Titan Books, p/b, £6.39
Reviewed By Laurel Sills
Cayden Silversun is long-faced, morose, clever, talented, and the shame of his aristocratic mother. His ambitions of forming a world-renowned theatre group look to be made reality when Mieka – a dashingly talented elf – turns up to complete his troupe.
This is a tale of the road to fame, reminiscent of the classic rags to riches band story, except this is about a theatre group with supernatural abilities. Imagine actors that could magically manipulate the emotions of their audience. That could make them see, hear and feel whatever they wanted them to.
This is an interesting and compelling idea, with a complex and colourful world surrounding it. I did feel, however, that the story came secondary to the concept. This isn’t your typical plot driven narrative, with the result that this book is certainly not a page-turner. Do not expect suspenseful cliffhangers. You will not finish a chapter desperate to know what happens next.
But is that really necessary? Does fantasy need to have plenty of action in order to make it worthwhile? My answer to that would normally be a resounding no. Give me rich characters and an engaging inner journey and I am a happy bunny. I’m not sure, however, that Glass Thorns delivers completely on this. I kept getting a strange sense of déjà vu, primarily I think, because the (quite excessive) exposition and thoughts of the characters didn’t develop. I feel that there needs to be some kind of shape, a setting up and reaping of something, even if it is only emotional.
There are no real baddies in Glass Thorns; whilst there are a few distant villainous characters, they really aren’t all that scary. There is no Peril, no feeling of impending doom. Not that there has to be a ‘dark lord’ involved, in fact, I appreciate that Rawn has had the vision not to include one. However this lack left a gap that wasn’t filled by anything else. There is a missing sense of urgency.
And so, the conflict has to come from the relationships of the main characters, which is mainly between Cayden and Mieka. Again, this didn’t really develop that much, circling around the same themes of closeness, distance and moods, framed within the disturbing glimpses of the future Cayden sees coming for Mieka. There was a stillness to this book. It lacked movement, energy, drama!
What I did enjoy was the day-to-day detail that Melanie Rawn includes. I like to see how created worlds work on a practical level. How do people live? How do they entertain themselves? What is the architecture like? Rawn invents interesting functional detail, like how the elves’ fear of the dark powers the street lamps. I was left with a lasting impression of place, social dynamics and societal framework, which I think was done very well.
I think there is something genuinely endearing and admirable about this book. It made me look at how my preconceived ideas influence the way I read, and how much my own expectations need to be met in order for me to enjoy what I am reading. Which, I suppose, sounds pretty obvious. But really what I’m trying to say is that it challenged me. Not because it was groundbreaking or experimental, but because it didn’t do what I expected it to do, what I needed it to do.
The question here is: are those needs universal? Perhaps you just need to read Glass Thorns: Touchstone for yourself, and make up your own mind.