The Ale Boy’s Feast is the final installment in Jeffrey Overstreet’s Christian-inspired fantasy quartet, The Auralia Thread (read the first three books’ reviews: Auralia’s Colors, Cyndere’s Midnight, and Raven’s Ladder). House Abascar remains in shambles and Cal-raven must fight his way through a crisis of faith to rescue his people from the worst threat yet. The mystery behind Essence and the Deathweed is finally revealed, and all of the major characters from the previous three books–the ale boy, Auralia, Cyndere, Ryllion, Jordam, and Emmeliene, among others–make appearances, confront their mistakes and seek redemption.
The search for salvation
The Ale Boy’s Feast is darker than the first three in the series. Increasingly complex characters make mistakes or reveal themselves to be misguided all along, and Overstreet does not hesitate to kill or de-glorify characters we’ve grown to love. It’s a violent book, although less so than most mainstream fantasy, and the emotional pain experienced by every character is even worse than the physical.
And yet the reason the novel gets dark is so that its characters can finally find peace and redemption, even if it only comes after death. None of the characters, even most of the villains, leave the novel unchanged, and, through Cal-raven and his kingdom, Overstreet expertly explores the struggle between dispensing justice and learning to forgive. Despite its darkness, The Ale Boy’s Feast ultimately ends The Auralia Thread on an uplifting, hopeful note, yet it’s still populated by mostly realistic characters.
A surprising ending to the series
But the ending is unexpected. A certain stalwart character is revealed to be delusional. Other characters abandon their motivations from the past three books, and move on to new journeys. Opinions change and beliefs are shattered. It’s certainly not at all what I was expecting.
As fiction, I consider the ending unsatisfying. None of the characters end up where I thought they would. Underdeveloped love triangles are resolved implausibly. And the main characters’ worldview, painstakingly established in the first three books, doesn’t play the role you’d expect in this last novel. As symbolism, though, the ending should be commended for exploding and complicating the too-easy answers given earlier in the series. The Ale Boy’s Feast forces you to think about the relationship between faith and art. The process may be uncomfortable, but I assure you it’s worthwhile.
Beyond Christian fantasy
With this complicated ending, The Auralia Thread quartet expands beyond simple Christian allegory. This isn’t Biblical and the Expanse isn’t real, so its mechanics don’t correspond exactly to real-life Christian beliefs. A woman becomes pregnant before marriage, and that’s all right. Many people express skepticism, and that’s also all right. Good people die. A few good people go (physically) unrewarded. Although the quartet is obviously inspired by the Christian mythos and, more generally, by the importance of religious belief as a spiritual and moral guide, The Auralia Thread doesn’t adhere slavishly to those concepts. Instead, it asks questions of them. It’s not an easy confirmation of someone’s faith; it’s a constructive exploration.
Of course, some aspects of this series are still simplistic. The true villains – the Seers and Deathweed – remain underdeveloped to the end. It’s never clear why they want to murder humans and take down House Abascar and the others, other than their own pure malevolence. I think it’s telling that, of the normal and human inhabitants of the Expanse, none of them are purely evil. It’s all a misunderstanding. If those bad characters could only learn the truth and understand the world’s reality, they would no longer do evil things. Of course, if you’re a Seer or Deathweed, then you’ve no hope of redemption at all. There is no overlap.
Why should you read this book?
Although The Ale Boy’s Feast doesn’t redeem the series’ flaws, it is worth picking up for its thoughtful complexities and positive message. The Auralia Thread is not at all typical epic fantasy, but if you enjoy an emphasis on thematic symbolism in your fiction, with a Christian and generally religious touch, you may fall in love with these books.