Review: Stone of Farewell

Title: Stone of Farewell (1990)
Author: Tad Williams
Pages: 771
Series: Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn #2, Osten Ard Saga #2 (Series Tracker)


This was a bit of a letdown after a really enjoyable opening novel. Folks knock the first book because the first 200 pages are interminably slow. No one ever mentioned that the second book takes about 500(!) pages to really get going.

While The Dragonbone Chair raised many questions and provided few answers, Stone of Farewell raises very few questions and answers even fewer. Here’s hoping the final doorstopper in the trilogy is packed to the brim with with action and plot development!

★★★

Interview: E. J. Beaton, author of The Councillor

The Speculative Shelf is thrilled to welcome E. J. Beaton to the blog today to discuss her outstanding debut novel, The Councillor (out March 2, 2021) from DAW Books.

The book follows Lysande, a scholar plucked out of an academy at a young age to work for the Iron Queen of Elira. When the queen is killed by an unknown assassin, Lysande is thrust into a leadership role in the kingdom, with little support and only her wits to guide her. You can find our review of the book here.

DAW Books is hosting a giveaway for 3 copies of The Councillor (Age: 18+, US residents only) – you can enter here.


1. The Councillor is labeled “Machiavellian fantasy” — How would you describe this subgenre as it applies to your novel?

The Councillor has a bit of a dialogue with Machiavellian thought. Lysande confronts the consequences of persecution and class inequality, and considers who has historically paid the price for leaders’ choices – as a less privileged person, she’s aware of the allure of power yet also critical of it.

Machiavelli famously described the practical moves that a leader can make to establish their power. His best-known treatise, The Prince, explains how a feudal leader can rule effectively. But he was living in a divided Italy during a time of widespread chaos and pillaging, and he was calling on a leader to unite and stabilise the country. He had one eye on the realities of politics, yet simultaneously, he hoped for a better world.

That’s how I’d describe the main character in The Councillor, too. Lysande has a realistic understanding of power, and she’s studied political history. Yet she also sees the need for structural change and hopes that society can change for the better. The question that remains is whether she’ll be committed to achieving that justice herself, or whether the allure of power will be too strong for her to resist.

2. The Councillor features multiple unique cultures that feel lived-in and well-developed. Were any of these modeled after real historical world cultures?

Thank you for the kind comment! Multiculturalism was an essential part of the world-building in the novel. None of the cultures directly adapt real-world cultures or are intended as a faithful representation of any country, but some of the places I’ve visited inspired a few creations.

The city of Rhime is partly inspired by the places in Italy I’ve visited, including Rome, the Vatican, Cinque Terre, Florence, and the Tuscan countryside. The decoration of ceilings with elaborate sculptures and trompe-d’oeuil paintings in the novel, for example, are based on some of the Italian churches and buildings I walked through. The land that Lysande travels through in Rhimese territory is inspired by my travels in Tuscany, including the special quality of the light and the vibrant colours of the environment.

The use of city-states was partly inspired by my reading about Renaissance Italy – I was intrigued by the concept of a range of different rulers co-existing, sometimes chaotically, within the one country. On the other hand, aspects of Axium are inspired by English history, and Axium’s values are linked to the values taught historically in the English-based curriculum. Lysande comes to question those values over the course of the novel.

I’ve travelled a fair bit in Asia and Europe and have worked in Cambodia, so there are bits of things that I’ve observed from a range of countries and shaped into my own creations, but less concentrated in one city. It’s probably more of a subtle tribute. Being Australian, I had my own country’s varied nature to consider, too: I tried to create a multi-climate land where you could find desert, jungle, temperate land and snow-capped mountains all within the same country.

3. Lysande, your main character, becomes addicted to ingesting a powdered dragon scale, of sorts. Drug addiction is not something I see much of in modern fantasy. Why was it important to include this difficulty in Lysande’s journey?

I was hoping to show the lived experience of overlapping mental and physical struggles – the combination of those two things at once can be very dangerous, and Lysande has learned to keep her struggles a secret. She’s a high-performing person who manages to conceal a lot of her emotional life. It was important to me to show the toll that these kinds of problems take on the body and mind at once, and how denial and shame work to keep that pain hidden.

