Sunday, January 20, 2008

Overstreet's "Colors"

Auralia's Colors by Jeffrey Overstreet introduces the Expanse, an area settled centuries before the story opens and now divided into different "houses" or kingdoms. There's a small amount of low-key magic (strictly literary and non-occult) and some gadgetry at a late-medieval level. One of the kingdoms, Cent Regus, has already wiped itself out by ill-advised experiments that turned its people into beastmen.

This story concerns House Abascar, where the now-missing queen persuaded the now-aged king to confiscate anything particularly colorful or beautiful from the citizens. The items were supposed to be used to beautify the palace and improve the kingdom's status among its neighbors, but much of the loot is merely mouldering in a storage area by the dungeons.

Enter Auralia, a foundling with a gift for producing colorful items. She lives among the Gatherers, outcasts from the city of Abascar, but unlike them, she doesn't want to become a regular citizen confined within the city walls. But at sixteen, she is supposed to appear for the Rites of the Privilege to justify her existence and win admission to the city.

The major selling point of Auralia's Colors is the writing. I've read more modern fiction in the last few months than in the previous few years, and it was a relief to encounter a literate author. Most writers these days follow rules set up and enforced by ignorant and poetry-free Pharisees.

By those standards, Overstreet is a lousy writer. So are Tolkien, Lewis, and a host of others. (I could list the rules they break, but the rules are superstitions without linguistic basis.) The defenders of the rules say that rule-breakers can't get published. Overstreet shows that they are and should be wrong. His style is poetic, his vocabulary adult (in the good sense), and his sentences coherent. (Unlike others. Who break their sentences. Into fragments. For no apparent reason.) If you are a writer, you should copy some paragraphs from Auralia's Colors by hand until you get a feel for proper writing. If you are a reader who enjoys modern fiction, avoid this book at all cost; it may open your eyes to good style and ruin what you now prefer.

Other reviews:
Brandon Barr
Jim Black
Justin Boyer
Grace Bridges
Jackie Castle
Carol Bruce Collett
Valerie Comer
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
Chris Deanne
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Marcus Goodyear
Andrea Graham
Jill Hart
Katie Hart
Timothy Hicks
Heather R. Hunt
Becca Johnson
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Mike Lynch
Rachel Marks
Shannon McNear
Melissa Meeks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Mirtika or Mir's Here
Pamela Morrisson
Eve Nielsen
John W. Otte
John Ottinger
Deena Peterson
Cheryl Russel
Ashley Rutherford
Hanna Sandvig
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Rachelle Sperling
Donna Swanson
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Jason Waguespac
Laura Williams
Timothy Wise


Fantasythyme said...

Good review Steve. I liked the colorful scene and character descriptions of Auralia's Colors. Rather than just mentioning a color, Overstreet defines the color as something recognizable in nature. Calling the Queen's color restrictions the Wintering brought to mind the stark, muted colors of winter.


Valerie Comer said...

Wow! You feel strongly about literary novels! I loved Auralia's Colors, but I'm not sure you'd like the ones I'm writing. I'd love to prove that wrong, though! ;)

kc said...

You're right on target with your assessment, Steve. I've seen many people disagree, but most of them aren't really into fantasy. Jeffrey has got a knack for story and poetic prose, no doubt.

John (Grasping for the Wind) said...

Pretty vehement post. But why do you think that this novel is better than modern fiction? That wasn't clear to me.

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

Steve, I can't help but think this book will have a group of detractors and a group of worshippers. LOL. OK, the latter is probably too strong, but because the book breaks from the norm, some will find the difference troublesome and others refreshing.

Me, I'm somewhere in between. I applaud all the good--use of omniscient voice, rich language, muted symbolism. And yet, I did not connect with any of the characters. And here's the why. I think Overstreet showed his postmodern culture by jumping from person to person throughout the book, to the point that I only knew Auralia was the protagonist because the book bore her name.

I suspect, however, mine is a minority view.


cathikin said...

"Most writers these days follow rules set up and enforced by ignorant and poetry-free Pharisees." This is a great line to let me know just where you stand. I have read a few other reviews praising the book, but this one caught my attention because you addressed the writing itself. I long to read something in a more poetic prose. I may not be very good at writing it myself, but I certainly love to read it.

Kait said...

"If you are a writer, you should copy some paragraphs from Auralia's Colors by hand until you get a feel for proper writing."

Ha ha ha! Sorry, but this struck me as funny.

I do read a lot of recent stuff with the Broken Sentence Syndrome. I've accepted a lot of it, merely as that's how I think a lot of people (incorrectly) talk these days. I know that I do it on my blog on occasion, and I'm sure that it drives most grammar people crazy.

Robert Treskillard said...

I liked the writing a lot. Very "colorful" if you don't mind a pun, but not too much. Only once, maybe, did I think he over did it.

Your post inspires me to study his writing style more carefully and compare it to my own. As a new writer, I don't feel any "pharisees" breathing down my neck telling me how to write, but yet I am still a product of the culture and what I have read, and so many of these things I may not even be aware of.

Thanks for helping me see his writing from a fresh perspective.

Powered by WebRing.