Wednesday, June 23, 2010

House of Stone by Vaughn R. Demont

TITLE: House of Stone
AUTHOR: Vaughn R. Demont
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 83k)
GENRE: Gay fantasy romance
COST: $5.50

For Richard Stone – minor Fae noble, gay porn star – getting married is just another day in the life. That is, until he discovers that the Azure Blade, his family’s magic sword, refuses to show its fire when he unsheathes it. Without the fire, his family is shamed, because it means he’s no longer worthy to bear it. He has eight days to figure out what he’s done and reverse it, but even with the help of his new wife and his faithful manservant, he’s not sure how to make it happen…

NOTE: In the matter of full disclosure, I was offered a copy of this book for the purpose of a review.

The first story I read by this author showed definite promise, enough that when I was offered his latest Samhain title for review, I gladly accepted. I’m glad I did. While this wasn’t a perfect read, much of what I enjoyed initially was still present and improved upon, showing this is an author to keep an eye out for.

The novel is not an easy one to summarize. It’s the story of Richard, a minor noble Fae, the current head of the House of Stone, and liege to a county that has seen far brighter days. In order to make ends meet, he’s an active participant – read: actor/star – in his county’s strongest industry. Porn. He’s on the fringe at best, but he still has noble blood, and thus, is bound by the protocols adhering to all the noble Fae. The book starts with him being invited to his aunt’s for the ceremony of his arranged marriage to a woman he’s never met. He’s not thrilled about it, but it’s part and parcel of his responsibility so he goes along. Simaron, his manservant, prepares him for the night, but when Richard is on his way to the ceremony, the wedding carriage is ambushed, at which time he discovers that his family’s magic sword, the Azure Blade, refuses to show its fire for him. That’s a sure sign that it no longer recognizes him as worthy to wield it, which will bring shame to the entire house and pretty much ruin his life if it ever comes to light. His aunt grants him a reprieve to try and reverse it, giving him until the Solstice Tournament eight days hence. Thus starts his mission, during which he’ll learn as much about himself as he does the people in his county and world.

The book is intricately plotted, with enough machinations to twist the story in a new direction with each chapter. It never lets up, refusing the reader the room to take a deep breath or slow down. While it’s fascinating to get sucked into the politics of this Fae world, it’s a double-edged sword. Demont has created an intensely dense world, with a wide cast of characters. It’s sometimes difficult to keep it all straight and requires going back and re-reading to put the details in the right order. That slowed me down. More than once. It’s helped by the engaging narrative voice, but I have a feeling that if it had been in 3rd person, I would have slowed down even more.

Like his previous work, this is told in 1st person, a good choice since Richard has a definite self-deprecating humor. It's funny, more than a little glib, and highly literate. Fantasy readers will likely catch allusions/references to favored authors. I smiled/laughed at a number of them, especially the Pratchett. But the author also uses parentheticals extensively, sometimes too much. Other readers might not have the same reaction I did, but after the second or third chapter, I was finding the constant asides a little tedious. It was a little too much of a fun device. What was charming at first ended up less so, the overall effect diminished by the overproliferation. It was a relief when they became fewer and fewer as the book progressed. I had the same reaction to the constant reminders that Richard was Fae. I got it the first few dozen times, making the repetition of who/what he was, what he was responsible for, and so on, not only unnecessary but annoying. I would have much preferred getting clarification on other world-building issues.

What the 1st person does, however, is end up endearing the narrator to me. Privy to all of his thought processes, I can appreciate his growth throughout the story, and end up really liking him as a result. He doesn’t really want me to at first. He’s not really proud of who or what he is, and he doesn’t seem to like the Fae in general most of the time. In fact, the only person he seems to truly respect is Simaron. But that doesn’t stop me from slowly warming to him, feeling for his confusion and frustration with events that are out of his control, respecting the choices he ends up making to try and rectify everything. He and the nonstop action are the two best reasons to read this, because both supply a steady source of surprises.

Because I like Richard so much, I really wish I believed the romance more. The problem is, Richard and Simaron have known each other their entire lives. They’ve been sexually involved for a long time. A lot of what their relationship is based on is already established at the start of the book. That’s not always a problem, but in this case, when there is so much happening that doesn’t seem to have much at all to do with their romance, that lack of involvement proved detrimental for me. I never felt like I ever really got to know Simaron. His position and attitude are very distanced, and though I recognize that he’s a good guy, I don’t feel it. And it’s that lack of emotional connection that messed with the romance for me.

That being said, it didn’t keep me from enjoying the book. Between Richard’s accomplished characterization and the intriguing twists of the plot, this was an absorbing, entertaining read.


8/10 – The parentheticals grow tedious, and the constant reminders that he’s Fae overkill, but the perpetual action and narrator’s humor help to maintain interest

Hero #1

8/10 – My annoyances with some of the voice issues aside, his personal growth and sense of humor end up endearing him to me

Hero #2

5/10 – I find myself wanting to like him, but I never feel like I really know him

Entertainment value

7/10 – The intricacies of the plotting and liking the narrator carry this far

World building

8/10 – There’s no denying the intricacy of the world the author has created, though it’s not always executed very gracefully



1 comment:

Kassa said...

I had much the same response as you to this one. I enjoyed the narrator a great deal even though he sometimes got on my nerves. (If I hear or read Ye Gods again, I'm not responsible for my actions!). But he's a great deal of fun to read.

Great review :)