THE GARDEN OF THE STONEA novel by Victoria Strauss
(1999, Avon Eos)
The Stone Duology, book 2
Two resistance operatives attempt to bring about a prophecy of the return of the man who stole the magical Gifted stone.
-- First reading (hardcover)
As much as I have been looking forward to this book, sequel to The Arm of the Stone, I was quite disappointed with much of it. The story is written with much conviction, however, and a lot of contemplation, and we get complete characters whose thoughts tell us even more about the world.Spoiler review:
Unfortunately, I did not become engaged with the main character, Cariad. Her father Bron was a very interesting person in the last book, until he became too powerful for the story. Cariad herself believes that she is invincible, because Goldwine, her foster mother, prophesized that she would meet her father when he returned to the world to destroy the Guardians. It was nice to see her attitude change as she encountered more obstacles and even became victimized, herself.
I was glad to see that Bron's actions at the end of the last book had some impact on the world, even if the general populace was not aware that the Stone was gone. The resistance has tried to spread the word, but the public sees that magic still works, so how can the Stone be gone? The resistance, who are mostly Gifted, see the signs, however, in the crumbling wards and the loss of ancient bindings.
I did not find Cariad to be a very interesting character. She is powerful, like Bron, so that very little of what she does has any actual cost. She has many Gifts, but is very naive, though she is also well-traveled. The plot in the first section could have used more work, as well, as we never gained a real understanding of why Jolyon was searching to restore the ancient bindings would be such a bad thing, except that he might impress already powerful people. The fact that he intended to become prior, though, puts him in the most powerful position, already.
As in The Arm of the Stone, the second section reverts to another character, this time an undercover resistance member named Konstant. I much preferred the sections with Konstant in them, and I preferred him as a character, as well. I wonder if that is because he dealt with actions that were taking place within the Guardian ranks, among Jolyon's hard-line Arm members, also known as the Reddened. We get Konstant's back-story in hindsight from his mind, and it really only serves to better describe the character. There is very little plot, except that which is necessary to drive the characters. Jolyon still sends out search parties into the technological world looking for Bron, and Konstant wants to become one of those, so that he can bring Bron back to fulfill his destiny.
I was afraid of how the technological world would be presented in this book, when Konstant finally does get "here". I have not read any fantasy novels that have managed to successfully incorporate technology. So I was impressed with Konstant's observations. His interaction was very limited, and we were only exposed to a little of it. I liked his ability to assimilate everything he came across and use it as knowledge, instead of letting it hinder him too much. I wonder what city he visited that had no poverty or disease, though.
We return to Cariad in the third part of the story, where she enters the huge "downworld" beneath the Guardian Fortress. I was bored through most of this section, as she tries to find the missing Konstant, as she develops a relationship with Orrin (though she refuses to believe it), and as she plots to kill Jolyon. I really liked that she learned some humility by having to do manual labor, giving her a fresh perspective. Unfortunately, she promptly leaves it all behind it when the time comes to act.
The only real character development that we get in this section comes in the revelation that Cariad should not be using the non-Gifted people as tools, skimming their thoughts as if they were second-class. As Orrin says, the new world her revolution would create will be no different from the old, with Gifted as First-class citizens, and the unGifted below them. Unfortunately, it is also a story that has been done before, in many forms. This form did not give us anything particularly new or inspiring. Orrin, at least, seems to be older than his years. He is young enough to have been born after the Stone was stolen, but old enough to have become a head servant and to have all sorts of very wise thoughts and ideas.
Also not new, clichéd, but somehow also satisfying, was the way in which Cariad was captured after trying to kill Jolyon. She stood over his body, gloating, forcing him to recognize her as Bron's daughter, only to be discovered by Jolyon's body-servant. She even told herself that she really should have gone looking for the body servant first, but figured that he was harmless. Of course, he has a special power, one that nobody can sense.
