Book Review: Stone Lord by J.P. Reedman
Blog note: This is the last post of this year. In 2013, new posts will be published on Mondays, starting January 7. Happy Holidays to all, no matter what you celebrate.
About a month ago, I was fortunate to interview author J.P. Reedman about her new debut novel, Stone Lord. At the time, I knew very little about the book, other than it was Arthurian legend set in the Bronze Age. This unusual concept, combined with her interview and excerpts posted online, were enough to convince me to buy her book. Given that I can be a bit of a tough sell when it comes to anything Arthurian, I was happily surprised by how much I liked the book. And “liked” is an understatement. Ask anyone who had to listen to me rave while reading it. If you want the short version: 4.5 stars.
Despite its title, this book isn’t only Arthur’s tale. It begins with the story of the boy who would become Merlin, how he escaped the clutches of Vhortiern (Vortigern), and grew to guide U’thyr (Uther), Arthur’s father. Once the young king is born, his story comes to the forefront. Throughout the book, Reedman gifts us with truly creative takes on classic Arthurian legend, including the dragons under the tower, Merlin’s relationship with Nin-Aeifa (Nimue), the nature and purpose of Afallan (Avalon), the Sword in the Stone, the finding of Excalibur (called here Caladvolc), and more. The only place where I felt it fell a little short was in Mordred’s conception, which reminded me of other versions I have read, but with a gothic chill that the others lack. I especially appreciated her inclusion of the Green Knight and his beheading game and the hunting of the boar T’orc, neither of which I’ve seen touched by authors in quite some time.
Honestly, I haven’t been this captivated by a book since The Mists of Avalon. But then again, I’m a sucker for all things mythological, and that is where Reedman truly excels. Her descriptions of the ancient monuments and the rites associated with them will take your breath away. She has a way of making such an obscure period of the past come to life, that you half expect to be there when you put the book down. It is a story firmly rooted in its time period, one that actually caused me, as a writer, to reexamine some of my character’s motivations to make sure they are historically accurate. (That is one of the highest compliments I can pay an author – to have learned something about my own work by reading theirs.) Reedman’s insertion of the Arthurian story into the Bronze Age is done so seamlessly that it’s easy to forget this isn’t its usual time period. I’m not in a position to judge the archeology, but I am certain her expertise in this area is a major contributor to making this book feel so real.
The pacing of this book is well done. I didn’t want to put it down. The only place where I felt it was a little off was Fynavir’s (Guinevere) kidnapping. It’s my understanding that in most tales, Melwas holds Guinevere captive for quite some time. But in Stone Lord, she’s being carried away on one page and 25 pages later (most of which is taken up by another part of the story), Fynavir is rescued. Reedman spends far more time on the hunt of the boar than she does on the event that is the catalyst for Fynavir and An’kelet’s affair, which doesn’t seem equitable. I also felt that the ending was a little rushed, like Reedman was in a hurry to wrap things up, but this is a common complaint I have about many books, so it may be more me than the author.
In a few places, just a little more explanation would have helped the overall story. I felt that the background between Fynavir (Guinevere) and An’kelet (Lancelot) depended a lot on the reader’s knowledge of the myth of King Arthur. There are furtive glances and reddening cheeks that make you aware there is an attraction and some sort of past between the two, but the nature of this is never made clear. I would have liked at least a few pages of background to help me understand why, in Reedman’s world, these two are so heartbroken that they can’t be together and what bonded them in the first place. I also would have liked a little more motivation for Morigau (Morgan). She’s as crazy as crazy comes, but the only explanation we really get is a preternaturally intelligent girl of “no more than three” wailing in jealousy that Merlin picked Ardhu to train rather than her. Later, she rails about how Ardhu took everything away from her, especially the love of her family, but here again there’s so much reliance on prior knowledge of legend that Morigau’s motivation feels forced on her. If we could have seen one or two scenes showing how her life changed for the worse because of Ardhu, her venom would be easier to understand. Maybe these things will be further explained in the sequel, Moon Lord, but I would have liked to have had them in the context of this book.
One key thing I thought was missing from the book was a list of place names, both then and now, and maybe even a map, since they are so different from anything most of us would be familiar with. Reedman has a list on her website, but even that individual post is difficult to find and this isn’t a convenient solution when you’re reading and don’t feel like getting online on to verify a location. I made it through just fine without the map, but it would have been nice to be able to flip to the front or the back to verify the characters were going where I thought they were.
Also, if you buy a first edition, there are several typos, so be forewarned. The author is aware of these and will be correcting them in future editions.
But even for its flaws, Stone Lord is a fantastic book. I think it is worthy of a Big Six publisher’s attention, but I’m pretty much the ideal audience for a book like this. If you like the story of King Arthur and can handle a non-traditional setting, you’ll enjoy this book. Congratulations to Reedman on a fine contribution to the Matter of Britain. I look forward to reading more of Ardhu’s adventures in Moon Lord when it comes out.
Have you read Stone Lord? If so, what did you think of it? If not, does it interest you? Why or why not?