Sunday, April 15, 2012
Review: Rise of the Dibor
The Dairne-Reih haven’t been seen in Dionia for generations—their kind and their king, Morgui, banished long ago from haunting paradise. But when creation shows signs of deterioration, the kings of the seven realms converge in the sacred Gvindollion gathering to arrive at one inexplicable conclusion: Morgui has returned. In the hopes of entrusting Dionia’s brave history and perilous future to a generation that has never known war, the kings decide to raise up their young sons as an elite group of warriors, known only as the Dibor.
Gorn, legendary hero of the First Battle, is commissioned to teach the Dibor the art of war, leading them on a four-year adventure on the Isle of Kirstell. It is Luik, son of Lair, who soon emerges as the warband’s spirited front man. But he is not the only one of his peers to grow in power; his dear friend Fane discovers hidden abilities among the Mosfar under the mentorship of Li-Saide of Ot, while Princess Anorra finds that her lifelong tutor knows as much about combat as he does about etiquette. There is little time for the Dibor to enjoy the satisfaction of graduation, however, as a sinister plot is discovered to dethrone Dionia’s kings and flatten the capital city of Adriel. The Dibor are summoned to war, along with the rest of Dionia’s fighting men. It is before the gates of Adriel Palace that Luik and his army face Morgui's prince, Valdenil, as well as the unending ranks of the Dairne-Reih. (From Amazon.com.)
(Note: this is a rather long review.)
Where to begin?
The White Lion Chronicles begins with Rise of the Dibor, and asks the question, "What would have happened if Adam hadn't sinned? Would we still have an enemy?"
With an emphatic yes, Christopher Hopper sets us on an adventure in a sinless world, where mankind's ultimate enemy builds up strength for an attack on innocence and sinlessness.
All right, first things first - the stuff I liked about Rise of the Dibor.
Christopher Hopper paints a wonderful picture of a sinless world. Dionia, as its called, is a mouth-watering paradise, and Hopper's prose conveys it well. The worldbuilding was well done, and cultural/historical things were likewise authentic - and getting culture right is hard. But Hopper does a great job at it, with enough foreign words and concepts to make it believable without overwhelming us.
On the same note, the prose was lyrical and descriptive. Very descriptive. While at times it bogged down the speed of the novel, it was nevertheless essential for the larger-than-life feel of the series. Vivid word-pictures abounded.
The plot of Rise of the Dibor, once it got going, was absorbing and interesting. While it wasn't fast-paced, it still kept you reading and built up well toward the climactic battle at the end. (More on plot later.) There were several shiver-down-your-spine scenes where you realize that the situation is much worse than you thought it would be. And that's a delicious feeling.
One area where Sir Hopper excelled was character-building. There are a lot of characters, and sometimes it was easy to get them confused, but for the most part each character was distinct and well-rounded, especially the main character, Luik. Over the course of a book, he turns from a boy into a man, and Hopper writes the transition well.
The major group of characters in this novel was the elite "Dibor". There were quite a few of them, but Hopper wisely refrained from mentioning them all at once and instead subtly slipped them in here and there in a way that avoided confusion.
Besides this, the emotions of all of the characters are well-felt (often expressed through dialogue), and there were many times that the themes of the novel were expressed in that way.
Which brings me to my favorite part about this novel: theme.
I've long held that theme is possibly THE most important part of a novel. In the case of Rise of the Dibor, it's not the plot or the prose that kept me reading, but the theme. The White Lion Chronicles are, in essence, the story of a sinless mankind's fight against evil, and the realization that they couldn't do it alone - they still needed a Savior.
This theme was everywhere in this novel. First encounters of fear and anger (which had never been felt before in Dionia), the possibility of falling into sin, and the reality of death: all of these were addressed in this book in a way that I had never thought of before. And over and over, reliance on God was emphasized, as it should be. War is shown as the terrible thing that it is, and this book is not without pain and loss. Men live and die, and mankind suffers.
Hopper's theme and the underlying theology behind it was very, very satisfying to me, especially since I now appreciate it a lot more than I did two years ago. There were multiple times where I wanted to highlight the particularly meaningful passages. And there were many scenes I found simply powerful, such as Annora's scene where she discovers her "inner sight". Breathtakingly beautiful. I would venture to say that Christian fantasy needs more authors like this: authors that don't shy away from deep questions, whether or not they would be regarded as "proselytizers" by secular audiences.
I could continue my discussion of theme, but for the sake of brevity I need to move on.
Next, the cons of this book.
I have to admit, the book starts out verrrrrry slowly. The plot doesn't begin to pick up speed until we're almost a quarter of the way through the book. However, I viewed this speed is necessary to show Dionia as it was - before war came. On the flip side, it's a significant barrier for readers who really want to like the book, but find it too boring.
Another thing I noticed was that the writing quality went steadily up as the entire trilogy progressed. In other words, what I consider to be Sir Hopper's "worst" writing is at the beginning of the novel! While this does make the ending much better than the beginning, it also makes it hard to get into the book, as I noted above.
Oddly enough, while there was POV problems and some telling, I didn't really notice it. Hopper's prose covers it up well and makes the novel move along.
Finally, the dialogue, especially in the beginning, felt forced and unrealistic at times. On numerous occasions, the author evidently felt the need to "explain" why this character had said something, which cluttered up the text and made reading harder. (For instance, a character might say something sarcastic and then an author would add that he said it "sarcastically".) This smoothed out later in the book, however, and wasn't a problem.
Happily, all the infamous homonym mixups of the previous edition had been eliminated.
In essence, while Rise of the Dibor is slow-paced and has a few technical problems, it is an absorbing novel - and the theme is brilliant. Speculative fantasy at its best.
On a more biased note, I highly prize the White Lion Chronicles as one of my favorite trilogies of all time. For anyone who reads or writes Christian fantasy, this is the highlight, the cream of the crop.
And, by the way, the eBook edition of each book costs 2.99 each - quite a great price. That's how I bought them!
Highly recommended. Rated 8.5 out of 10. (4.5 stars.)