It must be Christian fiction week here at CM as today we have another example; although very different from the Shack. The Vanishing Sculptor is not theology thinly disguised as a novel but rather a novel with a subtle theological point.
Here is the description from the publishers:
Donita K. Paul’s 250,000-plus-selling DragonKeeper Chronicles series has attracted a wide spectrum of dedicated fans–and they’re sure to fall in love with the new characters and adventures in her latest superbly-crafted novel for all ages. It’s a mind-boggling fantasy that inhabits the same world as the DragonKeeper Chronicles, but in a different country and an earlier time, where the people know little of Wulder and nothing of Paladin.
In The Vanishing Sculptor, readers will meet Tipper, a young emerlindian who’s responsible for the upkeep of her family’s estate during her sculptor father’s absence. Tipper soon discovers that her actions have unbalanced the whole foundation of her world, and she must act quickly to undo the calamitous threat. But how can she save her father and her world on her own? The task is too huge for one person, so she gathers the help of some unlikely companions–including the nearly five-foot tall parrot Beccaroon–and eventually witnesses the loving care and miraculous resources of Wulder. Through Tipper’s breathtaking story, readers will discover the beauty of knowing and serving God.
Interestingly enough, the first and last sentences above are points worth discussing. I missed the strong connection to the Dragon Keeper Chronicles when I first started reading and I think this had an impact on my experience. And I also think the last sentence (re: the beauty of knowing and serving God) over-states things a bit.
More on those issues, and more, below.I will admit that the first issue tripped me up a bit and it is really my fault. I have not read the Dragon Keeper books nor was I aware of Paul’s writing before reading Vanishing Sculptor. For some reason it didn’t register that this book is set in the same world but in a different country and time. Although, this is a stand alone book I have a feeling reading the earlier series would provide a lot of helpful background and ease the reader into the universe Paul has created.
I am not sure if it was a result of this misunderstanding or background but I found Vanishing hard to get into. Paul just drops you into this world with no real background or introduction. You meet Sir Beccaroon the parrot guardian and Tipper the “emerlindian” and the story slowly unfolds. But the fictional universe is never really explained or flushed out. You just have to try and figure it out as you go along. There is an appendix with a cast of characters and a glossary, but this doesn’t help to “set the scene”.
My suspicion is that if you are familiar with the larger DKP universe than getting your bearings in this latest book is a lot easier. The story is a classic quest adventure. Tipper, her father – the vanishing sculptor of the title – and a collection of interesting characters are seeking to reunite three sculptures that have caused upheaval in the structure of her country. Their adventure involves small dragons with healing powers as well as more traditional riding dragons; magical wizards; the help of a the Paladin; and some evil henchmen determined to stop them. In the end, the quest will involve no only healing the rift that is causing Tipper’s father to disappear but also the family rift that has kept her family banished from the royal court.
The ingredients for this adventure make for an interesting story and the world of Chiril is an intriguing setting. Paul introduces some good characters as well. The wizard Fenworth and his librarian assistant are mysterious, comical, and philosophical; which make for an entertaining blend. And the concept of the dragon keeper as paladin ads a sense of mystery.
But to me the story seemed a bit thin at times. The last third is by far the strongest section as the action comes to a head. But for the first two thirds the quest lacks the kind of rising action or suspense that pulls the reader forward. It alternates between travel, action, and character development but never really builds on the various parts but instead meaders.
I also found both Beccaroon and Tipper to be fairly irritating characters; Bec haughty and easily offended while Tipper seems prone to pout and whine. Perhaps this is shallow on my part, but I tend to struggle with characters like this even as I understand that it might be an accurate portrayal of a girld her age and in her circumstances.
Lastly – finally, I hear you saying – the book didn’t really have the impact implied by the publishers blurb: “Through Tipper’s breathtaking story, readers will discover the beauty of knowing and serving God.”
Although there is subtle notion of this in the Wulder thread, I am not sure the theme comes through as clearly as that. Again, I can’t help but wonder if knowing the Dragon Keeper series would make this element more clear. But if you picked this book up looking for a sort of Christian allegory or fable I think you would be disappointed.
So. What to make of all this? My recommendation would be to read the Dragon Keepers Chronicles first. If you enjoy the world and style they offer then you can move on to The Vanishing Sculptor. While I found it intriguing, and entertaining in parts, this book felt too disconnected and thin without a larger context in which to put it. I am assuming that context is The Dragon Chronicles.
BTW, I would love to hear from any who have read the earlier series.