Review of Glass Thorns – Book 1 of Touchstone by Melanie Rawn

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When I first met Himself, he had a box of fantasy books – including Melanie Rawn’s Dragon Prince trilogy, which blew me away. So, all these years later when I’ve read so many more books in the genre, would I still love her writing?

glassthornsCayden Silversun is part Elven, part Fae, and part human Wizard. After centuries of bloodshed, in which Cade’s Wizard kin played a prominent role, his powers are now strictly constrained. But in the theatre, magic lives. Cade is a tregetour, a playwright who infuses glass wands with the magic necessary for the rest of his troupe, Touchstone, to perform his pieces. But alongside the Wizardly magic that he is sure will bring him fame and fortune on the stage is the legacy of the Fae within him. Troubled by prophetic visions of not only his future but the fates of those closest to him, Cade must decide whether to interfere, or stand back as Touchstone threatens to shatter into pieces.

It is always enjoyable and intriguing to read something that stretches the genre in a different direction – and Glass Thorns certainly does that. Apart from the fact that it has many elements taken from Fantasy – a Late Medieval/Early Modern historical feel, complete with horse-driven conveyances; a number of races rubbing shoulders, including Elves, Wizards, Fae, Trolls, etc; women relegated to a subservient role – there are also aspects of this book that would fit quite happily in a hard science fiction read. The fact that the narrative is powered by attention to and details from the world (which in a sci fi book would be all the techie toys); main characters are defined and moulded by their interaction with the magic system (think of post-humanity in the likes of Alisdair Reynolds and Iain M. Banks novels); and the pace is outright leisurely – which is certainly also the case in Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2313.

However Fantasy fans are generally used to a lot more action than Rawn offers, here. So does she pull it off? As far as I’m concerned – yes. I loved it right from the start. Cade’s twitchy, neurotic but brilliant character had me immediately hooked. I love the setup of the magical theatre group struggling to establish themselves – the concept is original and gives us a specific slant on the society from the viewpoint of a couple of self-absorbed, egotistical characters, whose job as actors take them outside the conventions of class.

Rawn manages to beautifully balance the touchy, over-controlling Wizard, with the devastating charisma and chaotic abandon of Mieka, Touchstone’s glister, whose imagination releases and shapes Cade’s raw magic stored in the glass withies. He is also the other viewpoint character in the book. As Touchstone learn their repertoire and go on an extended tour, this book charts their progress and particularly the relationship between Cade and Mieka, which is often tense and explosive.  So if you’re looking for a swash-buckler, full of gory action and breathless non-stop action, then give this one a pass – it doesn’t tick any of those boxes. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with those books – but this novel is attempting to do something different.

I loved it – from the odd words, which were easy enough to understand without resorting to the glossary in my opinion – right through to the cliff-hanger ending. And one of my priorities for February is to track down the next book in this fascinating series, Elsewhens and see where Rawn takes it.
9/10

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