The best things dazzle us slowly.
Jeffrey Overstreet more than competently introduced readers to the world of the Expanse in Auralia’s Colors, the first novel in the four-part Auralia’s Thread series. The Expanse is a world of Beastmen and Seers. A world inhabited by fangbears and viscorcats. A world infused with color and wonder by a cast of characters that are intricately and passionately alive: Auralia. Cal-Raven. The Ale Boy. It is a fantasy world, but one that mirrors our own precious and delicate existence. The second novel, Cyndere’s Midnight, took all that was good about Auralia’s Colors and somehow made it all more interesting, more beautiful, and more emotionally satisfying. It was the work of an artist; a writer with unique gifts and abilities. Raven’s Ladder continues that progression. Overstreet has a strong, confident voice now. These are his characters, in his world, and he knows exactly how he wants to use to them to best tell his story. His writing is poetic, yet never ostentatious. He writes with a sense of artistry that is missing in so much of modern fantasy literature. This time out, the stakes are even higher for our characters. There is a festering corruption that seeks total control. It has gained a foothold of power in seemingly all corners of the Expanse. If the good people of the Expanse are to survive, it will be through grace and hope. There is a better way, a more beautiful way, but it’s up to these fragile souls to hold on to that vision with all of their might.
Raven’s Ladder is a worthy continuation to the ever expanding saga. The characters are given more depth with much more complicated pasts and problems than we had perceived. The plot is engaging and complex, but never hurried or confusing. Late in the story a character remarks, “The best things dazzle us slowly.” Raven’s Ladder does just that. It dazzles. Slowly. Overstreet takes his time. He “dazzles us slowly” with words, actions, and amazing people. It is a welcome respite from the massive fantasy novels that use a vast amount of words poorly. Overstreet uses a few words perfectly. He gets all the little details right, enriching an already overstuffed story. He takes seemingly minor characters, characters that other authors would simply use as plot devices, and he gives them purpose and meaning. He gives them souls. It is a beautiful thing.
Do I have any complaints? Not really. I do have one wish though. I wish these stories were given a little more room to breathe. I am certain that it is publishing constraints that keep the books under 400 pages, and Overstreet works wonders with those pages, but it would be nice to let him stretch out a bit. I’m not asking for a “massive fantasy novel”. But there is so much to explore and learn about this world he has created, it seems a bit unfair to not let him and the readers do just that.
With Raven’s Ladder, Overstreet has firmly established himself as one of the better writers working in the fantasy genre today. Auralia’s Color’s hinted at that. Cyndere’s Midnight announced it. And Raven’s Ladder removes all doubt. It is a great book by a great writer who deserves much more recognition than he is receiving. I’ve never been to the Expanse, but somehow, when I read these stories, I come home. Thank you Jeffrey Overstreet for taking me there.