Sunday, 19 January 2014

Stained Glass Monsters by Andrea K Höst

Stained Glass Monsters by Andrea K Höst is a standalone (ish) fantasy book from an author whose books I've enjoyed several times in the past. I added the "ish" because I just saw a listing on her website indicating that there will be another book in the same universe, apparently a sequel, but the first book is pretty self-contained.
When a motionless woman dressed in white appears in the village of Falk, Kendall Stockton has no inkling that the strange apparition will soon leave her homeless, and tangled in the affairs of mages and monsters. For the white figure is the first sign of a spell which will shatter cities, and make the caster as powerful as the gods.

Saved by a stranger who claims her goal is to stop the woman, Kendall is torn between admiring the mage Rennyn Claire's strength, and doubting her methods. What is Rennyn willing to do to win? Do the best of intentions justify pragmatic sacrifice, or is Rennyn Claire no better than the monster she is trying to stop?
This was a nice read. The two main characters — Rennyn, the powerful mage who has been trained her whole life to save the world, and Kendall, the teenage orphan that coincidentally crosses her path — provide nicely contrasting points of view. Rennyn is focused on her task and saving everyone (particularly the world and protecting her brother). Kendall, on the other hand, starts off following events only because she has nothing better to do. She's not very invested in what's going on beyond her own safety and given the opportunity to learn magecraft, decides to only bother until she can learn enough to get paid to be the most basic kind of magic wielder.

I enjoyed Stained Glass Monsters, but it's not my favourite Höst book. Although I was never bored, I did feel it moved a little slowly, especially in the middle. There was an element of following Rennyn as she went from points A, B, C to achieve X, Y, Z stages in her quest to save the world. To Höst's credit, we are spared needless details about X, Y, Z and all those scenes include some other element to drive the book onwards, usually character development.

I really liked that Rennyn was allowed to be a powerful and highly competent character. She had obstacles to overcome, but those were mostly external. What internal obstacles she faced were irrevocably linked with the whole world-saving thing. That she struggled to overcome them was because they were hard and anyone else would have struggled more. Also, Rennyn wasn't running around saving the world because she was a mystical chosen one. Her family, for historical reasons, saw it as their duty to protect the world and hence trained and planned extensively for the task. This is the only source of Rennyn's specialness. She was the only one who could do it (well, her or her brother, who was also prepared but Rennyn took point as the eldest) because she was the only one who had properly been prepared to do it. (Well, OK, one small aspect was because of her lineage, but not quite in the traditional "chosen one" sense.) It's a thoughtful twist on the "chosen one" trope.

You know what I've just noticed about Höst's books? It came up when I was reviewing Hunting as well. I start writing my review thinking "well, I enjoyed that but I'm not sure how much I have to say about it" and then I start writing it and, in the course of reflecting on the book, end up finding added depths that I didn't necessarily notice while I was actually reading. Thumbs up. There's also the fact that almost all the key players in Stained Glass Monsters were women, apart from Rennyn's brother and her love interest. Which makes me happy.

Stained Glass Monsters was a pleasant read and I recommend it to fantasy fans. Especially to readers of fantasy not wanting to commit to a long series, since it stands alone nicely (although I can see where the sequel might go).

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2011, self-published
Series: Sort of. Stands alone but there's an upcoming sequel.
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from SmashWords
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

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