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The Stone Maiden
Susan King
Signet Books, 352 pages

The Stone Maiden
Susan King

Susan King grew up in upstate New York and the Washington D.C. area. She has always loved art, writing, and reading. She earned a BA in studio art, an MA in art history, and most of a PhD in medieval art history. Currently she is on a leave of absence to raise her three sons. She explores her fascination with Scottish history in her bestselling novels, which have also won numerous awards and critical acclaim. Her books include: The Stone Maiden, Heather Moon, Laird of the Wind, The Raven's Wish, and Angel Knight. She is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and often lectures on art history, her research, and writing. King is also the recipient of the Romantic Times Reviewer's Choice Award for Career Achievement.

Susan King Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Interview: Susan King

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Catherine Asaro

The Stone Maiden is a lyrical novel set in twelfth century Scotland, a tale of Celtic clans and Norman knights intertwined with the legend of an ancient maiden whose spirit has been trapped in a stone pillar for seven hundred years. With grace and style, Susan King weaves together the threads of fantasy, romance, and historical fiction.

Alainna MacLaren is the daughter of a Scottish laird. After her father and brothers are killed in a feud with Clan Nechtan, she becomes the sole heir to Kinlochan, a vast but impoverished holding that sits like a gateway to the mountains of the western Highlands. Her clan is dying, with only her elderly kin surviving after so many generations of violence.

The feud began in the fifth century, after a MacNechtan accosted a MacLaren woman. When faeries discovered the woman dying, they caught her spirit inside a granite pillar and raised it on the shore of the loch near her beloved home. For centuries, the Stone Maiden has protected Clan Laren. However, the spell can last only seven hundred years. Soon Alainna will chisel the final mark upon the stone, where the years have been counted. No one knows what will happen then. Will the feud die, will it rage anew, or will Clan Laren simply fade into the mists of time?

Alainna seeks help from King William, the Scottish monarch. The MacNechtan laird also petitions William and demands marriage to Alainna as a means to end the feud. However, the king suspects Clan Nechtan may be harbouring a leader of the rebels who challenged William's right to the throne. The king wishes to establish a Norman military presence in Kinlochan to ensure his authority -- so he sends Sebastien le Bret, one of his Norman knights, to wed Alainna.

The widowed Sebastien has no interest in living in Scotland; he urgently wishes to return to his home in Brittany, where his five-year-old son may be in danger. However, he has no choice but to obey William. With a complement of knights, he is to protect Kinlochan from Clan Nechtan, investigate the rebels, and raise a castle to secure the region.

Author Susan King skillfully uses Alainna, Sebastien, and the Stone Maiden as a metaphor for the uneasy alliances among the Normans and Celts in twelfth century Scotland. Fantasy can be thought of as lying along a continuum. At one end are works told in broad strokes that emphasize events. These are big stories, often epic in scope, with characters moving within the framework of the plot like chess pieces on a board. At the other end are character-driven tales that focus on individuals; their personal stories inform and offer insight into the larger context. Although I enjoy fantasy drawn from all along that continuum, I tend to prefer works centred on personal relationships among the characters. The Stone Maiden weaves a story around Alainna and Sebastien that brought the Celtic history and legends alive for me.

Celtic folklore abounds with legends that involve stone. In this book, those themes provide an allegory for the political backdrop of the story and act as a symbol of human spirituality. The stone also becomes a metaphor for Alainna, who is a skilled stone carver. King's subtle blending of mythology and the art of stone carving create a poetic mood, one enhanced by her evocation of the stark beauty in the Scottish countryside.

If you liked Vonda McIntyre's The Moon and the Sun, Sharon Shinn's Archangel, R. Garcia y Robertson's novella "Strongbow," or Diana Gabaldon's Outlander, the chances are that you will enjoy The Stone Maiden. This book isn't an action-packed thriller or a Grand Quest. It is a quieter story centred around two remarkable people. The Celtic poem from Alexander Carmichael's Carmina Gadelica (Charms of the Gaels), which serves as a theme for Sebastien, embodies the story's mystical quality:

I am weary, and I a stranger,
Lead me to the land of angels.
Be my eyes in time of darkness,
Be my shield against hosts of faery,
Be my wings till I find my home.
The Stone Maiden is a magical tale of love, fantasy, history, pride, and honour. It offers to take the reader home on its wings of enchantment.

Copyright © 2000 by Catherine Asaro

Catherine Asaro is known for her unique blend of hard science, space adventure, and romance. Her next hardcover in the Saga of the Skolian Empire, The Quantum Rose, comes out from Tor in December 2000, and her next near-future suspense paperback, The Phoenix Code, comes out from Bantam in December 2000. Her work has been nominated for the Hugo and Nebula and has won numerous other awards, including the Analog Readers Poll, the HOMer, and the Sapphire. She earned her doctorate in Chemical Physics and masters in Physics, both from Harvard. Her husband is the proverbial rocket scientist. Catherine says she is a walking definition of the words "absent-minded" and has managed to spill coffee in every room in her house, which is a great source of amusement for her daughter.

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