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Auralia’s Colors (or slumming it in genre fiction)

October 8, 2007  |  8:40pm

When you’re the editor of a magazine, there’s always an awkward moment when a friend or acquaintance gives you a CD to listen to. You really want to like it. But sometimes… it’s just really hard to find something nice to say. So, it was with some trepidation that I received the debut fantasy novel from a former Paste writer, Jeffrey Overstreet.

First off, aside from the Harry Potter book or seven and the quadrennial re-reading of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, I can count on one hand the number of fantasy books I’ve read since, at age 13, I traded in Piers Anthony and Anne McCaffrey’s dalliances with dragons for Clive Cussler and his dashing international hero, Dirk Pitt—in hindsight, a terrible deal on my part. Aside from C.S. Lewis’ overrated Space Trilogy or his underrated Till We Have Faces, I’ve spent most of my time in the respectable mid-brow world of literary fiction, leaving such genre rabble behind (and, I’m sure, missing many, many great books).

But a copy of Auralia’s Colors arrived in the mail, and out of a mixture of curiosity and duty, I started reading. It dominated my free time the next few days, and I can now happily and heartily recommend it.

Much like Lewis, Overstreet doesn’t bury the allegory very deep, but he colors it richly. The orphan Auralia is found by gatherers—convicted felons who must live in the dangerous forests outside the walls of Abascar in Overstreet’s mythical realm of The Expanse. Abascar is ruled by King Cal-marcus, whose queen has talked him in to proclaiming a ban on colors among her subjects. But Auralia has no use for walls or proclamations and her presence promises an upheaval in the order of things. While Auralia searches for new colors in the woods, caves and waters of The Expanse, she also seeks The Keeper, the one who inhabits the dreams of children in Abascar—and in those of the few adults who will admit it.

It’s a tale about the importance of freedom, grace and forgiveness and the uselessness of legalistic adherence to the status quo—a moral, that while thinly veiled, bears repeating, especially when woven into an engaging world with memorable characters. So kudos, my friend. I look forward to Book Two.

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