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The Stone Prince
By Fiona Patton

Reviewed by Rob Gates
Rating: none given

My first thought when I saw Fiona Pattonís The Stone Prince on the shelves was: I wonder if her Canadian colleague Tanya Huff is jealous that Fiís book hit the shelves first (before Tanyaís latest, Blood Debt)?  I wonít know the answer to that question until I see them at some future event; but Iím sure that if the answer is ďyes,Ē itís also mixed in with a lot of pride - because this first novel is a good one. It left me wanting to see more from the hand of Tanyaís friend.

Fi has created a world reminiscent of the historic British Isles, with a healthy dose of magic and mysticism thrown in for good measure. Many other authors have worked with fictional realms like this one, but Fi has done them one better by making gender a non-issue. For, in Fiís world, titles and honors and duties are bestowed by right of birth and victory, regardless of gender. There are male and female Dukes and Barons and Princes and Knights, all fighting and marrying and killing and dying side by side, without a momentís pause. It seems the only place gender is important is in procreation (for the creation of heirs).

Another twist that Fi has thrown in - and one which has very interesting implications socially - is the Guild of Companions. The Guild raises and trains its students to become consorts and companions to the royal personages of the Kingdom - creating a combination of spy/bodyguard/lover/diplomat in its best and brightest. The one lynch-pin of the Guild is that love is something that can be created in customers, not something one should fall prey to if one controls oneself. The Guild is both powerless and vastly powerful, for its members answer ultimately to only the Guild - and the secrets one learns between the sheets can be quite valuable.

With these elements established, Fi takes us on a tour of the life of Demnor, Heir to the throne of Branion. We watch as Demnorís mother, Melesandra, tries to hone Demnor into a cold and powerful successor. We see his struggle to understand what it means to rule. We see him learn the value of loyalty, the price of betrayal, and the power of love. All this is set against a backdrop of rebellion, as the Heathlands rise again to try and pull themselves out from under the thumb of Branion (which has ruled the Heathlands for over 500 years). The highlands folks of the Heathlands prove a real test to the strength of both Demnorís heart and soul, with his lover Kelahnusí life - and, indeed, all of Branionís and Heathlandsí lives - hanging in the balance. The final outcome of the battle is both unexpected and refreshing - but I wonít spoil it by telling you what I mean.

The Stone Prince is a fun read; and Fi shows real promise, even though there are some areas where she has room to grow. Many of her background characters, particularly the Heathlands folk, are sketchily drawn; and weíre given no real reason for why life away from Branionís rule would be better than life with Branion rule. The social order seems mostly well thought out, though we see very little beyond the halls of power. Fi also sets up many tensions and potential power struggles only to resolve them hastily and without real reason, if at all. Finally, there are many places where the descriptions of clothing and rooms could have easily been slimmed down - nothing that tighter editing canít solve.

For all of its little faults, though, The Stone Prince is well worth the price; and it kept me entertained - which is, after all, more important than impressing my evil twin brother, the Critic. I look forward to more from Fiona Patton, particularly picking up on some of the loose threads or legends of the Flame from this, her first novel.

Now, regardless of the answer to the question I raised in the first paragraph, the real question is: when will we see the first Tanya Huff/Fiona Patton co-authored book?  Looking at Fiís and Tanyaís strengths, Iíd have to say that such a collaboration would have a lot going for it!

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