Title: The Stonechild Betrothal
Author: Katalinya Palokova
Publisher: Torquere Press
Pages/Word Count: 55 Pages
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Blurb: Estli is a professional bodyguard and fighter for hire who stumbles on a job that looks like easy money: escort a cursed magician named Maurin Stonechild from a remote mountain village to the bustling town of Plains City to investigate an offer of arranged marriage. Complications begin right away, of course. Maurin’s curse is the stuff of legend. He is one of twelve people, referred to as the stone children, who were cursed at birth to carry a physical manifestation of their birthstone on their bodies. The stones give them enhanced but dangerous magical abilities, and many of them are feared and living in seclusion.
Maurin’s identity alone would be enough to make Estli think twice about the job, but the identity of the man Maurin has been asked to marry is even more startling. Riven Glassweaver is an infamous underworld fixture with a reputation for acquiring powerful magical artifacts. Like, say, amethyst crystals harvested from the skin of a magician or, worse yet, the magician himself. Eventually convinced to take the job because he is unwilling to leave it to less capable hands, Estli runs across one final complication: Maurin is exactly his type, and the feeling is mutual.
Review: Katalinya Palokova’s The Stonechild Betrothal was one of those books that was so fun to read I wished it were longer. It clocks in at around 20K words, and it’s packed with so much rich imagery and folklore elements that got me swooning. Plus, the plot itself is pretty complicated for a novella, i.e., there’s a good deal of back story that could’ve been explored in greater depth in order to provide the current events a clearer context.
The book reads like a traditional fairy tale, complete with curses and birthstones and betrothals that require some testing or proving first before the final step – the formal marriage/binding ceremony – could be taken. The curse remains a vague shadow in the past, haunting the steps of innocent children who, through nothing more than sheer luck, find themselves outcasts as the victims of this curse. And this was the first item that made me wish the book were a novel instead. There’s so much material to plumb and to provide an even clearer picture of Maurin’s danger should the betrothal carry through.
Riven Glassweaver, moreover, proves to be a great deal more complicated than what the blurb offers us – and what the other characters at first believe. All these revelations, however, happen in the last quarter of the book, which left me feeling a touch cheated of what could’ve been a great source of conflict in addition to the main one. I found him to be a fascinating villain on the whole, and having his secondary characteristics revealed quite close to the end undermines the nature of his threat to some extent. Still, he was a great addition to a cast of colorful, eccentric, and even funny characters. Maurin is the only one who plays it straight, in a way, but he’s nicely balanced by Estli, Alonzo, Katerine, and Ravelle. There’s a good deal of snarky, dry humor throughout the book, which helps alleviate the growing tension and tell us much about the characters’ relationships. Some of their interactions, especially between Estli and Alonzo, are comedy gold, for instance, and reveals a closeness between the two as friends that you don’t see in the others.
As with the curse and with Riven, the village where Maurin and Ravelle live, even with the understandable paranoia and fear residents harbor toward the stone children, is a colorful backdrop against which some of the climactic action takes place. It’s also a place rich in history and tradition, mirroring Maurin’s unique physical affliction in terms of mystery. As with the other two items I’ve mentioned, I also wished the setting were more developed if only to give Maurin’s back story a nice, solid grounding. As it stands, there’s almost like a misty, dream-like quality to the place even though it’s barely mentioned. I think it’s got everything to do with the pervasive role of old, powerful magic that colors my perceptions of the setting.
The romance is sweet and rather subtle. Even in the middle of drunk confessions, the simple earnestness in the way the treatment of the growing love between Estli and Maurin comes out movingly. The only niggle I have regarding that is the rush with which certain issues involving the breaking of a betrothal are concerned. Maurin’s brush with disaster and its rather obvious solution go down familiar paths, but on the whole, while I found the resolution predictable, there was enough of a unique take on it that made up for the familiarity.
Overall, I really enjoyed Palokova’s book. There’s enough world-building and history, nicely seasoned with great characterization, to make it a worthwhile novella to lose oneself in.
You can buy The Stonechild Betrothal here: