Focus on the Family


The Vanishing Sculptor

A book review for parents

This fantasy, adventure book by Donita K. Paul is published by Waterbrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc. and is written for kids ages 12 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Tipper is the daughter of Verrin Schope, a famous artist who disappeared suddenly many years ago. Because Tipper's mother is mentally disturbed, Tipper runs the family estate, although she does receive some assistance from her guardian, Beccaroon, who is a large parrot. To pay the bills, Tipper has reluctantly sold most of her father's art. One night her father returns. He had not abandoned his family but had gone through a portal (gateway) to a land called Amara. He was forced to remain there for some time because the portal was damaged. Although the portal was partially fixed, the remaining damage still causes him to disappear several times a day.

The portal begins to rearrange Tipper's physical world as well (by moving trees, etc.). Accompanying Verrin home is Wizard Fenworth and his librarian; they believe the gateway must be restored quickly because Verrin's life and Tipper's world depend on the restoration. Three statues — carved at an earlier time by Verrin — were originally part of the gateway’s marble stone anchor. The statues must be found and brought together. Tipper, Verrin, Wizard Fenworth and two others embark on a quest to find these sculptures. They soon decide that travel by coach is too slow. When they obtain the services of riding dragons, Prince Jayrus, the dragon keeper, joins their quest.

As the group meets obstacles and overcomes evil men, Tipper's father and the Amaran travelers begin to teach the other members of their group about Wulder. Wulder is known as the god of Amara. It becomes clear to the Amaran travelers that the quest for the statues, though important, is part of a bigger plan. Wulder is bringing an awareness and knowledge of himself to the people of Chiril. He will use Prince Jayrus to be the people's champion, the Paladin for Chiril.

The third statue is the most difficult to acquire. An evil wizard, Runan, who seems innocent when they obtain the first statue from him, traps the group. Wizard Fenworth and Tipper stop him, and Wulder's champion leads the people in a battle against Runan’s evil army. Tipper's singing, a gift she discovered on the quest, encourages the people and helps them win.



Christian Beliefs


The inhabitants of Chiril speak of a power they call Boscamon. They see this "deity" as a creator who is behind everything and ultimately rewards good and punishes evil. But Boscamon is mysterious, distant and inaccessible. The travelers from Amara know about Wulder, their god, and they teach Tipper and the other members of the quest about him. Wulder is loving and personal. He wants to be known. Tipper's father establishes the practice of giving thanks to Wulder before the group eats. He quotes from Wulder's tome. The Amaran travelers speak of Wulder's care and his desire for fellowship with his created beings. They model ethical behavior based on Wulder's principles. Tipper and the grand parrot begin to consider these teachings. All alone and apprehensive about the group's imminent attempt to rescue her kidnapped father, Tipper longs for a guardian who can be her constant companion.

When the group is tempted to sell a statue to an art collector, Mushand, and so unite all the statues, Jayrus applies the principles of Wulder and says they cannot sell the item. He says that they know Mushand to be evil, and they cannot make an alliance with such a man. They must trust Wulder to show them another way to unite the statues.

In this author's book Dragonspell, the character Paladin seemed to be a Christ figure. In this book, Prince Jayrus, who is revealed as the Paladin, is defined as the people's champion and Wulder's spokesman. Paladin, Fenworth says, will help the people of Chiril to know Wulder. However, Jayrus does not seem to be the only paladin in the world. Tipper's father says there is a paladin in Amara and refers to Jayrus as a paladin.



Authority Roles


The grand parrot Beccaroon watches over Tipper and mentors her on ethics. He acts as a role model and advises her to speak wisely. Wizard Fenworth mentors Jayrus, helping him to know Wulder's principles. Tipper's father teaches her about Wulder. Fenworth points out Tipper's rashness, but also points out that she is good-hearted. The elders of the quest deal uprightly with people they encounter on the journey.

Prince Jayrus doesn’t know whose farm animals his dragons have devoured. He gives money to a wealthy landowner to cover the complaints of any local farmers.

The younger people often show respect for their elders. Tipper's attitude toward her mentally disturbed mother is kind and patient when she speaks to her and when she speaks about her. Prince Jayrus, as the dragon keeper, is hospitable to the questing members when they arrive. He initially refuses their request to use the dragons because he believes that he would be breaking faith with the authorities in his life. However, demonstrating respect for the members of the quest and their situation, he consults the ancient dragon. The ancient dragon says that Jayrus must leave with them. This is part of the creator's plan. Jayrus joins the group.

