Friday, March 29

A Cast of Stones by Patrick W. Carr

Errol Stone is a nobody. An orphan and a drunkard, he does odd jobs so that he can buy more ale. He has no dreams or aspirations, and seems to be the stereotypical hero found in fantasy stories, as well as being somewhat of a stereotypical hero in Christian themed fiction. Fantasy stories seem filed with heroes who come from lowly backgrounds. From Luke Skywalker to Bilbo Baggins, they hardly seem heroic when they start off. While this can lead to a strong transformation in the hero, not much seems to be done to differentiate Errol from other similar heroes at first. The drunkenness is a common character trait I’ve seen in Christian fiction, as a way to make the character flawed. The character can then fight against this flaw, and if/when the beat it, we can see them as true heroes. There isn’t much new to this flaw either, and sometimes it comes off as gimmicky and unnecessary space is given to it.

After setting up Errol, the story begins to flow in a way that begins to feel more natural, and less cliché. A messenger comes with a letter for a local priest. Errol is paid to deliver it, but on his way is ambushed by an assassin. From there, Errol, the priest, Martin, a priest named Martin and a couple of others must undertake a potentially dangerous journey. At first I was worried that the priests would come off as Gandalf-ish, but Patrick W. Carr avoids that, giving each priest their own personality. The story also went in directions I did not expect, but which I enjoyed. I especially enjoyed how the passage of time felt appropriate. Many times in fantasy stories, it seems like characters learn complicated things rather too quickly.

Even more important, Carr managed to create a world that felt real. While some characters may have seemed a bit flat from time to time, the world they inhabited did not. I particularly enjoyed the practice of casting stones, something with the priests use to acquire information. The part of the world which felt the weakest was the way Carr set up the religion. Though a fantasy story, it was obvious the religion was supposed to represent Christianity, but the fit seemed awkward, and the conversation concerning the belief system often felt clumsy. I don’t mind spiritual ties in fantasy stories, as long as they’re subtle. One thing I did appreciate, though, was that the story doesn’t appear to be creating a Christ figure. From the dialogue, it sounds like a Christ figure already factors into the religion, helping give this another fresh feel.

Earlier I mentioned that Errol seemed a bit like a stock fantasy hero. While he retains elements of that stereotype, he does begin to grow out of it. Part of this is due to the world creation, and part of it seems to just be the way Carr shapes Errol. At the end, I found  Errol to be a very likeable hero, though I wouldn’t mind a bit more complexity.

While not a perfect book, I found A Cast of Stones to still be enjoyable. This is the first book in a series, and Carr does a fine job establishing the story and I’m curious to see where he takes it. When the next book comes out I’ll be sure to add it to my reading list.

3.5/5 Stars

I received this book free from Bethany House Publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

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