One of the retired librarians at my library has a similar taste for fantasy, and we often trade book recommendations when she comes in. This one came from her (the recommendation, anyway; the book itself came, as usual, from the library.)
Touchstone. Glass Thorns Book 1. by Melanie Rawn.
Touchstone is an adult fantasy novel, telling the story of theater geeks in a world where the theater runs on magic. It might be the epic tale of a small company’s rise to prominence, but refreshingly so far, kingdom politics are tangential to the main plot, and saving the world is not on the agenda.
The story is at first narrated to us from Cayden or Cade’s point of view, the tregedor or playwright of a small group. Jeska is the masquer or actor, and Rafe the fettler, who holds all the magic together. As the book opens, they are trying for the first time a new, young, and very self-confident glisker, who projects magical scene and costume changes and emotions to the audience. Mieka may be overconfident, but Cade knows in his heart that Mieka is right when he says that they are the perfect match for each other, and together the four young men will go far. The goal is to get invited to the annual event where troupes compete for the chance to win one of three royally sponsored tours around the country.
The world is its own fantasy world, not a reimagining of a specific time period on Earth, but with magic, as so many are. It has a decidedly 17th-century feel to it, though, based on the technology, style, mores, and the archaic vocabulary sprinkled in. The troupe is all young men because only men are allowed to act or attend the theater. But Cade’s best friend Blye is a female glassmaker. She can make the glass quills that hold the theater magic better than her father, a Guild member, but will lose her livelihood when her father is no longer there to stamp off her work, as women can’t be Guild members. She also must disguise herself as a man every time she wants to see Cade and his troupe perform, which results in Cade becoming a leader in what might become a women’s rights movement.
The world is populated by a full array of traditional fantasy races, including wizards, humans, goblins, elves, trolls, and piskies. Unlike Tolkien, though, while the races all have defining physical and magical characteristics, they all come in a variety of skin tones and have been intermarrying for hundreds of years, so that while someone may have a defining race or two by looks, hardly anyone can claim to be pureblood anything anymore. All gliskers, like Mieka, must be part elf to be able to work that magic, for example.
Cade is part elf, part wizard, and has the dubious gift of being overtaken by visions of possible futures. He can and does take action to change futures for himself that he finds unpalatable, but he has been taught to keep the visions a secret from all but his closest friends. Throughout the whole book, he keeps having visions related to Mieka, but struggles with whether or not to tell Mieka about them. Meanwhile, Mieka is as talented as he claims to be, but also addicted to a drug that comes in a glass thorn, ready for injection.
There are multiple strands braided together here, the bright tale of theater antics contrasting with the darkness of Cade’s visions and Mieka’s addictions. I guess I’d been concentrating on the more up-beat plot lines, because I was shocked when things came together into a decidedly depressing ending. Still, there’s a lot in this gorgeous book to please those who read for character, plot, writing, or world-building, and I guess I will just have to wait for the second book in the series to come back to the library. Elsewhens came out in February, and Thornlost, the third in the series, is scheduled for publication in April 2014.