The Language of Stones by Robert Carter

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Rating 9.0/10
What is sparkling about Carter is that here is clearly an author well versed in English and Celtic m

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The Realm is poised for war. Its weak king – Hal, grandson of a usurper – is dominated by his beautiful wife and her lover. Against them stands Duke Richard of Ebor and his allies. The two sides are set on a bloody collision course…

Gwydion is watching over the Realm. He has walked the land since before the time of the druids, since before the Slavers came to subdue the people. Gwydion was here when Arthur rode to war: then they called him 'Merlyn'. But for his young apprentice, Willand, a fearsome lesson in the ways of men and power lies ahead.

The Realm is an England that is still-magical. Legendary beasts still populate its by-ways. It is a land criss-crossed by lines of power upon which standing stones have been set as a secret protection against invasion. But the power of the array was broken by the Slavers who laid straight roads across the land and built walled cities of shattered stone.

A thousand years have passed since then, and those roads and walls have fallen into decay. The dangerous stones are awakening, and their unruly influence is calling men to battle. Unless Gwydion and Will can unearth them, the Realm will be plunged into a disastrous civil war. But there are many enemies ranged against them: men, monsters and a sorcerer who is as powerful as Gwydion himself.

Oh, I thoroughly enjoyed this. Spied it quite by chance whilst browsing through a shop the other day with its catchy cover, bought it, sat down and read in two sessions. Quite a remarkable first novel.

Robert Carter's The Language of Stones is set in an alternative fifteenth century England. One where a thirteen year old lad named Willard has his world rudely turned upside down on Beltine when a Gandalf-esque character looms out of the darkness to claim his protégé. This sorcerer/warlock/wizard (Will is not sure what he is) goes by a multitude of names down the generations but is recognisable under more familiar pseudonyms as Jack O'Lantern or Merlyn , though known throughout the novel as Gwydion. The legend of King Arthur is reborn.

A forced march to the Wychwood dumps poor Will in the hands of Lord Strange with his boar's head for six months where the rebellious streak in the lad means he learns some mild naming magic and promptly nearly gets killed by a marsh hag whilst waiting for Willow, a girl of equal age that he has confused feelings for. Just in time Merlyn reappears to take Will with him as the land prepares for a coming war. A trip to meet King Hal and a last minute escape from the overly boorish Duke Edgar lands Will and Gwydion off the Irish coast whence they learn what they must do. Namely discover the battlestones that sit on the lorc lines. What follows is a coming of age for Will as he continues to prove his inheritance before ending up at Fotheringham castle under the guardianship of Duke Richard, pretender to the throne, training as a squire to the overly thuggish firstborn, Edward. Schroolroom fights and taunting later he finds himself grown to a young man, learning from the Wortmaster and struggling to deal with his feelings for Willow who has reappeared.

Gwydion returns and has fallen out of favour with the Duke after passing the exquisite diamond they found at Leir's tomb to Queen Mag. War is coming and he takes Will in a desperate attempt to locate the Doomstone, that evil-harbouring piece of granite that is driving the Realm towards war. After finding the lesser Plague stone and discovering more about his inner self Gwydion and Will find themselves at Badon Hill as Duke Richard prepares to assault the town harbouring King Hal, Duke Edgar and the Queen. A short nasty fight finds many prophecies fulfilled and Will has his own sorcerous battle at the heart of the Sightless Ones with the Doomstone cover of St Swythyn's tomb before returning to his own Shire with the enemies defeated but not vanquished.

What is sparkling about Carter is that here is clearly an author well versed in English and Celtic myth as he transcribes many names, places and myths into his own versions that are immediately recognisable to the knowledgeable reader. His finest effort is Gwydion's reference to Iuliu the Seer (or Julius Caesar to the historian) but the novel is littered with altered names and Celtic mythology that seeks to demonstrate how easy it is to twist the facts by word of mouth. The lengthy author's note at the end goes into some detail about the parallels he draws with British geography and the times that preclude the Wars of the Roses. Carter is a fine author and the sequel to this opener is one novel I'll definitely be shelling out the extra for the hardback version.

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