Thursday 28 December 2017

The Christmas Quest by G. L. Stone

The Christmas Quest

Mason Krucheck knows loss. His beloved Anne passed on eighteen months ago and he is facing his second Christmas on his own. Now he must also face his grandson, Jacob’s, illness as this Christmas approaches; and things are not going well. The last few months have been hard for Jacob, as his life has collapsed around him to the size of a hospital bed. Mason has always been his special friend; wielding the magic of storytelling as few can to free Jacob of the fear he faces through a fantastic story. But Mason finds his own life has taken unexpected twists, bringing him closer to his grandson; in truth, too close; and they both discover that some stories truly have a life of their own. Entwined in a magical tale of kings and queens, demons and wizards, elves and fair maidens, and all the familiar icons of Christmas, in one short week Mason and Jacob travel a pathway through life, fear, sorrow, freedom, joy, and happiness as the majesty and hope of Christ intervenes in their lives on the most magical Christmas Eve of all.

The Guru's Review: 

This is one very impressive debut novel by this author. I picked it up free during a promotional period from Amazon. 

I loved this story! I have not come across such a unique concept for quite a while. This author shows quite an imagination and creativity in the construction of this novel. Sometimes when an author attempts to blend the reality of the main character's lives with that of fantasy, the process runs the risk of being disjointed instead of a cohesion and both complimenting each other. For a debut author to pull this off is quite a feat and maybe it would not be expected to attempt in their first published story. Stone achieves the former very well. The blending of the reality that both Mason and Jacob are experiencing with the fantasy world involving Bentley, James, Nicholas, Teresa, the Queen, and Richard is flawless. While reading the reality of the former characters, you want to stay there but you also want to see how this forms the basis of the next part of the fantasy story involving the latter characters. And the reverse can be said for the latter. Such is how endearing the characters become and how engaging both storylines are. There is no feeling or detection of this blending being disjointed or fractured. Both storylines are dependent on each other and compliment each other. This is one of the successes of this novel.

Being a Nurse as my profession enabled me to empathise with both Jacob and Mason. I related well to Misty, the nurse, as I could see these two from her perspective and this reminded me of so much of my nursing experience. Stone has developed these characters well and also the medical side of their storylines. Makes it more credible at least for me! 

I did find the storyline involving Mason and Jacob's illnesses hard to read as no-one likes to read about life-threatening illnesses. Maybe it is because it forces us to confront our own mortality and all the emotions that go with it. Or maybe it brings back painful memories of a friend or loved one who has gone through similar. However, Stone has not created a doom and gloom plot line here involving AML (acute myelogenous leukemia). I loved the tenderness and childlike attitude that Jacob has towards his cancer and the honesty he expresses towards Mason about this disease. There is a strength here that Jacob shows that seems to be more advanced for one so young to be going through such a debilitating disease. Even though Mason is going through this same disease, Mason finds strength in Jacob's attitude and it is this that keeps him being strong for him. Jacob sees Mason as not just as his grandfather, but as his rock, 
In desperation, he pictured his grandpa in his mind: the rock, the immovable mountain to which he felt anchored, his elite warrior to fight off all fear and his last resort when things got really desperate. 
Even though Mason accepted this from Jacob, it also prevented him from being honest with Jacob about his own diagnosis and fight against this disease. To do so would destroy Jacob's faith in him about being his rock and the foundation of why he was Jacob's rock, 
Grandpa could chase away fear and pain with his mightiest weapon: stories! He always had the best stories. He could and would tell one that would somehow make this all better! 
And it is this fact, that Grandpa has the best stories, that provides the richness, the credible world-building, the engaging tale that makes this novel such a joy to read and be so engrossed in. It also shows as I have stated previously that Stone has a great imagination and creativity and is why this debut novel is so impressive. 

I wonder how much of Stone is depicted in the character of Mason? I wonder how much of Mason being developed as a caring, strong sensitive male character and grandfather is also that of Stone? I have just become a grandfather myself and I can relate to Mason very well and I am encouraged by the character of Mason to be like him in relating to his grandson the way he has. My children, now adults, see me (and my wife) as their rock, so I pray that I can be the same to my granddaughter and even be able to show this in becoming a storyteller like Mason! I loved the relationship between Mason and Jacob; tender but strong, honest with understanding and trust. Both humble towards each other and a sincere relationship with God. All through his illness, Mason was there for him but towards the end, it is Jacob who is there for Mason. Such is what human relationship consists of. And does not every parent say that they learn more about life from their children/grandchildren? This is evident in this novel. 

Stone excels in creating a fantasy world. Both science fiction and fantasy need more reliance on world building to provide a solid foundation for a believable and credible plot. It needs this to keep the reader engaged and connected with the plot and characters. Stone provides enough here in this novel for this to be successful. He includes the backstory of the conflict and war between the elves and humans, the hierarchy of Creation regarding the Creator, who the Visitor is, his level in this hierarchy and the same for the elves and humans. He also provides some depth to the spiritual side and power of each of the entities that exist in this hierarchy. This forms a good anchoring point for the plots to take off and enable a satisfying ending. 

