Desert elves! Color schemes! Assassins! Memory scars! Kickass characters! Fear! Hallucinations! Determination! Evil sorcerers!
These are all things that make this reader very happy, as I discovered while reading the newest short story, Colors of Fear, by Hannah Heath. I’ve followed her awesome blog for a while now, and am thrilled that she published again.
Colors of Fear is the first in the Terebinth Tree Chronicles, which is a series of short stories that act as introductions, or pre-stories, for the characters of Hannah’s unpublished novel The Stump of the Terebinth Tree.
Colors of Fear is a perfect introduction. It sets up the desert oasis with its culture and religion and struggles, which gives Wanderer’s personal struggles context. It develops Wanderer, both his cultural context and his struggles over his brother’s illness and his father’s death. It hints at the larger world, with the assassins and the orange elf and the sorcerer’s spell.
Then there was my favorite part: Wanderer’s colors.
Wanderer sees people’s emotions as actual colors floating around them. This initially sounds like a cool ability that makes him ‘special,’ but it’s way more than that.
It’s cool to the reader, but it’s certainly not cool to Wanderer. He keeps it a secret because the others in his oasis would shun him out of fear he’d been cursed.
Then the colors themselves get in his way. They cloud his vision, especially in highly emotional situations, like when he competed in the obstacle course. He couldn’t see what was coming next because of all the colors. The colors aren’t a cool ability to Wanderer, they’re dangerous and affect the outcome of events.
The colors also provide a great, unique way to show Wanderer’s perceptions and emotions. He didn’t have to think, ‘wow, that she-elf is determined,’ he saw that “She burned. Blazes of orange and gold streamed off of her as she tore across the field, each movement precise and fierce.”
When he panics on the obstacle course, there aren’t cliché descriptions of his fear, there’s just the colors blinding him. The shadows and fear crowding him in his home emphasizes how trapped he feels in his situation. And when he’s depressed, the colors block out the sky. The colors show Wanderer’s emotions as he experiences them, which makes them seem more real to the reader.
Finally, the colors ensure that there’s magic on every page. The sorcerer is still far off, impersonal. As far as I can tell, the everyday people don’t use magic. A lack of magic is fine in fantasy (my own work in progress has little explicit magic), but this is something special. I never forget that this is a fantastical world with the colors swirling around Wanderer’s perspective.
When writing magical elements, it can be easy to write them as cool powers that make the main character special. But it’s so much more interesting to have the elements work against the character, like the colors work against Wanderer. And it’s even better for them to serve multiple purposes, like the colors illuminate Wanderer’s emotions and perceptions. Finally, stories can have varying degrees of magical elements, but it’s pretty cool to have them prominent all the time.
Colors of Fear has a lot to love- wonderful magical elements, a complex main character, an interesting culture, and much more. It has definitely made me excited for the rest of the series, and even more hyped for the eventual book.
Have you read Colors of Fear? What did you think?