Review: Stonecast by Anton Strout

Stonecast by Anton Strout
Series: The Spellmason Chronicles (# 2)
Release date: September 24, 2013
Publisher: Ace
Pages: 289
Source: book provided by the publisher for review




Alexandra Belarus was an artist stuck working in her New York family’s business…until she discovered her true legacy—a deep and ancient magic. Lexi became the last practicing Spellmason, with the power to breathe life into stone. And as her powers awoke, so did her family’s most faithful protector: a gargoyle named Stanis. But when a centuries-old evil threatened her family and her city, Stanis sacrificed himself to save everything Lexi held dear.

With Stanis gone, Lexi’s efforts to master Spellmasonry—even with the help of her dedicated friends—are faltering. Hidden forces both watch her and threaten her, and she finds herself suddenly under the mysterious wing of a secret religious society determined to keep magic hidden from the world.

But the question of Stanis’s fate haunts her—and as the storm around her grows, so does the fear that she won’t be able to save him in her turn.

Review:  I wasn’t particularly excited about this book when I first started reading. I wasn’t that big of a fan of the first book of the series, Alchemystic, but felt that the setting it had created would certainly allow for some interesting possibilities for the second book. As such, whether reluctantly or not, I did read this book with an open mind. And, I must admit, it was certainly better.

This being the second novel in the Spellmason Chronicles, reading the first book is almost a prerequisite. This book picks up several months after the events of the first, with the gargoyle (self-titled ‘grotesque’) Stanis still being imprisoned by the bad guys and the heroine Lexi still struggling to figure out how to be good at this whole “I can control stone with my mind and saying stuff” thing. Following in the style of the first novel, the story alternates between the points of view of Stanis and Lexi. Unlike the first story, however, there are almost two story arcs which eventually entwine later in the story.

Stanis’ arc starts with him being in chains in the belly of the bad guy’s ship. The bad guy, Kejetan, has employed a blond haired guy to torture Stanis and get information out of him. Most of this arc, early on, involves various forms of torturing the gargoyle and inducing pain. Stanis, meanwhile, constantly introspects on how he is doing this to protect Lexi. Despite this static location, these scenes were riveting, if not violent.
Lexi, meanwhile, struggles to learn how to become a better Spellmason. The blond haired guy, Caleb, befriends her, and eventually agrees to help free Stanis. Various drama ensues.

Eventually, Caleb, Lexi, Stanis, and friends team up to fight the bad guy. I’m trying to avoid spoilers, but this book doesn’t really end on a twist, even though there are several minor suprises throughout the book. And, while this book ends with most of the plot strings wrapped up, there is one left open for further books, should Mr. Strout decide to write them.

This book was FAR more pleasing to read. One of the biggest improvements for me was that the characters seemed much more dynamic. Between Stanis being forced to deal with his torturer, Caleb, Lexi actually growing in her abilities and becoming much more confident, and Marshall actually becoming something other than the comedic relief he felt like in the first book, there more than enough change and flux in all the major protagonists to please me.

The story moved much quicker as well. The characters, major and minor, seemed much more human, and that really helped the flow of things for me. There was plenty of action, plenty of drama, and no real dead spots. It was far better for me than the first novel.

One of my few sticking points, however, is the Stanis – Caleb relationship. The relationship seems far too benevolent to be considered healthy by either party. Stanis seems to get over the whole ‘torture’ thing fairly quickly, and moves on to some sort of jealousy of the relationship Caleb and Lexi. It just seemed rushed to me, but was definitely minor thing.

Overall, if you don’t mind the (sometimes graphic) torture of a human-turned-gargoyle, and are willing to read the first book first, then this should definitely be on your urban fantasy radar. If you’ve read the first book, but aren’t sure about the second, it is most definitely worth a shot. It ties up much of the loose ends the first book presents. This was definitely an enjoyable read to me.