Rawn’s exquisitely imagined fantasy series that started with Touchstone (review here) and continued with Elsewhens (review here) and Thornlost (review here) is set in the realm Albeyn, in which castes and careers are largely determined by genetics. Those with elvish blood are artistically magical, goblin heritage brings with it skills with potions and healing, witches are skilled at compulsions and glamors, and fae blood produces odd magics. Thorn is an injectable substance that comes in myriad colors and typically stirs dreams, visions, and pleasant feelings, although some connoisseurs specialize in darker strains, saving the really nasty stuff for enemies and victims.
Cade “Quill” Silversun has an odd magic, and now his younger brother is coming into his heritage as well. This troubles Cade. He knows that any number of people would resort and have resorted to unscrupulous means to compel his gift of seeing the future. Actually, he sees alternative possible futures, with the strongest visions indicating strongest likelihoods and near certainties, driven as they are by the actions and determinations of people who have the power to impose their will on the world through their agents. He tried to keep his talent a secret, but it leaked out, and Cade has been alternately wooed and threatened. In desperation, he has rejected his gift, in part to thwart those who would force him to prophesize for them, but also to spare himself the agony of seeing elsewhen horrors. Unfortunately, his creativity seems to be linked to his Talent, for his ability to write has all but dried up. Not even bluethorn can inspire him, and Touchstone needs a successful play to perform on circuit.
When Derien’s talent manifests, and it is an even more valuable talent than future-seeing, Cade realizes he may need his elsewhens to safeguard his brother. But can a banished Talent be conjured back?
Meanwhile, war, magics, and politics aren’t the only things evolving. When a theatrical group of young hot shots start defying the rules, and a religious theatrical production introduces entirely new techniques, as well as political propaganda, the Touchstone troupe has to rise to this double challenge to stay competitive. Blackthorn is no longer a major rival and threat, but someone is still bent on sabotaging Touchstone, with special malevolence directed at Mieka Windthistle.
And what of Cade’s awkward attraction to Megs Mindrising, the pragmatic, down-to-earth associate of the royal family, around whom Cade’s insouciant charm fails utterly?
More importantly, does Cade have the foreknowledge, the means, or the responsibility to intervene in an assassination plot with far reaching consequences?
This is more mature storytelling than the earlier volumes, because the characters are growing up. Politics replace frolics, family obligations are no longer to be escaped by running off to put on shows, and competition is a grim reality of life instead of an exhilarating outlet for testosterone. And yet, through it all, Mieka the elf retains his talent for mischief, a Fool who stumbles in and out of trouble. If God truly looks out for fools and children, Mieka just might survive to enjoy the one happy elsewhen Cade has foreseen among the branching possible futures. Chris R. Paige