Monday, September 30, 2013

Book Review: The Shadow Things by Jennifer Freitag

Once upon a time, a very long while ago, Mrs. Jenny Freitag of The Penslayer held a "guess & giveway" where she listed the chapter titles of her book The Shadow Things and had her readers guess which one was her favorite and why.  The winner received the book. To my intense surprise, I was one of  the three people who guessed correctly, and to my even greater surprise (and extreme excitement), I won. Many moons later, I bring you this post.

This is a lovely book.  It's the kind of story you just plunge into and stay absorbed in until you reach the last page and heave a contented sigh.   At first I was disappointed that it was so slim, but it was the perfect size for the story, and created in me an insatiable thirst to read more of the author's work.  I can't wait till her next novel gets published.

Here is the summary from the back cover. (Speaking of covers, I approve of the design of this one.  So many first novels have very amatuer-ish covers - this is not one of them.)
The Legions have left the province of Britain and the Western Roman Empire has dissolved into chaos.  With the world plunged into darkness, paganism and superstition are as rampant as ever.  In the Down country of southern Britain, young Indi has grown up knowing nothing more than his gods of horses and thunder; so when a man from across the sea comes preaching a single God slain on a cross, Indi must choose between his gods or the one God---and face the consequences of his decision.
The writing of the story is colorful, with some unusually-worded sentences and gorgeous imagery.  The time period is an interesting choice, I think -- many newly-published writers start off with fantasy or some part of the 1800's (Regency writers, totally looking at you), but Mrs. Freitag chooses the Dark Ages in Britain, just as Christianity began to show its bright face in the British Isles.  The author is Protestant, but to my knowledge there is nothing against the Faith in the beautiful passages in which the main character learns about Christianity.  Naturally, being a Catholic, I would love to see baptisms and Masses, but the story is told in such a way that I can imagine that they are there and just didn't make their way into the visible action of the novel.  The way certain characters truly follow the life of Christ is touching, and got me thinking on how much more seriously and literally the early Christians took God's Word than we do today.  It is a pity.  (Read a life of Francis of Assisi, and you'll get the same sort of bewildered "wait...oops...we're actually supposed to be doing all this, aren't we?")

Jenny Freitag often cites Rosemary Sutcliff as one of her inspirations, and it is thanks to her that I ever picked up a Rosemary Sutcliff novel.  (If you're wondering what I think of them, words that come to mind are vivid, sad, detailed, and long.  I like them, but find them a bit more boyish than my general literary choices.  I am not fond of battles.)

For those who have read the book and are knowledgeable about these things, does the white horse-god Tir in the book have any connection with the White Horse of Chesterton's epic?  I rather hope he doesn't, but I have suspicions.

I think the book is appropriate for ages twelve or thirteen and up.  Children die and some talk of a character's relations with his wife takes place, but briefly and very tastefully, considering the character speaking.  As always, it depends a great deal on the maturity of the reader.
Four and 1/2 stars.

"Paul writes that creation groans, awaiting the revelation of the sons of God.  It remembers, I think, in dreams, the wonders of the sinless, perfect world.  You can hear it in the wild tinkle of the wind through the beech leaves, the splashing of  water through cold, crystal streams, the beauty of a hind poised against the sky on a hilltop, and all through heartbreaking, beautiful things that surround us each day.  They are memories, dear Indi, memories of long-lost days when God walked with man and all was well, when the lion lay down at peace with the lamb, when the wolf and pony ran together on the heights and laughed at the joke the mockingbird made."

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