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The Restorer by Sharon Hinck

Reviewed by Heather R. Hunt

"What a ride! Hang on to your speculative seats!"

Fresh off her successful Becky Miller chick lit series for Bethany House, prolific author Sharon Hinck now dives into a new series for a new publisher. Except this time around, it's not chick lit. Well, not exactly. "The Restorer" is the first book in "The Sword of Lyric" trilogy, which introduces a whole new genre Hinck created herself. Let's call it Suburban Chick Fantasy. Or maybe Soccer Mom Warrior Lit. Hinck's official website (www.sharonhinck.com) identifies her work as "stories for the hero in all of us." And isn't that the truth? Why else do we devour her stories like bread?

The attractively designed cover of "The Restorer" introduces readers to the juxtaposition that is Susan Mitchell, ordinary name for ordinary woman, wife of Mark for 20 years, Mom to 4 children, middle-aged homemaker from middle America. She stands casually, her back to the reader, in housewife garb of conservative khakis and gray pullover. And yet . . . in her left hand she grasps the hilt of a mighty sword. And off in the distance, is that a mist-shrouded castle?

It turns out if you pick Mrs. Mitchell up and drop her in an alternate universe, she becomes Susan of Ridgeview Drive, the promised Restorer, sent to liberate a foreign land from its threatening border nations. She is both healer and swordmaster, gifted with extraordinary sensory powers and supernatural insight! Watch her overcome a deadly mind poison! See her slay the deceptive Rhusican with her mighty sword! Witness her powerful sway in the exalted Council of Lyric!

At the same time, commiserate as she pines for her husband, worries about her children, frets over the fate of a captured child, becomes impatient with the menfolk's posturing, and secretly longs to get back home to her comfy suburban life.

But first there are lands to defend! Honor to uphold! Promises to keep! Enemies to defeat!

Hinck moves smoothly back and forth between these jarringly dissimilar worlds and convincingly shows Susan discovering the hidden depths of her personality - both good and bad. Susan also struggles with knowing and following the One's will, the One who is recognizable in two worlds, the One who challenges her and sustains her in either place even when she doubts his existence.

Readers will enjoy exploring the detailed and vivid new world of the People of the Verses with its foreign flora and fauna, its sunless, starless skies, and its intriguing mix of old world valley villages with high-tech cityscapes. The accompanying political interplay of ancient tribal council meetings with surprisingly modern democratic principles makes logical sense in this fully realized world. Hinck has said that she loosely based Susan's story on the Hebrew judge Deborah, and there are similarities between the Restorers and the Biblical judges, just enough to bring an air of familiarity to this foreign space and time for readers well-versed in the time of the judges in Israelite history.

The saga of Susan of Ridgeview Drive is predictable in its fantasy archetypes of good and evil yet original in its plot, which seems to be plowing along on familiar fantasy ground but then skews surprisingly outside the lines. Midway through Susan's bewildered plight, for example, a game-changing reversal happens that drops her world out from under her - again. Then very late in the story after she has come to terms with the new parameters, another reversal surprises characters and readers alike. What a ride! Hang on to your speculative seats!

The end of this Restorer's tale is both self-contained enough to satisfy and open-ended enough to set up further adventures. Readers eager for more don't have to wait long; they can preview the first chapter of "The Restorer's Son" printed in the back of “The Restorer” to hold readers over until its September publication. Also at the back of the book in what NavPress calls "etc.," Hinck provides an abundance of bonus materials including discussion questions, a glossary, a map, and even an original song from the People of the Verses. Clearly this is a well-thought-out world which is more than big enough to accommodate two more epic stories in The Sword of Lyric trilogy. The one thing I would change about this arrangement is to place the map in the beginning of the book either inside the front cover or as the frontispiece. I like to orient myself in stories, so flipping back to find the map in the "etc." pages became cumbersome after a while.

If you're looking for something a whole lot different, and yet a whole lot the same for your summer reading this year, look no further than Sharon Hinck's "The Restorer." You'll get fantasy, contemporary, romance, sword fights, domestic scenes, war councils, and religious epiphanies, all on alternating epic and intimate scales. There's something for everyone in this tale that is truly a story "for the hero in all of us."

Heather R. HuntHeather R. Hunt is a business editor in Connecticut. For fun she reads, writes, cheers on the Red Sox, and enjoys tennis and cycling. She also co-leads a local tea party and enjoys holding government officials and media outlets accountable. Check out her blogs, The View from Stonewater and Connecticut for Sarah Palin.