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Book Review: The Restorer by Sharon Hinck

Title: The Restorer
Author: Sharon Hinck
Genre: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Christian Fiction
Pub. Date: May 2007
Format: Paperback, 477pp
Publisher: NavPress Publishing Group

When reading fantasy books, I generally apply two arbitrary criteria that I have found useful in determining books I like. The first is I look for the willingness of the author to kill important characters, not secondary or briefly mentioned characters. I’ve always felt that to do so was brave and showed a willingness to push the story’s limits rather than following a predictable course. The second is actually from Aristotle�s Poetics. Summarized, Aristotle says the primary character must be believable. In essence, the character must be more human than superhuman. No one wants to read about the perfect man doing great things (i.e. early Superman). No, the reader prefers the character to suffer and overcome those sufferings (whether external or internal) thus creating a true hero (i.e. Batman or Spider-man).

The Restorer, by Sharon Hinck, fails on the first criteria but fulfills the second. While no major characters are destroyed or killed in the novel, the author does manage to create a physically superhuman character whose inner struggles keep her human enough to make her sympathetic to the reader.

The story follows a standard plot line first made popular by Mark Twain�s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur�s Court and used by Stephen Lawhead in his Song of Albion trilogy. Someone from our world and time slips through a portal into an alternate universe. The world is similar to our own, but different enough to make the transition jarring. However, Hinck does through a wrench in by making the world technologically advanced and culturally tribal rather than the opposite. The opposite take is more common in science fiction. Allegorizing the story of Deborah in Judges, Hinck creates the story of a Restorer (Susan of Ridgeview Drive, soccer mom extraordinaire) whose purpose is to bring people back to a belief in the One and a return to following the laws given by Him. Susan finds herself to be the Restorer, a person not unlike the judges of the Old Testament.

The story is fun and interesting and stands up to my wife�s criterion for Christian novels. Her criterion is simple; if the Christian part of the novel is removed, is the book just like the others of its genre? The Restorer is so integrated with Scripture (both conceptually and in quote form) and a Biblical knowledge base that the book could not survive without it. While this does limit the audience (as does the character�s soccer mom status) it might find wide acceptance among the women who enjoy reading Christian novels.

Hinck�s writing is good although some of her plot is confusing. How the portal between worlds came to be is not explained till much later in the book and while the explanation is surprising, I found not knowing to be frustrating and distracting. The easy acceptance of Susan of the existence of alternate universes and her being in one is too ready and pat. I would have thought that she would have been more incredulous. Additonally, deus ex machina is not a sufficient explanation of the translation of a plastic sword into a real one. Finally, the ban on long-range weapons makes no sense. I understand its purpose as a plot device (the allegorizing of Judges and the historical record of the small backward nation of Israel�s fight against technological superpowers like Philistia and Canaan make this clear), but Hinck fails to explain how the guardians could hunt without the use of bows and arrows, even slingshots. Being limited to swords and daggers makes hunting near impossible, unless some unexplained and unmentioned device makes it possible.

However, most readers will gloss over these inconsistencies and enjoy the insights into Susan�s character and the careful weaving of Scripture into the narrative. Often, verses will be dropped into a novel to make it Christian, but it is jarring and out of sync with the rest of the story. Hinck is adept at making the words seem to flow smoothly and in showing the real power that Scripture has.

The odd admixture of science fiction and fantasy of the world building give the story an ethereal quality that adds greatly to its mood. The soul searching of Susan and the lack of any true evil character represent well the truth of the pervasiveness of sin.

I did find it difficult to get into until about chapter five. At that point questions start being answered and the story�s pace picks up. However, as a fantasy, The Restorer works well. As a Christian novel it works even better. While I think the audience is limited and leaves the male portion fantasy readership without a frame of reference, perhaps the sequel, The Restorer�s Son, will allow such readership (of which I am a part) to delve into the setting.

I recommend that Christian novel readers looking to step outside of the more common genres in such novels, and Christian fantasy lovers read this book. It is a good story, strong in morals, and epic fantasy lovers will enjoy it to some extent. However, it is best compared with Stephen Donaldson�s Chronicles of Thomas Covenant in the secular market rather than with Robert Jordan or Terry Brooks.

The Restorer is fun and engaging. Hinck has a gift for surprise and the plot never takes a predictable path. Susan of Ridgeview Drive is a hero whose inner struggles mirror our very own. Christians will understand the sanctification process better, and their own need to surrender much more deeply. Others will enjoy the fantasy elements and interesting world-building. Hinck�s foray into fantasy is a welcome addition to the growing canon of Christian speculative literature.