Auralia’s Colors is Jeffrey Overstreet’s first book in his Christian fantasy series. The light symbolism is beautiful, but other aspects need work.

Auralia’s Colors (The Auralia Thread #1) by Jeffrey Overstreet

Auralia’s Colors is Jeffrey Overstreet’s first installment in The Auralia Thread, a Christian-inspired fantasy series. Found by two worn-out criminals in the woods when she was just a baby, Auralia soon grows into a beautiful, otherworldly young woman who has the magical power to weave gorgeous cloths out of only the forest’s bounty. She charms her poor community with gifts and good nature, and she enjoys a special connection to the wilderness. Unfortunately, however, colors were outlawed in the kingdom’s poor communities twenty years ago, and Auralia finds herself in a world of danger when the king and his counselors learn of Auralia’s talent.

Magical writing
Though this is Overstreet’s first work of fiction, he is an experienced non-fiction writer and film critic, and his experience is obvious in Auralia’s Colors. Although he avoids complex vocabulary, the prose is still lush and it has a subtle, mesmerizing rhythm. Overstreet’s wife is a poet and it’s easy to tell that she influenced him in crafting the novel. Overstreet also sprinkles whimsically new yet recognizable words throughout the novel (cloudgrasper trees and spiderbats, for example), hinting at greater world-building behind the scenes.

The narrative arc occasionally feels unstructured; Overstreet hops from character to character seemingly without rhyme or reason. Is this the ale boy’s story? The prince’s? The failing king’s? At first glance you might think that Overstreet has constructed complex characters, none of whom are acting heroically; perhaps there is no single protagonist, like in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Yet this isn’t actually the case in Auralia’s Colors: good and evil are very obviously delineated and the heroes (and villains) are clear. It’s just difficult to tell who is the focus of the story. Instead of the confusion feeling as if it is carefully and intentionally crafted by the author (as in the case of Martin), in Auralia’s Colors the confusion just seems the unintentional result of an uncertain narrative structure. Auralia’s Colors could have been a stronger novel had it been more precisely executed.

A distant main character
Despite the confusion, Auralia is obviously the book’s heroine. She has little in common with her impoverished adoptive family, the Gatherers, and even less in common with the magnificently spoiled royalty within the protective city walls. She doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere. Instead, Auralia flits around like a beautiful and perfect changeling. She doesn’t even feel human. And although all that might still have been spun into an engaging character, unfortunately Auralia remained distant to me.

This isn’t so much a matter of believability; instead, it’s a matter of connection. There are as many scenes from other, more vulnerable characters as there are from Auralia, and those other scenes are far more emotive. Despite Auralia’s own youth and vulnerability, her deeply and overwhelmingly good personality prevents the reader—who is, of course, an imperfect human—from empathizing too closely. It’s hard to tell what Auralia really thinks or wants; her goodness, without even a smudge of darkness, is almost robotic in its intensity. I found it much easier to relate to the other characters: the sweet ale boy, the desperate old king, the conflicted prince, the rascally thief.

Fairytales and Christian fantasy
I mentioned earlier that Auralia’s Colors is a Christian fantasy. I only found this out halfway through the novel, and learning it surprised me because the Christian symbolism is actually quite subtle—subtler than C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by far, although the two books do share similarities. A person could easily read the book and ignore the Christian implications altogether.

An interesting consequence of its Christian inspiration, however, is that Auralia’s Colors has the glassy texture of a fairytale. Overstreet’s poetic writing, Auralia’s distant personality, and the absence of today’s popular gritty violence and sex make Auralia’s Colors read more like an abstract, philosophical myth rather than a modern-day fantasy novel. It’s a refreshing change.

Why should you read this book?
Although it’s certainly not for everyone, Auralia’s Colors is a gentle fairytale for those who need a break from the doom and gloom of much of today’s fantasy. Read it for the beautiful writing, the uplifting story, and—if you’re into it—the Christian symbolism. It’s no page-turner, but it has a charm of its own.

About Caleigh Minshall

Caleigh Minshall
Caleigh is a Canadian publishing enthusiast who was introduced to fantasy by Brian Jacques, Lloyd Alexander, David Eddings and Anne McCaffery (not age-appropriate!). Right now she teaches English to unruly French teens, but her next adventure is to return home and study for an MA in English literature at the University of Victoria. Caleigh also has a personal blog where she writes about the publishing industry, internship advice, and other stuff she thinks is cool.

