Today I am delighted to be reviewing ‘The Stone Knife’ by Anna Stephens. This was one of my most anticipated reads for 2020, and I have been looking forward to it ever since it was first announced, because the Godblind Trilogy is one of my all time favourite series and I absolutely adore how Anna Stephens writes. I was over the moon to receive an e-arc from netgalley, as I don’t think I have ever requested a book so fast.
Needless to say, I went into this one with very high expectations – and I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest, and now I am eagerly waiting for November when I will get my hands on the beautiful edition from Goldsboro Books as part of the SFF Fellowship, and you can bet I will be devouring it a few more times before the second book comes along.
Disclaimer – I received an e-arc via netgalley in exchange for an honest review
A fantasy epic of freedom and empire, gods and monsters, love, loyalty, honour, and betrayal, from the acclaimed author of GODBLIND.
For generations, the forests of Ixachipan have echoed with the clash of weapons, as nation after nation has fallen to the Empire of Songs – and to the unending, magical music that binds its people together. Now, only two free tribes remain.
The Empire is not their only enemy. Monstrous, scaled predators lurk in rivers and streams, with a deadly music of their own.
As battle looms, fighters on both sides must decide how far they will go for their beliefs and for the ones they love – a veteran general seeks peace through war, a warrior and a shaman set out to understand their enemies, and an ambitious noble tries to bend ancient magic to her will.
ANNA STEPHENS IS BACK! This is the first in a brand-new trilogy, in a brand-new world, and I loved every single moment of this book from the very first word until the last.
The Stone Knife, as might be expected to anyone familiar with Stephens’ first trilogy, is brutal, although not so much in the ‘grimdark’ way that Godblind was often characterised as being. But, still brutal and bloody, and written with such vividness that you can’t help but have a visceral reaction to what is happening on the pages. Not for the faint at heart, but it is so beautifully executed that it has you reeling even as you need to keep reading, need more of the intensity. The best thing is that it never overwhelms the plot or the characters, even as it is an essential part of the narrative, and it has different notes – there are the moments of loud, chaotic violence and brutality, and then there are the quieter moments that have you holding your breath, and praying that the characters will survive.
Because, the characters – and there are multiple POV characters – are so well-realised and individual, that you can’t help but become heavily invested in each and every one of them (as well as all the secondary characters) and I am absolutely terrified for what might happen to them in future books. Xessa was an almost instant favourite, and remains up there and will most likely be one of my favourites for the entire series, while Lilla and Tayan completely stole my heart, but there was not one single character that I wasn’t invested in. Every one of the characters, regardless of which side of the ‘conflict’ they are on, have their own voices and motivations, and what I have always loved about Stephens’ characterisation, is that there is never any black and white between the sides. Every character is a person, complex and living within their own world, their view of the world around them and their actions and faith, all shaped by context and interactions with other characters, and not only does that make for a much richer world, but it also breathes life into them and the narrative and feels so wonderfully, painfully human even when we are different from them and even when they are at their core unlikeable characters.
I don’t want to call it representation because here it is so much part of the world, that you couldn’t imagine the characters or the book without it, but it is excellent. Xessa, one of the main POV characters is deaf, and it is univocally part of her character, and it is there in the little details – from feeling vibrations to being partnered with a dog – realistically depicted in a fantastical world, and it is just one facet of who she is just as it shapes her, and is an integral part of the world, of her society, and that is how it should be. Similarly, gender and sexuality are just there, part of the world, as natural as breathing – people are just who they are, love who they love – and I need to read more books where it feels like this.
The world-building was spectacular and intricate, and while it took me a little while to acclimatise to this very different world, it was so refreshing and well-written that it was worth that patience because this is a world I want to live in more and more (even with the terrifying monsters). Inspired by Central American Civilisations, this world was new and had such breadth and depth from the start, that you can’t help but be pulled in even while trying to find your feet, and there is such a variety of faith and cultures and experiences, while still leaving that tantalising feeling of so much more to come. The threat of the ‘Drowned’ was imminent and palpable from the very beginning, and they are deliciously creepy, and it was fascinating to see them so irrevocably entangled with the characters and cultures, a threat that had to be adapted to rather than outright avoided.
The Stone Knife feels like the song that is so integral to the plot, it weaves around you from the beginning, and it feels like the book has a voice of its own that wraps around your heart. There is a lot of information, an entire world to be built, and yet there is never any feeling of there being info dumps or being strong-armed into the world because the story is woven around us word by word, page by page, character voice by character voice. The multiple POVs builds into this, offering us so many different viewpoints and experiences, built up with longer chapters and slightly slower pacing before the blood starts to cover the pages.
This was one of my most anticipated reads for this year, and now probably my top read of 2020, I loved it so much. Brutal, beautiful, and I have already lost my heart to this new cast of characters and will live in fear and love for them until the end of this series. I cannot recommend The Stone Knife highly enough; it has everything I want from my fantasy and more (with added bloodshed).
The Stone Knife (The Songs of the Drowned) – Anna Stephens (Coming November 26th 2020) – ***** (5/5 Stars)
If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.