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Stonehill Downs
by Sarah Remy
E-book and paperback, 307 pp
Harper Voyager, Dec. 2 in e-book, paperback available Dec. 30, 2014
I really wanted to like this book.

Published as part of Harper Voyager’s new “Impulse” line, this budget priced e-book (a limited-run paperback is coming later this month) was “discovered” in an open call for submissions and chosen from over 4500 manuscripts.

Billed as a murder mystery/procedural with magicians, Sarah Remy’s debut follows Malachi, the vocent (necromancer) for King Renault who is sent to the remote Stonehill Downs to investigate a series of gruesome murderers. He is joined by Avani, an immigrant shepherd and weaver from the vanished island nations who also has a strange connection to the spirit world. Avani has a raven familiar, named Jacob, while Malachi is followed by the spirit of his dead wife Siobhan. The pair attempt to find the killer while unravelling a deeper conspiracy that points towards Malachi’s mentor.

Unfortunately I found everything a little undercooked.

Nothing seemed to develop properly. The world-building borrowed heavily from English and Scottish history and the plot threads seemed overly tangled. At points Remy seemed more concerned with developing a romance or examining courtly life than forwarding the murder mystery.

She also made it painfully obvious who were the central players in the case – with Malachi’s half-brother’s timely arrival and the young Liam’s mysterious survival when everyone else in his village was slaughtered.

But even with those signposts, Remy pulled another plot point from thin air for the finale, turning to a tired trope that I won’t mention for fear of spoiling the novel.

I did like Remy’s characters, especially Liam and Avani, and the descriptions of Avani’s artistry and Renault’s court life were vivid, but they bogged the story down from its main plot.

There is potential in this new author, and perhaps the upcoming sequel will tie everything together better, but Stonehill Downs just left me underwhelmed.

Still, for a debut author discovered in an open call, I have to salute Sarah Remy’s success in just getting noticed. Hopefully this will lead to bigger and better things for this young writer. ~~ Michael Senft

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