Hot on the heels of #40, Queen of Babble in the Big City, was #41 - Melting Stones, by Tamora Pierce (2008, Scholastic Press). This was my (technically our, as I read it with Littlehazel) first foray into the works of this popular and prolific YA fantasy author, and I have to say, we were both pretty impressed.
The story opens with Evvy -- Evumeimei Dingzai, a young stone mage established Pierce fans may recognize from Street Magic -- enroute to the Battle Islands with her mentor, prickly plant mage Rosethorn, to investigate the mysterious deaths of the local plants and animals. They are accompanied by the noisome but ultimately useful Myrrhtide (a/k/a Fusspot), a water mage, and Luvo, the heart of a mountain (read: talking rock that looks like a teddy bear) who is Evvy's familiar. Surprisingly, Evvy discovers the cause of the mysterious dying-off in fairly short order, but what to do about it and how to save the people and animals of Starns is another matter.
While the other reviews I read for this book were mixed, both Littlehazel and I enjoyed it. It did take me awhile to fully get into the characters and their universe; this is consistent with other readers' suggestion that Melting Stones is more accessible to those who are already Pierce fans, and may even have read others in the Circle of Magic universe ... as opposed to someone like me, who's not usually a big fantasy reader. I also found many of the detailed descriptions of stones and geology a bit tedious, though young science fiends (including the one I gave birth to) may well eat it up. That said, the book has a lot to recommend it. It's an interesting, unusual story, and Pierce manages to make the characters learn and grow and change over the course of the book without being preachy and heavy-handed about it. There's also a good deal here for tween and teen readers to chew on: the environmental and emotional aftermath of war, responsibility to oneself vs. one's friends vs. the collective good, balancing courage and caution. Additionally, I appreciated the subtle diversity of the cast; it's not overemphasized, but their names and descriptions paint a picture of a very varied community, they don't appear to be limited or stereotyped based on gender, and there's no gratuitous romance thrown in to tie the ending together neatly. (Don't get me wrong, I love me my chick lit sometimes, but I'd hate for my 9 year old to get the idea that the only things to look forward to as she grows up are boyfriends and designer clothes.)
In short, a decent read, either to read with your tween or give as a gift. If this isn't one of Pierce's better works, I think Littlehazel's in for a treat.
- Ithaca, New York
- MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.