I wasn’t ready to reach the end of this book, and not because there’s a scene or two I wanted to see live instead of in flashback or discussion. I didn’t want to pack these characters away. That’s the sign of good storytelling, something clear from the starting prologue which turns expectations on their head and gives us a taste of the adventure to come along with both tension and humor.
A Reaper of Stone is a traditional fantasy adventure, but not as in the cliche. It’s the type with villains who should have been better people and the main characters determined to live up to their vows no matter the pressure to be like everyone else and allow corruption into their roles. Elinor models herself on tales of old, and there’s both truth and strength to be found in them. Her determination, though, requires the help of friends, newly made and older, to keep her resolve and have her back.
Elinor might be the main driving force, but Conbert is as much a main character. They offer a well-done switch of traditional roles without depending on stereotypical traits. Elinor is the fighter not because she’s unique but rather Elinor has been training hard her whole life and comes from a rougher world than most city-bred candidates. She’s neither emotionally stunted, brash, or a bully. Her strengths do not change her into something other than the honorable young woman she is.
Conbert is the scholar, though as an engineer he is not all paper and books. He’s a negotiator in part because he’s empathic and aware of the people issues, but this ability doesn’t make him weak or emotional. He just has a talent for seeing to the heart of people and uses it to smooth the way and offer critical advice.
The story plays on the dangers of neglecting the past and forgetting the purpose behind old traditions in favor of greed and ignorance. It’s not so much anti-progression as a warning against letting the more selfish impulses run rampant. Still, a strength of this story is how it doesn’t give a straight classist argument as many fantasy novels do. It’s not the corrupt nobles against the innocent and good peasantry. The book gives a more nuanced portrayal allowing every person, regardless of role or birth, to make a choice. That’s critical because it leaves open a path of change rather than seeing future as a pre-ordained disaster.
Despite its length, this is a complete tale with character change and deeper meanings to make it memorable. The world building has many common European markers, but also unique elements to draw the reader in. The actual writing seemed rough at times, but the storytelling and adventuring feel pulled me past any hiccups. I was eager to learn what would happen next and to see how the earlier events would influence the future.
While in many ways a young adult title skewing to the younger edge, the book has a bit of situation-appropriate swearing and conviction has its, sometimes brutal, costs. I mention this not to scare anyone off but so you can judge tolerance. Story wise, I don’t think a younger teen would fail to find enjoyment and a reminder of the rules of honor passed down in myth as they were not in reality. The older set are likely to enjoy as much as I did.
P.S. For those keeping track, this book was written by at least one BayCon author. I’m sorry it took me so long to read it.