Fifty Page Fridays: Touchstone by Melanie Rawn

Fifty Page Fridays is a brand new feature here at Far Beyond Reality, so before I get to the actual post, here’s what this is all about.

The short version: it’s a brief post about a book I normally wouldn’t review, starting with an explanation of why I didn’t plan on reviewing it. I’ll read about fifty pages and then give my opinion, including whether I was right or wrong in my initial assessment.

Now, if you’d rather go straight to the bit about, you know, the actual book (I wouldn’t blame you!),  just scroll down until you see the book cover, which is where the actual book-related post begins. If you’re interested in reading the long version of “Stefan explains why he started a series of Fifty Page Fridays posts”, keep reading.

Reviewers are lucky people. We often get free books to review. Really, how amazing is that? I still count myself incredibly lucky every time I find a package in my mailbox or get an e-ARC on Netgalley. Depending on a number of factors, some reviewers get more books than others, but regardless of the amount, I’m sure many of us occasionally end up with some books we just never seriously plan to read.

So, let’s say I just received a book that at least nominally falls under the umbrella of the genre I love, but something just makes me put it aside immediately. Maybe it’s because the book’s in a sub-genre I usually don’t read or enjoy. Maybe it’s because the book’s synopsis turns me off. Maybe it’s by an author I usually don’t enjoy or have some preconceived notion about. Lots of possible reasons.

Now, just to make this absolutely clear: I don’t just review books I like. You can take a look around this site for proof. I review everything I read, good or bad. As a very kind author recently told me, I “deal in honesty.” However, I can’t review everything I receive, and since I’m my own boss here, I pick what I’m going to review. Obviously I’m going to lean towards the authors and sub-genres and styles that I usually read or ones that look interesting to me. That doesn’t mean the rest isn’t good. Some blogs review lots of paranormal romance or media tie-in fiction. I don’t. That’s not a value judgment, just a difference in taste or focus.

So, I came up with the idea of Fifty Page Fridays. I’m going to give some of those books I usually wouldn’t read a chance. For starters, I’ll explain exactly why I didn’t think I’d want to review the book. I’m going to write that section before I start reading, so you can see what my initial impression was and exactly how off-base it may have been. Then I’ll read about fifty pages, and write a brief post about them. (I’m not going to call it a review, because it really isn’t one if I’ve only read a small portion of the book.) And finally I’ll give a brief verdict.

The most positive outcome of all of this for me would be finding a book I love and want to read in its entirety. I’d love to broaden my horizons. I’d love to find a new favorite author. But, if the book doesn’t click with me, at least my readers will know it’s available and maybe discover something they like.

And now, without further ado, the first Fifty Page Fridays post: Touchstone by Melanie Rawn.

Why I didn’t plan to review it: There were a few reasons, but the main issue for me was that the synopsis made me feel like this would be one of those Seventies Lord of the Rings copies that I developed an allergy to at some point during my formative fantasy-reading years. Whenever I see lots of capitalized names of standard fantasy races, it sets off alarm bells for me. Take the first sentence of the synopsis on the inside cover: “Cayden Silversun is part Elven, part Fae, part human Wizard-and all rebel.” The rest of the synopsis didn’t help either, because the wayward son of a rich family spurning his heritage to find his own destiny seemed a bit too recognizable. I love fantasy, but this just seemed too much like what a friend of mine used to refer to as “elfy-welfy fantasy.” Not my thing, basically.

My thoughts after fifty pages: well, it’s considerably better than I expected. Yes, the pages are filled with capitalized race names you’ve seen in a gazillion other fantasy novels, but there’s an interesting twist: the races have intermingled to the point where most people seem to have characteristics of more than just one of them. In addition, the purity of one’s bloodline confers some status, and some of them are less desirable, to the point where people get basic cosmetic surgery to hide the pointy ears that indicate Elven blood and so on. That’s an interesting twist.
Cayden is part of a troupe who perform what’s basically theater with magical special effects. The special effects are provided by a “glisker” who manipulates magical artifacts into changing an actor’s appearance, providing sound effects, or changing the setting. As the novel starts, a new glisker joins the troupe: an Elf who is an incredibly talented but unpredictable wild card.
The whole theater-with-magic concept is not bad one, but if I’m perfectly honest, I started getting tired of it after just one or two plays, so I’m not sure if I can sit through an entire book of them.
The Fae blood in Cayden’s background seems to be rare. One of its effects on Cayden is prophetic dreams, in which he sees a detailed scene from the future. The tension between prophecy and reality is nothing new, but Melanie Rawn drops some biting little details into the dreams that may really pique your interest, e.g. in these first chapters, Cayden has a dream in which he hears someone say that his troupe lost its soul when it lost the glisker who, in the present, has just joined them.
Also interesting: the magic that’s used in theater seems benign, and people love the plays, but there are also a few substantial references to magic having been used in a recent war that caused many deaths and injuries. That war is so recent that Cayden’s troupe selects one play because it may work as an effective tearjerker in a town where most of the male population was wiped out by that war. So, it’s not all as innocent as it seems.
Surprising: when I read the book’s blurb, I thought it would be a borderline YA light fantasy full of singing elves and tra-la-la, but there’s actually some cursing here as well as a few instances of pretty overt sexual innuendo. This is not a problem for me in the least – I just didn’t see it coming.

The verdict: Based on the first fifty pages (actually four chapters, which came to sixty pages) Touchstone is better than I expected. It’s not a traditional Tolkien ripoff. There’s a bit more darkness than I expected to find. I could see it developing into something considerably more complex and intriguing than I expected to find. Still, there’s not enough here to motivate me to keep reading the entire novel, let alone a trilogy. I’m sure this book will find a substantial audience, but it’s not my cup of tea.

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6 Responses to Fifty Page Fridays: Touchstone by Melanie Rawn

  1. Justin says:

    Enjoy this format. Keep it up. And i’ve also read the first 50 pages of TOUCHSTONE and largely agree. I may try to read the whole thing though.

  2. I had high hopes for this Melanie Rawn. I really loved the first trilogy I read by her (Dragon Prince I believe it was), and liked what she was developing in her Exiles series, but the wait got too long and the pay off less and less.

    I may still give this one a go, because I don’t have an allergy to standard fantasy tropes (and love Tolkien copycats or inspired work if well done).

    Love this new ‘feature’ for Fridays on Far Beyond Reality. Makes my anticipation for the weekend ever sweeter.

  3. Pingback: The Week That Was: February 26th, 2012 | Far Beyond Reality

  4. Great idea to weed out books for review.
    Touchstone sounds interesting but wouldn’t be for me exactly.

  5. I’ll have to concur with the others – I like this format. I lack the time or dedication to do it myself, so I’m glad you’re taking responsibility for my laziness and reading things I probably wouldn’t! Looking forward to future Fridays.

  6. Pingback: Fifty Page Fridays: Girl Genius Omnibus Volume One: Agatha Awakens by Phil and Kaja Foglio | Far Beyond Reality

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