Sunday, October 12, 2008

Auralia's Colors by Jeffrey Overstreet

Auralia's Colors

Auralia's Colors
by Jeffrey Overstreet

Trade Paperback: 334 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press
First Released: 2007

Source: Bought from Amazon

Back Cover:
The back cover doesn't do a good job describing the story, so here's my description of the book's plot:

By royal proclamation, only royalty and those who earn their favor can wear bright colors. The lowly wear dull browns and grays. Criminals are forced to live outside of the protection of the city walls and gather food for the city.

Auralia is a mysterious orphan raised outside the walls. She can see the vivid colors in nature and weave them into brilliant clothing that, by law, only the king and queen may wear. She gives her colors as gifts to criminals and children.

She is summoned before the king and brings her most stunning creation: a cloak containing all the colors of the land. It shines with a light that allows people to see again and remember who they are instead of who they're pretending to be to earn royal favor.

The king and his advisers are furious at her defiance of the law, but the prince and others are inspired to return colors to everyone. But will they be in time to save Auralia from the king?

This story is a fantasy, but it is local in scale and the main characters aren't fighters. I suppose it might be called a magic fantasy, but Auralia's gift for colors isn't really magic. She doesn't make the colors shine or heal.

My main problem with the book is the first 77 pages. First, we jump all over in time with numerous flashbacks. Second, the point-of-view is constantly sliding from one person to the next in a very distracting way, but also rarely going very deeply into any one person's head. There is very little dialogue and what little action occurs is often repetitious: we're told in a distant viewpoint what happens, then we jump back and replay the scene with dialogue and various point-of-view characters. I couldn't bond with any character because there were so many of them being introduced (with few of them reappearing during the first 50 pages), and Auralia wasn't even one of the point-of-view characters.

However, after page 77, the time- and head-jumping halts, Auralia becomes the main point-of-view character, and the reader is allowed more fully into the point-of-view characters' heads. The pacing became more balanced at this point, and book was pretty enjoyable.

Another problem I had, though, was that Auralia was at least 15 years old and was probably 16. However, she's repeatedly described like a young child (e.g. she has tiny arms and hands). People keep saying, "But she's just a child!" and reacting to her like she was about 8 years old. In fact, she often acts like a 8 to 12-year-old (depending on the scene).

The world-building in the book was good, but the author frequently invented names for things with little to no concrete description attached. It was often difficult for me to visualize what a new thing or creature was like. The characters were interesting and varied, but only one character really changed much during the book.

There was no sex or cussing. Overall, I'd recommend this as "a good, clean fun" novel.

Excerpt: Chapter One
Auralia lay still as death, like a discarded doll, in a burgundy tangle of rushes and spineweed on the bank of a bend in the River Throanscall, when she was discovered by an old man who did not know her name.

She bore no scars, no broken bones, just the stain of inkblack soil. Contentedly, she cooed, whispered, and babbled, learning the river's language, and focused her gaze on the stormy dance of evening sky--roiling purple clouds edged with blood red. The old man surmised she was waiting and listening for whoever, or whatever, had forsaken her there.

Those fevered moments of his discovery burnt into the old man's memory. In the years that followed, he would hold and turn them in his mind the way an explorer ponders relics he has found in the midst of ruin. But the mystery remained stubbornly opaque. No matter how often he exaggerated the story to impress his fireside listeners--"I dove into that ragin' river and caught her by the toe!" "I fought off that hungry river wyrm with my picker-staff just in time!"--he found no clue to her origins, no answers to questions of why and how.

The Gatherers, House Abascar, the Expanse--the whole world might have been different had he left her there with riverwater running from her hair. "The River Girl"--that was what the Gatherers came to call her until she grew old enough to set them straight. Without the River Girl, the four houses of the Expanse might have perished in their troubles. But then again, some say that without the River Girl those troubles might never have come at all.

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