Back in February readers nominated thirty-two books for consideration as the best Christian speculative novel published by a royalty paying house in 2014. In March voters whittled that number down to three. From those finalists, the Clive Staples Award panel of judges picked a winner.
Here are your results.
Third place: Truth Runner by Jerel Law
From the judges:
“Interesting take on spiritual gifts”
“I can see how this will be valuable for young readers. Liked the spiritual battle idea.”
Jonah’s chest heaved in and out, and he tried desperately to breathe again. He leaned over with his hands on his knees, standing in the alleyway close to the street. He’d had to stop, finally, out of fear that his lungs might collapse under the strain. It hurt to breathe, and his heart was pounding too quickly. After a minute, he could finally stand up straight again, and he used up every ounce of courage he had left to peek around the corner, back from where he had come.
There was nothing there. Only the blackness of the city, the top of the Empire State Building set against the cloud-filled sky with a flashing red beacon at its apex.
But he felt it.
He didn’t remember how long he had been running or what had gotten him to this point.
Why am I here? What’s chasing me?
There was something there, his mind grasping at memories that were floating away like smoke from a fire. He focused, trying to remember, but it wouldn’t come to him, and he didn’t have time to think about it now.
It was coming again. He couldn’t see anything behind him, but he knew it was growing closer, closing in. That was the one thing he knew that was crystal clear. Whatever was after him was relentless. It wasn’t going to give up and wasn’t going to stop. It would not give in no matter how hard or fast he fled.
Jonah felt the rain begin to pelt down, stinging him in the forehead. It was cold and growing colder, and his hands shook, but not from the temperature. he was afraid, and he couldn’t remember ever being more scared than he was right now.
He pulled the hood of his weathered jacket over his shaggy hair and took off running again.
Jonah dribbled the basketball across the half-court line, surveying the defense. The ball thudded against the hardwood, but he could barely hear it in the noisy gym. Cheers echoed all around, solely coming from one side of the bleachers. He could hear two words rise above the rest. Shouts of “Peacefield!” mixed with equally loud screams of his name: “Jonah!”
Hearing his name being yelled by the high-pitched voices of high school girls caused a smile to creep across his lips. He had experienced moments like this before—but only in his wildest daydreams.
A loud series of claps from the sidelines drew his eyes. “Come on, Jonah! Let’s go!”
Coach Marty was still as round as a basketball and somehow had managed to squeeze his way into the head coaching position for the boys’ basketball team at Peacefield High. The boys on the team privately joked that they must have given the job to the guy who shouted the loudest. Coach Marty didn’t ever speak in a normal voice—he yelled.
Jonah looked down at the kid guarding him. The kid was crouched down, trying to look intimidating, but he couldn’t hide the fear in his eyes as he looked up at Jonah. Jonah wasn’t exactly surprised by that—he towered over everyone on the court now, having grown another three inches in the past six months.
Jonah made his move. In a blast of blazing speed, he faked to the right. The boy guarding him jumped. Jonah took advantage, pushing past him. The speed he generated with his first two steps put him inside the three-point line. He was almost a blur. Control yourself, Jonah.
A quick scan of the rest of the court let him know that two of his teammates were covered, but the other two were wandering free. Grant Newsome was waving his hands frantically; he was standing right underneath the basket. A pass to him would lead to an easy layup.
Jonah instead turned his eyes to the rim. Another defender had stepped in front of him, but Jonah turned his back and quickly spun away as the helpless boy lunged for what he thought was the basketball, but turned out to be an armful of air.
Ignoring his open teammates, he leaped from just inside the free throw line, trying to remember not to push himself off too high. He had to appear normal—human, like the rest of them.
– – – – –
Second Place: Dragonwitch by Anne Elisabeth Stengl
From the judges:
“I liked the descriptive diversity”
“This had the best full-wrap ending of the three books”
The old scrubber was not permitted in the family wing of Gaheris Castle, but none were awake in the dead of night to shoo him away. So, on withered hands and bony knees, he scrubbed and shined each paving stone with the care a jeweler might take over a diamond. He had no a candle but worked entirely by the dainty light of the blue star shining through a narrow window.
