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Touchstone, Elsewhens, and Thornlost, by Melanie Rawn

Review copies provided by Tor Books.

These are the first three volumes of what I thought was a trilogy. It turns out no, not a trilogy at all, but a longer series, so the question, “how is she going to wrap this up by the end?” is answered with, “Oh. She’s not.” The series is called Glass Thorns, which in the context of this fantasy world translates basically as Syringe or possibly Bong or Crack Pipe: the Glass Thorns are the in-world drug delivery system. (Thornlost, the third title, is basically Stoned Out Of One’s Gourd, fantasy style. It is not going to be hard to find readers with more sympathy for this than I have.)

So the basic premise is that there are groups of four men (always four, always men) who perform magic theater, and it sort of gets a rock band dynamic going with the partying and the drugs and the women and like that. Except…I am kind of confused about why someone who wanted to do that scene would set it up to leave out the women who did that scene, and only have the groupies and outsiders–especially someone who was born in 1954 as Melanie Rawn’s bio says she was. Sure, the Beatles, the Stones, etc. were all dudes. But Janis, Aretha, Grace Slick, Mama Cass, Diana Ross…oh, never mind, you can make your own list. Point being, I honestly do not understand why you would set up a world to be ringing the changes on that subculture–which was, don’t get me wrong, plenty misogynist–and then say, “What we need here is way more misogyny.” Having the setup be that misogynist and then having one of the really unsympathetic characters be the Yoko Ono figure…from an entire race of Yoko Onos, basically the only “bad” race of the books passing magic through the female line…ick. And also ew.

(On this front, there is small social progress in Thornlost…tiny, tiny social progress…which is not particularly personally motivated by the stuff that’s been going on with these characters, so…yeah, good for the society I guess, kind of weird and random for these particular people.)

(Oh, and: I also really liked that there was approximately no racial purity in this world. Everybody was some kind of mix. That was good! Except…traits apparently breed true to blood lines in D&D/Batman villain style, with talents and appearance correlating strongly. That’s…less awesome.)

And then…the main character, Cade Silversun, sees visions of possible futures (the “elsewhens” of the second book title). And some of them are great and some are terrible, and pretty much all the really terrible ones involve the band–oh, excuse me, the troupe–doing massive quantities of drugs and drinking. And none of these jerks ever once says, “Huh, maybe we shouldn’t do that, then.” Don’t get me wrong: this is massively plausible if you’ve ever read anything about, say, John Belushi. I absolutely believe that if someone had visited John Belushi with knowledge of his future and said, “Dude, drugs are going to be really dangerous for you, they could end your career or even your life,” he’d have said, “Oh wow, so good to know, I’d better find exactly the right drugs so that that doesn’t happen!” So yes: plausible. Sympathetic and interesting? Not really. And Cade’s move to fatalism at the end of the third book would be a lot more interesting if he hadn’t been so completely fatalistic to begin with: “What can I do to avoid these horrible futures I see? aside, I mean, from actually doing anything significant, or telling my dearest friends about them. Even my dearest friend who knows I see the visions. And stuff. Um.”

I kept reading these books partly because of my misperception that it was a trilogy and would therefore have closure but partly because I am interested in theatrical troupes in fantasy. The use of magic to create specific theatrical experiences, and what their focus was, started out pretty interesting to me. I didn’t feel it lived up to that promise. Rawn did develop some of what the troupes were doing, but their intergroup dynamic was pretty stagnant–the two secondary members stayed very much in the background, to the point where I had to keep reminding myself which was which–and what development was there was more told than shown. There was room for a lot here, and frankly it might still get developed in later books, but I can’t imagine having the patience to sit through hundreds more pages of these people being drunk and high and angsting about what horrible people they might become and not taking particularly many steps not to become them.

Do I sound slightly bitter? I thought it was awfully nice of the people at Tor who send me books to send the first two when they found I didn’t have them, since the third isn’t a stand-alone, but I think it really should have said more to me that the publicity copy was not saying “stunning conclusion” or “triumphant ending” or anything like that. That’s really not Melanie Rawn’s fault. On the other hand, be aware that you will be in it for the long haul with the stoned-out drunk frat-prank whiners if you sign on with this series. That’s what you’re getting here, not…self-contained stoned-out drunk frat-prank whiners.

I really liked Melanie Rawn books when I was a kid.

I’m going to go read something else now.

1 thought on “Touchstone, Elsewhens, and Thornlost, by Melanie Rawn

  1. >> I really liked Melanie Rawn books when I was a kid.

    Me too. Which is why I am both sad and happy to see your review.

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