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Book Review: Cyndere’s Midnight by Jeffrey Overstreet

* Genre: Literary Fantasy, High/Epic Fantasy
* ISBN: 1400072530
* ISBN-13: 9781400072538
* Format: Paperback, 336pp
* Publisher: Waterbrook Press
* Pub. Date: September 2008
* Series: The Auralia Thread
* Author Website
* Author Blog

Jeffrey Overstreet is the only author I know of that can actually force me to slow down my reading and soak up each and every word he writes. Why? Well, when some literary nuance or superb metaphor might be missed by glossing over a single word, you just have to make sure you read slowly enough. I don’t like doing that most of the time. But for Overstreet’s Cyndere’s Midnight it is worth it.

This sequel to the quite popular Auralia’s Colors picks up the narrative shortly after the fall of Abascar. Cal-raven the stonemaster, has taken his subjects away from the ruins to hide in nearby caves. The ale boy is with them. Jordam, the beast who was fascinated by Auralia’s colors, finds a growing conflict between his bestial nature and his intelligence and desire to do right. Cyndere, princess of Bel Amica, wants, along with her husband Deuneroi, to provide help tot Abascar and purge the beastmen of Cent Regus of their taint. But when Deuneroi is killed by beastmen in the ruins of Abascar, Cyndere is forced to find within herself the will to continue their goals. Her encounter with Jordam leads them both to learn that evil is not the provenance the beastmen only.

With his lyrical style of writing reminiscent of Patricia A. McKillip, Overstreet brings his epic fantasy story up from the ranks of the merely entertaining to the deeply thoughtful. Here is a work that questions assumptions about the nature of evil, and even if some of its ideas and provocative thoughts may be obvious to a postmodern generation, its musings are still worth thinking over again and again.

For Christians, Overstreet’s ideas on the nature of evil will be part and parcel with their own. Overstreet’s characters, while doing good, are still made up of the stuff of evil, and the beastmen are no different from their more human kin, except that they have given themselves over more thoroughly to the Essence, the thing that brings out the worst in their nature and even mutates their physical features.

There is not a lot of action in Overstreet’s novel. He prefers to write about inner perspectives, about the internal war of the mind. But in Cyndere’s Midnight Overstreet writes his first epic battle. It is rather short, and there is no real description of the fighting, only the before and after. This is typical of Overstreet’s writing. His focus in on the reactions before and after an event. So while the event itself may only take up a page or two, the character’s thinking about it will fill three or four times as much paper. Don’t read this epic fantasy novel looking for R. A. Salvatore style fight scenes or epic battles. This narrative is about emotion, about the inner self.

Cyndere and Jordam are the primary perspectives through which the story is seen. There are forays into other perspectives, including the ale boy (my favorite character), but this novel in the Auralia Thread series is about the former two. All others merely inform on the plot as it unfolds around Cyndere and Jordam.

Cyndere is a helpful, loving, strong-willed woman. Her heroism is not of the rough and tumble kind, but reflects a deep inner strength of character and will instead. She is not brash or loud, yet still she exudes a quiet strength that cannot be denied. But she isn’t perfect either, and some of her actions hurt those closest to her very deeply. I like her as a female heroine. She is very different from what fantasy readers usually think of when they think of a heroine, yet she is more feminine and more heroic than any of the traditional ideas. She manages to be both female and a hero, without having to become just like a man to do it.

Jordam is in a constant battle with himself. He wants to be different from his brothers Mordefay and Jorn, whose only desires are power and more Essence. Although Jordam begins the story much the same as them, by the end we see him moving away from his bestial nature, through the help of Cyndere and the well of Auralia. His growth and change resonated deeply with me as I remembered my own climb out from being a selfish teenager to give more of myself selflessly, something that is still a daily struggle.

Some readers (me included) may find the story difficult to read in some ways. Overstreet likes to use words in new and creative ways. For instance, at one point, instead of using the word “tears” Overstreet instead uses “diamonds”. This is certainly poetic, but because of the sentence structure, I was forced to do a double take to be sure I understood Overstreet’s meaning correctly.

This is what I mean when I say that Overstreet make me read every word. If I hadn’t, if I had read in my usual way, I would have missed that gem (pun intended) of a sentence. Overstreet does this often, pushing boundaries with words that is reminiscent of Shakespeare or Neal Stephenson.

Overall, I recommend the work of Overstreet. Be sure to read Auralia’s Colors first, as Cyndere’s Midnight jumps right into the story, not really bothering overmuch with rehashing what has come before. Some readers will like that, and some won’t, but it is what it is. Either way, if fiction by Patricia A. McKillip or Guy Gavriel Kay is what you enjoy, than Overstreet is an author to add to your to-be-read list.

(One reader like the book so much she went out and created a necklace based on the book.)