My reading, of late, has tended toward the urban fantasy and paranormal romance genre. I will admit that I have not read a purely fantasy novel in well over two years if my memory serves me right. I was perusing the bookstore looking for something to add to my “to read” pile at home earlier this year when I came across Touchstone by Melanie Rawn. I picked it up and read the blurb on the back. It was fantasy story about a theater troupe that put on plays through combining their magical abilities to create lavish productions.
I was intrigued but I put the hardback back on the shelf. The funny thing is that the blurb stuck with me and kept turning about in my head. It even brought to mind the line from Hamlet, “The play’s the thing wherein I will catch the conscience of the king.” When I happened across the book in paperback form recently I had to satisfy my curiosity and pick up the book.
I was not disappointed.
Touchstone is the story of Cayden Silversun and his troupe of players as they begin their rise to prominence. Cayden, like the rest of his group, is of mixed heritage. This grants him magical abilities that can be put to various uses. Despite the desires of his family, her pursues the arts of the tregetour, one who channels his power to create plays and infuse them with power. he has two other members that represent take up the job of the fettler and the masker but lacks a Glisker to match the rest of the group. It is with the addition of Mieka, a quixotic part elven Glisker that the four young adults are able begin their rise to prominence in the realm.
From the beginning, this is not standard fantasy. There is no lowly farmer that has to rise to the occasion to defeat some ancient evil. Instead, Rawn creates a vibrant world filled with magic and gives us four characters with which to explore what it means to be an artist and trying to make it in the world. The world of Cayden and Mieka has all the hallmarks of a fantasy kingdom. There is a great war that still haunts the people that strut across the stage of the novel. There are elves, goblins, trolls, fae, and wizards that populate the world as well. Each of the races is distinct but has blended with the other races to create a multiracial population only takes a dim view of certain races based on their activities in the war.
It has the historical feel that one comes to expect from standard fantasy but feels thoroughly modern in how it deals with the arts, gender issues, politics, drug use, and self-determination. One of the major issues throughout the book is Cayden’s ability to see the future. He is unable to control when he gets flashes of the future but he can try to take action to change the future he sees. He struggles with guilt over how much he should share with the others of what he sees as he doesn’t want to take away from them that freedom that each one needs to be the creative individual that makes their troupe great.
This is a heavily character driven book. Cayden and Mieka’s interaction distinctly push the narrative forward wit the other characters providing sounding boards for these two characters throughout. This isn’t to discount the other characters that have time upon the stage. They are well written and given a depth one would not expect from minor characters in a regular fantasy novel. They not only have their own agendas but provide great insight into the character cayden and Mieka as well as the world in which they live.
I quickly fell in love with these characters and this world. I think the best analogy is that of a rock band. You get to see the group in it’s nascent form and begin to blossom into something great. I am looking forward to picking up the next book in the series and watching all the threads laid out here play out further.
If you are looking for a unique twist on the fantasy novel or a contemplation of what it means to be an artist I would highly recommend picking up this book.