The Stone of the Stars by Alison Baird
The Stone of the Stars is a fun, if imperfect, high fantasy with gently feminist overtones, a coming-of-age theme, and a slight hint of romance.
The beginning is… well, inauspicious. There’s a Prologue that has the feel of warmed-over Tolkien as seen through the lens of the “back in the good old days, everyone was a peaceful Goddess-worshipper” myth. Then, in chapter one, we meet our heroine, Ailia, in a scene that has “Mary Sue” written all over it, right down to the color-changing eyes. Fortunately, it gets better.
The Stone of the Stars consists of two parts. The first section deals with Ailia’s journey from her small island to the larger world of higher education. While there, she meets the four others who will be her companions throughout the tale: Damion, a priest having a crisis of faith; Jomar, an embittered slave; Lorelyn, a tomboyish orphan with mystical powers; and Ana, an eccentric old woman reputed to be a witch. This section is necessary to set the scene, but it takes a while for the story’s events to get rolling, and the dialogue in Part One is often stilted and info-dumpy. I have to give Alison Baird credit for originality in her setting, however; her story is set in her world’s Age of Enlightenment rather than its Middle Ages, and so many of the characters don’t believe in the supernatural until it’s staring them in the face. Sometimes not even then.
Part Two is stronger. In this section, Ailia and her companions embark on a dangerous quest. The pace picks up, and the story becomes an exciting McGuffin adventure. It’s still not perfect. There’s some more Sue-ishness, some clichés, way too much cluelessness on the part of the characters, and the most ridiculous name for a mythical beast I’ve ever run across. (An antelope-type animal called a pantheon? Seriously?) However, Part Two is a fun ride, and I was glued to the page as the good guys raced against the bad guys to find the mysterious Stone.
One of the things I thought was done particularly well was Ailia’s preconceptions of gender roles. While she chafes against the idea of a conventional “female” life, she doesn’t immediately put all of her ingrained ideas aside as soon as the adventure starts. She’s quite shocked at some of the things Lorelyn does. I think that makes Ailia realistic. It would have stretched belief if she’d become a riot grrl overnight.
The prose is serviceable with occasional moments of transcendent beauty.
Alison Baird wrote several novels for young adults before writing the Dragon Throne series. While The Stone of the Stars is billed as a fantasy for adults, it strikes me as a great novel for young girls. As an adult, I enjoyed it. At 13, I’d have treasured it, enthralled by the struggles of the two very different heroines, bookish Ailia and tomboyish Lorelyn, as they left their preordained lives and searched for their true selves. There’s no sex, and the violence is not explicit, so there’s nothing that would be inappropriate for a girl of 12 or 13, and I think that’s the age group that would like The Stone of the Stars best.
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