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Touchstone: Book One of the Glass Thorns
by Melanie Rawn
TOR books; $25.99; 368pp
Release Date: February 28, 2012

Rawn has created a world where amazing theater is done by a handful of artists no matter how many “performers” there are in each production: A glisker handles glass withies (some kind of magical glass rod but I have no idea how they are used.), the writer of the play’s action is a tregetour there’s a person called a masquer and a fettler controls the flow of action.

I think.

This is what made me stumble over and over. I couldn’t picture how the theater magic was done. I couldn’t clearly picture what the audiences in the story were seeing except in a general way: a drama, a comedy, a dragon and a damsel in distress. I was not really sure how the troupe (called Touchstone) meshed together as they performed on stage. How do they project multiple characters? The novel follows this group of very likable young men to a competition where they win a favored place on a tour of the kingdom (The better the troupe the better the accommodations).

The characters are fine and very appealing and they change and grow as the novel progresses. But the overall arc of the story is not too compelling: Touchstone takes on a new performer who’s colorful and snarky, they win a competition, they tour the kingdom and a good friend of theirs gets married and...and…the snarky one meets a girl who might or might not mean trouble down the road…The tregetour of the group named Cayden has had disturbing visions of her but he also has other dreams some of which are threatening some are scary but they don’t add up to much, even if they are glimpses of the future.

There’s a great deal of focus on a person’s genealogy and what clan they belong to - how much wizardly blood or elf blood or what have you each person has.

The characters perform as they go through their allotted circuit; there are personal conflicts and confrontations. But I didn’t get the sense of where this was all headed. There was no gripping conundrum to unravel, no large revelation at the end or even much of a hook for the next novel.

And the glass thorns of the title seem to be a form of administering drugs---not necessarily illegal, but mood enhancements or magic enhancements. And they don’t play that much of a part in the tale except for one character who indulges to make his magical abilities more flamboyant.

This colorful and well-thought out world was also just too packed with made-up terms. The words give it a nicely otherworld feel, but because I wasn’t sure of their meaning it took away from the flow of the story to constantly have to refer to a dictionary. (The dictionary provided would have been more helpful printed in the front.)

So all in all: a very low key tale surrounded by and almost overwhelmed by an interesting, detailed fantasy world. ~~ Sue Martin

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