I’m a fantasy fan, and in particular, an epic fantasy fan. Consequently The Staff & The Sword series by Patrick Carr is in my wheelhouse. These books feel as if I’m coming home. Already I’m thinking I want to re-read them.
The first book, A Cast of Stones, had me hooked by the end of the first chapter. So now you know my bias as you read my review. 😉
The Story. Already, at the age of 18, Errol Stone is a drunk. The town drunk, in fact, but he knows his way around the countryside, including a dangerous gorge that must be crossed to reach the ravine where a certain secluded churchman lives with his servant.
Consequently, when a messenger appears mid-morning one day, Errol wins the job of delivering the missive and a parcel of communion elements to the pater. On the way, however, he encounters a would-be assassin who attacks him. Despite his slightly less than sober state, he manages to avoid being killed, though he does take an arrow and nearly drowns.
His worst nightmare, however, occurs because his injury requires him to spend the night away from town and from the pub and the ale his body craves. The good pater helps him survive with the aid of the communion elements he brought, and the next day, because the message Errol carried is too waterlogged to read, the three start out to intercept the messenger.
But opposition has only begun, and when the churchmen realize that Errol has a unique and much needed ability that he isn’t even aware of, they press him into service–most literally. He now is under compulsion to go with them to the capital of their land and offer his services to the church–for which he has no love because he’s suffered beatings for his drunkenness at the hands of the local priest.
Their plans, however, are foiled when they are once again attacked. Severely wounded, Errol is separated from the rest of his traveling companions. Eventually he must try to reach the capital on his own–the compulsion requires it of him.
That’s as much as I’ll tell. Anything more and I’d spoil the story.
Strengths. I’m not sure yet how he did it, but Mr. Carr had me caring for a drunk right in the first chapter. I didn’t know what factors led up to Errol’s desire to remain inebriated, so I wasn’t feeling sorry for him at that point and, and still I pulled for him, hoping he would succeed, grieving his choice to climb back in the bottle yet one more time. In other words, Mr. Carr created a sympathetic character who is not, in the early stages, anyone’s idea of a hero, least of all, his own.
There’s also a nice balance of action and quieter moments that allow for character development. The plot is full of intrigue and unexpected twists. There’s a little of the journey quest in the story, but then it morphs to a story filled with political intrigue, prejudice, false accusations, and assassination attempts. And there’s a love interest–an impossible love interest. This is a plot that has all the tension a reader could want.
The theme of A Cast of Stones is not fully developed because this is part of the greater story, The Staff & The Sword. However some threads peak through and I can begin to make guesses. For one, Errol himself is growing up. He isn’t at the end of this book what he was at the beginning.
Weaknesses. The greatest weakness from my perspective is the worldbuilding. There were times that I felt a little lost, not being able to picture the lay of the land and where the travelers were in respect to where they were headed. This series cries for want of a good set of maps! How many happy moments have I spent pouring over the map of Middle Earth. If only I could do the same for . . . whatever the name of this place is. There’s no map to turn to so I can refresh my memory! 😕
As weaknesses go, this one isn’t life-threatening, and probably only those of us extreme epic fantasy lovers will care about the lack of a map. But that’s all I have. The story is intriguing, the characters interesting, well drawn, believable. Errol’s transformation is progressive and realistic.
Recommendation. If you enjoy an action-packed story with intrigue and characters you care about, then you’ll enjoy A Cast of Stones. Well, the whole of The Staff & The Sword series. I just saw the cover for book three and that it may now be pre-ordered at Amazon.
Anyway, for epic fantasy fans, this is a must read. For others, you’ll miss a good story if you pass on this one.
In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.