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Bookmark and Share Glass Thorns – Elsewhens

GlassThorns_Elsewhens_final_1.jpg.size-230Author: Melanie Rawn
Publisher: Titan Books £7.99
Review by: David Stonehouse
If, like this reviewer, you missed the first of Melanie Rawn’s Glass Thorns books, Touchstone, you might
be advised to seek that out before tackling Elsewhens. You can gather everything you need to know
from this second book but it will probably be a richer experience if you read the original outing first.

Rawn’s world is a rich and imaginative one. It is a fantasy setting where humans live side by side
with races such as the Fae, Elves and Trolls. The story centres around a magical theatre troupe called
Touchstone who make their living by travelling from place to place, entertaining audiences and
competing with other troupes to win lucrative bookings to perform for royalty and nobility. Touchstone
is led by the Wizard Cayden Silversun. He is the ‘Quill’ the creative force behind the plays performed by
the three other members; Mieka, Rafe and Jeska. The shows they put on integrate performance with
powerful magic spectacle to mesmerise the crowd. The group’s Glisker, Mieka, controls the magic for
Touchstone and it is his complex relationship with Cayden that provides the heart of the novel.

Cayden and Mieka are vividly drawn, which is a good job, because most of the other characters are
little more than sketches. Cayden has a gift which is also a curse: he is able to see elsewhens, these
are alternative possible futures that can be caused or avoided by the choices he makes. The secret of
where this magical ability comes from is revealed as the story unfolds but this is less interesting than
the implications of his visions. He sees disastrous futures for himself, Mieka and Touchstone, and the
burden of carrying this knowledge weighs heavily on him, particularly as he has very little idea of which
decisions might lead to which outcomes.

Mieka the elf is a wild and volatile character whose undoubted talent has placed Touchstone amongst
the very best of the troupes, but he is also headstrong, unpredictable and capable of bringing his friends
to the brink of disaster. The fact that all of them are very promiscuous, frequently drinking heavily or
under the influence of the mood-changing glass thorns means that relationships within the group are
precarious at best. As an observation of the self-doubts, arrogance and fragile egos of professional
performers, it feels very true despite all the magical distractions.

As for the plot, there’s a hell of a lot going on and fighting for attention. The opening section sees
Touchstone competing against the best other troupes to win a place on the most prestigious circuits.
They suffer an apparent loss in the trials and are downcast until it appears that it has been a deliberate
move to send Touchstone to another kingdom as part of a greeting party for a foreign princess who has
been betrothed to their Duke. This new kingdom is fraught with potential problems as the people there
are very intolerant of magical races. Given that Touchstone’s entire business is based on showing off
magic this proves to be a bit of a problem. Added to that are difficulties caused by Mieka’s and Cayden’s
complex love lives, and a mystery based on some lost treasure, the location of which may be hidden in
the cryptic lines of one of the ancient plays in their repertoire.

So, does it work? Well, sort of. There are loads of wonderful ideas here and, oddly, that may actually be
part of the problem. There isn’t a particularly clear focus on what the book is about. Is it the Elsewhens

of the title? Or the missing treasure? Or the visit to the other kingdom? Who knows? To be honest, it’s
all a bit vague and it could be any, all, or even none of them. You can’t argue that it isn’t beautifully
written because Rawn’s prose is often gorgeous, lyrical and full of beautiful imagery. Unfortunately,
lovely language isn’t enough on its own, and brilliant ideas need to be structured into a dynamic whole.
The lack of a clear destination for the plot means that there isn’t any real satisfaction when each strand
resolves itself.

In the end it’s a triumph of style over substance and, much as I wanted to love it for its beauty and
imagination, it was too unfocused to really grip and engage me. It’s a shame that something with such a
lot of potential didn’t quite deliver on its promise.

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