A Cast of Stones
The king is dying and he has no heir. A teenager in a remote village spends his day in an ale barrel. In an attempt to get more money for his alcoholism, the young man embarks on what appears to be a simple errand -- delivering a letter -- but soon finds himself mixed up in the search for the new king, a search in the hands of men with a magical talent to find the answer to any question with perfect accuracy.
February 1, 2013
I hesitate to admit it, but this series is overtly Christian fantasy. With the three persons of the Godhead called Deas, Eliason, and Aurae, it’s not pretending to be anything except what it is. I hesitate not because I’m ashamed of reading Christian fantasy (I write for GUG, after all!) but because I’ve certainly read my share of terribly written “Christian fantasy,” though I won’t name names here. So I understand that saying this is Christian fantasy might just turn some people off. But I hope you’ll bear with me, because this is actually a very well-written and engaging tale.
Violence: Typical fantasy violence and deaths of enemies.
Sexual Content: There are a few very gentle innuendos, but nothing I found objectionable.
Drug/Alcohol Use: The main character, Errol, begins the story as a drunkard even though he’s only in his teens. The ill effects of ale are described in a realistic way and, after sobering up, he often speaks of that time of his life in a sorrowful way, so it’s not encouraging drinking.
Spiritual Content: As I mentioned, “Deas,” “Eleison,” and “Aurae” are often mentioned. Though there is no mention of the Cross, one scene shows two priests celebrating their version of the sacrament. With that said, ambitious and even evil priests are depicted.
Language/Crude Humor: Nothing I found objectionable.
Other Negative Content: Frequent references to drunkenness in the early chapters. References to consorting with spirits and demons, along with demonic possession.
Positive Content: Our hero may start as a drunkard but he ends as… well, a hero, for a powerful tale of redemption. Many positive portrayals of priests and their church.
There is so much I love about this book I hardly know where to start the review. Let’s start with the first character we meet, Errol Stone, an orphan and drunkard. We start the story with him face down in the dirt outside the village tavern. However, he soon meets a church messenger with an important letter for two priests who’d taken up residence in a remote cabin a few years ago. Errol agrees to take the letter so he can earn some money for more ale, but from such an unpleasant motive a magnificent story is born.
Once Errol gets to the priests’ cabin, he idly picks up a perfectly round stone sphere. Looking at it closely, he sees letters in it, though he can’t read. And thus his whole life is changed. The sphere is a “lot,” and only “readers” can read a lot. To everyone else, they’re just plain carved spheres. “Casting lots” is the primary system of magic in this world, and is used as a form of divination. With the proper question and the materials to shape lots — either wood or stone — a reader can answer any query with perfect accuracy. Identified as a reader, Errol is forced by one of the priests to accompany them back to the capital and headquarters of the church.
Unfortunately, both the church and the nation are in turmoil, as the king is old, dying, and has no heir. Nobles and even churchmen are vying for the throne, leading to adventures along the road from the sleepy village to the capitol. Along the way, Errol learns more about the art of casting lots along with other things, including how to defend himself with the staff. Most importantly, Errol learns a lot of things about himself, and that’s where Carr’s writing really shines. The scenes where he’s describing the reasons he’s taken to drink while only in his teens are actually a little bit uncomfortable to read — at least for me — because they’re so real and described so well, but they make Errol a fully formed character, with real human motivations, emotional wounds, and frailties.
Carr’s characters are the reason I’ve become such a fan of his writing. He has a wonderful gift for making characters that come alive because they, like us, are motivated by our past, both the good and the bad. We are, after all, as much a product of our failures as our successes, and that comes out in these books. They feel shame and jealousy, just like we do, as well as hope for the future.
Overall, if you are looking for an extremely well-crafted and engrossing fantasy with a unique and very interesting magic system, whether you’re Christian or not, you could do far worse than A Cast of Stones.
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+ Overall positive portrayal of priests, religious people, and the church.
+ A very powerful story of redemption with the village drunkard becoming a hero.
+ Many moving depictions of emotional moments.
- Ambitious and evil priests are depicted.
- Demons and demon possession are a large part of the story.
- Drunkenness is portrayed often in the beginning of the book.