A Cast Of Stones
The fate of the kingdom awaits the cast of stones.
In the backwater village of Callowford, roustabout Errol Stone is enlisted by a church messenger arriving with urgent missives for the hermit priest in the hills. Eager for coin, Errol agrees to what he thinks will be an easy task, 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 nears its end and the selection of the new king begins–but in secret and shadow. As danger mounts, Errol must leave behind the stains and griefs of the past, learn to fight, and discover who is hunting him and his companions and how far they will go to stop the reading of the stones.
Too many fantasy books rely on the same tired tropes to get their story across. Author Patrick Carr avoids that trap admirably by creating a world of bold ideas and characters. Yet poor plotting and writing mar an otherwise worthy premise, leading to a rough story needing just that bit more polish to rate as high as it aims.
There were plenty of twists built into a fairly linear story, but these came across as jarring rather than inventive. Character reveals and plot devices sometimes came out of nowhere and serve more to drag the story than help it progress. Also, the action zagged in ways that continually restructured the plot. At first it started as a fairly standard quest to save kingdom, yet this band is quickly broken and we don’t reunite with some of the characters until the very end of the book. The ensuing subplot was far more engaging, but came to an abrupt end without resolution once the A plot resumed. The big reveal for one of the first mysteries introduced left me underwhelmed, wondering why it was such a secret to begin with.
The uneven plot might have been forgiven had the writing presented more flourish. It’s passable prose on the whole, simply written, but prone to an overabundance of adjectives and adverbs. Little of the description is of interest or exists for a true narrative purpose. Knowing the color of every secondary character’s hair, eyes, and/or clothes serves little purpose but to fill pages.
Errol himself is a surprising protagonist, and the author doesn’t flinch in portraying the struggles an admitted drunkard must endure merely to survive. His personal journey is the far more interesting story and provides its main source of charm as he grows into a plucky, resourceful character with quite the unique set of skills. The other characters, while not given nearly as much time for development, were nevertheless well conceived and executed. However, the lead villain was introduced far too late for me to have any dread of him, weakening the final climax and diluting the stakes established by previous battles.
I rather liked the concept of a triplet theopolitical structure, with the monarchy, the church, and a third institution imitating the three persons of the divine Trinity, with all the ensuing politics such a world might develop. Unfortunately this motif only became clear in the latter third of the book, robbing the story of much of its meaning. It nonetheless gives me high hopes for the sequel.
Its heart is certainly in the right place, and by the end I felt the book had finally settled into the story it wanted to be. Would that it had known the same from the start to make a truly great read. As it is, the book’s mildly entertaining journey lacks the emotional payoff needed to make it truly worth the trip.