“It’s true that life seems so more much exciting when you write it down as fantasy. But then again, there are some experiences in life that are simply too wondrous to be condensed into words. These are the things that must be felt in reality. The rest I will attempt to convey with the written word.” – Ashley Townsend
Sarah Matthews is nearing the end of another eventless summer in the small town of Bethany, Oklahoma. Disheartened over the reality that yet another unexciting season is coming to an end, she wishes for an unforgettable adventure to break up the monotony of life. But when mysterious circumstances transport Sarah and her sister, Lilly, back in time, she gets more excitement than she bargained for.
(WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!)
Thank you so much to the author, Ashley Townsend, for trusting me to review this trilogy.
I admire Ashley for bravely taking pride in being Christian and using her protagonist, Sarah, to proclaim her love for God. This is one of the very few fantasy novels I have read that don’t just mention Christianity in passing and use symbolisms, but actually talk about it in detail. I would recommend this series to young Christians, especially to the dreamers who love stories of time travel, adventure, and romance.
The writing style’s straightforward and easy to understand, even for young readers. The author did not try too hard to write like revered authors of complex fantasy series like Tolkien and GRRM. I found it refreshing that the author stayed true to her writing style. At the same time, I would have loved to see a little more elaborate world-building that would transport me to another world.
I had issues with the pacing. There were so many pages when I felt like nothing really important happened – just long descriptions of mundane activities, romantic yearnings, and such that I couldn’t bring myself to be interested in. The books could have been a lot shorter and more engrossing if the unnecessary scenes were cut short. IMO, “Defying Shadows” was the strongest and most exciting installment with regards to storyline.
I appreciated the improvement in terms of character development, which was noticeable in “Defying Shadows”, when we finally got to know Damien and Isabella more. Before the Lisandro siblings entered the picture, I felt like everything was too black-and-white in terms of characterization – like the good and conservative girl (Sarah) vs. the bad and liberated girl (Jade). Yes, the love triangles and the mushy romantic scenes were too distracting and over-the-top for me, but that doesn’t change the fact that the writer took the time and the effort to show us the side of the “villains”. She did it late in the game, but she still did it.
The moral lessons and words of wisdom could have been handled better. I did not have issues with the frequent mention of God and the Christian faith. I’m not saying this just because I’m also a Christian. I’m saying this because I’m the type of person who respects other religions. I can see the good points in a book that is focused on a religion different from mine, just as I can see the bad points in a book that is focused on my religion. That works the other way around as well. Now, back to my issue. There were too many times when the characters – especially Sarah and Will – sounded like they were just quoting moral platitudes. I already encountered variations of their quotes so many times in the Bible, Pinterest, and motivational graphics shared by friends and relatives on social media. As a reader, I wanted something more – not exactly something new, because it’s hard for even the experienced, brilliant writers to come up with new ideas – but something more. I wanted distinct voices. I would have appreciated Sarah and Will’s lessons if they sounded more like themselves, not like students memorizing lines from a self-help book.
One of the things I really liked about Sarah was that no matter how impulsive and head-over-heels-in-love she was with Will, she did not abandon her family and sacrifice her dreams in order to be with him. I saw Sarah struggle before she made the painful decision to go back to her time and leave Will, but she did it. That made me happy because that would send a powerful message to young, impressionable readers: true love’s great, but there are other important things that you cannot and should not forget about.
To conclude, I liked this series well enough to finish it, but I did not love it. I appreciated the growth of the characters, but I did not find them complex and relatable enough to be considered favorites. However, as I already mentioned, I would still recommend this series to young readers – especially young Christian readers who are proud warriors of their faith. There’s a big chance that they’ll like and learn a lot from Sarah, Will, and the rest of the gang.
Rating: ★★★ and 1/4 stars