The Queen of Stone by Keith Baker is the first book in a new Eberron series titled Thorn of Breland. It appears that this book in not so much part of a trilogy as it is an ongoing series. The second book is titled Son of Khyber and will be out in the Fall of 2009. This series is to be a series of stand-alone novels, but have continuing characters. Personally, I am happy some one is taking this approach and now-a-days it seems everything has to be a trilogy if it's a fantasy story. Hopefully this approach catches on with author authors. Time will tell of course. Here are my thoughts on this novel.
If you like political plots based on nations and warring factions, then you definitely need to pick this book up. The plot of this book centers on the `people' of Droaam wanting to be recognized as their own nation. To this extend they invite representatives of the other nations to come and meet with them in the heart of the Droaam to express themselves and their case. There are numerous sub plots that surround the other nation's representatives. Some of them are present for more than just hearing Droaam's case to be recognized. To say more about those sub plots would invariably include spoilers so I will refrain from doing so. The main story is solid and provides great detail about the Droaam, such as stories about them, who is all involved, and some of the motivations they have for seeking to be a recognized nation. Of course, there is also a group within Droaam that does not want to be a recognized nation; they have their own reasons why. While at points the story seems rather linear and status quo, by the end of the novel the reader realizes that some of the things they thought were in fact not true and the actual reasoning's for some of the characters are interesting and well thought out.
The characters in this book are all new characters and as such there is some character development that needs to take place right away. The main character, Thorn, was actually very hard for me to connect with. In fact, I simply did not really care for her character one way or the other. Which was odd, most main characters I either love or hate, but there is some connection there. With Thorn, I was rather apathetic. Part of this was because for every situation she seemed to have some item (magic or mundane) or some skill that would get her out of it. Maybe she was too powerful? The characters that I particularly enjoyed were the secondary characters. Such as; Drego, Ghyrryn, Tori, Harryn, Sheshka, and Sora Katra; for whatever reason these characters really drew me in and made me want to know more about them. Grated, that is the mark of a really good side character. It just felt odd as I was reading to want to know more about them and caring less about the main character. For the most part the characters all spoke with unique voices and it was evident they all had their own motivations. Dialogue was solid and flowed well and didn't see forced at all. To me, some of the more memorable characters are the ones that did not receive as much face time.
A couple criticisms about this novel:
1 - As I mentioned above when talking about Thorn. I understand in the role she was in she would have some items at her disposal, but it just seemed too neat and tidy that for every situation she found herself in she had something to use. Even when I fastidiously plan ahead for things, there are times when I am missing something.
2 - While the ending answered quite a few questions presented during the novel (and left some open as well), it felt really rushed to me. Almost as though I was watching a movie at 1.5 frame rate. I read the last 50 pages twice, simply because I felt I missed something. Even after reading it twice, I still feel as though I did not `get' everything that happened.
Some things I liked about this novel:
1 - The area of Droaam. I really like the idea of a nation of monsters working towards a common goal. What could be more frightening for those living on that border than to know that the `monsters' have banded together and are presenting a united front. Hopefully, there are more books written in this area.
2 - The variety of characters. It seems some fantasy authors can get into a rut and use the old stand-by races, human, elves, dwarfs, orcs, goblins, etc. In this book we are presented with so many more. Some of which are rarely written about. I really enjoyed the diversity.
3 - Showing monsters for being more than monsters. To piggyback off the above item. Usually `monsters' are just things to slay and to give the heroes something to do. Not so with this book. Those monsters talk, think and act on their own. It's refreshing to read about them in this type of role.
Even with not caring for Thorn, I quite enjoyed this novel. It flowed well, the pacing was solid (except for that rushed feeling at the end), and more importantly the story made sense. This novel is not just a story for a story's sake. It's to build the world and add more lore and background to the setting. On that note, it succeeded tremendously. Granted, there were some things I would have liked to have seen differently, but what is here is a solid book and a novel that certainly fits in well with the other Eberrn novels to date. Fans of the Eberron setting will no doubt want to pick this book up. Fans of the fantasy genre, or looking at getting into the genre, may want to consider other Eberron novels before tackling this one. Either way, it's a solid read and one I recommend to Eberron faithful