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Stewards of the Flame (The Hidden Flame) [Kindle Edition]

Sylvia Engdahl
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)

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New Adult Fiction by Rainbow Rowell
Acclaimed author Rainbow Rowell's latest book, Landline, offers a poignant, humorous look at relationships and marriage. Learn more

Book Description

Are you wondering how far government control of health care might go in a future society? This controversial novel, winner of a bronze medal in the 2008 Independent Publisher (IPPY) Book Awards, is not just for science fiction fans.

Crime is considered illness, untreated illness is crime; ambulance crews are the only police. Dead bodies stay on "life support" forever. Can anyone gain freedom?

When burned-out starship captain Jesse Sanders is seized by a dictatorial medical regime and detained on the colony planet Undine, he has no idea that he is about to be plunged into a bewildering new life that will involve ordeals and joys beyond anything he has ever imagined, as well as the love of a woman with powers that seem superhuman. Still less does he suspect that he must soon take responsibility for the lives of people he has come to care about and preservation of their hopes for the future of humankind.

Please note: Unlike Sylvia Engdahl's earlier novels, this is not a Young Adult novel and is not appropriate for middle-school readers.)

A sequel, Promise of the Flame, is also available.

Editorial Reviews


"The story is compelling, and drew me in from the first few pages. . . . I recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading genre fiction with some substance to it."  --Blogcritics

"A suspenseful and thought-provoking novel that seems so plausible that it sends chills up my spine . . . truly a masterpiece of parapsychological science fiction."  --Rebecca's Reads

"A chilling look at what extreme socialized medicine could become in the hands of a dictatorial medical regime. . . Would make an excellent discussion topic for a book club."

"A brilliant twist on dystopianism. . . . The book builds just the right amount of tension, and shows the stark reality of benevolent tyranny, one that any so-called democracy could creep towards quite easily."  --Prometheus

"Grips the attention with the raw immediacy of the problems. . . . It asks the sort of questions only SF can pose, and paints a vivid picture of where failing to answer those questions might lead. . . . Stewards is the kind of SF I've been craving!"  --Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Monthly Aspectarian

"Stewards of the Flame is a brave book, and the numbers of those holding to the sentiments it conveys are growing. While the novel portrays extreme measures taken to prolong life to reductio ad absurdum lengths, it can't be faulted for challenging our comfort zone, when after all, that is one sure measure of worthwhile fiction." --ScifiDimensions

"This is mind-stretching speculative fiction for the thinking person. . . . The ending of Stewards of the Flame is one of the best endings I've ever come across. It is absolutely right for the book." --Rambles

From the Author

This series, which was originally called a trilogy, has been split into two series because Defender of the Flame is a separate story set two centuries later that has a different hero and doesn't depend on having read the preceding books. Readers who don't agree with the controversial ideas in Stewards of the Flame, or who want more science fiction action, often like it better, and it is also more closely connected to my earlier novels Enchantress from the Stars and The Far Side of Evil--yet no one wants to begin with a book labeled Number 3.  So now the "Hidden Flame" series consists of Book One, Stewards of the Flame and Book Two, Promise of the Flame,  while the "Rising Flame" series consists of Book One, Defender of the Flame and Book Two, Herald of the Flame (a forthcoming book to be published late in 2014). The only disadvantage to starting with the "Rising Flame" series is that the included backstory would spoil some of the suspense of the first series if you plan to read both.

For extensive background material on the topics dealt with by this novel please visit my website.

Product Details

  • File Size: 707 KB
  • Print Length: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Ad Stellae Books (April 9, 2008)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004I1KQGA
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #8,878 Free in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Free in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not for everyone September 22, 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I don't like writing negative reviews but I had very mixed feelings about this book and it might actually be dangerous for some people, so treat it with caution.

On the positive side, the author has a smooth writing style, and the last 200 pages or so have a skillful and action-packed plot. I cared about what happened to the characters and there were a lot of surprise twists.

But the first part of the book is extremely didactic, with many pages where characters don't converse so much as give long lectures to the main character. It is reminiscent of parts of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged in that sense, even if not completely Randian in philosophy, so a reader's tolerance for that type of writing will affect his or her enjoyment of the book.

(Some potential spoilers in next part.)

Also, in a lot of ways the main character is being inducted into a cult - a loving group of people, led by a saintly and infallible and mostly behind-the-scenes leader, who isolate the main character and teach him the "Truth." The characters also give away all their money to further the purposes of the group, among other things. Some of the cult-like aspects are played down as the novel goes on, and the author is at pains to emphasize "don't try this at home" with the rituals, but it was still mostly treated in an admiring way, which was disturbing.

And the philosophy being taught is quite controversial. The book takes a very libertarian view towards medicine and is highly skeptical of conventional medical treatment. What I personally found objectionable was the idea that pharmaceuticals to treat mental illness cause "brain damage" and people should go off their meds. Yes, people may be over medicated today, but this advice could be very dangerous for some people.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A veteran storyteller returns with new seriousness November 28, 2007
This novel is very different from Sylvia Engdahl's previous novels, which were, somewhat misleadingly, marketed as young adult fiction. yet fans of the earlier works, especially the Children of the Star trilogy, will find some commonalities. In both fictional universes, a man finds himself seemingly alone facing an unjust system. Unlike the trilogy, though, in STEWARDS the system is not revealed to be a benign oligarchy doing what it has to do in order to save mankind, but a malignant surveillance society intent on controlling people and depriving life of its spontaneity and hope by enforcing a state of mandatory 'health' on all people. Jesse Sanders, threatened with being another passive victim of this monitoring regime, becomes determined to resist this evil by any means possible.

