Published: February 1st, 2013
Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
Copy: Publisher via Netgalley
In the backwater village of Callowford, Errol Stone's search for a drink is interrupted by a church messenger who arrives with urgent missives for the hermit priest in the hills. Desperate for coin, Errol volunteers to deliver them but soon finds himself hunted by deadly assassins. Forced to flee with the priest and a small band of travelers, Errol soon learns he's joined a quest that could change the fate of his kingdom.
Protected for millennia by the heirs of the first king, the kingdom's dynasty is near an end and a new king must be selected. As tension and danger mount, Errol must leave behind his drunkenness and grief, learn to fight, and come to know his God in order to survive a journey to discover his destiny.
A Cast of stones was a wonderful trip back to traditional fantasy. The vaguely historical or perhaps medieval setting was rich in detail. Nasty, unknown and particularly smelly creatures rear their ugly heads and like to eat people's faces off. There is a hint of magic, but not too much. In short, A Cast of Stones has it all. What it doesn't have though, is romance, or at least only a smidgeon of a hint of a possibility of a romance, so if you are expecting/hoping for some, you'll be disappointed.
The world building and character development in A Cast of Stones is absolutely stellar. At the beginning, the main character Errol is really rather an unlikeable young man - he's 18. But, as the story progresses, he grows into a young man with purpose and conviction. Which is all the more admirable when you realise he is being manipulated at every turn. We find out the reasons for his original behavior eventually though, and I did become much more sympathetic.
There is a complex set of minor characters, Cruk, Luis, Martin, Liam and others who seem initially to have Errol's welfare in mind, but really they just use him shamelessly when they discover his ability and how useful he can be to them. Several twists within the plot keep the story going at a good pace and I never felt that the story slowed down.
To be honest, the only reason I could see that this is designated as YA is the age of the main protagonist, but it is perfectly suitable for YA's and is a wonderful example of the fantasy genre. By the end of the book it is obvious that there is a lot more to discover about this world and it's people and I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of the next book, which I think is The Hero's Lot (July '13) and the third The Staff and The Sword (Feb '14). An absolute must-read for fantasy fans.