This debut novel by Jeffrey Overstreet is a stunning blend of a unique fantasy world, evocative descriptions, and quirky characters. What's not to love?
In many ways Auralia's Colors reads like a literary novel. Here's the opening sequence:
Auralia lay still as death, like a discarded doll, in a burgundy tangle of rushes and spineweed on the bank of a bend in the River Throanscall, when she was discovered by an old man who did not know her name.
She bore no scars, no broken bones, just the stain of inkblack soil. Contentedly, she cooed, whispered, and babbled, learning the river's language, and focused her gaze on the stormy dance of evening sky--roiling purple clouds edged with blood red. The old man surmised she was waiting and listening for whoever, or whatever, had forsaken her there.
Those fevered moments of his discovery burnt into the old man's memory. In the years that followed, he would hold and turn them in his mind the way an explorer ponders relics he has found in the midst of ruin. But the mystery remained stubbornly opaque. No matter how often he exaggerated the story to impress his fireside listeners--"I dove into that ragin' river and caught her by the toe!" "I fought off that hungry river wyrm with my picker-staff just in time!"-- he found no clue to her origins, no answers to questions of why or how.
The Gatherers, House Abascar, the Expanse--the whole world might have been different had he left her there with riverwater running from her hair. "The River Girl"--that was what the Gatherers came to call her until she grew old enough to set them straight. Without the River Girl, the four houses of the Expanse might have perished in their troubles. But then again, some say that without the River Girl those troubles might never have come at all.
Notice the colors in the description. Overstreet describes many vivid hues throughout the novel. They're particularly memorable because the former queen of House Abascar declared that color was only for royalty, and the common folk had to do without. Auralia does more than reject this commonly held system. Colors are created in her very hands. Where did she come from? Who left her in the river as a baby? And what will happen when the king discovers that she is flaunting his rules? (Hint: quite a lot, and it isn't nice.)
Auralia's Colors is a poetic story of generosity in the face of greed. I highly recommend this novel. You'll be hearing more about it--greater detail--in January, but for now, if you have anyone on your gift list that you would like to introduce to the fantasy genre, consider this novel.