Tipper is learning how to submit to authority and work within a group. She does not respect or obey the decision of those in authority over her when they tell her to stay in the hotel. Because of her actions, a villain's henchmen attack her and cut off Beccaroon’s tail. Tipper also acts independently of the group another time, and there are negative consequences for this action as well. It is a trap. She is abducted and becomes the bait to attract the other members of the quest.



Other Belief Systems


There are wizards both good and evil who cast spells. Fenworth, the wizard traveling with Tipper, also has magical clothing. He mesmerizes one of the members of the quest to ease that man's fear of flying on the dragon’s back. From the description of mesmerizing, it sounds like a kind of hypnosis. Beccaroon, Tipper's guardian and one of the members of the quest, is a large parrot with human-like qualities and speech.

All the dragons have human-like personalities. One speaks out loud. The others communicate to each other and to some of characters through "mind speak." The dragons are not evil, but helpful. The minor dragons participate in the healing of people. A force of nature, a portal, allows people to travel great distances in minutes.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Verrin and Fenworth spout oaths occasionally. One villain is said to curse and another is said to fill the air with foul language, but the actual words are not written.

Thugs handle Tipper roughly on several occasions. A number of times she is threatened with death, including one time when she is held at sword point. Bamataub, the owner of one of the statues, attacks and tries to kill a member of the quest with a poker. His henchman cut off Beccaroon’s tail. Prince Jayrus kills several villains who are threatening others or attempting to kill him. When four thieves break into the group's hotel room, Fenworth distracts them by pulling tangles of snakes from his robe. Jayrus then physically overpowers the thieves. Fenworth dissolves an evil wizard. There is a battle sequence at the court ball, and some are killed or injured. The scene is not gory.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Tipper shows a budding romantic interest in Prince Jayrus. He kisses her on the cheek. Another time he holds her around the waist. Beccaroon, her guardian, is concerned that she not be alone with the prince because he is very handsome and has great charm. Near the end of the novel, Tipper asks her father if a paladin may marry.



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

Note: Tipper believes that her father will be angry with her for selling his art without his permission. Yet she also says that she did it as a last resort when she needed money to pay for upkeep of the estate. Her father, when he learns of the sale, does not chastise Tipper for going against his wishes. Nor does he make it plain to her that it was the best choice she could make given her circumstances and her knowledge. Tipper says later in answer to someone bringing up the sale of the art that her father "understands" the selling of it. The use of "understands" implies that Tipper still feels that she made the wrong choice. You may want to discuss this aspect of the story with your teen. Teens need to know that a good choice may still have uncomfortable consequences.

Since books teach as well as entertain, themes are important. This novel has many themes, some of which are not fully developed. It’s probable that the author will expound on them in later novels.

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


Vienna Prelude

A book review for parents

This historical suspense book is the first in the "Zion Covenant" series by Bodie Thoene and is published by Tyndale House Publishers.

Vienna Prelude is written for people who are 17 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


In 1936, beautiful, blonde, but half-Jewish violinist Elisa Lindheim uses the alias Linder to pass as Aryan. Elisa refuses to accept the truth of Hitler's aggression and coming takeover of Austria. She is caught up in a tangle of the heart as she realizes she no longer loves Thomas, a German officer who deserted her, but is falling in love with Murphy, an American journalist. Murphy covers his true feelings with a business offer of marriage to give Elisa the protection of an American passport. Elisa sends Murphy a note refusing him. That same night, violinist Rudy is killed and Elisa learns that his outward show of gambling and womanizing covered up his true work in helping Jewish children escape to Palestine. Before dying, Rudy tells Elisa that her father, Theo, is in Dachua, a concentration camp. Elisa finally accepts the truth of the evil surrounding her and the Jewish people in Eastern Europe and joins with others to help the children. She then bargains with Murphy, who had suggested they marry, so she can have the protection of an American passport. Elisa and Murphy hide their true feelings of love from one another. Meanwhile, Theo, suffering from typhoid and mistaken for an Austrian professor, is brought to a hospital in Vienna where he escapes. Murphy finds Theo on the streets, nearly frozen and emaciated; Murphy, Theo, and Elisa then flee across the border to Czechoslovakia. A subplot involves Elisa's close musician friends, Leah and Shimon, who are part of the team helping the children and who finally get passports to leave Austria, but may not have time to escape. Murphy has ties to England and Churchill. At this point in history, Churchill has been ousted from the British government but understands the evil of Hitler while England, France and America acquiesce to the Fuhrer's wicked demands. Thomas and others within the German army attempt to stop Hitler as he continues to rise to power, eliminate Jews and plunge Europe into the darkness of evil.



