When I’m unwell – mentally, physically, or emotionally – tired, traveling, or spending time in a doctor’s office, I reach for my Tamora Pierce shelf (shelf-and-a-half, actually; she’s written about 30 YA novels) and get out some comfort reading. Tamora Pierce writes fantasy full of magic, honor, friendship, some romance (including some queer ones in her later books), and many, many strong female characters. The writing is at the upper end of middling and the feminism can get a touch didactic, but the characters are sympathetic, the villains are flawed, the plots are dynamic, and the worlds (she has two) and decently fleshed-out and internally consistent. There is enough darkness to make things interesting, but even if there is a cost, the good guys always, in the end, prevail. With the exception of two or three duds, they are endlessly diverting and, as far as I have been able to ascertain, withstand endless rereading.

Melting Stones is her latest offering and, in terms of quality, fits into the middle rank of of her work: it’s not her best, but it kept me entertained on a first reading and I’ve no doubt it will keep me entertained on subsequent readings. Evvy, a fourteen year old stone mage, does not get along with people. This is perfectly understandable, as her parents sold her into slavery at a young age, she spent most of her formative years alone, and a recent war left her with post-traumatic stress disorder. Basically, she’s a bitch, though much of it is unintentional; she doesn’t stop to think about the effect her words can have on other people, and sometimes she just doesn’t care. Now Evvy’s guardian – Rosethorn, a plant mage – has been sent to help a small island with mysteriously dying plants, and Evvy is sent along so that she’ll stay out of trouble. Once their, a natural disaster causes plenty of work for a stone mage, and plenty of people for an antisocial, distrustful girl to save, or to abandon.

It’s first person, which is a mixed blessing. It’s almost painful to be in Evvy’s head when she says stupid, hurtful things and barely notices or cares, and her eventual epiphany is dreadfully heavy-handed; it also places Evvy’s traumatic childhood as a steady drone in the background, not often dealt with directly but constantly there shaping her fears, her relationships, and her thoughts. As trauma is wont to do.

But, this being Tamora Pierce, the darkness is a counterpoint to the light; Melting Stones is one more volume of her just-fluffy-enough, escapist fantasy, waiting on my bookshelf till I need it to make me feel better.

Tamora Pierce