Check Also

Half-Off Ragnarok (InCryptid #3) by Seanan McGuire

Review overview Concept Story Writing Characters Genre Elements Family fun? Chock full of quality world …

3 comments

  1. Thank you for this thoughtful review.

    It’s always a little awkward for an author to comment on a review. But I’m writing this because I’m grateful for your attention to the story. I appreciate thoughtful criticism (so long as it is thoughtful, and yours is). I believe that stories reveal different things to different people, so I am in no way seeking to discount your observations, many of which I like very much.

    You wrote: “At first glance you might think that Overstreet has constructed complex characters, none of whom are acting heroically; perhaps there is no single protagonist, like in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Yet this isn’t actually the case in Auralia’s Colors: good and evil are very obviously delineated and the heroes (and villains) are clear. It’s just difficult to tell who is the focus of the story.”

    I appreciate this observation. “Auralia’s Colors” was written as a sort of experiment, whereas the sequels are more linear, action-driven storytelling. “Auralia’s Colors” turned out to be a story about good versus evil within the hearts of its characters, rather than dividing the characters into a cast of good guys and bad guys. And if there is a “central character,” one might say that the character is the artwork, the colors themselves, that Auralia discovers and reveals to the world around her. The book was, for me, a sort of tour through a whole culture in which we can see art changing, inspiring, upsetting, and eventually transforming characters within that culture. I’m fascinated by that process.

    You identified this as “a Christian fantasy.” There is some debate about that subject. If the author’s opinion on it matters at all, you might find this blog entry interesting. It’s about the fourth and final book in The Auralia Thread, and I wrote it to address that very question: http://lookingcloser.org/2011/04/gratitude-for-thoughtful-reviews-of-the-ale-boys-feast/

    Some people decide that it’s a “Christian story” because they see one presence in the book as “God” and another as a sort of “Christ.” I suppose there are “Christ-like” behaviors in Auralia, but she’s not a god, and in subsequent volumes we discover she has her flaws. The figure many assume to be “God” will surprise and challenge those assumptions later as well. (Remember, it’s a story that’s four books long.)

    Again, thank you so much for your thoughtful consideration of the story. I hope you enjoy the sequel, “Cyndere’s Midnight.” (It seems to be more popular with readers than “Auralia’s Colors,” and I suspect that’s because it’s more of a straightforward adventure story.)

    Enjoy the colors.

    Jeffrey Overstreet

    • Thanks so much for commenting and I appreciate that you took the time to do so. I hadn’t read that blog post of yours before, and it’s very interesting. I’m happy you posted it and I hope other readers take the time to look at it, too. When I have the chance, I’ll likely try to comment on your actual blog — there’s so much to say! — but in brief and just to offer a response to your comment, I will say that for me, at least, The Auralia Thread remains Christian fantasy (but of course the author’s opinion deserves to be heard, too. Hence the comments!).

      Or maybe the better phrase would be Christian-inspired fantasy, rather than just Christian fantasy. Auralia Thread is too complex to be an allegory, and it certainly doesn’t limit itself to just religious topics — BUT to me there still seems to be a big enough thematic difference between The Auralia Thread and, say, Wheel of Time (whose author was also Christian), to warrant a different category altogether (Auralia Thread is Christian-inspired epic fantasy; WoT is just epic fantasy).

      Maybe it’s easier to put it this way: I would hesitate to recommend Auralia Thread to someone who is a diehard atheist. An agnostic, someone from a different spiritual tradition, sure. But a person who is proud of their atheism? Probably not. (But I suppose it always depends on the individual.)

      And, actually, my personal favourite book in the series is Raven’s Ladder so far. Reviews will come up soon, I hope. I’m only partway through Ale Boy’s Feast, so I can’t say for sure yet.

  2. Just a small note:

    We have a rating system of 1-500, where every number corresponds with a number of stars. Caleigh rated this book with 360, but a typo made it appear as 260. We just found out and changed the rating, so it has a full star more now.

Leave a Reply