In the late ’80s and early ’90s, Melanie Rawn scored a bestselling success with her Dragon Prince and Dragon Star trilogies. Between 1994 and 1997, she would release two books in her Exiles series and a joint venture with Kate Elliott and Jennifer Roberson. Then she simply vanished. Fans were left wondering where the conclusion of Exiles was (and they're still waiting eagerly). It would be almost a full decade before Melanie returned, but SPELLBINDER was not the epic fantasy of her previous outings, and its follow-up a few years later kept readers wondering, until she finally returned to write the prequel to THE GOLDEN KEY. One of the reasons for her departure from fantasy and the ultimate release of SPELLBINDER was an attack of clinical depression that required her to follow other interests in order to get back on her feet. And now, after a furious breaking of the dam of collected creation, Rawn has unleashed TOUCHSTONE, the first volume in her Glass Thorns fantasy series.
"Though it has been some time since Melanie Rawn plotted a course through fantasyland, her return with TOUCHSTONE is a sure sign that her gifts as a writer, evident from the beginning of her career, have not suffered for having been away for so long."
TOUCHSTONE is the story of Cayden Silversun, who is part Elf, part Fae, and part Human Wizard. He's a theater man --- a magician and playwright. In the world of TOUCHSTONE, magic is used to create the effects that are employed during the production on stage. Together with his companions, Jeska, Rafe and Meika, Cayden seeks to make his way into the legendarium of high society --- not as great politicians or aristocrats, but rather as the greatest performance troupe in the history of the world. The trick is to hold the magic in check, for while the power wielded on stage can enchant an audience, it also has the capacity to bring war. Cayden is troubled, though, by striking visions of the future. In seeking to prevent them, he alters his actions in the present day. Meika, the newest member of the troupe, is a mischievous imp who, while obnoxious, is also terribly gifted. It is between these two main characters that much of the interest of the story unfolds.
This is interesting in and of itself. You see, the world in which the four troupe members seek their fame and fortune is vast, full of creatures and races aplenty, yet at the same time the world seems confined, reduced to a stage setting. This could be seen as a flaw to the book, but given the theatrical nature of the main actors, it actually seems quite logical. You don't ever really get the sense that you’re seeing the whole of the world around them, but hints of it are layered throughout. You know the world is larger, but your attention isn't there.
Instead, your focus is on the four characters planted in front of you. This is, for all intents and purposes, a character piece: performance, successes, arguments, discussion, planning. Unlike many fantasies on the shelves, TOUCHSTONE isn't really about mighty quests and vanquishing armies. It's a story of dreams and achievements. None of the principal roles are anything more than middle-class strugglers who long for more and set off to work to achieve a goal --- no knights or castle champions, just actors/magicians. It's a refreshing change of pace.
Rawn does a wonderful job of making these four souls interesting and individual. At the same time, she also lays down some fantastic magic. Sure, she doesn't really spend any time discussing the rules of all this wizardry, but since when is that a requirement for something to work? What matters most is that Rawn has crafted a world and a set of people and a system that interconnects in just the right way, and it makes for a book that is a joy to read. The ending, if there is one real weak point, is likely the most in need of more focus. It just sort of happens. Yes, it leaves readers wondering what comes next, as the ending of any book in a series should, but it lacks punch. This, however, does not detract from the worthiness of the tale.
Though it has been some time since Melanie Rawn plotted a course through fantasyland, her return with TOUCHSTONE is a sure sign that her gifts as a writer, evident from the beginning of her career, have not suffered for having been away for so long. Readers who return to her fold and pick up the book will recognize the work of an old friend. And like any old friend, no matter how long you've been apart, you love them just as much when they reappear as you did the day they left.
Reviewed by Stephen Hubbard on March 15, 2012