THE ART STONE begins with a story of the creation of the realm of Elybion, in which the goddess spread twelve magical stones throughout the continent. Many thousands of years later, after the legend of the stones has become a myth, young temple apprentice Kai is kicked out of his training and forced to return home in the north of Elybion. There, his dying mother gives him the Art Stone and tells him to take it to its place of origin. Confused, sad, and not knowing what to do next with his life, Kai drunkenly agrees to join a crew of pirates sailing in search of treasure. This decision, fueled by his feelings of disorientation in life and his thirst for adventure, causes his path to intersect with that of four other lost individuals, each with distinct fears and ambitions: Lifia, an empress on the run after a skirmish in her throne room led to the death of a prince; Nok, half-brother of the murdered prince and bastard son of the king, also on the run after an affair with his half-sister’s betrothed; and Marr and Jupp, barbarian brothers testing their strength to prove themselves to their powerful father. Kai, Lifia, Nok, Marr, and Jupp team up to help each other achieve their destinies and to protect each other from the violent enemies seeking revenge.
Each of the five main characters has a distinct personality that shines through their first-person narration of alternating chapters. Character introductions come fast at the start, but once the book finds its footing, they become worthy companions and their story becomes immersive. They are each influenced heavily by their upbringing in their respective home regions of Elybion. The regions developed unique cultures over time that inform their citizens’ beliefs, ambitions, and behaviors. Despite the many warring factions, the overall image of Elybion is one of peace, as the myriad cultures have an adoration of honor and mental strength in common. And while magic is not pervasive in Elybion– centered only on the long-lost stones and a mythological trio of magic users not seen for years–the mechanism of the magic and who may possess it is derived from a legend that underscores the traits of compassion, honor, and steadfastness inherent in worthy individuals such as the five main characters.
Minor characters have full personalities, as well, and their interactions with the five heroes propel the plot while simultaneously shaping their worldview; Nok’s one-time romance, Kyber, for instance, is not as courageous and kind in times of trouble as he once thought, which hardens Nok to new friendships and increases his propensity for cynicism. Dialogue between the characters, as with Nok’s sarcasm, is driven by the fears they’ve developed in their difficult pasts, but as they grow closer of the course of the novel, their respect for each other and their various cultural identities helps shift their relationships to ones that are more trusting and compassionate. The book’s conclusion allows for catharsis for each of the characters, some more satisfying than others.
Jesse A. Ellis’s THE ART STONE is an exciting fantasy novel of epic proportions–across a world constructed with such comprehensive cultural and ecological detail as to make it feel real–that shows the power of cooperation when one’s destiny feels impossible to achieve.
~Aimee Jodoin for IndieReader