Not to put too fine a point on it, Errol Stone is a drunk. Drinking is the only thing he’s good at.
That, and running errands over the Cripples. In an effort to earn more ale money, he agreed to take a message to the hermit-priest. So he got involved in the Church, and the watch, and discovered all sorts of things he was good at. Living is not necessarily one of them.
With A Cast of Stones, Patrick W. Carr begins his adult fantasy series The Staff and the Sword. In his world there are echoes of our world; blond hair is signature to the Soedes, and red hair and lilting speech signature to those from Erinon.
The Church, above all, rings with the echoes – with their sacrament of bread and wine, their divine Trinity, their priests and monks and liturgy. It hails, too, back to the worst days of the Catholic Church – with its wealth, its power and abuse of power, its persecution even of believers.
The most original idea of the book is the readers and their ability to cast lots. Compulsions form another fascinating, other-worldly element. Another such element, the malus, are plainly based on the Christian doctrine of devils, with, perhaps, some inspiration from the Nephilim. It’s by no means a new idea, but it is a compelling one and Carr executes it with skill.
A Cast of Stones is Patrick Carr’s first novel, but you couldn’t tell from the writing. It had a high degree of polish, though I would offer this piece of advice to Mr. Carr: Avoid too much repetition of certain words. You should only describe a character’s eyes as “glittering” so many times in the same chapter, and you should almost never use two slightly different versions of the same word in a single sentence. (The worst instance of this in the novel was, “A line of shelves lined the wall” – for which, oddly enough, I almost blame the editor more than the author.)
I think the greatest error of the novel was that the author didn’t do enough to sell the vital point of preserving the kingdom. Important characters – protagonists, what’s more – are primarily motivated by saving the kingdom, to the point that they will sacrifice themselves and others.
But readers could well wonder why the kingdom is worth the sacrifice. Every authority, every institution seems dominated by corruption and arrogance. Injustice is painted again and again – in the punishing of the innocent, or the overly-harsh punishing of the guilty. The anarchy of the caravans suggests a society in political and moral disarray. Worse, readers were not made to feel the suffering that the kingdom’s collapse would cause, nor did the characters who wanted to save the kingdom give much impression of loving it.
A Cast of Stones is a fine novel – well-written, with a well-constructed fantasy world that gives the feel of complex societies, of vast and diverse countries. I enjoyed the real-world texture, as well as the fantastical threads. A Cast of Stones sets out to be a fantasy novel for adults – and succeeds.