So Heavenly Love Shall Outdo Hellish Hate

Farewell, happy fields,
Where joy forever dwells!  Hail, horrors! Hail,
Infernal world!  And thou, profoundest hell,
Receive thy new possessor.
paradise lost, john milton

Which quote is, perhaps, more appropriate (or inappropriate? how does one define these things?) for Dragonwitch, but as Dragonwitch has not come out yet, who but the author is to say?  We carry on; the men of the East may spell the stars, and times and triumphs mark, but the men signed of the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark.

I notice that, at the end of book reviews on blogs, people tend to say something like, "I was sent a free copy of this book via its publishing house for in order to review, my thoughts are mine and no soul's else - take it or leave it, so there!"  And so, take it or leave it, I was sent a copy of Starflower, fourth book of the Tales of Goldstone Wood series, to review under no sense of obligation but mine own: it's a free book from a beautiful series by a fantastic author so the sense of obligation on my side was about as high and as self-centred as that of the cat-poet in this book.  I say free: it's more of a bartering system: they give me a free book, I give them a free review.

The review.  I wrote what I lie to myself by calling more professional reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, but here on The Penslayer things are less formal so here I simply want to talk about what I thought and why I liked this book. Where to begin...?  By telling people that there may be spoilers, I suppose.  There may be spoilers.  

I love that, though Starflower happens some sixteen hundred years before Heartless (the technical beginning of Tales of Goldstone Wood) the reader is not jarred by a sense of disconnect.  I suppose the Faerie realm helps that: where is the disconnect when the people who populate the background of Heartless and Veiled Rose are immortal and have lived through that span of time?  I love also that, though Starflower is history compared to the previous three books, there is history beating under the bones of Starflower too - who are the Brothers Ashiun, and what terrible thing did they do that carved their names so deeply into Faerie lore?  I love history.  I love it when novels have history.  I admire the delicate way Stengl weaves well-known fairytale principles into the story (okay, the frogs were a little less delicate, but what can you do?) such as the girl and the wolf and a very faint reminiscence (which could possibly be only my imagination) of Snow White.  I love Starflower's own history which explains why she is so different from all the other women of her people: not a forced history, not a sudden alakazam, deus ex machina, she's a strong-spirited girl unlike everyone else.  Her own life, so different from those of other women, reasonably shaped her into herself.  If I were wearing my cap I would take it off to Stengl over that point.

And then there is the Hound.  As I have attempted to do with Beowulf and Adamantine, Stengl as done with Starflower and the famous, beautiful, heart-wrenching poem by Francis Thompson: The Hound of Heaven.  I did not realize until I was nearly done with the book that Stengl had placed the first stanza of the poem in the back of the book for the reader's enjoyment and education.  I had already been introduced to the poem and had read it in full online, so the unabashed, unapologetic arrival of the Hound upon the scene took me less by surprise and more by a sense of terrific wonder.  If you have not read the poem, Stengl and I both urge you - implore you - to go do so.  Look, I've even left a handy-dandy link so you don't have to go through any trouble: The Hound of Heaven.  It's longish, but gorgeous, and tears down the stuff of dreams and thin sky-castles and the weakness of human flesh and the angry self-sufficiency of the human soul and leaves nothing but him.  And when there is, at the core of all things, himself, all things array themselves aright and the world - even the wretchedness of it - aligns to perfection.  Read it.  Read them both.  I dare you.

that is why I love starflower

10 ripostes:

  1. I might take you up on your dare....

  2. Hmmm. I really want to read these books. I've admired to covers forever, but haven't had a chance to get hold of a copy. :/

  3. The whole Tales of Goldstone Wood series is on my Christmas wish-list this year. I've heard so many brilliant things about them, and when you take into account the beautiful covers, they're simply too good to resist. If only my wallet agreed with me. :P

  4. For those interested, the first book in the series, Heartless, is available for free in ebook format through the month of December, and the author is currently hosting a read-a-long on her blog, with chances to win books in the series. Might be worth a look! ^^

  5. I featured your book.

  6. Amazon has some really good prices on Heartless, and Veiled Rose; the prices on Moonblood and Starflower are a little higher, but not by much. Alibris, which is what I use, probably has some good prices, but I haven't checked them recently for the Tales of Goldstone Wood.

  7. I've yet to find a fairie book which is good. I tried one which was supposedly wonderful and it had so many cuss words in it, in just the first few pages, I gave up. If these are like those, but without the words, maybe even a better plot with less annoying characters, I would read them. I want to read at least one fairie book in my lifetime which has a nice plot and no annoying characters.

  8. No, these are Wholly Other, as Karl Barth would say. Sure, they are fairytale, but Stengl doesn't fall into the cliched world of fairytales at all. Even her allegory, with which she paints thickly, is fresh and deftly done. I am actually really, really critical of fairytales stories. As a general rule I, too, dislike them. I am a hard reader to please and, as a writer, a rather cynical and unforgiving (which are faults, not virtues, I know); but with the Tales of Goldstone Wood I am nothing but impressed. Here is an artful writer with a sound Christian mind and again I take off my hat to her. I'll vouch for her, if that means anything. She has won my heart to her fairytales.

  9. My interest has been piqued by the 'Tales of Goldstone Wood', Jenny, and by your raving review :). I have to admit I am rather cautious and nervous about about fairytale/romance stories with too much magic and spells and stuff in them (LOTR and Narnia probably have set my standards too high =D). I have two questions regarding this series-- is there any intimate/emotional romance scenes or too much magic and spells in Stengl's novels?

  10. Joy - I think I'll write you a possibly lengthy email to tackle more than just what you asked, but the short answer, twofold, is no, no, and yes. No, there isn't any "intimate/emotional" romance - at least, not in the way I guess that you are thinking. Starflower, in tackling the age-old story of the wolf and the girl, deals with the aggressive sins of possession and desire, but only as they are coming from an external source which (SPOILER!) is taken care of by the end. What romances there are - the premise of Heartless is based upon the question of to which suitor Una will give her heart, and what that will cost her in the end - are always emotional, just as all romances are. Humorous bit: like a lot of fairytales, the romance in Tales of Goldstone Wood are often prickly, annoying, and difficult, not for the reader, but for the characters! Being princes and princesses is hard work, and there isn't often room for mistakes in choosing a partner. But Stengl is a brick and very deft when it comes to writing young adult level fairytale fiction and not sugarcoating the difficulties people go through in life. She strikes a very good balance!

    The second no and the first yes. You've got three worlds: the Far World, the Between, and the Near World. And here is hoping for the sake of my own reputation that I get each one right. Where the mortals live, the most magic you could have is some half-bit witches who are looked upon by the mortals as sad, misguided creatures, and by the Faerie as silly, stupid creatures who don't know what they are doing. In the Between the two worlds, mortal and immortal, begin to seep together and you can meet all manner of crazy mythical things there. In the Near World you have immortal Faerie, which is as full of enchantments and power both good and bad as your favourite Disney movie - though with considerably more class, planning, and logic. Stengl is actually really good at making her fantasy worlds work.

    That's the SHORT answer. And that hopefully covers your concerns about Tales of Goldstone Wood, but your comment gave me pause and check and I thought I might write an email about my take on fantasy, magic, power, etc.