by Orson Scott Card
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Stonefather is apparently the opening salvo in a new series by Orson Scott Card, even as he works to present the final chapters of his tale of Alvin Maker, continues to write about Ender, and promises additional entries in his stories of Pastwatch and a sequel to Lovelock. While the eventual series will consists of novels, Stonefather is a novella, detailing the arrival of Runnel from his mountain home to the city of Mitherhome, the home of the watermages.
Runnel leaves his home in the mountains, not with any specific plan, or even the desire to get away from his abusive family, but merely as something to do one day. His path takes him out of the mountains to the great city of Mitherhome, where Runnel discovers that there is so much more to the world than he experienced in his village. One of his first discoveries was the existence of a strange force known as "money," which he would need in order to live in Mitherhome, or, more accurately, its suburb of Hetterferry. However, Runnel quickly lucked out by catching the charitable eye of Lark, a young servant girl who helps him gain a position with her master, the stonemage Lord Brickel.
With a magic system based on the elements, Card's world has built-in conflict. The water mages of Mitherhome have ensured that Lord Brickel will remain loyal to them, even as they ban his stone mage brethren from the environs. The magic is well thought out, and at the same time, the setting is reminiscent of some of Card's earlier works, notably Songmaster and Hart's Hope. Despite that, Stonefather is clearly a new world which will allow Card to explore new issues as he expands Runnel's world.
In Stonefather, Card must provide the reader with a lot of history about the stonemages and the watermages. With Runnel as a fish-out-of-water stand-in for the reader, he has Lark tell the character the important story. Unfortunately, in such a short work, this exposition takes up a tremendous amount of space. Furthermore, although it comes naturally as Lark tells the story to Runnel, it stops the narrative dead just as the novella gets to its centerpoint. Once Card posits his background, which does answer questions raised in the first part of the novella, he is able to relaunch the story relatively quickly, allowing Runnel to use the knowledge gained.
While the first half of the novella shows Runnel as a stranger who must be introduced to the society in which he finds himself, the second half of the novella presents him with the confidence and knowledge to come into his own. The situation feels a bit rushed, with an ending tacked on that doesn't seem to fully belong. This half of the novella would have been strengthened if Card had stretched it out to novel length, allowing Runnel to discover himself more gradually, and leaving the last few paragraphs for a future installment in Runnel's story.
Stonefather shows every indication that Card can turn it into a successful series. T the fact that the novella doesn't fully succeed is one of the reasons it may succeed as a novel or a series. Card's story is too large to be told in the short form that he elected in Stonefather. While this work provides an introduction to Card's new world, it leaves open more questions than it answers and makes the reader wish Card and paced it better and provided more detail.
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