It’s been the kind of week where I still have no idea what’s happened, really, or how I’m processing it, so you get a book review—which is good for me, as I have about four that are piling up on my desk.
Since this is a trilogy (comprised of The Bark of the Bog Owl, The Secret of the Swamp King, and The Way of the Wilderking), I figured it would be okay if I reviewed them all together. The series follows young Aiden Errolson, ardent supporter of the kingdom of Corenwald, as he is launched into unlikely fame and fortune—which becomes misfortune as he continues to excel. It’s a retelling of the teen years of King David, and it’s remarkably well done.
There’s a lot of Christian fiction out there that is super heavy-handed, as if you won’t get that it’s about God unless all subtlety is abandoned and each character is sappily penitent about the ways in which God has lifted them from whatever abyss in which they had set up residence. I find those kinds of books rather exhausting, not because those stories are unimportant, but because they seem so black and white sometimes, as if accepting God makes everything okay. It doesn’t; Christianity is something, for me at least, that requires me to get down and dirty with it, wrestling with what it means to to be in this world but not of it, fighting with learning to trust this God I can’t see or have coffee with. Am I grateful that I am where I am and not where I used to be? Damn skippy. But that doesn’t mean I never doubt that I could be somewhere else. This shit is tough, yo, and I’m wary of any story that at all whitewashes that.
This, thankfully, doesn’t—at least, for a kids’ series. Of course there’s a certain level of Good Clean Fun about it, but I never felt that the characters were any less real for their youth or their faith in God and each other; they were dynamic and funny and believable. The villains weren’t flat-out villains whose destruction you cheered, the heroes didn’t always go boldly where not man had gone before, and even the faith aspect was a sort of support under the whole story rather than GOD FIXES EVERYTHING AND YOU MUST BELIEVE SMALL CHILD. Aiden is an absolutely true young boy in all his black-and-white sense of justice and utter foolishness and desire to be the very man in the moon one day, and he navigates some serious life changes. The Davidic correlations are obvious without being slavish, which creates a space that I, as a reader, could inhabit with curiosity rather than textual critique.
One of the other great things about this trilogy is the many lessons beyond faith that it folds in without being a straight-up fable—here the characters learn to respect the natural world, to accept that not all cultures have to match yours to be “correct,” that history and geography matter as things to understand for the world in which you live, and that loyalty and friendship are incredibly intricate and complex concepts. These are fantastic things for both kids and adults to learn again and again, and one deeper thing is that of love. The development of love and loyalty in the third book especially was just phenomenal; actually, it was one of the best demonstrations of unconditional love I’ve found in literature, even more so because it was a side plot and not trumpeted over the whole of the book. If for no other reason, read the series for that.
Some of the plot twists I saw coming a mile away, because Young Adult fiction can be predictable like that, but others really did surprise me, which created a good balance. I prefer not knowing the ending by chapter two, really. So yes, it is a kids’ trilogy, and somewhat obviously so. But I liked it, even as an adult, and it did give me a new appreciation for the David and Saul story—which is wonderful, because if Christian fiction can get you to go back to Scripture and dig deeper, it’s definitely doing something right.
Rating: Four out of Five stars