Right then, let’s get this show on the road! I have now finished the most recent book I’ve been commissioned to review by an author; ‘The Language of Stones’ by Robert Carter, the first book of a trilogy set. In fact, I came across Robert’s work myself, on the Goodreads website. I read through his biography and tre book description and I was enthralled, it sounded great. I sent Robert an email if he’d like a review of the book, and to m delight he said yes. And what a journey it’s been for me through this book.
The Language of Stones is, as Robert himself describes it, a story about a boy becomes a man. Young William (or Will, or Willand, or even Willy-Wag Staff) is a boy from a small village called Nether Norton. That’s what he thinks anyway, but a certain wizard knows more than that, and reveals even less. Master Gwydion appears at Will’s house at the dark of night, and whisks him away with all but no explanation.
A magic flows through the land, through the ligns, channels of power connecting many stones together. Stones of power. For these are the Ancient Stones, in which is contained much of the harm of the realm. Times are changing though, and the power of the lorc flows. The battlestones begin drawing men and etching out suffering to the world. Master Gwydion believes that he has the key, the young boy Willand, to prevent the calamity of war. However, Maskull, an evil sorcerer akin to Gwydion himself plots against him, and threatens to use the battlestones to wreak havoc. Gwydion and Willand must move quickly, for the third coming of Great Arthur is at hand!
Note: I have found it very difficult to summarize The Language of Stones, for it is a very deep and complex novel, and I can’t quite seem to pin it down in words. It is a tale of epic proportions; of magic, heroism and the love and loss of many. For a full description, read the author’s words on his work here.
Robert Carter has named JRR Tolkien as the one to whom he owes his writing career, and it truly shows. In fact, the publisher with whom Robert worked regarding The Language of Stones worked closely with Tolkien for his novels, and later with the Tolkien Estate regarding the movies. Her comments on the book was that the trilogy came closer to achieving Tolkien’s working than any other subsequent author, and for that I believe Robert has the right to a lot of pride. As for me? I agree utterly; Tolkien’s influence on Carter’s work is apparent for any that have read some of Tolkien’s work, and I very, very much enjoyed the novel as it took me to a magical place such as I haven’t been since reading about the universe of Illuvatar.
A lot of writing these days is very fleeting, the story hitches on the destination, and the characters rush through their world without pausing to look. Some of the magic of fantasy is the world, and for me, the true tale is of the journey and not the ending. Robert’s work emulates that of Tolkien in that his world is beautifully vivid and strong. I can live in that world, ‘The Realm’. I can imagine the Tops above the Vale where lies Nether Norton in the cleft, and on the Tops there’s the Giants’ Circle, and Kings Rock standing tall, all pockmarked where the Shepards passing there have carved themselves a slice for good omen. The images stay with me even after I’ve finished the book because I’ve learned things from the book, and it will stay with me.
The amount of substance in the descriptions is phenomenal, Carter obviously has a very intricate knowledge of the world that he has created for it is all realised perfectly. There are no gaps in the background where the story doesn’t venture. The story is three dimensional; I feel as though if I were to pause, and look a mile away from where the characters are, there would be people and creatures and life would be going on in the Realm. I may be warbling on slightly, but I’d like to express the depth to which this book enthralled me. Robert has imagined the world to such a degree that it becomes real, a living and breathing place.
Okay, let’s have a look at the plot, which is what the previous section was supposed to be, but I got hinged on the beauty of the world created! The plot of The Language of Stones is complicated. It’s a very deep book novel, and there is a lot going on. At some of the more intense points I struggled to keep up, especially if I was reading somewhere with distractions. I had to put the book down, go back a bit and read it up again in my bed to make sure I’d understood what’d gone on. But do you know what? I like that. It’s a good thing. Some books, I know I’ve missed some piece of information but I just think ‘hey, I’ll pick it up’ and forge ahead, but with this book I wanted to know. Robert infuses his book with the love of his world that you too want to know all you can!
