by Anton Strout
Mass Market Paperback, 304 pg.
Stonecast was not as fun as it’s predecessor, Alchemystic, but it’s designed to be a that way (still fun, and occasionally funny, however). Lexi’s still trying to figure out how to deal with this new reality she’s found herself in — magic exists, she’s a Spellmason (at least an entry-level and self-taught one) — but now the stakes are higher — her brother and a centuries-old dictator are gunning for her, and have taken her guardian gargoyle captive. She knows that she only has a little while before they’re going to come back to finish what they started last time, and she needs to figure out as much as she can before that so she can defend herself. So where Alchemystic had a feel similar to the hero-discovering-his/her-power montage from recent super-hero movies, Stonecast‘s feel is closer to that of an A-Team or MacGuyver episode where they’ve only got a little time to throw together some way to take down the bad guys.
Spellmasonry isn’t the only supernatural game in town, as we all (including the characters) assumed last time out, and Lexi and her friends get introduced to some of that expanded universe — they meet an alchemist, the representative of an expansive group that studies the supernatural, and see the results of other magic user’s work. Along those lines, Strout also gives us a cameo that points to a whole lot more supernatural activity in their world.
Both of these characters are working off their own agendas, which don’t necessarily line up with Lexi’s, and neither she nor the reader are really ever sure what their angle is. Which leads to something like a two-front war she has to wage — I guess it’s more of a single-front war with a strong possibility that at least another front will open up at any moment. Which is good for dramatic tension, good for the reader, but bad for Lexie.
Stanis, on the other hand, has his hands full — his father (the aforementioned dictator) is trying to bend the gargoyle to his will, and is using methods that the Geneva Conventions would frown on. He’s also dealing with the severing of the bond between himself and the Belarus family, after all this time that’s a difficult transition. By the end of Stonecast, he’ll have even bigger problems to deal with.
The biggest problem with this book is space — it’s just not long enough. We need to see more of the effort that Lexi’s putting into preparation for the return of Kejetan; we need to see more effort that Lexi and her alchemist sensei are putting forth to build up her abilities — and the relationship between the two of them felt too rushed throughout. And thanks to the alchemist, we don’t get nearly enough time with Rory and Marshall this time out — yes, Lexi explains shutting them out for their own protection, so it holds up narratively, but Shaggy without Fred and Daphne just isn’t as fun. I did like Marshall’s development towards the end of this book, but Rory might as well not have been mentioned. We just needed more detail, to see more of the struggles in general.
Still, on the whole, I really enjoy this world, and enjoyed the book — and what’s set up for Spellmason Chronicles #3 has me really looking forward to reading it.