Thursday, November 30, 2006

Crown of Stars

On the recommendation of Orson Scott Card, I went to the library and picked up King's Dragon by Kate Elliott a few months ago, the first book in the seven volume series Crown of Stars. It was wonderful, and the rest of the series has proven to be just as enjoyable. I just finished book 5, The Gathering Storm, and have been having a huge internal debate over whether to start book 6, In the Ruins, immediately, or wait until closer to the early-January paperback release of book 7, Crown Of Stars. I decided to wait until Christmas break, because unlike the other books in the series, In the Ruins is only 550 pages, significantly shorter than the 990 pages of The Gathering Storm. And I don't really like the idea of finishing book 6 only to have to wait a few weeks to read book 7.

This series has been inspirational to me in the writing of my novel. I felt that I had kind of reached a sticking point in my writing, until I started reading these books and the story opened up for me again. Let me explain.

  1. Kate Elliott uses a real setting, complete with geography, people groups, rivalries, and religions. Now that I’ve said this, let me qualify the statement. None of the people, places, or religions have their “real world” names, though they are easily identifiable. This was a breakthrough for me because I had long been considering modeling the setting for my novel on a real world location, but hadn’t really considered using the actual geography of the place. Talk about an eye-opener.
  2. Because she has modeled her fictional world on our real world, she has a starting ground for the world’s history. She can use historical events as the basis for interactions, positive and negative, between people groups in her novels, and she does this beautifully. She acknowledges the conflicts and differences between the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, fictionalizing them to great effect. Her history involves the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, preceded of course, by the Ancient Greeks. Using real-world cultures as models provides the opportunity for great depth in the development of their fictional counterparts. She doesn’t have to invent every detail of the cultures because the details are available to any willing researcher, and she certainly did her research.
  3. Despite the “real world” source of the history, religion, etc. it is very clearly a fantasy world of her own invention, and it is perhaps the most engrossing fantasy world I have yet read—more than Robert Jordan’s and George R.R. Martin’s, the acclaimed masters of modern epic fantasy. She has done beautifully what Orson Scott Card recommends in his excellent book Characters and Viewpoint—she has taken something familiar, and questioned it thoroughly until it became something both recognizable and altogether new, altogether her own. This is what I hope to do as well, and reading these books has reminded me that it is possible.

Another plus about this series—every volume has been published. There’s no more waiting for the next volume, hoping and praying nothing happens to the author that might prevent him from completing the series.

I’ll come back and update this post or write a new one in late January after I’ve finished the last two books to give my final thoughts on a series that has been a true joy for me to read.

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