Beyond the Summerland is first book in the new Binding of the Blade series by L. B. Graham. It was also nominated for a Christy award in July 2005. Beyond the Summerland is a unique fantasy book, because it has a decidedly Christian perspective. Graham uses some of the usual staples of fantasy genre including: talking bears, giants, dragons, and battles with sword, spears and arrows, but this is certainly not a typical book.
For starters, Graham does not include wizards and magic in this series. He avoids magic: that murky and debatable subject among Christians. Graham created a prophet called Valzaan in the place of the traditional wizard from fantasy. Valzaan closely resembles the biblical prophet Elisha who performs miracles, but he cannot perform miracles on demand. Rather, Valzaan works his miracles at the command and direction of God and every miracle furthers the will of God.
This leads to the second critical point of difference in this series. The story is not about the main characters; instead, the story revolves around the plan of God and His purpose in the affairs of men. Valzaan teaches Joraiem (the lead character) that men have two choices in life: accept and obey the will of God for their life or reject the will of God and suffer punishment. The plan of God is more important than the individual characters and their personal goals. In some ways this focus can be frustrating, because one becomes attached to the characters even though they are secondary to the will of God. Because they are secondary, the Graham is not bound to make only good things happen to the characters. On the other hand, I appreciate the over-arching focus on the will of God, because this is an important element in daily life that many Christians forget. God reigns at all times. Even when we go through hard times, as Job did, we know that God controls every circumstance. God has promised that every circumstance will conform us into the image of Jesus Christ (Rom 8:28-30). This approach refreshes the soul after reading books that treat the characters as if they deserve good things â€“ a completely unbiblical philosophy.
Now, on to the plot. The story primarily follows a young man named Joraiem as he comes of age. The rite of passage includes a six month trip south to the Summerland to meet with the other young men and women who will be leaders with him. These men and women are called the Novaana and they will spend the time together learning about the history of their world Kirthanin and their individual lands of Werthanin, Suthanin, and Ethanin. They will learn of Malek, a being created by Allfather to lead the peoples of Kirthanin and how he has tried repeatedly to conquer the world over the course of the Kirthaninâ€™s history. Prophecy states that Malek will attempt one more time â€“ and now is that time. Joraiem and his new friends, must battle giants and Malekiem (semi-sentient beings bred by Malek). They find assistance in the prophet Valzaan, several reclusive giant bears and a dragon.
These well-rounded characters struggle believably with love, fear, and confusion. Graham writes in a manner that allows the reader to sympathize easily with each of the characters. Graham has a knack for creating believable characters to which one quickly becomes attached. Every character, both good and bad, has characteristics that arouse sympathy. Each one has a point of view that Graham successfully exploits.
All in all, this book is well written and exciting. Even for those readers who do not particularly care for fantasy, this book is sufficiently fresh and exciting that most will find it engrossing. This is well worth reading.