Sunday, August 16, 2009

“The Perils of a Prophecy”: A Review of Kit Berry’s Solstice at Stonewylde

(Moongazy Publishing, 2007, by Joey Madia

In the past two years I have had the pleasure of reading and reviewing the first two books in the Stonewylde series, Magus of Stonewylde and Moondance of Stonewylde. With the plot well in motion and the stakes raised to an almost unbearable height, I eagerly began reading what was to be the final book in the cycle, Solstice at Stonewylde.

It did not disappoint.

The most psychological of the three books, Solstice slows down the action as compared to the first two, considering the larger issues of power and wealth and just how far a person will go to obtain them. What is willingly left behind, what natural alliances are so easily broken, just how much of a price in soul and spirit we find ourselves willing to pay are all explored through scenes of mental and physical torture that leave the reader hoping that some heroic character will come bursting through the door to save the day.

But just like in life, no one comes, because no one can.

I want to tread carefully here, and in no way reveal plot points that might ruin the reader’s experience, so please forgive the generalities. As a fan of the trilogy, and of Kit Berry’s considerable skill and imagination, I will refrain from dwelling on content and focus instead on form.

The exploration of numerous story lines at once, in the great Tolkienesque tradition, is employed in Solstice with more irregularity and yet more power than in the previous two books. Long stretches of text focus on a pair of characters, driving home their isolation and alliance and literally leaving other key characters out in the growing cold; characters we feel for all the more for their absence.

I was very pleased with the revealing of secrets in the book. This is immensely difficult over the course of a trilogy, as so much information must be shared by the author and so many IOUs that were written to the reader (as my college writing professor would say) must be paid that it is hard not to employ a load of misdirection. As in life, some secrets were no surprise at all, and others were all the more surprising for having resided with characters who played seeming second fiddle throughout the previous books. As a writer who works in this genre, I learned a lot about how to make this work.

A few words must be said about the fulfillment of the prophecy that hangs especially sharp over the second book. Again, prophecies, related as they are to the creation and unveiling of secrets, are hard to do well, as evidenced by the seventh Potter book. Inevitability is darned hard to make interesting, and yet it is what the writer must do. Kudos to Kit Berry for doing it well.

In the closing chapters, Berry uses some interesting changes in voice and perspective as events are reaching their climax. These techniques serve the story well, enhancing and heightening the drama without resorting to a bunch of sidelines to drag things out.

As I said in the opening, this was to be the final book in the series, but there is a note at the end of Solstice informing readers that we can expect two more. Refreshingly, all will not be cozy and kind at Prophecy’s end.

With such a strong concept, magical land, and so many aspects of the vivid characters of Stonewylde still waiting to be explored, why should it be?

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