The effects of chimera scale are based on effects that I experienced in my own struggle with illness. Mentally, Lysande’s scale use is calming, but physically it acts as a stimulant. This was modelled on an unhealthy cycle of behaviour I experienced where those two things – physical stimulus and mental calm – would be happening at once. I hope that by showing Lysande’s struggle with damaging behaviours, I can help someone else out there to feel a little less alone. That’s something I found, myself, from reading or watching stories about similar health struggles: I felt better after experiencing those stories, even if they were emotionally tough.

4. How do you think your experience as a poet influences your approach to writing a novel?

The aesthetic possibilities of language really open up in poetry. I think language is beautiful, and there’s a power in a writing style that can speak to the senses and to the deeper emotions. My approach to writing inherits something from my love of poetry, although I do feel that writing is a constant learning process, and I’m always trying to improve my writing.  

One aspect of poetry that has influenced my prose is the search for more specific words, whether that’s nouns, adjectives, or verbs – words that say exactlywhat I want to say and aren’t just the first ones I grab for in my mental bag. I’m also a fan of combinations of words that suggest rather than tell. For example, saying that someone has a knife-like smile or a dangerous smile is different to saying that they have a mean smile.

Poetry also makes me conscious of rhythm: what a short sentence can do, what a long sentence can do, and how alliteration or other techniques can create different rhythms. It helps me to think about the beat of my words, and how that can match the action of a scene. A character’s slow observation has a different rhythm to furious warfare, for example, and the accumulation of insight has its own particular and peculiar rhythms.

5. What was the last great book you read? What are you reading now? What is next on your to-read list?

I really enjoyed Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, Circe by Madeline Miller, and The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker. Those three books seemed beautiful and powerful at once; they all feature elegant prose, but they also have emotional journeys that leave a lingering ache.

I’ve just started reading Ocean Vuong’s poetry collection, Night Sky With Exit Wounds. As in his debut novel, he writes with such beauty about difficult and painful things.

Some fantasy books I have my eye on to read soon are Aliette de Bodard’s Fireheart Tiger, Rebecca Roanhorse’s Black Sun, and when it comes out, Suyi Davies Okungbowa’s Son of the Storm – I’m very impatiently awaiting that one!

6. Can you share your plan for any future installment(s) in the world of The Councillor

I’m working on the sequel to The Councillor at the moment, and wrangling with the story. Some of the tension between two characters boils over in the second book and there are consequences, both personal and political consequences. Lysande is also grappling with a question about her identity and trying to make sense of who she really is. If all my scenes make it through edits, then these words should give some hints: book, rope, fire, birth.  


Many thanks to E. J. for her thoughtful responses.

Enter the giveawayPre-order on Bookshop.org

Review: The Councillor

Title: The Councillor (March 2, 2021)
Author: E.J. Beaton
Pages: 484
Series: The Councillor #1 (Series Tracker)


Lysande is a scholar, plucked out of an academy at a young age to work for the Iron Queen of Elira. When the queen is killed by an unknown assassin, Lysande is thrust into a leadership role in the kingdom, with little support and only her wits to guide her.

What an outstanding debut novel. Lysande is a gem of a main character in a high fantasy world that feels familiar yet fresh. Beaton weaves an intricate plot packed to the brim with tantalizing ingredients – underground secret societies, complex political maneuvering, passionate romance, dastardly treachery, and forbidden magic. This book also tackles drug addiction in a way I haven’t seen in other fantasy novels. I’d strongly recommend this, especially for fans of Guy Gavriel Kay.

★★★★¼

My thanks to the publisher for the review copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review: The Dragonbone Chair

The Dragonbone ChaiirTitle: The Dragonbone Chair (1988)
Author: 
Tad Williams
Pages: 
672
Series: Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn #1, Osten Ard Saga #1 (Series Tracker)


What an enjoyable read. This story feels special and timeless. Williams’s worldbuilding is deep and impressive. Although he raises considerably more questions than he answers, I’m fully invested in seeing this through to the end.

This series has been on my TBR pile for the longest while and if all goes well, I hope to work my way through the remaining Osten Ard books in anticipation of the new book being released in 2021.