Three elements of this world building add to the strength and enjoyment of this novel. One is the author's take on a Christmas personality that has very humble roots but sadly has evolved into a figure that represents in today's world, a warped and distorted view of what Christmas is and should continue to be. Maybe it is for this reason that authors like Stone write about characters like this to give a better perspective and encourage readers to think about this character's real origins. However, Stone's depiction of this character is a very unique one and one that I feel is very creative and effective for the purpose of this novel. 

The second is Stone's take on where various icons and traditions of Christmas come from. The inclusion of these enhance the story and plot arcs and again are very creative and effective. Dare I say for a third time that this just showcases Stone's creativity and imagination? I chuckled when these icons were introduced. 

The third is the correlation of the characters in the lives of Mason and Jacob and of the fantasy world. This becomes evident about halfway through the story and it is here that it becomes very interesting, leading the reader to understand how the fantasy plot impacts on the lives of Jacob and Mason

I have not had time to do so, but when I read of elements like this, I am tempted to research these myself to see how much truth from their origins have been included in this novel and therefore how much poetic licence the author has also added. 

Stone has used the antagonist and what he stands for to develop the theme of this novel. Known as the Visitor, his reputation and presence are felt amongst the town. James describes  this entity to Bentley as, embodiment of the dark force or influence......that manifests as fear and hopelessness
Its shadow had spread across Nicholas' homeland and though its name was not mentioned there, on Earth it is known as Death with the mere mention of its name giving it more power. The Visitor embodied fear of Death as its greatest weapon, becoming Death in the minds of its "victims". But this was not its only aim, the Visitor had a deeper and more nefarious quest and that was to eventually overcome The One or the Almighty by controlling most or all of human souls.

Nicholas recognised the Visitor for who it is and realised what he was up against. The Visitor was not human and not without gender, and could not relate to humanity. It was not of this world.

Mason describes it as, entity that belonged in another place, untraceable and unreachable by mortals. Its rebellion and evil nature had compelled it to assume the only role befitting it -- that of darkness and fear of Death, the final pathway for mortal men and women, and, over a greater lifespan, for elves and wizards, as well. From it distant prison, it had exploited this role in the past as much as it could to awaken fear, hopelessness, and despair. 
To enslave humanity in fear, it twisted humanity's view of Death from a source of hope in the hearts of the faithful as a passage to a better life, an 
....immortal existence of body and spirit due to the work of The One, but at this time and in this place, the Visitor made death fearful and imbued it with hopelesness. 
Just like in the Bible, we are encouraged to believe that God has not given us a spirit of fear, the characters of Bentley, James, Teresa, and the Queen realise that they need to confront their fear and its effects thereof. Herein lies the power over fear; it can be debilitating if we allow it to control us and feel we are powerless against it. Just as the Bible states (in 2 Timothy 1:7) that instead of a spirit of fear we have one of love, peace and a sound mind, the Queen realises that a positive attitude is their defence. The Visitor even reacts negatively against this, realising the effect on itself, tire me, woman, with your optimism and hope.  
Nicholas also confronts the Visitor with this same positive attitude, 
You are strong but so am I. And I have the strength of all the love and goodness in a whole world to draw upon. Don't think yourself, my master.
I was very endeared to Bentley. A very honourable character. I like his sense of commitment resulting from his warrior training and accepting of the mission to rescue Nicholas but also out of the friendship he developed with him. Such a loyal and sincere elf. Nicholas sees him as a 
...brash proudly self-reliant, fiery and passionate elf. 
The rest of the rescue team consisting of James and Teresa share the same passion as Bentley in rescuing Nicholas and ridding the world of this evil personified in the Visitor. The bonds that form between them as they do so is a joy to read and they come into their own and work as cohesive, unified team when they confront the Visitor.

This novel comes to a fast paced and action packed head leading to a satisfying ending. The clash between good and evil brings all the plot arcs of both Mason and Jacob's reality and the fantasy elements to a head. The demise of the Visitor in a spiritual sense is very well done and supports the Biblical doctrine of the battle belonging to God. 

My only criticism is that I would have loved to have seen Bentley, Teresa and the Queen better equipped spiritually to combat the evil manifested by the Visitor. These characters are depicted as not having any obvious relationship with God, (except for one of them, who Bentley is suspicious of), which relies on them not using any spiritual warfare methods as outlined in the Bible. However, this is achieved by this very character that Bentley is suspicious of. I must point out that his suspicions are not implying this character is less than honourable, just that he is unsure of some of the actions and attitude expressed based on the past history of this race of being. Again, this is anchored in the world building by Stone.  

As a result of this clash, the fantasy elements begin to spill over into the reality of Mason and Jacob's lives but that is not surprising as Mason felt that his story was taking on a life of its own. However, a hint by an earlier character who ministered to Mason leads me to consider that this was not just a story from Mason's imagination but one that was supernaturally inspired and orchestrated by God to minister to both Mason and Jacob so God's will for them would be manifested for His Glory and His Purpose. The ending bears this out. 

I ended this novel with a happy and uplifted spirit but not after shedding many tears of joy over the last few pages. 

I highly recommend this novel. 

World Building 5/5

Characterisation 5/5

Story 5/5

Spiritual Level 3/5

Enemy Spiritual Level 5/5 

Overall Rating 4.6/5 Stars 

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