The Standing Dead by Ricardo Pinto (The Stone Dance of the Chameleon: Book 2)

The Standing Dead is the second book in Ricardo Pinto's The Stone Dance of the Chameleon series, published by Bantam in 2002. In the first book, The Chosen, Pinto created an amazing, complex, and wonderous world complete with an intricate society, intriguing politics and a facinating history. As such, there is a lot of assumed knowledge that the reader should possess in order to fully appreciate what has been offered in The Standing Dead.

The story picks up immediately after the events of The Chosen where both Carnelian and Osidian have been kidnapped, drugged, and left for dead inside funeral urns, leaving Osidian's brother Molochite free to assume the position of God Emperor. The boys are discovered inside the funeral urns by a grave robber, who faced with penalty of death for having looked upon the unmasked faces of two Chosen, decides to take the boys captive and sell them to slavers travelling south of The Three Lands. The boys are largely passengers on the journey south with their attempts at escape easily thwarted, however, an attack by tribesmen from the Ochre tribe results in the boys becoming captives of the tribesmen where they are more able to influence the events to come.

While the party travels further south towards the home of the Ochre, Carnelian and Osidian start to earn the respect of the tribesmen and after the deaths of the party leaders Osidian is able to assume a leadership position amongst the tribesmen. Unable to return home, the boys decide to continue the journey towards the homeland of the Ochre tribesmen where they intend to live out the rest of their lives. As the boys start to come to terms with what they have lost, Osidian is unable to accept his new life among the Ochre tribe and begins to plot his vengence against the brother who usurped his throne, banding together the tribes of the south to begin a war against the Commonwealth of the Three Lands.

This book is by far one of the most frustrating books I have read in recent memory. Pinto has again crafted an incredibly detailed and intricate world using a highly proficient mastery of the English language, It is a world that I was easily able to immerse myself in and that I really enjoyed getting to know. The problem is that I lost interest in the story very early on and while the story improves considerably towards the end of the book, I couldn't care less whether or not Carnelian and Osidian ever made it home. For more than half of the book, the plot suffered from uneven pacing, the characters performed actions and made decisions that were often out of character, and the tone was largely inconsistent, making the book hard to read and easy to put down. Just as I was getting wrapped up in the despair being experienced by Carnelian and Osidian, the story would jump forward by a couple of weeks with a feverish Osidian somehow able save the party from an attack by wild animals, resulting in a number of party members worshiping him as a "higher being" despite having been a significant burden for the whole journey. The whole scene and associated imagery is beautifully written and well articulated, but the scene did not make sense in context with the rest of the story.

While this novel has a number of flaws, they are definitely outweighed by the imagination and writing skill of Pinto. The last two hundred pages of this book gives me hope that the next book will provide a coherant, consistent, and exciting conclusion to this series.

7/10 A number of flaws are definitely outweighed by the imagination and writing skill of Pinto.

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