The Stone of Sorrow by Brooke Carter

Review by Logaine Navascués

Orca Book Publishers, 7 April 2020

304 pages, paperback, $14.95 CAD, 978-1-45982-439-3

Ages 12+, Grades 7 to 12

Young Adult, Action/Adventure, Fantasy, LGBTQ+, Romance

I creep out the door, holding my spear in front of me to steady me on the path, and I half-crouch, half-walk down the rocky cliff side toward my village, the runes glowing enough to show me where the edge of the path falls into darkness. I can’t see the black, raging sea below, but I feel it. The sea goddess Rán beckons, and I wonder if the ocean hungers the way people do. I say the rune of the sea, Lögr, Please don’t kill me this night.

Runa is an apprentice runecaster, but she wishes she were somebody else. Someone who’s not short, skinny and pale, with wild, wiry, white hair and strange eyes. Who could follow the call of the ocean—her true love—to new lands. Who is strong yet gentle, beautiful, and skilled at runecasting, like her sister, Sýr. Someone her dead mother would be proud of.

Now, as the seventeen-year-old studies to be the next heir in a line of female sorceresses and healers, she must find a way to unleash her own strength and save her sister. Sýr has been kidnapped by Katla, a cruel and lethal witch who wants to gain access to the moonstone, a magical stone that makes its possessor more powerful, and that currently belongs to Runa’s clan.

Following the tradition of YA fantasy novels, this first book in the Runecaster series combines all the necessary elements to make it a memorable and engaging read—magic, a multidimensional system rooted in Norse mythology with legendary beings and rituals, complex characters and a tragic event that triggers the inevitable fight for (or against) one’s own destiny. To this alchemical mixture, author Brooke Carter adds a very humane young protagonist, full of doubts, hopes and contradictions, crafted with such care and attention to detail that the reader experiences her transformation from insecure outcast to passionate and defiant leader. Although this happens somewhat abruptly, the intention of creating an imperfect heroin who is pushed into action not only by her strengths, but her anger, pain and fears, is a valuable role model for these imperfect times.

One of the novel’s most outstanding qualities is the intimacy of Runa’s voice. Through the first-person narrative we get to peek into her mind and soul. Carter’s evocative writing provides detailed portrayals of how she lives, sleeps, dresses, eats, dreams, and fishes for food. The use of Icelandic terms, rich analogies connected to nature, and references to Nordic tradition also help build a unique, fantastic world:

I’m hated enough as it is. Without Sýr around, I’ll be like a fish caught in a tide pool, praying the ravens don’t come to peck my eyes out. (…) Sýr has left something else for me–a treat wrapped in moss next to the hearth. Its smell gives it away. Hákarl. Fermented shark, my favourite. Where did she get it? (17)

The fact that older sister Sýr is in an open lesbian relationship and that one of Runa’s companions in her adventure is a non-binary fallen Valkyrie is also refreshing for the positive portrayal of LGBTQ+ characters. And even if Runa’s romantic advances are a bit predictable, Carter does a good job depicting love as a universal force more than the individual desire to connect and possess. At all turns, she avoids stereotypes and clichés. 

Akin to Harry Potter’s magical suspense, this story is sure to please middle-grade and early young adult readers looking for action and adventure, while leaving enough open ends to ensure the mystery will continue in the series’ following books. It is an entertaining and fast-paced read, once you get a grasp of the context and characters in the slightly dense first chapters. Ultimately, this tale will inspire people to appreciate their worth and live freely in whichever world they happen to inhabit.

Logaine Navascués is a Peruvian artist, writer, creative director, teacher and book maker, currently living in Vancouver. She is the proud mother of a beautiful daughter and two artist books. You can find her reading, collecting picture books and eating chocolate while pursuing her MA in Children’s Literature at UBC.

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