As it happened, CSFF’s plans to feature A Cast of Stones in a blog tour dovetailed with publisher Bethany House’s plans to promote the second book in The Staff & The Sword series, The Hero’s Lot. Consequently, I have the privilege of reviewing this one as well.
I’m happy about that, certainly, because I loved A Cast of Stones. After I read the last page, I dived right in and gobbled down The Hero’s Lot. Gobbled it whole. Or nearly so. I love a book that draws me in to the point that I am steeped in the story and the world, and Patrick Carr‘s epic fantasy novels did just that.
But here’s the downside for me: I don’t remember the details well when I read glomps at a time. So now you’re forewarned, and still I offer you my review of The Hero’s Lot.
The Story. Of necessity, if you haven’t read A Cast of Stones yet, you’ll find spoilers from this point on. I’m sorry. I just don’t know how I can discuss a sequel without giving some idea what happened in the book that came before. I’ll do my best to paint with a wide brush, which actually should work since I don’t remember the particulars well!
Errol Stone has made remarkable changes, and yet he’s plagued with his own insignificance. Yes, he now has much needed abilities that can serve his king well, but those closest to him expect him to offer himself as a pawn for the good of the nation.
A great threat lies over the land. Their king is childless, and a prophecy or a curse says that when the king dies with no heir, the barrier keeping their land free from being overrun by an evil entity comparable to evil spirits, will fall.
Errol is needed in the process of selecting the new king because one of his abilities allows him to read the lots cast by others. Without him, unscrupulous power-hungry earls can manipulate the selection process and steal the kingship.
Consequently, his enemies accuse him of trumped up wrong doing. His punishment is to go on a seemingly impossible quest. And once again, the church puts a compulsion on him, giving him no choice.
And I’ll stop there.
Strengths. Once again Patrick Carr has created a multi-dimensional tale. There is political intrigue, but also a genuine quest. There is a love interest and a new friend. There’s personal growth and personal sorrow. Much is at stake for Errol as a man but also for his country and the lands nearby. His path is fraught with danger and the outcome of his efforts is uncertain, at best.
In other words, the story is filled with action and conflict and tension. And the stakes are raised. Errol is more important than anyone could imagine at the beginning of A Cast of Stones, and his own life is more at risk than ever before.
The characters in The Hero’s Lot are not stagnant. Some change for the better, but others show up in a less flattering light. New characters appear, and some old friends die.
The world is richer in this second edition of The Staff & The Sword, in part because Errol’s travels show it to be far bigger than I realized in the first book.
The trilogy theme also seems to emerge. Above all else, Errol is striving to be somebody. When he was orphaned and learned that even the father he thought he knew was not his natural parent, he escaped into the bottle. Now that he’s sober, he tries to make himself into someone who matters, though he doesn’t believe his new rank or his unique abilities make him worthwhile. When he learns the facts about his parentage, he once again slides into despair.
There’s also a spiritual theme that emerges, but I don’t want to give too much away. Suffice it to say, this one could be a little uncomfortable for some Christians.
Weaknesses. There’s no map! Yes, this is an even greater problem in this book because Errol and those who accompany him are crossing borders and traveling by ship. I want to see where they are and where they are going. At one point others were headed from a different place to the same town as Errol and company. I wanted to know how different these two routes where and what the chance was that they’d both arrive at the same time. Maps can give clues to such things. But, no map!
I also thought The Hero’s Lot was a little more rushed than A Cast of Stones. I can’t remember details (going too fast, myself), but I had the sense that things weren’t being explained as carefully as I’d like, that if I went back and read again, I’d find a few holes, in the foreshadowing, if nowhere else.
Still, I think The Hero’s Lot is a remarkable book that advances the story on every level.
Recommendations. Epic fantasy lovers will be so happy with this book. It’s rich and well worth the time it takes to read. It’s a delightful story, so readers of all stripes will enjoy it as well. So I highly recommend the book to readers and suggest it is a must read for epic fantasy fans. It’s an adult book, but young adults who are good readers will have no problem with it.
Just a reminder that A Cast of Stones is available until the end of August as a free ebook with either Kindle or Nook. What a great opportunity to get in on this trilogy, to find out if this is the kind of story you’ll like, without costing you a dime.
Also, you can pre-order Book 3, A Draw of Kings, which is due out February 2014.
In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.