Touchstone by Melanie Rawn

Touchstone (The Glass Thorns)

Melanie Rawn is an author whose writing is very evocative.  I remember being enamored of her Exiles books, and I still think of them fondly, even though the trilogy will never be completed.  I’ve found that her novels are difficult to describe, as they often rely as much on the atmosphere they create as they do on the characters or plot.  Touchstone is just such a novel, one that weaves many disparate elements together into a whole that works, although this book will not suit everyone’s tastes.

(Description nicked from B&N.com.)

“Cayden Silversun is part Elven, part Fae, part human Wizard—and all rebel. His aristocratic mother would have him follow his father to the Royal Court, to make a high society living off the scraps of kings. But Cade lives and breathes for the theater, and he’s good—very, very good. With his company, he’ll enter the highest reaches of society and power, as an honored artist—or die trying. Cade combines the talents of Merlin, Shakespeare, and John Lennon: a wholly charming character in a remarkably original fantasy world created by a mistress of the art.”

With this novel, I did something that I don’t normally do: I looked at other people’s reviews of it before I read it.  I wasn’t sure if I was going to read it or not, and so I was looking for some guidance as to whether or not to go to the effort of picking it up.  When I got sent a copy from the publisher, I immediately decided that I wanted to read it, despite the fact that the reviews that I saw were decidedly mixed.

I can see where the division comes from.  Rawn has made some choices in her writing that are a little puzzling.  For one, the author makes it very clear in the afterward that a lot of her inspiration for this novel came from reading a book about words that are no longer in use, and she decided that it would be fun to write a novel and use them.  I don’t really think that framing an entire book around outdated language is the best way to go, and it does lead to some awkwardness as readers are left wondering what some conversations are about.

Also, although the book is in third person and nominally starts out following Cayden, it suddenly switches midway through and focuses on Mieka, one of the other performers.  Near the end of the book, it switches back.  Even though the troupe has four players, only these two get point of view page time.  They are the major characters, but the switch was odd, to say the least.  Luckily, these two are very well developed, and through their eyes, the others gain a good amount of depth as well.

This novel isn’t the action-packed fantasy adventure that most are used to reading.  There is a definite understated tone to the plot.  The book follows Cayden and his players through a full year of touring and honing their skills.  It doesn’t seem like much to hang a plot on.  What you need to understand, though, is that this novel hinges on suspense.

When I say “suspense”, I don’t mean creeping through haunted houses or stalking killers.  A major element of the story is Cayden’s erratic ability to have dreams that foretell the future.  From the book’s earliest moments, readers see Cayden’s prophecy that their group will fail and they will all fall to ruin.  The twist here is that readers are also told that Cayden has successfully changed his future based on dreams before.  What sucked me into the story was watching to see whether or not this terrible future will be avoided.

Once the novel really gets going, it finds its stride, strange terminology notwithstanding.  It goes along in its low-key way, slowly building tension as the group moves towards a future that may or may not be a positive one for them.  At this point, the time spent developing the characters pays off, as readers come to care what happens to them.  By the book’s halfway point, I was thoroughly enjoying the story and got very invested in finding out what happens next.

While not without its problems, Touchstone will appeal to those who like their fantasy a little quieter, or a little less obsessed with swords and sweeping epics.  This novel has a tighter focus and a slower pace, which won’t appeal to everyone but will find its own audience easily enough, given the chance.  I look forward to the sequel, because sometimes, I like a bit of quiet too.

Also by this author: Fire Raiser, Spellbinder

This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on May 30, 2012.

Series: The Glass Thorns
ISBN: 978-0765323620
Publisher: Tor
Page Count: 368
Publication Date: February 28, 2012
Acquired: Provided by the publisher
Author Website