The Restorer: Christian fantasy

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsChristian fantasy book review Sharon Hinck The RestorerThe Restorer by Sharon Hinck

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 throw a wrench in by making the world technologically advanced and culturally tribal. 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: if the Christian part is removed, it should not be just like any other genre novel. 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 will 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. She should have been more incredulous. Additionally, 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 and 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 of Scripture.

The odd admixture of science fiction and fantasy of the world building give the story an ethereal quality that adds greatly to its mood. Susan’s soul searching 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 The Restorer until about chapter five. At that point questions start being answered and the story’s pace picks up. 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 Christian genres, and Christian fantasy lovers, read this book. It’s is a good story — fun and engaging, strong in morals. 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.

FanLit thanks John Ottinger III from Grasping for the Wind for contributing this guest review.

The Sword of Lyric — (2007-2008) Publisher: Susan Mitchell needed a change — any kind of change. Nearly twenty years of marriage to her college sweetheart, Mark, had given her two teenagers and two grade-schoolers, along with miles of unmatched socks, sticky countertops, and the ever-growing hum of sheer bedlam. When had she become so… insignificant? Hadn’t God once had a plan for her? Well, at least Mark had a plan: for an attic hideaway free of iPods and science projects and cookie crumbs. But before Susan can finish her first journal entry, she finds herself pulled through a portal into a world grappling for its soul and waiting for a promised Restorer. Someone does have a plan for her — one she never would have imagined. While she struggles to adapt to a foreign culture full of unfamiliar technologies and taboos, she faces unexpected battles, mind-poisoning enemies, and a profound spiritual journey. Her adventure will forever change her family, her faith, and how she experiences love — from the One.

Sharon Hinck The Sword of Lyric Christian fantasy 1. The Restorer 2. The Restorers Son 3. The Restorers JourneySharon Hinck The Sword of Lyric Christian fantasy 1. The Restorer 2. The Restorers Son 3. The Restorers JourneySharon Hinck The Sword of Lyric Christian fantasy 1. The Restorer 2. The Restorers Son 3. The Restorers Journey

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JOHN OTTINGER III, a guest contributor to FanLit, runs the Science Fiction / Fantasy blog Grasping for the Wind. His reviews, interviews, and articles have appeared in Publisher’s Weekly, The Fix, Sacramento Book Review, Flashing Swords, Stephen Hunt’s SFCrowsnest, Thaumatrope, and at Tor.com.

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