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Robert Carter – The Language of StonesHere's a previously published review for The Language of Stones by Robert Carter, the first book in a trilogy telling the story of the 3rd coming of Arthur (the ‘famous’ one from the legends being the 2nd… yes, honestly).
The book provides us with an alternative version of the War of Roses, as it might have been if…


Willand (‘Will’) lives in the Vale, a twee and isolated backwater. He just turned 13, the age where he is considered a man now, and is allowed to wear his hair in braids. The day doesn’t end happy, as he is visited by Master Gwyndion (who used to be known as ‘Merlyn’, amongst a lot of other names in the olden days), who is the last of the ‘Ogadad, an ancient brotherhood of magicians who protect the ‘Realm’ (England and Ireland). He reveals to Will that his coming was prophesized, that he is the ‘Child of Destiny’, and that he was found as a baby, and hidden here to be brought up by foster parents. Think slight paradigm shift...

The larger setting is England in the 15th century, during the war of Roses (or what goes for it in this universe slightly different from ours). There is growing unrest in the Realm, which is ruled by a weak king under bad influence, defending himself against other, older claims to the throne, during a time of general unrest and raising levels of aggression. The reason for this is that the old network of circles, standing stones, and power lines (‘Lorc’), left behind by the Faes when they left the Realm, is stirring again, as the roads and buildings of the ‘Slavers’ (think Romans) are crumbling.

Will follows Gydion on his quest, trying to learn the secrets of the lorc, and to stop the ‘Battlestones’ which drive men to war. Cue magic, ancient tongues and scripts, human stupidity (the gentry, mostly), and a not very convincing love story…

This is the first book in a trilogy. The second book is called ‘The Giant’s Dance’ and is just out, the third one is gonna be ‘Whitemantle’, and you’ll have to wait another year for this.

The story in itself is a classic ‘coming of age’ story in a fantasy world. Interesting parts are the overall pacifist attitude and goals of the ‘good’ characters, and of course the fact that the story is quite closely related to the English history of the time, and located in actual (or highly possible) places across the English and Irish map (Carter works with a ‘map of the realm’ which is based on an old map of the UK).

The book is as engrossing as any other ‘lite’ fantasy world. The main characters are well developed, if not always very consistent (but isn’t this very human?), while the supporting cast is rather 2-dimansional, cartoonish, or simply clichéd. You will root for the hero(s), shake your head at how stupid Will can be at times, and want to learn more about the underlying lore of the lorc and oggham runes.

The plot is rather predictable, and I expect the few open threads and leads to be tied into the later instalments. The pace is fine overall, it can be quite hard to put the book down at times as things are moving ahead, there are only a few ‘dead’ areas where the story lingers a tad too long.

The most interesting features or ideas are the pacifist take on a fantasy world (not novel, but decidedly not the default setting), and the grounding in English history. It remains to be seen if he can walk the tightrope between the actual historical events, and pure fiction for the other two books… especially given the essentially bloody nature of English history of these days!

Why should you read it? It’s an ok fantasy story, if not terribly special or complicated. You definitely wanna read it if you’re interested in English historical fiction, then the setting and stream of events the main characters move in will intrigue you. You also should have a look if you find most Fantasy books too martial and blood-thirsty (not that this doesn’t exist in the Language of Stones. It’s just considered bad style by Gwydion). And of course if you’re a fan of easily readable Fantasy - the reading level feels adolescent at times (sorry, that’s adult these days, I guess ;-D), so don’t expect to be kept long by this book ...

More Robert Carter


Title: The Language of Stones
Subtitle: Legend speaks of Arthur’s return
Series Number: 1
Author: Robert Carter
Reviewer: Markus
Publisher: Harper Collins
Publisher URL: http://www.harpercollins.co.uk/
Publication Date: February 2005
Review Date: Nov 11 2005
ISBN: 0007165048
Price: UKP 6.99
Author URL: http://www.languageofstones.com
Pages: 572
Format: Paperback
Topic: Fantasy
Topic: Alternative History

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

 

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