Review of Elsewhens – Book 2 of The Touchstone series by Melanie Rawn

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This is the sequel to the fabulous Glass Thorns I recently reviewed here. Would it live up to the very high standard Rawn set in her first book of the series?

Touchstone, the magical theatre troupe, continues to build audiences and wherever they go and worldly success follows. But after anelsewhens apparent loss in the Trials, the four are chosen to travel from a kingdom populated with Wizards, Elves and Fae to the continent, where magic is forbidden and non-human races are met with suspicion.

As strains within the group threaten to fracture it, playwright Caydon is further troubled by his ‘elsewhens’ the uncontrolled moments when he is plunged into visions of the death of his closest friend, the troupe’s reckless and brilliant glister Mieka. Cade fears that his Fae gift will forever taint his friendships, while others fear that his increasing distance will destroy him.

If you have managed to get your hands on a copy of Elsewhens but haven’t got around to reading Glass Thorns – my firm advice is to put Elsewhens on one side until you’ve read Glass Thorns. This is a fairly densely written world, without any sort of ‘story so far’ prologue to help out readers who are reading this out of sequence. I’m assuming that if you have gone to the trouble of tracking down Elsewhens, you are a Fantasy fan that thoroughly enjoyed the first instalment of this wonderful world. It seems to be something of a Marmite series – readers seem to either love or dislike it. I loved it.

Now that Touchstone are busy establishing their reputations, this book explores some of the darker side of performing – the demons that regularly afflict those who are driven to display slices of their personality to entertain others. Though Rawn’s performers are magical beings, some of the impulses that drive them are all too human. And the troupe’s hard drinking, womanising and drug use is very familiar – anyone who knows actors or musicians will recognise aspects of their behaviour in Rawn’s performers in this original and fascinating Fantasy tale. Their post-show behaviour regularly slides into bursts of high-spirited pranks – the sort of high jinks that rock and roll groups have indulged in, when the adrenaline burst necessary for a performance doesn’t ease down quietly, but goes on buzzing long after the show is over…

Mieka, their mercurial glister, pulls out the emotion that Cade carefully weaves into the glass withies and gives his magical crafting colour and intensity that leaves audiences breathless and wanting more… But Cade is still tormented by the visions of various futures in which a drug-ravaged Mieka self-destructs – or Cade, twisted into a coldly aloof version of himself, rebuffs the emotionally needy Elf… And he desperately tries to make his own decisions to ensure some of the nightmare futures don’t come to pass – while keeping the other options to himself so that he doesn’t influence any of the others, especially Mieka.

If your taste runs to character-led stories where the author allows the world to develop through her protagonists’ hopes and fears… Where constant politicking goes on around the main characters, while they are oblivious, wrapped up in the latest performance… Where their drive to be the best they can be ignites creative fires they struggle to control… then this is a read I cannot recommend highly enough.

And as for the ending – well I didn’t see that coming. And it’s a long old wait for the third instalment. In the meantime, it’s wonderful to see one of the Fantasy greats back to her old form – welcome back Melanie!
10/10

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