Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Cast of Stones

A Cast of Stones by Patrick W. Carr is both his first novel and the first book in The Staff & The Sword trilogy.  It is an epic fantasy set in a world where the church is second only to the king, though seemingly not by much.  Errol Stone, the village drunkard, is paid handsomely by a church messenger to deliver a package to Pater Martin, a priest who lives outside the village, on the other side of some challenging terrain.  Errol knows the way like the back of his hand, but surefooted as he is, he runs into trouble when he realizes he is being followed by a man in black who apparently wants him dead.  He makes it to the cabin, but only just barely.  This would only be the first in a long string of instances where he likely wishes he had never volunteered to deliver that package, because he ends up becoming a reluctant member of a small party setting out for the city of Erinon - the seat of both the kingdom and the church - and his life is never truly his again.

When I begun this and realized how heavily the church features in the story, I was a little unsure how I would like it; I was worried it was going to end up being some kind of very in-your-face kind of tale about an obvious sinner changing his life for the better as he gives himself over to religion or something.  I am happy to report, however, that this was not at all the case.  A Cast of Stones is a fantasy adventure absolutely rife with action and intrigue, and while the church is a major player, it's not in the way you might expect.  Errol is unclear through much of his journey whether his friends are truly friends, and there is corruption within the church as well, so Carr is definitely not trying to weave some kind of a story about how religion and the church is the Greatest Good, pure and loving and necessary for salvation.

In fact, what could be considered Errol's salvation - sobering up  - comes at the hands of not a churchman and not some internal peace with The Three (their Holy Trinity), but through rigorous training with the staff that he undergoes with a farmer who is quite clearly more than just a farmer.  He works with the staff diligently along the rest of his journey, growing not only in size from the exercise, but also growing as a person.  It sounds incredibly corny the way I just put it, but there is really quite a lot of character development going on gradually in the months it takes him to get to Erinon.  We are given an unlikely hero in Errol at the beginning:  he starts off an emotionally scarred boy with a chip on his shoulder who drowns his mental faculties in ale the moment certain memories begin to surface, until he eventually becomes physically dependent on alcohol.  He is a complete mess, and everyone in the village tolerates it because everyone in the village pities him.  What we are left with by the end of A Cast of Stones is a quietly powerful, perceptive, and determined young man with a head full of sense on his shoulders.

I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about some of the other characters.  I do like Cruk; a captain of the Watch, he thought Errol hopeless when he knew him back in the village.  He is rather gruff, but I don't know what else you might expect from his type of character.  Pater Martin and Luis, though, are the ones I'm mostly unsure about.  I want to like them; they are doing what they think to be in the best interest of the kingdom.  The needs of the many, and all that.  But I think they vastly underestimate Errol's ability to understand the intricacies of everything that is going on and the role he plays in it all.  They keep him in the dark most of the time, but then get upset when he goes out of his way to try and figure things out for himself and ends up with information and opinions that could be very dangerous to utter in front of the wrong people.  If they would just tell him things, they could avoid the possibility of him saying the wrong things in front of the wrong people at the wrong times, so really, they would have no one to blame but themselves in the event of that.  As for Liam, another young man about Errol's age who got roped into going to Erinon, it is impossible not to like him unless you're just annoyed at how wonderful he is, because he is just that genuinely nice and well-meaning to everyone and he is apparently good at everything and is handsome to boot.  In the end, though, despite his rough edges, Errol turns out to be very nearly Liam's match in more ways than he might imagine, and the fate of the kingdom may well rest with one or both of them.

I received this book through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program, and I wish I'd gotten to it much sooner than I did, because I ended up enjoying it pretty thoroughly and it ended in such a way that I was really frustrated that it is part of a trilogy and not just one insanely long book.  So now I need to find the second in the trilogy; the final installment of The Staff & The Sword is to be released this February, so now is a good time to start if you haven't read this yet (it's also free on Kindle right now, just fyi)!




Series Info:  What came before this book?  What's next?
The Staff & The Sword
* A Cast of Stones (Book 1)
- The Hero's Lot (Book 2)
- A Draw of Kings (Book 3)

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