Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Book Review: Goddess Tithe

Title: Goddess Tithe (novella)
Series: Tales of the Goldstone Wood
Author: Anne Elisabeth Stengl
Genre: Fantasy, Christian, Teen
My Rating: *****
Age Group: 13+

Note - I received and am reviewing a preview copy of this book. Goddess Tithe is available for purchase from major book vendors beginning November 12, 2013.

Summary -
Sailing is dangerous, for the goddess demands a sacrifice from every ship that dares sail her sea. Munny, a young boy and a runaway, fears the vengeance of the goddess, and his fears are only strengthened when a foreign stowaway is discovered on board. The Captain demands that the stowaway, Leonard, be kept safe, but all of the other sailors wish to sacrifice him to the goddess.
And Munny is caught in between, wanting to both protect the young man and to return safe to his mother.
The goddess demands a sacrifice, and who will pay?

The Bad -
- Leonard is known to the sailors as "the Foreign Devil", and he retains that name throughout the book. The sailors mistreat him and Munny because they are both seen as bad luck
- Munny, the underdog on board, is bullied by the other sailors, particularly Chuo-tuk. They often force him to eavesdrop for them, and also press him into doing their work.
- The sailors insult each other with various phrases that aren't insulting to a reader, but are obviously negative.
- The fey (fairy) Risafeth is referred to and considered a goddess by the sailors. This is never clarified in this particular book, but in the rest of the Goldstone Wood series, fairies are not gods/goddesses.
- Munny is considered an illegitimate child by his uncle because his mother's marriage was not approved by her father. However, Munny's mother makes it very clear that she was honorably married to a very good man.
- Munny is almost forced into killing Leonard by the other sailors.

The Good -
- Leonard displays great courage by protecting Munny and standing up to the bullies. He also risks his own life by diving overboard to rescue him from drowning.
- Munny refuses to kill Leonard, and proceeds, against his better judgment, to protect him from being sacrificed to the goddess.
- Munny's motivation for surviving the sea voyage is to return to his sick mother. This motivation strengthens him through many dangers that would otherwise be overwhelming.
- The Captain not only refuses to sacrifice Leonard, but he also vows to protect every man on the ship from the wrath of Risafeth.
- Tu-Pich, Munny's mentor, sacrifices his own life willingly in order to protect the boy. By doing so, he drives away Risafeth, who cannot stand true self-giving, but only hate and fear.

Conclusion -
Anne Elisabeth Stengl is somehow able to write a story that, while not necessarily compelling, is utterly transcendent. I honestly loved this book, despite the fact that the plot did not interest me at all, nor the setting, nor the characters. I would be completely willing to reread this book - it's hauntingly lovely, and there's a hidden beauty that I'm not quite able to understand, but I know that it is there to be found.
At the center of all her stories (which are at least implicitly Christian, and often explicitly so) is one main thought - Goddess Tithe is driven by the truth that hate and destruction can only be stopped with self-sacrifice. As the Captain states, "Vengeance cannot abide the agony of grace." It's something that is so very forgettable in everyday life, but also so incredibly essential.

Note: Goddess Tithe is a companion novella to the Goldstone Wood series, but while someone who has read the other books in the series would definitely understand many of the hidden references and themes in the book better than a new reader, this shouldn't prevent anyone from picking up this book without having read the others. It's a standalone story, and it does quite a remarkable job at it.

Author's Blog
Goddess Tithe Website

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