Oppressed kingdom. Mysterious orphan girl found, raised by outsiders. Girl possesses magical abilities that might threaten the kingdom with anarchy...or freedom. Scads of beasts, harrowing flights, big dust-up at the end of volume. Sound familiar and/or derivative?
If one were to go only by the form and not the substance of the tale, one might conclude that Jeffrey Overstreet's debut fantasy novel, Auralia's Colors, is just yet another Tolkien-by-the-numbers. But that would be doing an injustice to Overstreet's novel here, as while there are indeed certain points in common with not just Tolkien but also Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast novels, Overstreet does offer enough in the way of his own personal touches to make this a worthwhile read.
The plot is a fairly simple one, yet Overstreet executes its unfolding quite well. The kingdom/House of Abascar is under siege from the fearsome Beastmen. Within, the king has begun to oppress those who do not conform to his policies. Included in this is the banning of all magical items that might literally bring colors to life within his increasingly drab and color-free realm. Those who display such talents are to be either exiled outside the House's walls or must demonstrate some degree of usefulness to the king. Naturally, Auralia has this forbidden talent, but with a twist of having more command and colors about her than those around her. As she grows into her power, she comes into conflict with the king and his family, leading to a series of events that ends in an explosive affair that ends the first of apparently four novels in this series.
Auralia's story is told via a third-person omniscient narrative voice. Overstreet uses a very visual approach towards telling his story, as it seems he tries to imbue each scene and character with its own colorful approach. Almost poetic in feel, at times this strong narrative voice helps to carry the plot during those times when the usually-interesting characters become a bit too stale for my own liking.
There are also some possible religious themes contained within this post. The press release and the book blurbs hyped Overstreet's role as a movie reviewer for Christianity Today and there are scenes within the novel that could be taken as allegorical representations of religious themes. However, one would have to be looking hard for these themes to see them as being crystal clear, as the story stands well on its own, with the religious symbolism being but a nice ornament to highlight certain statements contained within the body of the text. The story certainly is one that is intriguing, although at times the distance created by the exclusive use of the third-person omniscient PoV weakened its appeal for me. In the end, I believe that Auralia's Colors is a decent to good start to a series, but not necessarily a great one in the making. Mild recommendation for all readers to sample.
Publication Date: September 4, 2007 (US), Tradeback.
Publisher: Waterbrook Press (Random House)