‘The Vanishing Sculptor'
By: Donita K. Paul
Rating: Two out of five bookmarks
Is it a good sign when the best character in a book - the one with the most interesting personality, the most logic and who goes through the most hardships - is a giant talking parrot?
Before I get too far into what exactly is right or wrong with this book, here is the plot of what originally drew me to Donita K. Paul's Christian fantasy book.
"The Vanishing Sculptor" follows the adventure of Tipper, a young woman whose father, the most renowned artist in the country, mysteriously disappeared years ago. Tipper is watched over by her mentor Sir Beccaroon (the parrot), since her mother has lost all touch with reality. Tipper must manage the family estate, so to make ends meet, she sells off her father's artwork. Then out of the blue, Tipper's father returns through a magical portal, accompanied by two strangers - a prickly wizard named Fenworth and an uptight librarian named Librettowit. From here, the plot gets even more convoluted, so let's keep it simple: our heroes need to recover three statues that Tipper's father sculpted and reunite them, or else the world will come to an end.
This story has all the makings for a creative fantasy adventure. Many of the ideas are clever, and the descriptions of the land and fantasy creatures are beautiful and imaginative. What this story gives us in fantasy, however, it equally lacks in adventure. Not every fantasy book needs to have epic battles or displays of grand magic. It should, however, engage the reader within the first few chapters and not make us have to trudge through almost half of the novel before even beginning the actual plot.
In a more famous work of Christian fiction, "The Chronicles of Narnia" series, C.S. Lewis created an elaborate fantasy world of memorable characters while still crafting his underlying message.
"The Vanishing Sculptor," which is actually a prequel story to Paul's Dragonspell series (admittedly I have not read this series yet, so perhaps I am missing some key information), downplays the Christian theme quite a bit - we get references to a god named Wulder and a messenger of the god/champion of the people named Paladin. But in the end, what a novel should be is a good captivating story that can stand on its own, no matter what the genre or agenda.
For me, a good fantasy story needs two things: a good protagonist and a good villain. The main character Tipper continuously cries, complains and fusses. Every time she decides to take action, she immediately gets taken hostage. She is always rescued by Prince Jayrus and Wizard Fenworth, who are pretty much archetypes of fairy tale princes and wizards. In a time where we need strong, assertive female characters, Tipper is nothing more than a princess cliché.
In terms of villains, the book doesn't have any of real menace until almost the end, when an entirely new plot is introduced and then is quickly resolved. We get moments of conflict (oh finally, something exciting is about to happen!) that are instantly thwarted (OK, I guess not). And then we read episodes of getting from one place to another that drag on as if this were a travel guide. I am sure some characters may get fleshed out in the Dragonspell novels, but that's no reason to skimp on them here. After all, shouldn't we be motivated to read the following novels?
This story advertises itself on the cover as "A fantastic journey of discovery for all ages." The problem is, this is too boring for adults, even ones who are amorous fans of fantasy, and the main plot about the statues and the portal is too complicated for children. With dull characters and anticlimactic scenes, this is one book you don't need to go questing to find.
Alison Reeger Cook is a Gainesville resident whose Off the Shelves book review runs every other week in Sunday Life. Know of a good book to review? E-mail her to tell her about it.