From lush Italian landscapes, to bustling city streets, Kate Murdoch transports you to renaissance Italy in her debut historical fantasy novel, Stone Circle. Well written prose is combined with world-building talents, as Murdoch takes pains to describe the beauty of Italian architecture and the atmosphere that comes with it across different social classes. Featuring an intuitive and refreshing source of magic paired with a devastating love triangle, Stone Circle is a promising debut novel that will leave readers longing for a sequel.
This is an ARC review of Kate Murdoch’s Stone Circle, which releases December 1, 2017.
*Special thanks to Fireship Press for allowing us to review ahead of publication.
Since he was a child, Antonius has known that there was something different about him, as it was not uncommon for him to hear the unsuspecting thoughts of others. Although many would consider mind reading a gift, Antonius has made an effort to quell his abilities in order to avoid intruding the privacy of his family, using his power to occasionally assist with the care of his simple-minded brother, Piero. While his efforts to mute his ability do not stop others from inadvertently sending vivid thoughts and images to Antonius, he does the best that he can to avoid intruding the thoughts and minds of others until he stumbles across an advertisement posted by the local seer, Savinus, who is in search of an able-minded apprentice.
After devising a simple, yet effective test of skill, Savinus recruits two assistants to assist him in performing various oracular tasks, while honing their skills in the process. Naturally, Antonius is chosen due to his powerful mind-reading abilities as the primary apprentice, while an entitled, wealthy boy named Nichola is chosen as a secondary apprentice due to Savinus’ bonds with his father. Although the boy does posses some skill, his abilities (and personality) leave room for improvement.
Murdoch offers readers the chance to delve into the minds of each main character, as well as multiple secondary characters, by incorporating omniscient, third person narration, resulting in an incredibly detailed cast of strong characters, including not only Savinus, Antonius and Nichola, but Savinus’ daughter Giulia, as well. When given a look at their inner most thoughts and desires, it is easy to love some characters, while detesting others, when their actions are taken into consideration.
Rich atmospheric detail and in-depth characterization allow the reader to fully experience life across social classes during the late renaissance in Italy. From the busy market streets of the Palazzo, to rich, stuffy upper class banquets, as well as the outskirts of nobility across Pesaro, Murdoch creates a fascinating backdrop that fuses together the magical with the everyday, painting a picture of historical Italy in exquisite detail.
Instead of establishing a new source of magic, Murdoch takes history into consideration and places power in the hands of the seer. Not only is the use of traditional magic refreshing, but it adds to the real-life feel of the novel as an event that could have possibly taken place during the renaissance, when knowledge was incredibly powerful, but superstitious.
As Antonius and Nichola begin working, animosity erupts between them due to class differences. Superiority reigns and causes trouble when Antonius and Giulia begin interacting with one another in a flirtatious manner. As the secrets of the seer unfold and the boys learn more about the ancient source of magic through textbooks and rituals, a love triangle begins that places life in the balance.
Full of unexpected animosity as the result of prejudice, tender moments of first love, and compelling scenes of transformative and ancient magic, Kate Murdoch presents a well-crafted love story that leaves room for potential spin-off stories in Stone Circle. Although the plot incorporates complications associated with love triangles and may be considered to be cliche, the omniscient narration and lush, atmospheric language make for a compelling debut that shows incredible promise.