Before I begin, there a few things you should know in the form of disclosure:
I know Zachary Jernigan from our interactions online. We're both former Nightshade Books authors who survived the incident that I now refer to as "A Series of Unfortunate Events," which culminated in the sale of Nightshade Books. Zachary remained with NSB in its new incarnation as an imprint of Skyhorse. I am currently published by Harper Voyager Impulse.
Zachary and I have never met in person; although we do interact via Facebook.
If you've witnessed our Facebook interactions, then you'll know that I will tell Zachary when I think he's wrong. He is one of the few people on Facebook who I feel very comfortable with in terms of exchanging online comments. Sometimes, we simply have to agree to disagree, but never once have our disagreements become acrimonious.
The reason I bring up the disagreements is because I want you, the reader, to know that if I thought this book sucked, I would have quietly sent it back to Zachary so that he could give it to someone else. That didn't happen.
Facebook is also the reason I have a copy of Shower of Stones. When Zachary put out a call for reviewers, I was one of the first ones to jump on the bandwagon. So in the terms of further disclosure: I received this book in exchange for an honest review. I will do my best to point out the novel's strengths and weaknesses so you may make an informed decision.
And, of course, the final caveat that all readers of reviews should note: What I see in this story may or may not be a part of authorial intent. What I see in this story is a largely a part of me. So you might find something different in this novel, something that I have missed, or something that you interpret differently. If that happens, I hope to meet you someday so we can discuss our differing points of view.
Good intentions count for nothing. In the three months since his sacrilegious pronouncement, the world has not changed for the better. In fact, it is now on the verge of dying. The Needle hangs broken in orbit above Jeroun, each of its massive iron spheres poised to fall and blanket the planet’s surface in dust. Long-held truces between Adrashi and Anadrashi break apart as panic spreads.
With no allegiance to either side, the disgraced soldier Churls walks into the divided city of Danoor with a simple plan: murder the monster named Fesuy Amendja, and retrieve from captivity the only two individuals that still matter to her — Vedas Tezul, and the constructed man Berun. The simple plan goes awry, as simple plans do, and in the process Churls and her companions are introduced to one of the world’s deepest secrets: A madman, insisting he is the link to an ancient world, offering the most tempting lie of all… Hope.
Concluding the visceral, inventive narrative begun in No Return, Shower of Stones pits men against gods and swords against civilization-destroying magic in the fascinatingly harsh world of Jeroun.
Until Shower of Stones, I had only read Zachary's short stories, which I found to be quite impressive. I have not read No Return: A Novel of Jeroun. I wanted to read Shower of Stones to see if the novel could stand alone--it does; although I would recommend reading the glossary in order to familiarize yourself with some unfamiliar terms and concepts if you have not encountered No Return.
Shower of Stones is one of the few books that successfully utilizes a prologue and an epilogue, two unique pieces that tie the story together to form the foundation of its themes. The story is ambitious, especially in light of the word count. Jernigan could have easily turned this into a 400 page tome, but the very poetry of the story lies in his ability to render a complex tale with so few words.
The blurb gives the reader the idea that the story is about Vedas, Churls, and Berun, but that is a sleight of hand. They are all here, present and accounted for, but I never felt like the story was about them. They appear to be vehicles for Shavrim's story.
And who is Shavrim? If you remember No Return, the god Adrash mercilessly rules the world of Jeroun with a heavy and malicious hand. In Shower of Stones, he creates a family, a "minor pantheon" of gods, which he sees as a gift to the world of Jeroun. The first "child" is Shavrim:
A lavender-skinned, devil-horned boy named Shavrim Thrall Coranid.
He was not born, but tipped from a jar. Nonetheless, he grew as if he were a child.
So begins Adrash's plan to inspire mankind. After Shavrim has grown to adulthood, Adrash creates five other "children," each with different aspects of character. With these six children, the god hopes to usher in a new age, but instead, his children turn on him. Led by Shavrim, they try to kill him. Instead, he murders his children--all but Shavrim.
But that, too, is an illusion.
Jernigan deftly hides the second coming of this strange family behind the adventures of Vedas, Churls, and Berun. These minor gods, the souls of Adrash's children, manage to possess Vedas, Churls, and even the constructed man, Berun.
It is in these scenes where the characters--especially Vedas--realize they are not alone in their own minds that Jernigan's prose shines. I found the maturity of the characters and their decision-making abilities to be quite refreshing. In a fantasy sea of young adult protagonists, it's absolutely marvelous to find characters whose angst is no less agonizing but managed with insight and acumen.
Jernigan explores the concept of free will through his characters' realizations that gods ride their minds and bodies. However, each god uses Churls, Vedas, and Berun, not as vehicles of revenge, but in order to free humankind from the unjust god, Adrash.
Although he is a god, Shavrim's human desires for family and love give us a character with whom the reader can empathize. By contrast, Vedas and Churls seem almost cold. Vedas is analytical to the point of emotional detachment from all but Churls, who is distanced from everyone by the trauma of her own past.
In spite of Churl's anger, I enjoyed the relationship between her and her dead daughter, Frya. Theirs was one of the most realistic mother/daughter relationships I've seen portrayed in fantasy in a long time.
The points-of-view of Berun and Sradir arrive late in the novel, but they were truly my favorite characters. Especially the god Sradir, who asks:
Has the world always been this way? Does each world possess a god it must overcome to achieve adulthood? There are no answers to these questions. We fight, you and I, against what we can see.
These are the philosophical questions that Jernigan poses to the reader through his characters' interactions with gods and other humans throughout the novel. And yet, Jernigan doesn't become bogged down by juxtaposing literary themes within a fantastic tale of another world. The story moves at a satisfying pace with enough magic and fight scenes to satisfy any fantasy reader.
Yet for those of us who appreciate a fantastical tale with more meat on the bones, Shower of Stones delivers that in spades. Here is novel that simultaneously causes us to examine the context with which we view family, the gods, and the world around us, and it asks us to keep asking questions.
Even when there are no easy answers.