Friday, November 21, 2014

The Chronicles of Xan Trilogy (OakTara)

Recent literature for children in the middle school range is a bit lackluster to say the least. We see vampires, werewolves, and dystopian futures, but no real substance. Recently, Antony Barone Kolenc sent me three books he had written entitled The Chronicles of Xan trilogy. I'm embarrassed to say it has taken me so long to read through them, but that is because I wanted to make sure to do the review justice, since I rarely review fictional works. Hopefully, I have.

Book I, Shadow in the Dark, begins with the sound of thundering hoofbeats. Our young protagonist sees a group of bandits riding and is in a hurry to go tell his father of the danger approaching. Unfortunately, he is too late. The village has been destroyed. Everyone he knows; everyone he loves has been killed. The bandits attempt to kill him as well, but somehow he manages to survive only without his memories. Inside an abbey, he awakes as a blank slate. He does not remember his family or where he is from. He doesn't even know his name. Brother Andrew, who eventually becomes the boy's spiritual guide and I'd say one of his closest friends, suggests the name Alexander (Xan for short). While trying to discover both his identity and his place in the world, Xan and some of the other orphan children at the abbey notice that there is an ominous figure roaming the grounds, and that wherever this figure appears, people die. In an effort of equal parts adventure and self-preservation, the youth attempt to solve the mystery of who this deadly shadow is.

This story is not only an adventure story, but also a mystery and a coming of age story. Kolenc combines these elements while painting an accurate picture of life in the 12th century. We see this in minor things like descriptions of everyday life and appropriate language, and he even helps the younger reader by explaining what unknown terms might be. I won't tell you the resolution to the story, but there's are very good Catholic messages running throughout this book, which include Christian love/charity and above all forgiveness of those who have wronged you. I'm always wary of younger kids books when mystery is involved, because they are sometimes a bit too simplistic. That was not the case, as there were some red herrings to keep you guessing. This was a very enjoyable book and is appropriate for ages 10 and up.

Book II, The Haunted Cathedral, picks up several  months after the conclusion of Shadow in the Dark. In this book we see a bit more displeasure and resentment in Xan. The memories of his former life and family haunt him. His relationship with his girlfriend is complicated and tumultuous. He also realizes what it means to be a serf and have no control over his own life. In fact, if his uncle so desired, he could send Xan off away from his friends and mentor, Brother Andrew, to live in a different city and become an apprentice.

Xan goes on a cart-ride from the abbey to the city of Lincoln. Accompanying him on the ride is Brother Andrew, two guards, and Carlo (the bandit leader from the first book who killed his parents). On this ride, Brother Andrew teaches Xan (and the others) about turning the other cheek and loving all people. We also see a different side of Carlo, a more humble and contrite side. When the cart over turns, he even goes so far as to save Brother Andrew's life in lieu of escaping. Within the city of Lincoln there is a cathedral that the children of the city believe to be haunted (hence the title of the book). Xan decides to solve the mystery and show them that it is not haunted. Kolenc does a masterful job of reinforcing the ideas of Christian love and forgiveness from the first book, while also mixing in adventure and mystery to keep your young reader interested.

Book III, The Fire of Eden, has two important events happening - Brother Andrew's ordination and Xan deciding his path in life. Xan can either decide to apprentice like his uncle wanted him to or he can join the abbey and become a brother. I won't tell you which one he picks, you'll have to make it to the end of this book to find that out. In this book, we get to meet a few more new characters, including Brother Andrew's mother. Another character we meet is a Magician. While awaiting Brother Andrew's ordination, a precious jewel, the Fire of Eden, is stolen and everyone expects the Magician. Once again it seems up to Xan to solve the mystery.

The themes of helping others, Christian love, and forgiveness are present again. But I found myself having a hard time getting into this final novel. I appreciated the surprise of who stole the pricey jewel and why it was stolen, but it felt a bit too much like the first two books in the series. It was nice that all the characters we met were given a resolution, but it left enough wonder to see if there will be a fourth book or if this series will end as a trilogy. Overall, I was very impressed with these three books. Antony Kolenc did a nice job of mixing mystery, adventure, and Catholic values into a story that middle-grade children, primarily boys, will find interesting and want to pick up.

These books were provided to my by the author in exchange for an honest review.