Truly, the more I like a book, the harder it is to review it. I don’t want to give you my second-hand summary of the plot or the setting; I want to take you into this world to see it. Like previous books of Litka’s that I’ve reviewed, Keiree and A Summer in Amber, Beneath The Lanterns instantly enveloped me in its setting.
The world-building that he put into this thing! It’s breathtaking. I can practically feel myself looking out across the Azere steppes under the Yellow Lantern. Read Litka’s posts here and here about how he carefully crafted this setting.
With just a few lines, Litka can suggest a whole world, a whole culture. Most fantasy books with intricate settings have to spend pages and pages on description. Not Litka. As in his paintings (one of which you see on the cover above), he suggests a great deal with but a few strokes. His work reminds me of Joy Spicer’s fantasy novels in that regard. Spare, yet rich.
But what of the characters, you say? Ah, I’m glad you asked! Beneath The Lanterns features a character who instantly became one of my all-time favorites: Ren Loh, the daring, independent and stubborn daughter of the Empress of Jasmyne, who leads the scholarly narrator, Kel Cam, into one wild adventure after another as they flee toward Lankara.
What I like most about Ren Loh is her sheer audacity. Displaying the recklessness characteristic of most heroes, Loh realizes that “fortune favors the bold” and thus is always at her most aggressive when the odds seem most against her. Sometimes her gambles work, sometimes they don’t, but what a great character she is! Of course, I can also sympathize with Kel Cam, who prefers a quiet, ordered life to the sort that Loh leads. I would probably behave much as he does in his situation, which makes him the perfect Boswell for the larger-than-life Lieutenant Loh of the Lancers.
This is a wonderful journey across a fascinating world. A classic romance, in the old-fashioned sense of the word. As Litka describes it on his blog, “It is not an epic, but… about people caught up in the gears of statecraft, whose main concern is personal survival.”
And yet, somehow, it feels epic. I don’t know how to put it exactly, because it is certainly a very personal story, but at the same time it feels momentous, and not just because of Ren Loh’s status in the political machinations, but in some deeper sense. An epic about the human condition, about duty, about freedom… I could go on, but I can’t do it justice. Just read the book already!
Having now read three of Litka’s books and a good many of his blog posts, I have some understanding of his style and his literary philosophy. And all I can say is, the man is a treasure. He writes these wonderful stories, creates these fantastic worlds from nothing, and he does not do it for fame nor money, but simply because he loves it.
Since you are for some reason still here and have not gone out and downloaded the complete works of Chuck Litka, indulge me in a flight of cultural criticism, beginning by way of analogy.
As a teenager, I drank diet soft drinks all the time. As in, multiple cans per day. Diet Dr. Pepper was my favorite. Then, at some point, I read some articles about what’s in soft drinks, and decided to quit cold turkey and drink water instead.
Many years later, I had a diet soft drink again one day, and it tasted disgusting. “How did I ever drink that stuff?” I asked myself.
Our mainstream entertainments are basically the equivalent of diet soft drinks. What else can you say about an entertainment industry that does this, for example? The spark of creative talent is almost entirely obscured by the needs of marketing in this world, leading to endless reboots and spin-offs that all have this shared quality of soullessness.
If you want to wean yourself from these artificially composed concoctions and seek the pure waters of original stories told with wit and charm, know that the spirit of good storytelling is not dead. It lives in Litka, who tells stories for the sheer fun of it, for the love of the storytellers’ art.
Read his books. Read his blog. Look at his paintings. Above all else, be glad that there are people like Litka sharing their work with the world.
Funny … I drank regular Dr. Pepper for years. Then, at some point in my 20s, I kicked the habit for a year or two. One day, I decided to try a Dr. Pepper again. It was the most disgusting thing ever. I switched to Pepsi — it then took me almost 30 years to kick the habit again.
🙂 Pepsi was always my least-preferred soft drink. Now I sort of have trouble even distinguishing them.
Haven’t had Pepsi in a couple of years. Now, the only time I have soft drinks are when I get fast food and then I drink root beer. I haven’t had any caffeine since I kicked my Pepsi habit.
I’m delighted that enjoyed the story, Berthold. I’m going have to work very hard to keep your reviews from going to my head. Did you take the picture of the Cornwall’s of St Michael’s Mound that you used for your ruined chapel? And I believe everything tastes better when you’re young. However, some things you thought yucky in your youth, turn out to be pretty good, eventually,.
Thanks, Chuck! 🙂 No, it’s just a picture I found online.
That is true; there are some acquired tastes as you get older.
To be honest, I wasn’t too taken with the first 2 books you’d reviewed by this author, but I like the sound of this one; another one for the pile on the strength of your fun review 😊
He’s so talented – a writer AND artist! Thanks for the links to his paintings and blog; I’ve already visited his art page, his paintings are dream-like and soothing to look at.
Coincidence that you linked to that drivel of a film; boys and I had quite the discussion a couple of days ago over such unnecessary films being made. Talk about sheer laziness. And not every villain needs a backstory.
Oh, thanks for the mention by the way, was not expecting that, gave me a bit of a start 😂
I hope you like this one better than the first two. Obviously, I enjoyed all three, but this one is my favorite so far.
Yup, Cruella de Vil doesn’t need any backstory. She’s a great villain, but that’s really all she needed to be.
😀 Always happy to point more people towards your work.
Oh my goodness! See how much your unexpected mention has thrown me?? I’ve only just realised I didn’t thank you for the lovely description of my novels! Thank you very, very much 😊
I downloaded three to his books, not sure when I’ll have time to get to them. I’m about ready to send you what I’ve done on MFM to date.
Excellent. Looking forward to it!
I liked it too! 🙂
Great review, as usual! And I agree about the reboots and retellings. I honestly don’t care about the perspectives of villains, and I don’t think I ever will. Also, in the case you mentioned, we’re talking about someone named Cruella deVille who skins alive puppies for her coats. Not exactly a character who’s ever been touched with subtlety.
Thank you. Glad you liked the review. 🙂
And yeah, I just can’t see why we needed the origin story of how Cruella deVil came to be bad. 😀
I liked that analogy at the end. You do seem to read some real good books! I got that one you did about the ocean earlier on my list, but I think this one’s going on my “maybe” list.
Thanks for considering it! I know you have a big reading list.
BTW, thanks again for the wonderful review of 1NG4 earlier this month. I’m so glad you liked it!
No problem! I give good reviews to good books. It’s coming out on the blog sometime in July, can’t remember which week.