Let's cut straight to the chase, shall we? I mean, Patrick W. Carr did, serving us up a chase scene in the first chapter that had me gripping everything in reach. I am not normally much of a fan of action scenes. They are usually poorly written, with a lot of movement that is very hard to visualize. I find myself scanning paragraphs quickly, looking for the end and the point. Carr, on the other hand, pulled it off beautifully and had me just about screaming in terror for a character I had just met. This is top-notch story-telling.
A Cast of Stones has a lot of action, being an epic fantasy clearly written for young men, but this not-so-young woman thoroughly enjoyed it anyway, because in spite of the almost super-hero elements of the story, the characters were rich and deep. I believed in them. In the opening chapters, there was a scene of two middle-aged priests nursing an alcoholic teen through the night with a tenderness that brought me close to tears. The characters we spend the most time with are not perfect, but trying hard to be decent and do the right thing, so I was not tempted to bid them adieu and find somebody more congenial to hang out with. This background thrum of decency, even as our heroes have to deal with murder, betrayal, conspiracies, and lots and lots of fighting, gave the story an anchor which kept it from keeling over in all the mayhem.
My only quibble with the book, which I genuinely and deeply enjoyed, was the plausibility of the rapid recoveries from near-death experiences. This happened more than once, and while I understand that a realistic convalescence time would have slowed the story down terribly, I raised my eyebrows more than once. I forgave it because there was so much else to love.
A Cast of Stones is the first volume in the Staff and the Sword series, all now published, so those of you who like to read your series all in one fell swoop will be able to do so. While it wrapped up in a satisfactory manner, it still leaves lots and lots of dangling threads to give the second story some traction. I heartily recommend this one, especially to the aforementioned young men, but to almost anybody else who has ever enjoyed fantasy, or super-heroes, or thrillers, or character-driven fiction... Yup. Just about anybody.
And for what it's worth, I bought this book on my own dime, and nobody asked me to review it. Patrick Carr did participate in my launch party because I asked him to, on the strength of the opening chapters, which were all I had read at that point in time.