Elsewhens by Melanie Rawn
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“Touchstone, the magical theater troupe, continues to build audiences. But Cayden is increasingly troubled by his “elsewhens,” the uncontrolled moments when he is plunged into visions of the possible futures. He fears that his Fae gift will forever taint his friendships; his friends fear that his increasing distance will destroy him.
But worldly success follows them—an apparent loss in the Trials leads to Touchstone being selected to travel to the Continent with a Royal Embassy to collect Prince Ashgar’s new bride. They are the first theater artists to appear outside Albeyn for at least seventy years—for magic is suspect and forbidden elsewhere, and the Kingdom’s easy race mixing and magic use horrifies the people they are to travel among.”
I admit that when I picked up the first book in this series, I was a bit skeptical. Although I love Melanie Rawn, I wasn’t sure I could get behind the way she constructed this new world of hers. Once I read it, though, I was absolutely enchanted and this second book, Elsewhens, captivated me just as deeply.
The characters take a very different journey than you’re used to seeing. Many books on the shelves have heroic battles and daring rescues and the like, but this story follows two men struggling with their inner lives. Cayden is tormented by visions of what could be, and he never knows what may or may not lead to that future. His friend Mieka, often the subject of Cayden’s visions, slips further and further into self-destructive behavior while losing much of what makes him extraordinary. The two play off of each other in a friendship that is both as strong as iron and threatens to unravel at a moment’s notice.
Of course the novel isn’t all brooding and introspection. The Touchstone troop travels to a distant land where magic is anathema, in the hopes that they can begin to ease fears about such powers. Subtle politics and worldbuilding are woven into the tale, much the way Rawn’s characters weave magic into their storytelling. By the end of the book, you realize you’ve gotten much more out of the novel than you were conscious of during the reading.
As someone who does a bit of artistic stuff myself, I also find the story interesting as a portrait of what it’s like to be a person with strong creative impulses. Cayden’s struggles as a writer hit close to home for me, as I can certainly identify with getting writer’s block! Mieka is the one whose situation is really heartbreaking, though, because his personality burns too brightly for even he himself to handle. He’s the celebrity of the group, mirroring the many actors and artists we see in rea life as they self-destruct. Because of how Rawn shows the various sides of creativity, both the glories and the pitfalls, I think it deserves much more attention than it has gotten.
Elsewhens is another incredible book from Melanie Rawn—different in pace and tone than most, but possessing a shine and depth all its own. If you’d like something a bit more introspective, pick up this series and prepare to be dazzled.