intense, concentrated reading to take in the plot line, keep track of the characters, and imagine the colorful flora and fauna of Overstreet’s fantasy world of the Four Kingdoms of the Expanse. However, it’s well worth the effort required.
Be sure to read the series in order, or it will be difficult to understand the storyline. CYNDERE’S MIDNIGHT ends with lots of loose ends and the promise of a continuation in the Gold Thread sequel, CAL-RAVEN’S LADDER.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on November 13, 2011