I'm an avid reader, so I thought this week I'd post a review of one of my new favorite books and an interview with its author, Sharon Hinck. Enjoy!
The Restorer is Sharon Hinck’s first foray into straight fantasy and it is a wonderful read.
First off, you need to know that I am NOT a fantasy reader. I couldn’t read JRR Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings or Hobbit until after I saw The Fellowship of the Ring. I simply couldn’t picture the worlds he created. Finally, my love for my husband and my sincere enjoyment of the movie pushed me to pick up those books. I enjoyed them, but I doubt I will read them again until my kids are old enough to enjoy them.
However, The Restorer is a book I know I will return to again. Susan is a mom with a life that seems perfect, but it’s missing something. She longs to do and be more for God, yet doesn’t know how. Her husband creates an escape for her in the attic, a place to hide from the activity of her kids and try to reconnect with God. The first time she uses it, she is sucked through a portal and into a new world.
Let me stop right there. I really expected at that point to throw the book aside. I knew it was fantasy, but I had no idea how that would play out. All I knew before picking it up was that a soccer mom takes on a Deborah-esque role. However, I could not put this book down, even as I was sucked with Susan into a world I’d never heard of or seen.
Susan experiences all the bewildering emotions of landing in a new place, unsure of what just happened and how she will get home. The first two people she meets in this world scare her to death; she just watched one kill a man, the other seems dangerous in unspoken ways. Yet she is forced to depend on them as she faces the uncertainties and unknowns of this new life.
She follows Tristan to his community where he takes her under his wing and begins to teach her the skills of a guardian. In some ways the community seems something out of the Middle Ages, but it’s not. The author paints the scene with vivid details that had me smelling the air, seeing the sky, tasting the strange food. She also painted the characters with strokes that left me feeling like I knew them. It was easy to pretend I was Susan traveling through the story. Feeling the abuse her body took. The overwhelming mental challenges. The spiritual exertion.
The story is rich with villains, too. These villains are unlike any I’ve seen before. And their weapon of choice? Poisoning unsuspecting minds with lies that will debilitate. The imagery of spiritual warfare was rich yet shadowed. The book never became preachy, yet I could easily connect with the idea that the truth is all that will protect us from the lies of our Enemy.
I LOVED this book, and cannot wait to read book two when it releases this fall. And this from someone who runs the other direction as soon as someone mentions fantasy.
Sharon, with The Restorer, you soared past the Becky Miller series (which I thoroughly enjoyed!) into the realm of full-fledged fantasy. How did you create the concept for this book?
I think women are more heroic than they realize. I’ve always been inspired by the story of Deborah from the book of Judges – and I see modern people around me every day who remind me of her.
I wrote this story for my friends – ordinary women who are sometimes called on to fill extraordinary roles that they don’t feel prepared for. We may not be literally yanked into an alternate universe, but the idea of being pulled into an unexpected challenge is very real to most of the people I know. I wrote this book for my friends who receive a diagnosis of cancer, or the news that their child has a learning disability, or their parent is battling Alzheimers, or their spouse has lost his job. They suddenly find themselves in a foreign world, facing new rules, and being asked to fill a role they don’t feel ready for. My prayer is that as well as being entertaining, this novel can inspire courage and determination for those facing daily battles.
Susan has hints of Becky Miller. She's feeling some dissatisfaction with the life she has even though there's nothing wrong with it. Then she gets sucked into another world. How did you envision the setting? It is rich andeven a non-fantasy reader like me could see everything!
Hee hee! Honestly, it was one of those over-long Minnesota winters. They are great for inducing melancholy periods of creativity. It was an unusually warm winter where the sky was gray for weeks at a time. I began to doubt there was a sun or moon or stars beyond the shroud….which led to wondering about a world that was literally shrouded all the time. The setting around Braide Wood was inspired by hiking in the North woods. Other communities were developed from extrapolating the natural resources nearby and how they might build homes, roads, etc. I also wanted to do something new. I didn’t want to revisit Middle Earth or Narnia (which was done by better authors than I) so I played, “what if?” What if this world had certain technologies that had developed in different directions and with different priorities than our world? How would that look?
I sense you have a heart for women who want to do and be more for God. What do you hope women will take from this book?
Susan’s spiritual journey – her desire to follow God and her confusion when the road is much harder than she expected—is very parallel to my own. I’ve never carried a sword into battle, but I’ve faced the challenge of surrendering more deeply to God’ s purposes when they didn’t make sense to me. It’s my hope that Christians who are feeling discouraged or weary or confused by life’s battles will take away a little encouragement from watching Susan’s story unfold. And I pray they will be strengthened in the knowledge that they CAN be a blessing to the people around them as God empowers and guides.
Now, this book isn't just for women.True. I have received LOTS of reader mail from men and from teens who loved the book.
Trying not to give too much away, but how did you develop Tristan and Marc? Both were so real (loved the twist with Marc by the way) and so heroic. Was that easy to capture?
Thank you! No, it wasn’t easy for me. I find noble characters difficult to write. They can come across flat and boring. It’s much easier to write “bad guys” sometimes. I wanted my heroic characters to be MORE interesting than the villains, and so I challenged myself to rework those scenes many times.
I'm not a fantasy reader -- couldn't read Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series until after the first Peter Jackson movie because I had no framework for it -- but I LOVED The Restorer and can't wait for book two. Did you intentionally try to bridge the gap between fantasy readers and fantasy avoiders? What tricks of the trade did you use to accomplish that?
Yes, it was VERY intentional. Many of my friends haven’t read much fantasy and I’ve always loved the genre (L’Engle, Lawhead, Lewis, etc.). I wondered if I could introduce a very relatable character that would make the story accessible for even my friends who don’t normally read fantasy, and allow them to enjoy the imaginative adventures that I’ve always found in the genre. I purposely used a more contemporary fiction voice than many “high fantasy” novels and experimented with blending a little humor, a woman’s fiction sensibility, along with the “out of this world” and adventure elements.
You and three other fantasy writers just returned from a whirlwind book tour. How did it go? What did you take away from that face time with readers?
The Fantasy Fiction Tour was an amazing, non-stop experience. We hit something like 16 cities in 8 days, and over 25 events and met hundreds of readers in a variety of venues. I was blessed out of my socks by hearing from readers who said these books were not only entertaining, but inspiring and life-changing. It affirmed to me the power of story as a way to communicate and encourage, and showed me the hunger that people have for books that are imaginative and soul-stretching.Is there anything else you would like to share?
The Restorer’s Son is already available to preorder at my website and features a new and very unlikely Restorer, as well as more adventure for Susan and her family. The Restorer’s Journey releases in January 2008. Then I have two contemporary fiction novels coming out with Bethany House (Symphony of Secrets, 2/08 and Penny’s Project, 9/08).
I love to hear from readers, so be sure to visit my website. You can also sign up for my Book Buddy ezine to keep in touch.
Thanks for letting me visit!
Thanks so much for your time and for the vision you pour into your books. Whether Becky Miller or Susan, I am challenged and entertained when I read your work. Someday I'll write like you!
LOL! No, you’ll write like Cara, and that will bless many.