Friday, September 27, 2013

"Cast of Stones" -- A Review

In the backwater village of Callowford, roustabout town drunkard, Errol Stone’s, life changes with the arrival of a church messenger.  Seeking to earn a few coins with which to buy more of his favorite intoxicating drink, Errol agrees to deliver an urgent message to the hermit priest living in the hills outside Callowford.  However, he soon finds himself being hunted by deadly assassins.  Forced to flee for his life with the priest and a slightly odd assortment of traveling companions (all of whom are not what they first seem), Errol soon learns that he’s been made part of a quest that could change the fate of the kingdom, and that will almost certainly change his own life.

Protected for a millennia by the heirs of the first king of Illustra, the kingdom’s dynasty nears its end and the selection of the new king begins – but in secret and shadow.  Something is seeking to destroy the only people who are capable of reading the round wood and stone balls known as “lots” that decide the many important decisions of the kingdom, including the successor to the throne.  The church is in turmoil, and the ancient order of the Watch is under duress with its power now being split between its charge and duty to guard the king and its new orders to serve the church.  As danger mounts, Errol must leave behind the stains and griefs of the past, learn to fight, and discover who is hunting him and his companions and how far they will go to stop the reading of the stones. 

My Thoughts:  

Ok, guys, I’m not going to beat around the bush with this one.  This book was EXCELLENT.  There was SO much that I loved about it, and so much that I want to take away from it, not just as food for thought concerning my own life, but also interesting perceptions into character traits and humanity that I really, really want to be able to portray in my own writings.  This book made me question myself and my writings, and on top of that it easily made me feel towards the characters all that it wanted me to feel without the feeling becoming forced. I’m telling you, friends, I WANT to be able to write like this.

Mr. Carr is obviously a master at his craft, and at the art of “showing” us the story, rather than “telling” it to us.  The story itself flew by and I hardly even realized I was reading it.  I couldn’t put the book down… honestly, I couldn’t.  I stayed up one night from 9pm to 8 the next morning trying to finish the book.  At the time, I hadn’t even realized I’d been up all night until the sun started shining through my window!  The characters in this book are so vividly portrayed, and not just physically but emotionally, spiritually, and personally.  The world is wide, wild, and so realistic it’s hard to believe it’s not real.  And, to make things even better, we don’t really know who the real villain is of the story; there’s no one to pin-point all the blame on.  With a lot of the bad things happening throughout the book, we don’t know who is instigating them or where they are coming from or why.  We find all of that out along with the characters. 

The whole thing is just… it’s so wonderfully portrayed, I’m still in awe even days later!   

Let’s start with Errol Stone. 

In the beginning of the book, Errol is a drunk.  We know this.  We can see it clearly. Yet while we are given hints to the fact that what caused Errol to drown his sorrows in an ale barrel happened sometime in his past, the reason for Errol’s sorrow and his need for the drink are not revealed until later in the book.  Then you have the fact that Errol is a poor boy, a drunkard, slight of frame and build, and not looked well upon by almost anyone.  The village priest beats him when he becomes too drunk and throws him in the stocks to teach him a lesson, but of course all that does is make Errol hate the church more.  After all, what has the church ever done for him but give him beatings?  Errol has also made friends with the herb-women that live around his village, but the church thinks they are evil and have persecuted them for their art… which, needless to say, doesn’t make Errol’s view of the church any brighter.  The only exception to this is Pater Martin, the old hermit priest who lives far out of town.  The old priest has shown Errol kindness in the past, and while it doesn’t change Errol’s mind about the church, it does give him some hope that perhaps not all of the church members are as snobby and cruel as Antil, the one who beats him. 

Then one day Errol’s life is changed when a church messenger comes with an urgent missive for Pater Martin from the capital city of Erinon.  Errol agrees to take the message to the hermit-priest in exchange for a payment he knows will buy him a lot of drinks in the future.  But perhaps Pater Martin is more important than Errol thought, because why else would Assasins their eerie whistling arrows be after him and the message he’s supposed to deliver?

What I liked most about Errol is that fact that he seems very… REAL.  Extremely believable.  He’s a flawed man, and in the beginning of the book, he’s perfectly okay with being flawed.  His attitude is pretty much, “This who I am.  If you don’t like it, then I don’t care.”  But the reader gets a sense that deep down Errol is actually very hurt and that he’s even ashamed of who he has become.  He pretends that he doesn’t care, when in reality he cares SO much that it’s not just the bad memories that drive him to the drink, but also his shame… the drink makes him numb to all around him.  He doesn’t have to care when he’s wasted… he’s almost forced to when he’s sober. 

 But Errol also has the need to better himself.  It comes with his shame.  When he’s sober enough to think about it, he knows he doesn’t want to be what he is.  And when someone finally steps up to help him deal with his problems instead of pitying him and going along with it, Errol rises above the expectations of what he has become and proves to  himself and everyone else that he can be much more than just the town drunk.  He’s a hard worker, one who wants to prove himself… one who wants to be the best he can be.  He simply needs someone to believe in him in order for him to start believing in himself.

I absolutely LOVE that.  I mean, wow… in the book, Errol has reached the bottom.  He is the dregs of humanity.  And yes, some strange things happen to push him on his way, but once he was given the hope he needed, he quickly became something much more desirable.

But let’s not just focus on Errol… let’s look at the rest of the book.  I have two words for you…

Church Politics.

Personally, I was very happy with the show of complicated church politics in this book… mainly because I’m dealing with church politics in one of my own books, but still.   I love how Carr alluded to the mystery that (to the general masses) often seems to surround the church and her politics and leaders.  You have corruption, you have lies, you have left out details that are supposedly for the greater good but that actually cause more harm than good, you have different views on theology and context… you have hate and power often competing with true love and kindness, but then you have pity competing with tough love… and you have outer-strengths competing with inner weaknesses.  Each of the characters involved in the church obviously have different, often clashing, personalities and interests.  The Readers of the church quickly become some of the most curious people in the story, especially since Errol himself is supposed to be one, even though he’s way past the age of testing.  All of the elements are all just woven together so well!

And then to make things even BETTER, this is one of the very few books that kept me guessing the entire way through it.  It doesn’t happen very often anymore.  I wonder if that’s just part of being an avid reader and a writer myself… the sense that you know or can guess what’s going to happen next. 

I never had that sense with this book.  Throughout the entire thing I felt like there was something I was missing – something just out of my reach that I knew I would be able to understand if only I was given that ONE clue that would explain everything to me.  But, you see, I was never actually given that clue.  Events happened, and I would be struck blindside with them, wondering how I could have missed foretelling such things.  I felt like Carr had mastered the trick that Doyle used in his Sherlock books.  You know how Sherlock always seems to know what’s going on, but doesn’t reveal much of anything until the end so as to keep the reader guessing?  I felt like Carr had accomplished something very similar in this book, and let me tell you, it was DEFINITELY a welcomed change.

It also made me glad I had taken an interest in the art of combat with pole arms a few years ago.  I won’t go into the details of that encounter now, but I’ve known for a long time that I personally prefer the use of a pole arm to that of a sword… and yet not many fantasy heroes use poles in combat.  Well, Errol does.  That was both surprising and refreshing, and it made me want to up my studies concerning the use of staves and other such long-reaching weapons in fighting.

I give “A Cast of Stones” 5 out of 5 stars.  A worthy, fast paced read that is both informative and fun.  This was one book I put down after turning the last page and said, “Now that was worth every penny I spent on it”. (which is really saying something, especially when I spent almost $20.00 on it. Lol!)  Seriously… go find the book and read it.  You won’t be sorry you did. ^_^