An icy breath wafted beneath a certain door. The scrubber felt it and sat up slowly on his heels, every joint and bone creaking. He moistened his shriveled lips, which froze immediately after. Then he crawled closer to the door and put his ear against it. Closing his eyes, he listened.
He said, “Ah! There it is again.”
In the chamber beyond the door, he heard the beat of horses’ hooves.
Alistair rides in glorious hunt.
Out here, flying over the grounds of Gaheris beside the shining, twisting rush of River Hanna, the full wildness of spring bursting on every side, he is free. Here, the sun chases away all darkness, and he himself chases his prey. His dogs–sight hounds, scent hounds, and massive curs–streak before him, their voices raised in bloodthirsty chorus, singing out death-warnings to the wolf.
This is what it means to be Master of Gaheris. To protect his people and their flocks. Danger sets upon the village, and who would ride out and subdue it? None other than the lord of the Castle.
Flanked by his uncle’s huntsmen, Alistair urges his horse onward, pursuing the trail of the lone wolf deeper into the wilds of Gaheris’s estates, beyond the tilled fields and hamlets. His heart beats with a certainty that he never feels within the confines of the castle itself. He will be Lord of this House, he will be Protector.
And when the earls of the North Country offered Gaheris the crown, as surely they must, he will be king. He will hunt down the North Country’s oppressors and put them to the blade even as he hunts down this wolf!
The sun goes black.
It does not vanish behind a cloud, nor even sink beneath the horizon. It simply blackens, as completely as blown candle.
Alistair stands in darkness. He feels it crawling up his skin, beneath his clothing, sliding down over his ramming heart. Where is his horse? Where are his dogs? Where are his uncle’s huntsmen?
All gone. All devoured in the black.
He tries to take a step, but cannot see whether or not he has succeeded. He tries another, then another.
A white light flickers in the distance. And he sees the shadowy silhouette of the child.
The scrubber drew back from the door, putting a finger in his ears as though he could rub out the ringing sound of Alistair’s scream. With a shiver, he turned around and went back to his work. Bending to the stone, he blew away invisible dirt. Then, dipping his soiled cloth in a bucket of soiled water, he wetted down the floor.
He muttered to no apparent listener, “His night terrors are getting worse.”
Through the window above, the blue star winked twice.
“The time is near, that’s what it means,” the scrubber said in answer to a question no one heard spoken. Then he whispered, softly:
“Starlight, starbright, guide her footsteps through the night . . .”
The simple children’s rhyme rolled from his tongue and danced its way down the dark, sleep-filled corridors of Gaheris Castle.
The Twelve came to the doors of Omeztli Tower and their voices carried from the ground to our high perch above.
“Cren Cru commands. Send us your firstborn.”
I clutched Tlanextu’s arm in terror. I could not bear to lose him! He took my hand and held me gently.
Then we saw a powerful form rising up from Itonatiu Tower. It was Citlalu, our father. He flew across the city, his wings like a griffin’s, like a roc’s, blocking the sunlight from view they were so vast! He landed before us, and I shivered with fear and love at the sight of him, for he was King. A true King.
Not like the foolish little kings we see nowadays wearing crowns, waving swords and scepters, ruling by feeble kinship-rights. He was King of Etalpalli, bound to the realm by his own blood, by the beat of his heart. He was strong as the nation itself, stronger, I thought. The pinions of his wings were like daggers, like swords, and he shouted down to the Twelve below:
“Be gone, back to your master! You will take none of mine into that Mound, not while I have life yet coursing through my veins!”
His voice shook the foundations of Etalpalli. I thought the Twelve would run, would scream with terror, would flee the storm of his gaze.
They did not. They merely turned and retraced their path to the Mound and the concentric circles of bronze.
But the next day, they returned. Once more they called up to the heights of Omeztli: “Cren Cru commands. Send us your firstborn.”
Once more, my father denied them.
