Between truth and deception, between justice and abuse, a Stonewiser stands alone with the stones… Or so begins the Stonewiser’s oath. But what happens when a rebellious Stonewiser discovers that lies have tainted the stone tales? In Stonewiser: The Heart of the Stone, Dora Machado creates a spell-binding combination of action, adventure, intrigue and romance, set against a vivid, imaginative and timeless background.
So much for the press release and if that doesn’t grab you, read no further, because on this occasion the publicity is remarkably close to the truth.
As with many additions to the fantasy genre nowadays (and as far back as I can recall) there’s much that is familiar here: a rugged, taciturn Roamer, faintly reminiscent of Tolkien’s Strider, and corruption or Rot in the land recalling Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant. The ghost of Frank Herbert’s Dune haunts these pages too, with a will-o’-the-whisp whiff of the Bene Gesserit in Machado’s Guild, and a Fremen-like people, the New Blood, with their ecological mission to repair the blasted land, fierce loyalty and exceptional fighting skills.
Nonetheless, Machado’s creation is far from imitative and she has found something fresh to add to this mix. 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.
You can see where this is heading, and to her credit Machado doesn’t beat around the bush. The Guild is in a position of absolute authority as sole arbiter of truth and justice. Power corrupts and … well, you know the rest.
Sariah, our heroine, is said to be the most gifted Stonewiser of her generation but her talent is more than matched by an inquisitive and contrary nature that ensures she is forever at odds with the Guild. Curiosity and wilfulness led her to transgress the Guild’s rules time and again until inevitably she uncovers the unthinkable: corruption at the very heart of the Guild and, worse by far, lies in the stone tales themselves. The foundation of her beliefs crumble: the stone tales are inviolate, their truth beyond question! The world she has known tumbles down around her. Forced to flee the Guild she finds herself in league with the New Blood enemy, and armed only with her wits sets off on a quest for truth and, ultimately, justice.
Armed only with her wits? Not likely. As you’d expect of any modern fantasy heroine, Sariah has boundless resourcefulness under duress, well able to employ that basic tool of female self-defence – her knee – (vis-à-vis some deserving fellow’s groin). Actually, she’s fairly handy with any other implement for that matter. Unfortunately the forces arrayed against her are no laughing matter and the violence inflicted on her and others is sobering. Sariah’s resilience in the face of such brutality is remarkable and moving.
“Sariah is a bitter-sweet heroine,” Machado says. “She’s tremendously talented, strong and smart. But owned by the Guild and raised as a slave, she’s endured much hardship. She is fundamentally flawed. She’s got baggage.” Full of good intentions she is “hampered by her upbringing and her own limited sense of self. To succeed, she has to do something that’s very hard to do: she has to overcome her own prejudices and embrace the diversity of a changing world.”
Stonewiser, we are told, will appeal to readers of fantasy as well as cross-over readers from the historical fiction and romance genres. Well, yes, it probably will, although don’t overlook the strong hint in that appraisal: woven in between the threads of action, adventure and intrigue there is a distinct strain of the romance to this fantasy. For some this will be a strength, for others, a weakness. If you count yourself amongst the latter, give this novel a chance. Although I am not a fan of the Romance, and while I found Sariah’s evolving relationship with her former enemy far from unexpected, it was, to my surprise, charming, engaging and believable nonetheless.
Dora Machado has crafted an enticing tale about a rebellious and head-strong young woman learning the truth about herself and the world in which she lives. The farther we travel with Sariah, the more interesting and complex her world becomes, opening up unexpected vistas. “Stonewiser offers an empowering, evolving tale,” says Machado, one that strives to delight the mind as well as touch the heart. “I often find that as women, we’re always searching for that magic combination between fun and romance, something interesting and enriching. Stonewiser, has it.”
And just maybe, it does.
Stonewiser: The Heart of the Stone is due out in June, and a sequel, Stonewiser: The Call of the Stones is forthcoming.
To learn more about Dora Machado, the origin of Stonewiser, Sariah and her world, read the SFFMedia interview with the author. Through the generosity of Mermaid Press and Dora Machado we also have two signed copies of Stonewiser: The Heart of the Stone to give away. Details of how to win a copy can be found at the end of the interview.