Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 02/29/2012 by Mark Tubbs.
Not Recommended. Better the second time through this fantastical novelette, but still nowhere near to being a work worthy of being called the heir of the Inklings.
Between Two Kingdoms by Joe Boyd is the fantastical story of a group of children from the Upper Kingdom who infiltrate the Lower Kingdom to bring about the Dark Prince's demise. I may as well confess it outright: I requested a review copy of this book based on its incredible cover, which was designed by Michael Erazo-Kase. Unfortunately, the book does not live up to its cover and ends up underscoring the old, old adage.
The novelette may be fantastical, but it's not fantastic. Amazon reviewers praise Between Two Kingdoms to the sky, but in reality it bears little resemblance to the writing of the Inklings, who had a timelessness and style that Boyd lacks. This should not strike anyone as devastating criticism, for an Inkling-like writer only comes along once in blue moon. For all his imaginative plot twists and allegorical elements, Boyd is not that one.
As regards literary elements, I cannot begrudge Boyd his imagination. He has envisioned a multi-textured mountain kingdom that holds much promise. But the promise of literary excellence is never fulfilled. The characterization is superficial, the dialogue is cliché, the pacing is methodical, and the climax is disappointing. Again, I cannot deny that Boyd's imagination has created an intriguing world, but there is significant lack in his narrative execution. It is not equal to Charles Williams. It is not equal to C.S. Lewis. It is not equal to J.R.R. Tolkien, no matter what the Amazon reviewers say.
Boyd handles the allegorical elements with more skill. While we don't always find a one-to-one correspondence (and we shouldn't be parsing a work of fiction for such mechanical correspondences), there is plenty of allegorical depth in this little book. Elements such as the River, the gifts of the Prince, and the tree houses provide much-needed layers to the story. One page of dialogue particularly impressed me in its employment of allegory:
"Here we are," said Pops. "The Tree House Village."
The trees around the lake contained beautiful, elaborate tree houses, with doorways and chimneys and little gardens. In the middle of the village, a long wooden pier jutted into the lake from the bank. Tommy and Bobby marveled at the sight without saying a word. Mary clapped and giggled.
"This is where I have been building tree houses most of my life," said Pops.
The people milling about in the village chatted and laughed with one another. A few of the men greeted Pops from the shore as the travelers floated by.
"This doesn't feel like the Lower Kingdom at all," Tommy said. "Are you sure we are there already?"
"Don't be deceived, Tommy. This is very much the Lower Kingdom. The farther away from the River you get, the dirtier and more dangerous it becomes. Even the people who live here in these tree houses are not necessarily followers of the King. Many spend their time here fighting about the shape of their tree houses or the true identity of the King or the purpose of the River..."
This is an incisive page, but even salient insights like these cannot compensate for the other lackluster aspects of the book.
As I sit here wearing my book reviewer hat, which sometimes fits more comfortably than at other times, I find myself wondering why I didn't like the book as much as those fifteen readers who reviewed it on Amazon and gave it either 4 or 5 stars. It's partly true that different things appeal to different people, but I must conclude, based on what I have written above, that my sense of this book's mediocrity rests upon objective criteria. Boyd is no Inkling and I am no Luther, but here I stand; I can do no other.