★★★★¼ out of 5

Review: The Obsidian Tower

The-Obsidian-Tower-cover-July-24Title: The Obsidian Tower (2020)
Author: Melissa Caruso
Pages: 448
Series: Rooks and Ruin #1 (Series Tracker)


The mages of Vaskandar have the power to give life to their land and to their kingdoms. Ryxander of Gloamingard is cursed with broken magic that takes life and destroys all that she touches. In order to save her kingdom from an unfathomable threat, Ryx must use her weakness to her advantage whilst holding off a cavalcade of determined interlopers.

I had a really fun time with this book. Each page crackles with magic. Caruso’s writing flows well and moves the narrative forward at a swift pace with a steady stream of action and court intrigue throughout. The world of Eruvia is nicely fleshed out, as well. It helps that Caruso has already written a trilogy in this setting, but she lays out the conflicts, local histories, and magic systems in a clear and digestible way for a new reader.

Ryx is a worthy protagonist with very obvious flaws to overcome. Her humanity and search for connection keep her relatable and easy to root for. While the book’s ending does not offer much closure, there’s enough magic in the pages of The Obsidian Tower to bring me back for book number two.

★★★★ out of 5

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review: The Darkest Road

81FzxP5pc6LTitle: The Darkest Road (1986)
Author: Guy Gavriel Kay
Pages: 424
Series: The Fionavar Tapestry #3 (Series Tracker)


And thus ends my three-week long journey with The Fionavar Tapestry, a solid if unspectacular series.

Kay’s story itself is undeniably epic and this book features satisfying conclusions to each of the story threads, but throughout the second and third books I found myself scanning paragraphs for plot progression rather than hanging on every word of a page, which is a clue to myself that I’m ultimately disengaged from the proceedings. The Arthurian elements that were introduced in the second book never quite landed for me, but I appreciate Kay’s attempts to overlay several different mythologies onto his story.

Although this trilogy won’t become one of my favorites, I’m very interested to see the television adaptation of this series, as well as continuing to read through Kay’s other works.

★★★ out of 5

Review: The Wandering Fire

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Title: The Wandering Fire (1986)
Author: Guy Gavriel Kay
Pages: 375
Series: The Fionavar Tapestry #2 (Series Tracker)


After really enjoying the first book in the series, I thought this second book had a major drop-off in quality. The story went in several head-scratching directions that left me disengaged and confused. I’m hopeful that this can be explained away as “middlebookinitis” and that the third book can recapture the magic of the first.

★★½ out of 5

Review: The Curse of Chalion

the-curse-of-chalionTitle: The Curse of Chalion (2000)
Author: Lois McMaster Bujold
Pages: 512
Series: World of the Five Gods #1 (Series Tracker)

The Curse of Chalion is beautifully written high fantasy novel with court intrigue, an interesting religious structure, and a varied cast of likable characters. The story follows a former castillar named Cazaril who attempts to put his life back together after being wronged by a rival. Cazaril is incredibly easy to root for and his story arc is very satisfying.

This book has done a nice job of filling the Robin Hobb-less void in my life and I look forward to reading the other novels and novellas set in this world.

★★★★ out of 5

Review: The Eye of the World

The Eye of the World US.jpgTitle: The Eye of the World (1990)
Author: Robert Jordan
Pages: 814
Series: The Wheel of Time #1 (Series Tracker)

Last year I tackled Robin Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings series in its entirety — this year (and probably into next year) I’m hoping to conquer The Wheel of Time. I’ve been following the new Tor.com readalong to supplement the experience, so we’ll see how it goes.

I can understand why this is such a popular series. There is a Tolkien-esque level of epic storytelling and worldbuilding that made for a familiar and pleasant reading experience.  There are countless parallels to The Lord of the Rings that continuously hit you over the head, so I hope Jordan branches out and sets his own course in future books.

My major issue with this first installment was the pacing. This book moves slooowwwly. Every incremental movement of the adventurers across the map feels earned and as laborious as it must have been for the characters. This is not always the case in quest novels, so I respected that element, but was still frustrated with how it hindered the swiftness of the narrative. I look forward to seeing where the overall story leads, but this first book felt too hung up on the nitty gritty details.

★★★¼ out of 5