– – – – –
The Fate of the Kingdom Awaits the Cast of Stones
In the backwater village of Callowford, Errol Stone’s search for a drink is interrupted by a church messenger who arrives with urgent missives for the hermit priest in the hills. Desperate for coin, Errol volunteers to deliver them but soon finds himself hunted by deadly assassins. Forced to flee with the priest and a small band of travelers, Errol soon learns he’s joined a quest that could change the fate of his kingdom.
Protected for millennia by the heirs of the first king, the kingdom’s dynasty is near an end and a new king must be selected. As tension and danger mount, Errol must leave behind his drunkenness and grief, learn to fight, and come to know his God in order to survive a journey to discover his destiny.
From the Judges:
“I loved the staff work in Cast of Stones, and the story of wimp to warrior”
“The concept of carving and casting stones was unique (to me). Very cool.”
SMELLS OF EARTH and dung drifted slowly past the fog in Errol’s brain. His skin prickled with cold. Water and ooze soaked his threadbare garments and he shivered. Cruk had thrown him out of the tavern. Again. Hanks of brown hair dripping muck hung across his vision. The ringing of Liam’s hammer just across the street paused, then started again with light tapping blows, as if in laughter.
Cruk smiled down at him without malice. “Next time I’ll carry you out back and throw you in the midden.”
Dizzy from his flight and a little wobbly from drink, Errol picked himself up in stages. He closed his eyes against the glare of the morning sun, sluiced the worst of the mud from his clothes, and rubbed an aching hip. His tongue wandered the crevices of his mouth as he struggled to make it obey his commands. The effort made him reel.
“You didn’t have to kick me so hard.”
Tall, broad-shouldered, and ridiculously strong from long days working in the quarry, Cruk towered over him from his vantage point on the porch. As always, his face put Errol in mind of a sack of potatoes.
Cruk barked once in amusement. “I didn’t, you little runt. If you don’t believe me, then come back here and I’ll have another go at it. If Pater Antil catches you drunk at this hour, you’ll end up back in the stocks.”
Errol darted a glance over his shoulder at the rectory where Callowford’s priest lived, but the curtains still covered the windows and no one stirred. Still, Cruk’s warning made his shoulders twitch with remembered pain. “Do you have any work I can do?” He backed away from the look on the big man’s face. “Away from Cilla and the inn, I mean. I’m hungry.”
“Then stop spending what you earn on ale.” He pointed to Liam, who watched the exchange with a smile on his face. “Why can’t you be more like him?” A heartbeat later, the harsh planes of Cruk’s face softened and his shoulders dropped a fraction as he exhaled in resignation or pity.
He disappeared into Cilla’s tavern, returned with half a loaf of bread, and tossed it into Errol’s waiting hands. “Come ’round this evening. You can help clean up after dinner. Mind, you stay away from Cilla and her ale.”
Errol swam until spots danced in his vision, his body begging for air. With a pair of strokes he surfaced like a fish breaking water, darted a glance behind before sucking air into his tortured lungs and diving again, away from the figure in black.
The sounds of his efforts and splashing filled his ears, prevented him from hearing the scream of an arrow. He forced his trembling arms forward, jerked them back to his sides. Only the movement of water against his face told him he advanced. The far bank was still thirty feet away. Violent chills rippled the water as his body fought to stay warm. His shaking limbs lurched into a parody of his usual stroke. Bolts of pain shot through his calves and thighs. His legs refused to move. They hung from his torso, dragged him down. He reached out, struck mud. One shaking hand at a time, he pulled himself forward.
At last he broke the surface. His hands clawed forward until they brushed against rough bark. They clutched the thin trunk, locking around it as if it were his last hope. Water drained from his ears and he listened for his attacker. Nothing.
Errol’s body convulsed with cold and he clutched at the sapling, straining to move, turn his head, anything. His muscles refused to obey. His hands clenched the tree, refused to let go.
Above and behind him the wail of an arrow began. He willed himself to let go, roll over, but spasms pinned him to the spot, left him helpless. The arrow’s scream grew, its pitch rising until its keening filled his hearing.
Errol sobbed, tried once more to move and failed.
He clenched his eyes against the blow.
– – – – –
Congratulations to Patrick W. Carr.