After the cliff-hanger with Cariad, we return to Konstant, recovering from a severe illness in Bron's seaside house. This part was interesting in a philosophical way, especially after Cariad's relatively boring section. We get to learn even more about Konstant's character. I thought that his assessment of Bron's character was perfectly correct: disillusioned, unable to regain his faith, doesn't even know that he is missing it. Does he worship the Stone? What is his purpose for living, if not for fulfillment of some kind? He has been bottled up in that house for years, and plans to live a secluded life forever, there. I also wanted to know what he did in his workroom for so long each day.
Bron had done a lot of investigation of this world and others, for many other Splits had occurred over time, every time a new type of philosophy entered the world. They were all connected through some sort of gate, a place where all of the worlds still touched. He had tried also to awaken the Gifts of people in this world, to no success, which leads him to believe that destroying the Limits would allow technology to take over, and the Gift would die out on that world.
No matter what Konstant said, however, Bron refused to return to the world that he had abandoned. I was surprised that Konstant did not use the one argument that might have swayed Bron: Cariad, the daughter he never knew, the last of his special line.
Cariad, for her part, is imprisoned in the same cell that was used for Bron back in the last book. Although it is tragic that she should be tortured and violated through her mind, it is also fitting, in a way, and I had little sympathy for her. Jolyon is a true monster, especially with his power-absorbing servant, but she was never a sympathetic character, full of pride and arrogance. It was nice to see her fall a notch, though Jolyon of course takes it too far.
The rest of the section follows Cariad's time in hiding among the downworld transporters once Orrin rescues her. I like the fact that Jolyon doesn't think that an unGifted person could be a threat, so he can walk right into her prison! I found the time that Cariad spent among the transporters to be tiring, at best.
Bron's reasons for finally returning to the Gifted world with Konstant are not sufficient, from my point of view. I feel like he refused simply to dispel the idea that Konstant's task would be too easy. But it was too easy, even though he became frustrated, lost his memory, and was attacked by Jolyon's minions, only to be saved again by Bron. The section was short, but enjoyable, as all of Konstant's sections were. We finally learn what secret Konstant was hiding, how he was so good at mind-probing that he destroyed dozens of minds, sometimes just for demonstration. Each time it made him sick.
The last section comes once again from Cariad's point of view, as she finally leaves the transporters and heads for the Garden of the Stone, where she is destined to meet her father. The description of the failing bindings, due to Jolyon's grab for power and the rift in him becoming -or not becoming -Prior, was quite enjoyable. Bron's return goes about as expected, as Jolyon erects a new barrier that Cariad cannot cross, and his servant steals Bron's gift, leaving him paralyzed.
I had hoped that Orrin would have followed Cariad and ended up killing Jolyon's servant, as only one without a Gift could do. The servant was the only way the author could allow Bron back into the world, with all of his power. But after Jolyon, this time, takes too long gloating before deciding to kill Bron, Cariad gives the servant back his name, because that was all that kept the servant under Jolyon's power. The "struggle" between Jolyon and Bron, therefore, was little more than a brief argument before Cariad rescued him and Konstant gave his life to protect him. Then, after killing the servant, she takes Jolyon's life. Anticlimactic, to say the least. They barely spoke, and never really introduced each other properly.
Bron reduces the Guardian Fortress to ruins, and destroys all articles made from mind-power in the world. Then he takes the stone and barriers himself with it in the old Garden of the Stone. Huh? Bron's life in this world will be even worse than in the world of technology. I figured he would choose another Gifted world to exile himself within, not a tiny space in his old world. What purpose does it serve? Will he not be tempted to return again and again when he sees the new turmoil he has created? His life there would be with even less purpose than the one he lived for thirty years. Goldwine obviously wants the Stone, and will try to use all of her power against Bron's enclosure.
I think the entire plot of the first book was summarized in the first section of this book. Somehow, it didn't feel forced, but more like a refresher. We didn't really need much of a refresher, however, because this book barely dealt with the actions that Bron wrought then. Still, the characters were well-written, Konstant better than Cariad. The plot was tenuous enough that it didn't really matter much, but strong enough that it held the various sections together. There might even be setup for a sequel, an aftermath of sorts.
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