on Jan. 26, 2014 :
Stained Glass Monsters by Andrea K Höst is a standalone (ish) fantasy book from an author whose books I've enjoyed several times in the past. I added the "ish" because I just saw a listing on her website indicating that there will be another book in the same universe, apparently a sequel, but the first book is pretty self-contained.
This was a nice read. The two main characters — Rennyn, the powerful mage who has been trained her whole life to save the world, and Kendall, the teenage orphan that coincidentally crosses her path — provide nicely contrasting points of view. Rennyn is focused on her task and saving everyone (particularly the world and protecting her brother). Kendall, on the other hand, starts off following events only because she has nothing better to do. She's not very invested in what's going on beyond her own safety and given the opportunity to learn magecraft, decides to only bother until she can learn enough to get paid to be the most basic kind of magic wielder.
I enjoyed Stained Glass Monsters, but it's not my favourite Höst book. Although I was never bored, I did feel it moved a little slowly, especially in the middle. There was an element of following Rennyn as she went from points A, B, C to achieve X, Y, Z stages in her quest to save the world. To Höst's credit, we are spared needless details about X, Y, Z and all those scenes include some other element to drive the book onwards, usually character development.
I really liked that Rennyn was allowed to be a powerful and highly competent character. She had obstacles to overcome, but those were mostly external. What internal obstacles she faced were irrevocably linked with the whole world-saving thing. That she struggled to overcome them was because they were hard and anyone else would have struggled more. Also, Rennyn wasn't running around saving the world because she was a mystical chosen one. Her family, for historical reasons, saw it as their duty to protect the world and hence trained and planned extensively for the task. This is the only source of Rennyn's specialness. She was the only one who could do it (well, her or her brother, who was also prepared but Rennyn took point as the eldest) because she was the only one who had properly been prepared to do it. (Well, OK, one small aspect was because of her lineage, but not quite in the traditional "chosen one" sense.) It's a thoughtful twist on the "chosen one" trope.
You know what I've just noticed about Höst's books? It came up when I was reviewing Hunting as well. I start writing my review thinking "well, I enjoyed that but I'm not sure how much I have to say about it" and then I start writing it and, in the course of reflecting on the book, end up finding added depths that I didn't necessarily notice while I was actually reading. Thumbs up. There's also the fact that almost all the key players in Stained Glass Monsters were women, apart from Rennyn's brother and her love interest. Which makes me happy.
Stained Glass Monsters was a pleasant read and I recommend it to fantasy fans. Especially to readers of fantasy not wanting to commit to a long series, since it stands alone nicely (although I can see where the sequel might go).
4 / 5 stars
(reviewed 5 months after purchase)
on Aug. 4, 2012 :
Stained Glass Monsters is a pearler, a romantic fantasy with a welcome sense of restraint, for all that the fate of the world is at stake. Initially the story is told from the perspective of resourceful orphan Kendall, who is rescued from an unexpected magical disaster by a mysterious stranger who knew it was going to happen. Kendall, now homeless, is more or less dragged into the wake of the secretive mage, Rennyn, as the authorities appear on the scene and the scope of the threat becomes clear.
From there Stained Glass Monsters becomes a two-hander, switching between Kendall, who is sent off to learn the principles of her latent magical abilities, and Rennyn Claire who, along with her younger brother, is a member of clandestine magical conspiracy dedicated to saving the world. Kendall knows almost nothing about politics or magic, so the reader shares her crash course in world affairs. Rennyn, meanwhile, rushes about from one disaster to the next, walking a fine line between guarding terrible secrets and sharing enough information not to get everyone else killed. Both characters develop relationships with members of the Kellian race, glowing golems-turned-human with supernatural prowess and a mysterious past. If that makes them sound like Twilight vampires, I apologise; the Kellian are cool and awesome, but they also unexpectedly provide the emotional core of the story. A wrenching one it is, too.
The dual perspective is an excellent device for showing the audience the world, though in the latter stages of the book Kendall gets squeezed out a little. I thought that was a shame, though there is no doubt that Rennyn – the cool magical secret agent weighed down by self-doubt and staggering levels of responsibility – is the more interesting character of the two. Not that Kendall doesn’t get her cool moments to shine, but it’s not on her to save the world from astral-dimensional evil.
Stained Glass Monsters is a romantic fantasy, and both heroines develop strong, believable relationships. I thought perhaps too little of the early growth of Rennyn’s romance happened on-screen. It came a little out of nowhere for me (though I concede that as a reader I tend to focus on plot before character, so it’s quite possible there were cues I just missed). Whatever the buildup, Host absolutely nailed the romance itself, which is not only tender and affecting but is also crucial to everything that follows. The stakes in the dramatic climax work on every level.
This story has it all: swashbuckling adventure, magical explosions, monster fighting, kind-of-ancient evils from beyond space, noble sparkling supernatural creatures (who don’t make you want to vomit) and a heroine who would very much like to settle down with a good book and a piece of cake, but only once the world is saved, thank you very much. Highly recommended.
(reviewed 2 years after purchase)