Review: The Garden of Stones by Mark T Barnes

Garden of Stones by Mark T BarnesFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: Paperback, ebook, Audiobook
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Series: Echoes of Empire #1
Length: 506 pages
Publisher: 47 North
Date Released: May 21, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

An uneasy peace has existed since the fall of the Awakened Empire centuries ago. Now the hybrid Avān share the land with the people they once conquered: the star-born humans; the spectral, undead Nomads; and what remains of the Elemental Masters. With the Empress-in-Shadows an estranged ghost, it is the ancient dynasties of the Great Houses and the Hundred Families that rule. But now civil war threatens to draw all of Shrīan into a vicious struggle sparked by one man’s lust for power, and his drive to cheat death. Visions have foretold that Corajidin, dying ruler of House Erebus, will not only survive, but rise to rule his people. The wily nobleman seeks to make his destiny certain by plundering the ruins of his civilization’s past for the arcane science needed to ensure his survival, and by mercilessly eliminating his rivals. But mercenary warrior-mage Indris, scion of the rival House Nasarat, stands most powerfully in the usurper’s bloody path. For it is Indris who reluctantly accepts the task of finding a missing man, the only one able to steer the teetering nation towards peace.

My Review:

This is one of those stories where you feel like you’re getting in at the middle, and it’s not a bad thing. Instead, it feels as if you are being dropped into a fully realized world, that history has already happened that you simply don’t know yet. Shrĩan has always been there, or maybe Dragon-Eyed Indris is an unknown avatar of the Eternal Champion. But his story pulls you in from the first page not in spite of, but because you know that it is definitely not the beginning of the story.

One man wants, not merely to cheat death, but to re-build an empire. As is unfortunately usual, he has decided to let nothing and no one stand in his way; not love, not family, not anything remotely resembling honor or decency. Corajidin of the House of Erebus believes he has a destiny to rule the empire. He has no concept that the empire he is forging with lies and deceit is not what he set out to rule.

Corajidin is a man who is literally losing his soul. Along with his mind.

Indris is the rock in his path. Not because he plans on it, but because others set him on that road long before his birth. Indris starts out believing that he is just helping his father-in-law escape a lethal trap.

But as the story unfolds, we learn that Indris is so much more than just a mercenary, and that he carries the weight of the world in the magic of his mind and the swiftness of his sword. All he wants is to be his own man. Instead, he fights against the oncoming chaos, again, and again.

No matter how often Indris tries to turn away, his destiny keeps coming for him.

Escape Rating A: The Garden of Stones was an immersive fantasy. It felt like being in the eye of a storm. The court machinations of Corajidin and his followers reminded me a bit of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart series, in the way that every single action was political, motivated six different ways, and that he used every single member of his own family in multiple betrayals.

Indris, on the other hand, appears to have been used all his life. Someone seems to be pushing him towards a destiny that he doesn’t want, but is supposedly for the greater good, and he keeps resisting. He has secrets, and most of the important people in his life have secrets from him. But as the central character, he is completely compelling. He wants to save his friends, maintain a reasonable amount of the status quo, because that’s the best thing for his world, and not get sucked in to other people’s plans for him. He also carries a terrible burden of grief that he’s just barely beginning to overcome.

Then there’s Mari, a woman faced with a terrible choice. She can either betray her family and keep her oaths, or the other way around, knowing that her family will still betray her in the end.

Obsidian Heart by Mark T BarnesThe Garden of Stones gave me a book hangover. When I finished, I simply did not want to leave this world–particularly since it ended on a spectacular cliffhanger. I’m haunted by the last scene, and I’ll be haunting NetGalley until The Obsidian Heart pops up.


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