Speculative Faith, there was a debate about the tone of fantasy and other “speculative” Christian fiction, and how “gritty” or “realistic” it should be. This debate can apply to secular speculative fiction, as well. It was basically the debate over whether something had to be “darker and edgier” to be real and true to life. I took up the argument that, sometimes, yes it did. I was wrong. I see that now after reading By Darkness Hid, the first book of The Blood of Kings series by author Jill Williamson.Williamson tells a story that is believable and has a sense of authenticity, despite it's fantasy elements; and she also makes no use of pointless swearing, sexual innuendo, gory violence, or scatological references to do so. There are some darker elements, but they are presented tastefully, and not in a gratuitous manner. More on this in a few moments.The basic story, without giving too much away, is that a “stray” (an orphaned boy or girl who are banished into a status of slavery even lower than that of other slaves), named Achan Cham, yearns for a better life so he can marry the peasant girl he desperately loves. Yet this is impossible, he knows, for strays can never be anything more than what they are, especially since some of them were implicated in the murder of the king nearly two decades earlier.As he goes about his horrible life, enduring constant menial tasks and endless beatings that seem to be done just for sake of beating him, he is surprised when he is chosen for squire training by perhaps the most renowned knight of all of Er'rets (the country where this takes place), Sir Gavin Lukos, called the “Great White Wolf”. He wonders why Gavin would risk the trouble of breaking the law (against training strays for knighthood), and if Gavin truly can pull him out of his bad situation.In another place in Er'rets, a young woman named Avarella is pretending to be a boy named Vrell Sparrow. The current Crown Prince wants to marry her, but not out of love. Instead, he wants the power of her mother's land and money. If this were not bad enough, the Crown Prince is a cruel and heartless young man, who mistreats and abuses all those around him. Vrell and Achan are about to meet as a story begins that will change both their lives, and the lives of everyone else in their land, forever.This was a terrific, incredible read. As I said, the content is quite mature and contains much “realism” that everyone is so obsessed with these days, but not with anything gratuitous. For this, Williamson deserves high praise. She can pull the reader in without having to use childish gimmicks or devices. To put it in perspective by comparison to secular writers, she is probably closer to writers like Brandon Sanderson than Terry Goodkind. In fact, that was my error in my earlier-mentioned debate, in that I seemed to have forgotten that Sanderson never uses these “darker and edgier” devices, and he is a brilliant author; while Terry Goodkind, who has gratuitous scenes sometimes, is.... not.Not to give too much away, but Vrell is basically terrorized, and Achan undergoes much suffering, but neither are shown in graphic detail, and the reader does not find himself needlessly “shocked” by the author, as happens too often in literature, or rather, what passes for literature these days.It is largely this series that has reminded me that, yes, an author really, truly can be realistic without tons of sex, swearing, and what not. They can reference, but need not be referenced in graphic detail. The trick is to do this without it seeming like a “cop-out” or somehow being “prudish”. Williamson exhibits the writing chops to pull this off. “Real” doesn't have to mean darker and edgier when you have a talented author such as Jill Williamson.
Recently on the web site