Over the years we’ve received a lot of novels for review, and it’ll probably come as no surprise that many of them are for first time authors seeking some hard earned exposure. That’s something we can sympathise with and we do our best to read what is sent to us, but more often than not we find ourselves cutting our loses after a few pages, in some cases a few paragraphs, and very occasionally after the first sentence.
But every great novelist was a debut novelist at one time or other and now and then we find we’ve stopped reading out of a sense of responsibility and continued reading for the pleasure of it.
One such novel was Dora Machado’s 2008 debut Stonewiser: The Heart of the Stone, the first in a fantasy trilogy, and winner of the Benjamin Franklin Award for Best Debut Novel. In reviewing Book Two in the series, The Call of the Stone, we summed up why we felt that Machado’s writing is a cut above much of the fantasy fiction that crosses our path:
“A strength of Machado’s fantasy is the realism with which people and situations are handled… Machado achieves a furious forward motion in her writing by refusing to allow her characters to control situations. Their understanding of events, situations and people is almost always incomplete and no matter how careful the planning, events unfold unpredictably… its testament to the author’s commitment to a grim and gritty realism that she appears to refuse to resolve the story’s complexity by resorting to a simplistic idealism… For all its magic and wonder, Machado’s fantasy is not escapist, and despite the humour and elements of romance it’s not for the faint-hearted. There’s a commitment to reality in these pages that makes for grim and yet satisfying reading… ultimately this is intelligent, thought-provoking and entertaining fiction.”
This year the trilogy has come to an end with The Lament of the Stone and to our earlier appraisal all I would add is that Machado’s confidence and skill as a writer and story teller have continued to grow so that the world she has crafted and populated with interesting and complex characters has become increasingly vivid and ever more substantial to our mind’s eye.
These days (and for many years past in fact), the combination of “fantasy” and “trilogy” anywhere on a book cover has been sufficient to deflect my attention elsewhere: for too long the three part fantasy series has been derivative, unoriginal and wholly unsatisfying. When we reviewed Machado’s first novel we commented that there’s much that appears familiar in her fantasy, however this impression diminishes the farther one journeys with the series’ heroine, Sariah. With each chapter, Sariah’s world becomes more interesting and complex, opening up on unexpected vistas, and far from being imitative, Machado has found something fresh to add to the mix of oft used fantasy tropes. In a world devastated by the Rot’s widespread destruction, history and law – the very foundations of truth and justice – are quite literally preserved in stone. Only the Guild and its Stonewisers are able to read and interpret the stones: in a state of trance, gripping the stones in their hands, the Stonewisers experience visions of the past preserved as virtual realities.
The Guild’s immense power arises from a monopoly over imprinting and wising (reading) the stones, and power, as we know, corrupts: lies have entered the stones and history has been rewritten to serve the powerful. In book one, The Heart of the Stone, driven by curiosity, a passion for justice and an instinct for truth, Sariah reveals the lies in the stones, damning herself in the process and condemning her world to uncertainty. As The Call of the Stone begins, we find that Sariah has made a home amongst the New Blood, the oppressed inhabitants of the Rotten Domain. Theirs is a toxic landscape corrupted by the Rot and contained behind a mammoth wall that stretches from one end of the land to the other. Her revelations have made her few friends on either side of the Wall however and even in her new home she is unwelcome by many: certainties based on lies are more appealing, it would seem, than the uncertainties unleashed by truth.
With The Lament of the Stone the trilogy comes to a thrilling end and can finally be appreciated from start to finish without pause. Machado’s imagination has been working at full tilt for this concluding chapter and we find Sariah traversing strange new landscapes and encountering even stranger denizens. The struggle for power is ripping the world apart and the fate of the world is bound up with Sariah, who discovers that the path she has been on has been guided or at least influenced from before her birth.
And that is almost as much as I’m prepared to write about the concluding chapter of Machado’s excellent trilogy: the end game should be wholly surprising and I wish to give nothing of its narrative away, and in any case, if our reviews of Books One and Two have not encouraged you to read the series, a review of the concluding chapter is unlikely to do so. All that I’m prepared to add about The Lament of the Stone is that it is a fitting conclusion to the series, skilfully weaving the threads of the previous novels together into a complex, dramatic, vivid and beautifully finished tapestry.
And in Sariah’s fate, Machado demonstrates once and for all her commitment to a gritty realism…
Highly recommended original fantasy fiction.