While waiting as patiently as possible for the next book in the Harry Dresden series, I decided to try similar series, diving into the world of Alastair Stone, professor of Occult Studies and occasionally practicing mage, the first book called Stone and a Hard Place by R. L. King. Stone does his best to keep his two worlds apart, letting colleagues and students believe that there is no such thing as magic. This neat separation falls apart when he’s asked to convince a friend’s relative that her house isn’t haunted ….. except that it turns out to be very much the real deal.
Stone and a Hard Place by R. L. King (Alastair Stone Chronicles #1)
Published by Magespace Press on March 16, 2015
Genres: Adult, Urban Fantasy
Page Length: 351 pages
How I got my copy: Gift
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It’s hard enough for Alastair Stone to keep his two lives—powerful mage and mundane Occult Studies professor—separate without an old friend asking him to take on a new apprentice. Especially after a university colleague wants him to investigate a massive old house for things that go bump in the night. Still, Stone figures it’s an easy job: just turn up, put on a little show, and announce that the house is clean.
Only it isn’t. A malevolent spirit is reawakening in the basement, imprisoned between dimensions and intent on escape. If it succeeds, countless people will die. Worse, a trio of dark mages want to help it break free so they can control it for their own sinister purposes. They’ll do whatever it takes—including seducing Stone’s young apprentice and using him against his master—to get what they’re after.
With time running out, Stone has to stay alive long enough to uncover the spirit’s secrets. But even if he does, he fears that his own power won’t be enough to send it back.
- Stone and a Hard Place is urban fantasy that is a close parallel to our own universe, and I greatly enjoyed the world building and magical system. Magic consists mostly of telekinesis and energy manipulation (such as creating light or lightning). It takes a great deal of energy, discipline, and creativity to work with its limitations. Even a powerful mage, which Stone is considered by his peers, needs to be alert and prepared to deal with both mundane and magical threats. By the end of the book, our hero is battered, bruised, and broken, proving that magic doesn’t make one invincible.
- I enjoyed the character of Alastair Stone, although I still haven’t warmed up to him completely. He nobly goes up against a group of mages as well as a horror from another dimension, knowing that he is completely outmatched unless he is both clever and rather lucky. But he remains rather aloof, keeping his new apprentice, his girlfriend, and the reader at an emotional distance.
- The action of the main storyline kept me turning pages as the mystery of what is going bump in the night – and how Stone is going to stop it – careened into its final, Pyrrhic victory.
- Stone’s new apprentice, Ethan, is a geeky young mage who only manages to follow his mentor’s advice for about a week before he’s seduced (literally) by a young woman who happens to be a black mage. His inevitable descent into sex, drugs, and black magic progresses in torturous slow-motion. By the middle of the book, I started skipping over those sections in order to continue with the main story line. Stone himself didn’t seem to care that his apprentice was obviously hiding something from him, and as a teacher myself I can understand that not every student is worth chasing down. But I would have thought – given the rarity of magical talent in the world – that Ethan would have been worth more effort and concern.
- Similarly, the illness of Ethan’s mother did not do much to advance the plot nor to make Ethan a more sympathetic character. While it provided a convenient excuse for Ethan to use to explain why he was distracted and missing his lessons, these sections also dragged and seemed out of place.
On the whole, I did enjoy Stone and a Hard Place. It was a good change of pace to have a Lovecraftian horror from another dimension take the place of the ubiquitous vampires of current urban fantasy offerings. The character of Alastair Stone really has not grown on me yet …. but then, the first few Harry Dresden books were a bit rough too.
Have you read this one? What did you think?
STONE AND A HARD PLACE by R. L. KING
© 2016, Barbara. All rights reserved.