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.
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.