Auralia’s Colors by Jeffrey Overstreet

With the sequel to Auralia’s Colors coming in mid-September, I will post an overdue review of Overstreet’s first book. I keep thinking I should give a plot summary up to a point, but I won’t. I’ll give you my original loop the loop review. Perhaps you will find it readable, if not enlightening.

Many will remember that the Bible states “the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil,” but the sacred text goes further than that. “Some by longing for [money] have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:10). Change that warning to the love of colorful things, and you have a fair summary of Jeffrey Overstreet’s debut fantasy, Auralia’s Colors.

The people of Abascar live in browns and grays. Many years ago they gave up every bit of color they had to please the Queen, whose idea was to collect and mature the beauty of the kingdom before returning it to the people, royally blessed by her. In this way, the whole kingdom would be glorified over the other kingdoms of the Expanse. But the Queen never returned the promised honor to her people, so anyone making or finding something beautiful is required to give it to the king for storing in the vast royal vault.

Enter an orphan with enchanting spirit and eyes for nature’s color. She sees what no one cares to see or is afraid to see due to the proclamation of colors. She weaves illegal clothing for the Gatherers who live outside the walls working off criminal sentences. If there were faeries in this world, Auralia would resemble one. She was discovered by the river in a gigantic footprint. She can infuse new color into things she holds. She rides a wildcat and observes beastmen from yards away. All she cares to do is paint her world with new life, and that could make her a criminal.

Some modern fantasies echo Tolkien’s work with names, places, or characters that feel lifted directly from The Lord of the Rings. Auralia’s Colors echoes Tolkien in only one significant way, in the use of magic. This world is infused with natural magic. Royal soldiers ride two-legged lizards called vawns instead of horses. Black birds rise from the forest like a sheet every evening to pull up the night. Auralia can draw color out of anything she finds, making paint or dye or thread with it for her artwork. She does this by instinct and experimentation, not knowing how the colors multiply when she weaves them together.

In a sense, she is innocent of the nature and power colors have in her world. Similarly, she is innocent of how the adults around her think. Her perspective clashes with the king’s once they finally meet each other. She is a servant of nature; he is servant to none. She would rejoice in the wonders of creation; he would control and store them. While inside a castle room, she says, “Such a small space makes people seem enormous. In the woods, everybody’s properly small.” That humility may be the essence of this recommended novel.

Overstreet, who lives in Seattle, Washington, USA, has written a wonderfully original fantasy. Though there are a few catches in the writing, it’s a fun story with suitably round characters.

3 thoughts on “Auralia’s Colors by Jeffrey Overstreet”

  1. Phil, would this be a good book for kids? My wife likes to read for our two pre-teen daughters books just a bit more advanced than they can be expected to read on their own. After Narnia, Tolkien, At The Back of The North Wind, Little House, The Black Stallion series, Wind in the Willows, most of the Newberry winners from the last century, Little Women, etc, etc, we need to scratch a bit deeper. What can you recommend for this purpose?

  2. Yes. I think they would enjoy it. It isn’t young adult fiction, but it will work for them. I also don’t know if girls will enjoy this book more that boys, but I won’t be surprised if that is true. Female characters have large roles in this story, not to mention the heroine. This isn’t anything like Tolkien’s male-dominated tales, so your daughters may find alot of common ground in it.

    There is one spot of immorality in it, but it’s handle very cautiously, even a bit confusingly. And late in the story, when all of the excitement is building, there’s a spot of torture which confused me a bit too. I don’t think either of these descriptions are worse than anything Tolkien or Lewis described in some of their tense scenes.

    I could also say there are possibly some scary spots, but it’s hard to say what is actually scary for different people when you’re talking about fine lines within the words.

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