Christian Beliefs


Theo and his wife, Anna, are Christians. Theo prays for strength in Dachua and guidance as he escapes. Anna holds onto her faith in God and trusts that God will work things out. Elisa prays through the use of her music and also cries out to God as she views how the world turned upside down and evil has become good in the eyes of Germans. Murphy never speaks about his faith, but shows it in his actions. He gives Elisa a wedding ring engraved with Song of Songs 5:16. Theo and a Jewish professor debate the words of Faust and the eternal fate of the Germans who have sold their souls to the devil. The Wattenbarger family consists of strong Christians who help Elisa's family. They pretended to be on vacation in the Tyrolean Alps as part of their escape from Berlin. The Wattenbargers celebrate Christmas and strongly believe God chose them to help Jewish children escape. They confront their eldest son, Otto, when he chooses to become a Nazi. Otto turns his back on his family and faith and moves to Vienna.



Authority Roles


Murphy is an authority figure to Elisa. She doesn't want to hear the truth about Hitler and Vienna's coming demise, but she knows in her heart that he is right. Hitler is an evil leader who cleverly persuades men and the masses to follow him and believe his lies. Marta and Karl Wattenbarger are strong heads of their family and wisely advise their children and Elisa about love, hope, and choosing truth over safety.



Other Belief Systems


The Jewish faith is shown in Dachua as the men celebrate Hanukkah. Hitler twists the Christian faith and declares that Jesus and Mary were not Jews. German soldiers wear belt buckles inscribed with "God is with us" while they rape women, abuse Jews and mock Christianity.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


In Prague, rising Gestapo soldier Sporer shoots a traitor in the belly and pushes him over a bridge into the Moldau River. On a train to Austria from Berlin, German soldiers search Theo and Elisa, toss her suitcase of lingerie on the floor, arrest him, take him off the train and return him to Berlin. Theo holds a gun in his home and contemplates suicide. German soldiers break into the home of Grynspan, the tailor who works for Theo, and beat the man, break two of his ribs and bash in his left eye. Brothers Otto and Franz Wattenbarger fight. At the concert hall, a madman fires shots at Rudy as he starts to play his violin. Elisa is called to Rudy's death scene where she sees him after two German soldiers have shot him, cut off two of his fingers, broken his teeth and beaten him. A Synogogue is covered in red paint with words of hatred toward Jews, a statue has two fingers cut off it and is covered with red paint, and a gang of 200 young men attempt to rape Elisa. Sporer is the one evil face she sees before Otto stops the men.

In Dachua, soldiers whip the prisoners, force them into hard labor, nearly starve them and cram them into unheated buildings. They shoot any prisoner who falls sick with Typhoid or drops from exhaustion. Elisa sees the outside of Dachua, hears machine gun fire and later vomits at the memory. Murphy reports on the war in Spain, including the German bombs and the hospitals filled with the foul smells of rotting bodies. In Dachua, as prisoners throng to get fresh bread, Theo falls and the men trample him. Theo watches his blind professor friend and inmate accidentally walk toward the fence and get shot. In the hospital in Vienna, as part of his escape, Theo attacks an orderly by slamming his metal dinner tray over the man's head. Young kids jeer, spit and shove Theo on the streets of Vienna. Elisa, on the train with children who have escaped, witnesses soldiers taking a woman off the train to strip-search her. Elisa dreams of Jewish children being burned and flesh melting off their bones. At the Czech border, Elisa watches Sporer tear off a Jewish woman's clothes and search her for hidden jewels, before kicking the woman's child.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Franz Wattenbarger helps birth a calf in breech position as he probes inside the womb. It's described in detail and is related to women giving birth. Germans make a law against marriage (Nuremberg laws) between Aryans and Jews, but overlook soldiers raping Jewish women. Franz kisses Elisa once in a tender moment. Elisa admits to Leah that she and Thomas were lovers before Hitler rose to power. Elisa refuses to get a room with Thomas or be sexually involved when they meet again. A German soldier escorts Elisa to a beer hall, shows his desire for her, kisses her hard on the mouth and kisses her hand. Murphy restrains himself as he desires Elisa. Murphy and Elisa kiss passionately at a Turkish café and again at their wedding ceremony.



