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Stewards of the Flame Paperback – August 24, 2009

4.1 out of 5 stars 70 customer reviews
Book 1 of 2 in the Hidden Flame Series

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"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 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

"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."  --MyShelf.com

"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

"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

From the Author

My Flame series, which was originally called a trilogy, has been split into two duologies since there are now four books and the third begins a separate story set two centuries later than the preceding ones, which doesn't depend on having read either of them. Readers who disagree with the controversial view of healthcare expressed in Stewards of the Flame, or who want more science fiction action, often like it better -- yet no one wants to begin with a book labeled Number 3. So now the Hidden Flame duology consists of Book One, Stewards of the Flame and Book Two, Promise of the Flame, while the Rising Flame duology consists of Book One, Defender of the Flame and Book Two, Herald of the Flame. Please note that unlike my earlier novels, these two duologies were never issued as Young Adult books and they are not appropriate for readers below high school age.

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

The cover of this book was changed in April 2015. It is not a new edition, as the book itself has not changed.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Ad Stellae Books (August 24, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0615314872
  • ISBN-13: 978-0615314877
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,801,006 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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