Hey, everybody! Welcome back to Tumnus’ Bookshelf, the official NarniaFans book reviews where we review any and all books by, about, and inspired by CS Lewis, the Land of Narnia and the Inklings. For today’s review we will be looking at CS Lakin’s latest fantasy book, The Crystal Scepter, the fifth book in her Gates of Heaven Series!
Title: The Gates of Heaven Series: Book Five: The Crystal Scepter
Author: CS Lakin
Publisher: Living Ink Books
King Pythius wants one thing: the Crystal Scepter of Elysium in order to claim its power for himself. Upon marrying Callandra of Elysium a seer delivers a prophecy that his own son would one day kill him. Pythius had slain King Cakrin of Elysium to get the staff, a crime that could not go unpunished by Heaven. In order to prevent this, he orders his own son put to death. Desperate, Queen Callandra places him in a trunk with a bag of jewels and sends him adrift in the sea. The two are never seen in Palaydia again.
The child is found by a fisherman whose life is in ruins. Seeing the child as a gift from God, and reading the note inside the trunk, he gives him the name Perthin Quay, and adopts him as his own. Perthin, as per the instructions in the note, is never told his true heritage and is allowed to grow up in safety.
Many years later, Palaydia and the nearby village of Tolpuddle are ravaged by a sea-serpent as Pythius continues to try to use the scepter. Bidden by a seer, Pythius ties his daughter, Princess Inaya to a pole to give her to the serpent. Unknown to Pythius, Perthin will embark on a quest to find a means to save them all. From dealing with unsightly trolls, to battling a gorgon, it’s up to this young man with a mysterious past to save both kingdoms.
Writing professors will tell you there are only a handful of basic plots, but the challenge is how you make them feel new again. Consider if you will this classic hero’s origin: a desperate parent, fearing destruction and death is imminent, sends their child into safety. That child then goes on to become a great hero/savior/leader/deliverer for a people. Not only does this happen to Moses (the baby in the bulrushes), Jesus, Mary and Joseph and the flight into Egypt, but it occurs in the story of Perseus, and even the story of Superman. The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe has an aspect of this plot, as Peter, Susan , Edmund and Lucy are sent away by their parents to safety to avoid the Air Raids.
CS Lakin is the latest writer to use this single plot thread of a desperate parent sending their child to safety. While she may not have been the first writer to use this archetype, she continues to show just how to retell a classic tale for a whole new audience. That happens by taking just as a few of those archetypal elements, and weaving them carefully into the story. We end up with a story that is familiar and yet, strangely different from any of the previous stories.
In this story, the foundling is a young man named Perthin Quay. Much like Shasta in The Horse and His Boy, he is found by an old fisherman and raised as his son. However, while Shasta’s adoptive father was actually willing to sell his adopted son, Perthin has the blessing of having a kind and loving adoptive father, much like Superman with his adopted parents. The old fisherman forbids Perthin from every going to sea because of a great personal loss, however, when he is bidden by forces beyond his control, he sets out on a quest to save two kingdoms that takes him places he never imagined as he seeks to fullfill his secret destiny.
The villain of this story is the crafty king Pythius. It is appropriate that his name sounds like Python. He is sly, slippery, conniving, and as treacherous as his name lets on. He is a snake but he knows how to come across as charming. He proves once again how Lucifer disguises himself as an angel of light in his attempt to woo Callandra into being his queen, just so he can acquire the Crystal Scepter.
Like many a mad villain Pythius is so obsessed with his lust for power that he is willing to defy history to do it. Like King Laius in the tragedy of Oedpius, it is foretold that his own son will one day kill him. In order to insure that this never happens, he not only tries to kill his son, but when the boy’s mother Callandra, flees with the child Pythius gives an order not unlike that of King Herod, to have every boy in approximate age to his son killed in hopes of preventing this prophecy from coming true. However, this story, as with the many fantasy tales and myths that influenced this story remind us, sometimes you can’t escape destiny. In the end, all Pythius actions do is set things in motion that cannot be avoided. Despite his villainy he does try to get out of sacrificing his daughter, only to learn he has no other choice.
Among the rest of the characters are Perthin’s adopted father, the maiden Gayla, three comical trolls, a wicked Gorgon, a mystical guide, and the beautiful Princess Inaya. There is a romance, but it is not between the hero and the princess as is typically the case for fairy tales and mythic quests. There is a very surprising twist to Perthin’s relationship with both Gayla and Inaya but I don’t wish to spoil it. If you like surprise this is one you won’t want to miss.
Also unique to this book is that a good portion of the story actually focuses on the villain and his quest. Good heroes are easy to write but good villains are tricky, and Mrs. Lakin continues to show just how adept she is at creating some truly memorable villains. This focus allows the villain to feel fully developed and not like some two-dimensional character. He honestly does appear to love his daughter, and yet most of his actions make him so contemptible you await his defeat.
In terms of continuity, this book is set sometime before the events of the past in Map Across Time. Regent Sherbourne (whom the kingdom is named for) is actually mentioned. Perthin’s story is so engaging that you won’t want to put it down. This is the kind of story that younger readers everywhere are sure to be reading under the covers with a flashlight long after bed-time. By the time this quest is complete, you will no doubt be waiting for the next, just like I am. Filled with action, adventure, a little intrigue, some brave heroics, and themes of destiny, this is story has all the things we love about mythical fantasy adventures.
Five out of Five shields
Buy the book at Amazon.com