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The Dream of the Stone
Christina Askounis
Farrar, Straus & Giroux Books, 291 pages

The Dream of the Stone
Christina Askounis
Christina Askounis received her M.A. from Johns Hopkins in 1969. She has worked as a professional writer since her graduation. First as a reporter for a Baltimore newspaper and then as a scriptwriter for public television. She has the George F. Peabody Award for excellence in broadcast journalism. Her work has appeared in magazines like Redbook. She is on the faculty of at Duke University.

North Carolina Literary Award Winners

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Victoria Strauss

Sarah Lucas has a wonderful life: loving parents, a beautiful home, a brilliant and devoted older brother. But one snowy night her perfect world is shattered. A state trooper arrives with the terrible news that Sarah's parents have been killed in an airplane crash.

Sarah is sent to live in New York City, with an aunt and uncle she hardly knows. Her brother Sam, a physics prodigy who works for a mysterious organization called CIPHER, tells her it's only temporary. Once his project -- a machine, code-named Looking Glass, that will allow instantaneous travel from one part of the universe to another -- is finished, they can be together. For Sarah, the wait seems much too long. Her aunt and uncle are distant and unsympathetic, and she hates New York, with its crowds and dirt. She spends all her free time in the local library, trying to read herself back into the world of love and security she once took for granted.

One day she meets Angel, a charismatic half-Gypsy boy who becomes her friend. Together, they try to work out the meaning of the strange things that have been happening: a mysterious woman with a cryptic message about a Stone; a sinister watching man; a strange letter from Sam -- not received by mail, but tucked into a book at the library; and at last a package, also from Sam, containing an object that can only be the Stone of the woman's warning. The Stone brings a vision with it: of Sam, in terrible danger. Pursued by the watching man -- who turns out to be Dr. Zvalus, head of CIPHER -- Sarah and Angel set out to rescue Sam, carrying the Stone with them. It brings them to a planet called Oneiros, light-years away from Earth. There Sarah finds Sam, who has arrived by means of Looking Glass. She learns the real significance of the Stone, and discovers her own singular destiny. For she is the Stone-Bearer, the girl whose coming has been foretold in the visions of Oneiros's Dreaming Trees, the girl who will return the Stone to its proper place and banish the Umbra, the dark shadow of dissolution which now threatens Oneiros and everything on it.

Like Lewis Carroll's Alice books, to which it makes frequent reference, The Dream of the Stone is a fantastic blend of real life and fantasy, with some science fiction thrown in for good measure. The mix isn't always a smooth one. The novel often produces an impression of fragmentation, a sense of diverse elements that don't quite mesh. The fantasy premises, while fascinating, aren't as clearly worked-out as they could be, in particular Oneiros's relationship to Earth and its pivotal significance to the universe. The science fiction concepts, which involve wormholes and antimatter force fields, sit uneasily within the high fantasy context. Weakest of all is the evil Dr. Zvalus, human agent of the dreaded Umbra -- a cardboard cutout of a character, right down to his metamorphosis into a scaly bat-winged demon.

But if there is much to criticize in Askounis's novel, there is more to praise. The level of the writing is very high, with evocative and beautiful imagery. Sarah's grief and her painful memories of her former life are movingly rendered, a poignant thread of love and loss that runs throughout the book. The scenes in which she must confront the danger at the heart of her grief are genuinely compelling. The romance between Sarah and Angel is both delicate and earthy, conveying the joy of discovery as well as the sadness of what can never be.

Uneven though it is, The Dream of the Stone is a rewarding read, sure to enthrall any fantasy-minded teen.

Copyright © 1997 by Victoria Strauss

Victoria Strauss is a novelist, and a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction. For an excerpt of her Avon Eos novel, The Arm of the Stone, visit her Web site.

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