However, the plot is not so twisted that it makes for a difficult and painful read. I didn’t have to email the author to clarify things that I didn’t understand and felt were holding me back in progressing through the book (although I will be talking to him to try and eek out more information that I’d like a deeper level of understanding on!). For any that have read the Lord of the Rings, it is of a similar calibre: very deeply hinged on the lore of the world and the development of the characters. The story is focused only on Willand. There are times when Master Gwydion leaves him in the care of others, and thus the two main characters are separated. However the text stays with Will and Robert cleverly uses the story to tell us where and what Gwydion has been doing, but keeps enough hidden to have the wizard a very mysterious figure, which was perhaps the intent. There’s often a little of the sense that events are moving outside of your eye, which is really interesting because it keeps you wondering what else is apace in The Realm.
Something that can really kill a great book is a disappointing, unrealistic or anticlimactic ending. I really had no idea how Robert was going to finish off The Language of Stones (although the story hasn’t truly finished as it is a trilogy!) and I admit I was filled with a sense of foreboding, not wanting it to end in case I was let down.
The ending is spectacular, and on an epic level that rivals many great battles in literature. Whilst Gwydion does battle with his adversary, Will struggles against the copious evil of the Doomstone, a largely powerful battlestone. My heart swelled in pride for Willand as he came out with the lines of heroes, coming to understand the reasons for his being, who he is and much more. It was truly brilliant and I shall say no more.
I love it when an author manages to subtly intertwine their story with the local legends, without trying to make them their own. Another book I reviewed that did this was The Last Legion. Carter manages to intertwine The Language of Stones with the Great Arthurian Legend of England, which was a beautiful twist and a connection to our world from the Realm. However, the storyline does not seek to take anything from or damage the legends of King Arthur. It was very, very clever, and plotted strongly into the story.
Characters then. There are many, many characters in The Language of Stones. None, though, are at deficit. They are all very well planned out, and Robert obviously knows and has a special place for each of them. However, the real pleasure is in Willand (for me at least), and watching as the small boy from Nether Norton learns more about himself and about magic, and how he becomes a man more than capable of making his own decisions, and fulfilling his prophecy as the Child of Destiny. He is assisted by Master Gwydion the wizard, who is a very Gandalf-esque character, and I’d hazard a guess to say a mark of respect to one of his favourite Tolkien character’s from that world of writing. Master Gwydion is a really interesting character, mightily wise and knowledgeable, and a character we can all learn something from. For me, that words and favours are worth far more than coin when it all comes down to it; and how much better it is to be owed a true favour in time of need than a sum of money.
Robert has planned his characters and lineages out very intricately, as he shows us, through the mouth of Gwydion, the line of kings through the ages, and the invasions and the coming of the Slavers and the Fellowship. This is also given in the appendices, which I would encourage any potential readers to read through for it contains some more information that may sate in part your hunger for knowledge of the Realm and it’s history. All of the character’s have deep and unique personalities and they are very believable. These are no cardboard cut-outs!
I hope none reading this feel that I have been unfair in comparing this novel to the Lord of the Rings novels. I do not think it is so, as I have done so out of respect more than any need for competition. Because Robert captured for me once again the magic of the unknown such as I have not experienced in a long, long while. I give it as a standard of honour that his book should be comparable in form to the Lord of the Rings and Tolkien’s universe. With such comments from his publisher as well, who I expect had high hopes for him and the books. I sincerely hope that Robert tries for some form of print publishing, because I think that the book is worth it many times over, and I’d love for it to be spread to a wider audience than I can reach by this small website.
I have really, really enjoyed reading The Language of Stones and I really, really hope that others will take my advice and allow themselves too to be captured by Carter’s world. I sincerely hope that Robert will allow me the privilege of reading the next two books in the series. It’s books like this that really make me love reviewing for real people and authors, because I want to help recognise that there are some truly amazing books out there written by people you’ve probably never even heard of before.
My score for The Language of Stones is a mighty 9.5/10, the second highest score I have ever given to a book in the history of this site. The departure back to classical fantasy is beautifully reminiscent of my childhood when I was discovering the writings of Tolkien. I would like to say a very deep thank you to Robert Carter for sharing his world with me. It’s been amazing, and I hope for more.
PS: This is now THE longest review on datbookreviews!