|Victoria Strauss: Garden of the Stone|
Eos (paperback), ISBN 0-380-79752-6
The Garden of the Stone returns readers to Mindwork, a world where Handpower (technology) is not only feared, but also hunted down and wiped out with bloodthirsty persistence. Mindpower (magic) drives this world -- Mindpower and the complete and total rule of the Guardians, a corrupt theocracy that once horded the Stone (a living entity of enormous power that could've righted the imbalance of technology and magic and healed two worlds back into one).
The book opens with Cariad, an empath and professional assassin, stalking a Roundhead. The Roundheads, Gestapo-like enforcers of the Guardians, seek not only to find the stolen Stone and its thief, but also to stamp out any resistance to the Guardian's totalitarian rule. Cariad discovers the location of a Gate from the Roundhead -- news that could help the resistance faction that she fights for.
New orders await Cariad at her foster mother's hideout. An undercover member of the resistance disappeared. Did Konstant go over to the enemy? Are the resistance's efforts compromised? Resistance leaders order Cariad to infiltrate the Fortress and locate Konstant. Then she has two choices: rescue him or execute him.
Cariad harbors secrets of her own. Her father, Bron, is the legendary thief who scarpered with the Stone. And the empathic assassin nurtures her own agenda. Cariad plans to kill Jolyon, Speaker of the Guardians and her father's greatest enemy.
The writing in Garden of the Stone shines -- impeccably honed and polished until each paragraph darn near glistens. You believe in the reality of Strauss's well-developed characters, and Strauss leads her readers down some nicely twisted paths before the final denouement.
But the book suffers from its unrelieved grimness. Not one spark of humor lightens the book's sternly sober plot. And this sheer starkness made the reading tough going -- for me at least. Call it a personal quirk, but I prefer my books to have a bit of comedy… even the "serious" ones.
Many readers will enjoy the excellence of Strauss's writing and the complexity of her world. They will revel in Mindwork and Strauss's unforgettable characters. But when I reached the end of Garden of the Stone, I immediately reached for my old copy of Alexi Panshin's Starwell to hang out with the Trog for awhile. Thurb… thurb… thurb…
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