Evil is spreading throughout the land of Jeffrey Overstreet’s third novel in the Auralia’s Thread series. The people of House Abascar are living a hardscrabble life in caves and losing faith in their king, Cal-raven. Some of them think he talks too much of visions and fairy tales. In the previous novel, their caves were attacked by beastmen, men in bondage to a horrible curse which hulks them out like wild, contorted beasts. Now, they worry about vines called “feelers” or “deathweeds” which appear to be spreading everywhere, grabbing men or animals and pulling them into the earth.
In the middle of this, a few visionaries, like Cal-raven, are telling their people of worlds elsewhere. They remember the vivid, almost spiritual, colors that Auralia teased out of nature. They find small spots of those colors in the wild and healing in common things like pure water. Legends, like The Keeper, an enormous dragon who seems to keep a wise, though distant, eye on them, are being revealed. Abascar has a hope beyond any they could imagine, if they can only hold on long enough to see it.
By contrast, the people of House Bel Amica seek the latest pleasures and want to be distracted constantly. They live on the coast where there is a great wealth of food and trade. The Seers rule their philosophy, urging them to pray to moon spirits and pursue their own desires above all. I doubt Bel Amicans ever urge each other to get a grip on reality. When refugees from Abascar find shelter in Bel Amica, their leaders begin to worry they will never want to leave this luxurious city.
Overstreet has created a magical world. I’m fascinated by its natural glory. When the visionary characters do marvelous things or make inspiring culture, they don’t use magic. They apply artistic skill to tease out of the natural world beauty that’s either hidden or disregarded. Though their world is dangerous, many natural elements encourage health, peace, and hope. When these elements are magnified by artists, they comfort some and inspire others to noble work. (Here’s some glasswork that reminds me of something Auralia might have made.)
Raven’s Ladder is a thrilling third part of this four-part series. The revelations that conclude the book are monumental, and there’s a story in the mid-section that appears to put this fantasy world in a new context, hinting at who the Seers are and how mankind came into this place. Noting the title, the focus of this novel is on Cal-raven, Abascar’s king. He wrestles with himself as a leader and as a man and also with his visions of a bright future in pursuit of The Keeper’s tracks. That name, The Keeper, and the faith of some of the characters may lead you to suspect a thinly veiled God-figure. You might think Aslan has been restyled as a dragon, but he hasn’t. The Keeper is a complicated animal, who appears to respond to prayers as well as act like any other intelligent beast. I could say more, but I’d rather you enjoy the mystery yourself.