Hello, internet! It’s been a while (once again) since I’ve stopped by, and I’ve really fallen behind on reading all the wonderful blogs I follow. With today’s snow day (snow week?) I thought I’d catch up on some things.
Back in January, Diane Lynn McGyver was kind and generous enough to give me a copy of her debut novel Shadows in the Stone (Quarter Castle Publishing, 2012) to review. I feel awful that it has taken me so long to get around to it, but here I am!
Corporal Bronwyn Darrow is an honour-driven, hard working young dwarf (and not a Tolkien-esque dwarf, either) who is dedicated to rising in the ranks of the Aruam Castle. When he comes to be the legal guardian of Isla, a hauflin child, he learns, among other things, that there is more to life than work and status. Alaura of Niamh, a young enchantress with a mysterious past, becomes entangled in the lives of Bronwyn and Isla, and this is essentially where the story kicks off, following Alaura and Bronwyn on their physical and metaphorical journeys to save Isla (and everyone else) from a dark and mysterious outside force.
Without giving too much more away about the plot, I will say right away that this was unlike any other fantasy novel I’ve read before. It contains all the yummy elements of a traditional fantasy — an evil magician, a prophecy, dwarfs, elves, and of course a little hard-to-get romance between the two main characters — but there are other aspects that aren’t really typical, and that I absolutely adore.
The relationships between all the characters are what steals the show for me: Bronwyn’s relationships with his parents and siblings, his friend Farlan, his daughter Isla, and best friend/hardcore love interest Alaura. I don’t usually see strong familial ties in fantasy books, probably because most of the time the main character is an orphan, and I love the scenes where Bronwyn attends family dinners, banters with his siblings, and seeks advice from his parents.
The fact that Bronwyn and Alaura are friends first and love interests second (for the most part) is one of my favourite things in the entire book. Their ability to help each other, work together, argue incessantly, and understand each other is inspiring, and not what I expected. The forces keeping them apart romantically — usually set up or created by Bronwyn or Alaura themselves — makes us as readers want to slap some sense into them because they love each other and they both know it. The sexual tension is killing me. (But sshhh, as a reader, I actually don’t want them to get together because I like their friendship too much.)
Isla is the little girl everyone loves, but she’s not just a cutie that needs protection from the adults 100% of the time. She’s independent, strong-willed, incredibly clever, and able to gain the help and alliance of those around her in order to survive. Her friendship with fellow hauflin Liam is something I look forward to the development of in future books, and I’m eager to see her become a strong and caring young woman. Out of all the characters in the book, I think Isla is my favourite, followed by fierce and powerful Alaura (everyone loves a strong heroine).
The book as a whole is stunning visually. The Land of Ath-o Lea is beautiful and varied, and I’m curious to know more about the politics of it, and how humans, elves, dwarfs, and hauflins all coexist. I want to read an Ath-o Lea history book on how it all came to be. Many of the scenes are so well described it felt more like I was watching a movie rather than reading a book — when this happens in novels, I am an incredibly happy reader.
If I have anything to say that is a critique it’s that I would like a glossary of characters/places and a pronunciation guide at the back. Maybe it’s because I read it in chunks over a long period of time rather than in one or two sittings (time constraints didn’t allow for this) but I had a wee little bit of a difficult time keeping track of who was who and where, especially the minor characters. It was a book that I had to consciously dedicate time to. It’s not what I would consider a casual, easy, light-hearted read for bus travel, but one for snow days where one stays put for several hours at once.
All in all, Shadows in the Stone is what I consider a very unique, relationship-oriented novel with fascinating, multifaceted characters in a diverse and changing world. I’m intrigued as to where the plot is headed, because I honestly have no idea.
**I wouldn’t recommend this book for young readers, as there is some sexually intense scenes and graphic content, but to everyone else, especially fantasy fans, go for it!