by Katharine Armbrester
My dreams had whispered to me all my life, but lately they were shouting—shouting something urgent that I couldn’t discern.
Gripping from its first sentence, Sharon Hinck’s Dream of Kings is a well-plotted and highly imaginative novel. Its intricate world-building owes much to the writings of Frank Herbert, and the result is an absorbing and richly detailed story. Dream of Kings is based on the Biblical story of Joseph, features a female heroine named Jolan and transposes the setting to a fantastical land of the icy Norgard and the desert kingdom of Sabor.
Jolan is a “dream teller;” an interpreter of dreams to all who seek her help, functioning as a sort of gracious and wise (and free!) therapist to the lowest of the low all the way up to the king of her country. When the king rewards her with a silver crown, this leads to jealousy in the Guildagard, the insular palace court where Jolan lives and works in Norgard. She is portrayed by a trusted colleague and is sold into slavery, ending up in the vastly different culture of Sabor and finds herself, once again, in deeply treacherous and heartbreaking circumstances.
Provider, I’m sorry. Help me, please. Once again, my silent prayer bounced against the door to His throne room, leaving only silence.
Hinck has a wonderful control of language, great plotting skills and a fantastic imagination. Sabor, in particular, is a richly drawn fantastical land and is filled with cinematic and absorbing detail. The concept of the “security guild”: a paranoid and fascist rival guild to Jolan’s is an extremely trenchant and important concept where our current political climate is concerned, but unfortunately, little is done with it. If Hinck continues to write books set in this world, hopefully, she will expand on the malevolent force of the security guild.
The character of Jolan is also a treasure, even at the height of her Florence Nightingale-like micro-managing glory. Thank goodness she is of an undetermined age and a widow and not another dewy, wide-eyed and innocent maiden. There’s too many of those in every genre, but there’s enough of them in Christian fiction to cover every snowy peak in the world like flies on a wildebeest. Jolan’s dignity and the snarky sense of humor that comes out from time to time make her an immensely appealing character.
All gifts, no matter what kind, can serve the Provider.
The only problem with transposing the setting from Bible times to an icebound land is that the chance to portray Ancient Near East and all its racial diversity is lost. Hinck describes the Wilddon people as fair with patches on their skin and Kamor, the main male character, is “darker” than most people, and his people worship the same god as Jolan’s but “by a different name.” This is precious little diversity, however, and much more could have been done. Also, Jolan is repeatedly talked down to by Kamor and a boy named Perry, who take it upon themselves (as they are male, after all) to let Jolan know she simply doesn’t have enough faith. It quickly became galling for an adult woman to be chastised solely by males. Kamor is also a problem: his feelings are under rigid control and this sort of iron-jawed stoicism is still prized in evangelical men today, but it’s extremely unhealthy, and it does not need to be romanticized in any way.
Worry will dig a rut in our souls, especially if we run a stick over the trench again and again. We have enough to cope with; we don’t need those gouges.
There desperately needs to be more writers of Hinck’s caliber and richness of imagination in the fields of Christian fiction and fantasy. I hope she continues to write more Bible retellings with female heroines who are resilient and good and complicated and with snarky senses of humor.
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Katharine Armbrester is in the MFA creative writing program at the Mississippi University for Women. She is a devotee of Flannery O’Connor and Margaret Atwood and fully intends to be an equally disconcerting playwright—she thinks Alabama needs one. Katharine has been recently published in the Lucky Jefferson literary journal, the Birmingham Arts Journal, and the supernatural Twilight Zone-inspired anthology, Step Into the Fifth Dimension.