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


A Voice in the Wind

A book review for parents

This first historical fiction book in the "Mark of the Lion" series by Francine Rivers is published by Tyndale House Publishers.

A Voice in the Wind is written for adults but is sometimes studied by kids ages 16 and up.

Plot Summary


Hadassah, a young Jewish girl, lives in Jerusalem during its fall to the Roman Empire. After the death of her entire family, Hadassah finds herself as a servant in Rome, living with the wealthy and prominent Valerian family. As a believer in Christ, Hadassah longs to share her faith with the Valerians, but she is afraid of being rejected for her beliefs. Hadassah quickly becomes the personal servant of Julia Valerian, a demanding young girl who seeks temporary pleasures and rebels against the restrictions placed on her by her parents. Instead, Julia engages in a series of troubled relationships, including a love affair with the famous gladiator, Atretes. As Hadassah continues to love and serve Julia, she attracts the attention of the handsome Marcus Valerian. Though she loves Marcus, Hadassah makes the difficult decision to openly follow and profess Christ, even at the risk of being killed in the Roman arena.



Christian Beliefs


Hadassah is a devoted Christian whose faith is evident in every area of her life. She is constantly in prayer, and she longs deeply for others to trust Christ. Hadassah often struggles to share her faith in an environment that is hostile to Christians, but she prays for boldness and faithfully lives out her Christian beliefs. When Julia faces a beating from her second husband Claudius, Hadassah throws herself over Julia and takes the punishment for her, a beautiful metaphor of Christ's love. Hadassah's father is another example of strong Christian faith. Having been healed by Jesus as a young boy, he is eventually martyred for sharing the gospel in public.



Authority Roles


One of the major themes is, "Whom do you serve?" Hadassah's whole-hearted allegiance is to God, and she makes decisions to serve Him even when it is difficult or unpopular. When Hadassah becomes a servant in the Valerian household, she chooses to serve the family from her heart, rather than out of obligation, realizing that her earthly service is also spiritual. Her example stands in contrast to many other characters' responses to authority: Julia and Marcus both openly rebel against their father's wishes, Julia repeatedly defies her husband's authority and Atretes often opposes his instructors during his time as a gladiator. Marcus asserts that Romans serve their emperor first, and he often serves Rome and himself even before serving his own family.



Other Belief Systems


Hedonism runs rampant in the Roman Empire, and both Marcus and Julia seem eager to lose their innocence in exchange for instant gratification and pleasure. Like most other Romans, the Valerians worship Roman gods and goddesses by praying to stone idols or visiting elaborate temples. Many of the characters view death as the end of life and thus worship intellect and sensuality. Atretes worships the Germanic war god Tiwaz, and he hopes to gain Tiwaz's favor and honor by dying in battle. Julia's friend Calabah believes people can improve themselves through the power of the mind. There are also a few references to black magic.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


The brutality of the Roman Empire is accurately portrayed. The story contains explicit depictions of death, including death by crucifixion, beheading, beating and burning alive. Vivid war scenes describe soldiers amputating limbs and slicing groins with their weapons. During Atretes' gladiator training, he is whipped severely and branded as a Roman slave. In the arena, gladiators fight to the death and slit the throats of their victims before a cheering crowd. There are several references to rape, as captive women are stripped and abused by Roman guards. A less overt murder occurs when Julia poisons and kills one of her husbands.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Many of the book's characters seek fulfillment through sensuality and promiscuity. Numerous accounts of pre-marital and extramarital infidelity appear. The beautiful woman, Arria, actively attempts to arouse Marcus' sexual passions, and several intense kissing scenes are included throughout the book, including an implication of sexual abuse between Caius and Julia. Julia even pretends to be a prostitute at the temple of Artemis in order to win the affections of Atretes. Homosexuality is widely accepted in Roman culture, and two men are seen kissing in public. Julia's friend Calabah encourages Julia to marry a homosexual man with a boy lover. The Roman arena is full of sexual innuendos as well, where gladiators not only entice crowds with violence, but also by provocatively revealing their bodies. In addition, Julia aborts her first baby, and Hadassah must bury the unborn child's remains.



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.