Review: Corus the Champion (CSFF Tour, Day 2)

The Barlow brothers are not the first to cross between Earth and Karac Tor, two of the Creator’s Nine Worlds. But the crossing has positioned the boys, each of whom possesses a significant gift, to influence the future of the Hidden Lands. Hadyn, who has discovered the power in names; Ewan, whose music weaves magic and defines his soul; Gabe, Wingtalker, who speaks with birds; and Garrett, Windbringer, whose gift is not so much what he knows as who.

In Corus the Champion, the second book of the Legends of Karac Tor by D. Barkley Briggs, the brothers follow separate quests, accompanied by warriors, monks, and legendary figures of long, long ago. As Hadyn, the oldest Barlow boy, tries to deliver his message of impending war to the five lords of Karac Tor, dodging assassins and braving the intricacies of politics, Gabe, Garrett, and Ewan join the search for two legendary figures who lie at the center of two worlds: Corus, the Champion, long thought dead; and the Sleeping King—a figure of immense mystery with a strange connection to Earth.

But neither of the missing figures will be found without sacrifice. It is Ewan, whose gifts of song and sight connect him most intimately to the mysteries of Karac Tor, who must pay the greatest price.

The story of this series is becoming a legend in itself in Christian fantasy circles: the first installment, The Book of Names, was originally published by NavPress, who dropped their fiction line only weeks before Corus the Champion went to print. After several years, the series was picked up by AMG/Living Ink, whose Christian fantasy list gets more impressive every year. The series has been well worth the wait for readers. Briggs’s writing is sharp and descriptive, almost stylistically poetic, and the story is fully engaging.

Nor is this a story just for children or young adults: like all really good fiction aimed at this age group, the story is timeless. Its explorations of spirituality and truth, lived out by the White, Gray, and Black Abbeys; its tackling of beauty, selfishness, and sacrifice through the haunting world of the Fey; and its heart-wrenching and honest look at despair and forgiveness in the story of Corus the Champion are all themes that will resonate with adult readers—in ways that we can bring back into our own world with us.

Initially, I found the story hard to get into—not because the opening isn’t exciting, but because of the overwhelming sense that I’d seen this before. So much of the plot has been done before, by C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien and Susan Cooper and Lloyd Alexander, with a little Stephen Lawhead and Guy Gavriel Kay thrown in. Much of the blame for this lies in source material: Briggs is drawing on the same Arthurian, Norse, and Celtic (chiefly Welsh) mythology that underlies many of those groundbreaking fantasy books, and there can only be so many variations.

But Briggs is a good writer, deserving of a place among the aforementioned names: young readers who are encountering the source material for the first time in his work will not share my frustration. Rather, they’ll discover a world of wonder that is beautifully wrought. He does the sources proud, and that is no small thing.

At the end of the book, I found myself facing that same frustration again, as the Orcs—er, Cauldron-Born—er, Goths—march on Helm’s Deep. Or rather, Röckval. But I forgave him, because the story had done what great fantasy ought to do: it had ignited my passion to see the Great Story beneath the apparent mundanity of my own life and to seek for myself the power of truth.

For the Five Tenets of the White Abbey ring true here as in Karac Tor:

Light is truth,
Truth is knowledge,
Knowledge is hope,
Hope is vision,
Vision is Light.

And it will light our world as surely as it lights the world of Karac Tor.

Highly recommended for readers of all ages.

The first and third books in the series, The Book of Names and The Song of Unmaking, are also available from Living Ink.

(Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review from the publisher.)



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3 responses to “Review: Corus the Champion (CSFF Tour, Day 2)”

  1. […] Eve Nielsen ? ? ? John Otte ? Donita K. Paul ? ? Sarah Sawyer ? Kathleen Smith ? ? Rachel Starr Thomson ? ? ? Steve Trower ? Fred Warren ? Phyllis Wheeler ? Nicole […]

  2. Rachel Avatar

    Dean, I’m honoured that you stopped by! This is the only book of yours I’ve read thus far (I’ve bought the other two and eagerly await them), but in my opinion you’ve absolutely raised the bar. In the company of the fantasy greats, your book does not even blush :).

  3. D. Barkley Briggs Avatar
    D. Barkley Briggs

    Rachel, thank you for your thoughtful review. I appreciate the insights, and also the frustration of feeling the familiarity of a sub-genre’s distinctives. As far as I can tell, that’s the double-edged sword: color too much inside the lines, and people may feel overexposed to the story (i.e. that it is derivative of other works), but color outside the lines, and people who wanted an epic fantasy may feel cheated, i.e. “If I wanted steampunk, I would buy steampunk!” Personally, I wrote what I like to read: epic fantasy, and tried to do it in a way that raises the bar for the quality of what the Christian market could expect from such a title. As you briefly and graciously referenced me in the company of Tolkien, Lewis, Alexander, Cooper and Kay (swapping McKillip or LeGuin for Lawhead), I’m quite pleased. Thank you!

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