STEWARDS also joins the earlier trilogy in seeing space colonization as humanity's only hope, although just what `space colonization' consists of is defined far more elliptically in the current novel, and in seeing ritual as an important way to strive towards this hope.

Readers may have certain procedural issues with the book: the love of Jesse and Carla seems to flower too early (although revelations about Carla's past later somewhat explain this), female minor characters like Kira and Michelle sometimes seem interchangeable, the crucial Zeb subplot is introduced without adequate preparation, and the character of Ian is under-sketched. This is important as ian is a crucial precedent and inspiration for Peter, the compassionate, self-abnegating leader of the group, dedicated to the paranormal, that Jesse, joins after he realizes the totalitarian nature of those who control the planet Undine.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars We are stewards of a flame November 6, 2007
It's been more than twenty years since Sylvia Engdahl last published a new novel, although her older ones have popped up more recently.

But she reenters the world of contemplative sci-fi again with "Stewards of the Flame," a slow-moving but rewarding novel about the power of the human mind and spirit. It takes a long time to really get moving, but it's pretty brilliant once it revs up -- an intense journey of impressive proportions.

Jesse is a newly-promoted starship captain... until he gets drunk on the planet Undine, and is imprisoned in the vast, dictatorial Hospital. On Undine, illness is a crime, and the doctors rule everyone. Jesse is forced through alcohol and psychiatric treatment, and used as a student guinea pig.... until a young technician, Carla, smuggles him out to a gathering of her friends, known as the Group.

The Group turns out to be more than just a collection of friends -- they are rebels, who have expanded their paranormal powers, and undermine the Hospital's attempts to put the dying into eternal stasis. Soon Jesse is involved deeply in their quiet rebellion, and acquiring the same powers. But he doesn't yet know how important he is to the Group's future...

"Stewards of the Flame" isn't your typical sci-fi novel, since the future here isn't too far ahead of our own, and little of the plot is spent in space. Instead, it's about a medical dystopia, and its story overflows with psychic explorations, true love, quiet rebellion, holistic healing, and a bit of Joseph Campbell.

It sounds a little dull, and admittedly it moves at a slow pace for awhile, as Jesse learns and explores his new powers.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Read!
Great book very thought provoking. Especially at this time with the Affordable Health Care Act(Obama Care) being such a hot topic. We should always be careful what we wish for. Read more
Published 11 days ago by Eric W Perry
5.0 out of 5 stars an excellent story that has an edge
As a retired nurse I questioned my own judgement when I began reading this book ~ what on earth possessed me to download it? Read more
Published 2 months ago by Alex Sparasci
3.0 out of 5 stars Mixed feelings about Stewards of the Flame, but will read the sequels.
I enjoyed the story, loved the characters, great personality mixes and much humanity in the characters. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Kathy Jordan
5.0 out of 5 stars A thought-provoking window to a possible future.
This story was well-written with an excellent plot taking the reader through many twists and turns at odd corners. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Dawne Pinchback
4.0 out of 5 stars The book is a good read !
Was surprised how much that I enjoyed this book. Had to buy the next one to continue the series. Enjoy the escape into the future.
Published 3 months ago by dad4525
2.0 out of 5 stars Voluntary health versus mandatory medical surveillance
Imagine having a stressful job as,a starship captain. What would you do at each port when you are "off duty" for days on end? Well Captain Jesse Sanders drinks. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars If you enjoy dystopian novels, or are interested in paranormal...

“Crime is considered illness, untreated illness is crime; ambulance crews are the only police. Dead bodies stay on “life support” forever. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Awesome Indies Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Talk about cliffhangers...
The premise of the novel is quite compelling and one that could very well become a reality of the human race. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Patricia J. zonak
2.0 out of 5 stars Story line great but book way too long
The story line was very good and had great potential but it never lived up to Its promise. I also thought it could have been told in way fewer pages. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Dana Lynch
5.0 out of 5 stars Not what you thought it would be.
I would recommend it to those who like to read thought-provoking stories. It is partially sci-fi because of the futuristic inner-planetary travel. much more than you usual novel.
Published 7 months ago by Rodney C. Cummins
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More About the Author

Sylvia Engdahl is the author of nine science fiction novels, six of which are Young Adult novels that are also enjoyed by adults. The one for which she is best known, "Enchantress from the Stars," was a Newbery Honor book, winner of the 1990 Phoenix Award of the Children's Literature Association, and a finalist for the 2002 Book Sense Book of the Year in the Rediscovery category. Her three latest novels, "Stewards of the Flame," "Promise of the Flame," and "Defender of the Flame," are for adults. Recently, she has published an updated and expanded edition of her nonfiction book "The Planet-Girded Suns," first published in 1974 with the subtitle "Man's View of Other Solar Systems" and now subtitled "The History of Human Thought About Extrasolar Worlds." She is a strong advocate of space colonization and has maintained a widely-read space section of her website for many years. She also created the site, which contains quotations about why humankind must expand into space. From her home in Eugene, Oregon she now works as a freelance editor of nonfiction anthologies for high schools. She welcomes visitors to her website at


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