The Stone and the Maiden
When I first started reading Fantasy, I read anything with that description – picked up books from the library and the bookstore by the dozens. Then, as it always happens, I lost that fervor for anything called Fantasy. The honeymoon was over. I didn’t just want Fantasy, I wanted quality Fantasy. In short, I became as picky a Fantasy reader as I am a romance reader, and as a result, read it a lot less often, and sometimes I miss that initial infatuation terribly.
Lucky for me, I got to read The Stone and the Maiden – a book I probably wouldn’t have picked up had I seen it in the store. It’s not a perfect book, the names are too complex to keep track of and the antagonists couldn’t be more evil. Yet, as I read, I found myself feeling that love of Fantasy fervor again. It is an intricate and imaginative story that takes loads of concentration to read, but is worth every over-taxed brain cell.
Mandine Dascaris is heiress to the throne of the Ascendancy. An Ascendancy that is unfortunately under a merciless and relentless attack by the Tathars, a group of silver-haired barbarians. The Tathars have a secret ally – an ally that poses a threat more great than even the blood-thirsty Tathars themselves. Erkai the Chain is a name that is etched in the mythology of the Ascendancy. It is the name of an evil sorcerer who supposedly died, and yet has managed to return with the ultimate goal of releasing the deep magic. The deep magic is an incredible power that can be used for good or evil and was banned from the world so that evil could not touch it. Sensing that Erkai may be able to breach the ban, the forces of good have chosen Mandine and her champion, a young soldier named Key Mec Brander. Key and Mandine have to find the Signata, a force of good that can defeat Erkai. Unfortunately, the Signata hasn’t been seen for hundreds of years, and is only to be found in “the place that contains all places, and the moment that contains all moments.”
Sounds like quite a brouhaha, yes? But wait – there’s more. There is political intrigue, a variety of cultures, an interesting mythology, spirituality, magical beings… Did I mention a few never before heard of creatures? Intermingled through all of this is the story of two kind, strong, insecure people who have to find the strength and faith in each other to save their world. Mandine is everything a ruler should be – she is a person that can be trusted to put the needs of her people first. Key is a perfect counterpart for Mandine – he is valiant and protective, and feels perfectly comfortable following a woman leader. I like that in a man. A few likable secondary characters and a feeling of history give The Stone and the Maiden depth.
It is not a perfect story, however. The names are so unlike what we know that they are hard to keep track of. Here is a small sampling: hemandra, pandragore, cataphract, hippaxa, victurion, peltarch… I could go on and on. A certain difference from this world is important to create something new in fantasy, but too many unfamiliar names that don’t flow easily off the tongue become difficult to keep track of and effect the flow of the story, which is what happened in this case. I also found Erkai and the Tathars to be way over the top evil – so much so that they were at times unbelievable. Didn’t the Tathars have mothers and children back home to miss and worry over? Didn’t Erkai have some sort of human weakness that would make him at least a slightly more sympathetic character? The forces of good certainly had their weaknesses, why not the forces of evil?
One more complaint, albeit a small one. The names of the high priest and priestess of the God and the Goddess are called Perpetua and The Continuator. Does anyone else hear Arnold in the background saying I’ll be back? Not very romantic names for such romantic positions.
The unfamiliarity of names in The Stone and the Maiden, and the intricacy of the story with all of its sub plots and history, make this a book that takes loads of concentration to read (no skimming allowed here). Is it worth it? Fantasy is about magic, isn’t it? There is magic here in truckloads. If you are looking for magic, you will find it here.
Just get a good night’s sleep first. You are going to need it.