A friend of mine, Caroline Mullan, emailed me a review of the Stone Dance and though I might have wished that she’d enjoyed the books more, I liked it enough to ask her if she would mind me putting it up on my site – and she was kind enough to agree.
(I have appended an extract from my email reply to Caroline as a comment on this post…)
The Stone Dance of the Chameleon – Ricardo Pinto (1999, 2004, 2009) – a review by Caroline Mullan
This is a very long trilogy, each volume of which has over 700 pages.
The first volume, The Chosen, was published in 1999, and my partner read it and was impressed (My partner is not often impressed). The second, The Standing Dead, came out in 2004, and I bought copies of the first two in paperback so that I would have the trilogy to read when the final volume appeared. The last, The Third God, was launched at Eastercon last year, by Ricardo in person, and we have the hardback Ricardo inscribed. So, I have read all three volumes back-to-back and feel entitled to an opinion.
I, too, am impressed. But I wish I liked them better.
We first meet our hero Carnelian aged 15, secure among his family in his childhood home, greeting unexpected visitors. With breathtaking speed his home is dismantled round him, and he embarks on the two thousand page journey across his world that will take him to adulthood, and bring him to full knowledge of good and evil. He travels as a child, initially, subservient to powerful others. Later he makes his own decisions and choices. Throughout, his acts arise from ignorance and hope, and are undertaken without knowledge or understanding of possible consequences. His journey has disastrous consequences for his world. (I think this is quite rare: Stephen King’s The Stand might come close, but even in fantasy few authors grant their protagonists such powerful destructive agency.) Carnelian’s journey and his world’s catastrophe proceed inexorably and entirely convincingly from their premises to their conclusions.
Carnelian himself is an ignorant, spoiled, self-indulgent brat who takes a very long time to grow up, and there were times when I wanted to throw the book across the room in order to avoid another episode of his repeated, tortured indecision. (Thinking as I write this, I realise that I should have more sympathy for someone refusing to grow up, but that was not how I felt at the time.) Even the best of the other characters
are scarcely more sympathetic, and the worst are fully-realised monsters of tyranny and cruel self-indulgence. The books are violent, unpleasant, and filled with people damaged physically and emotionally from living in a brutal and dysfunctional society, saturated with and fascinated by death and its surrounding rituals.
However brutal or macabre, Carnelian’s world is fully-realised, its landscape, people, economics, politics, sociology and iconography developed rigorously and convincingly as a fascinating, working world. It is this discipline, this rigour and this fascination (the fact that the book is science fiction, rather than fantasy, if you will) that kept me reading to the convincing and bloody end.
(In interviews, Ricardo tells us that he spent years in therapy in order to be able to complete these books. I first met him at the 2008 Eastercon, where we talked about reading Tanith Lee, and Jung, and I’m not in the least surprised.)
Despite taking twelve years to write, this trilogy is all one book. Despite being all one book, the three volumes are very good at taking their individual stories forward without requiring continuous checking back for detailed knowledge of the previous volumes. Technically, it may be one of the best-constructed trilogies I have ever read.
So I cannot in honour recommend you read this trilogy for enjoyment. But as a work of literary art, I think it will stand the test of time, and as an exercise in building and revealing a world it is superb, and on that basis I will recommend it unreservedly to those who read for those qualities. But make sure you can set aside long hours to read it. You will need them.