If the goal of a short story is to leave you wanting more, A Reaper of Stone is a stunning success.
Elinor is the King’s Reaper, duty-bound to demolish the ancient keeps of the marches to prevent them falling into hostile hands. When the Lady of Timberline dies, Elinor is sucked into the vicious politics of Resa’s grasping nobility. Will she confirm the new Lord who seeks the title, or investigate the Lady’s unexpected death?
Reaper is epic fantasy on a bite-sized scale (and in its honour, I’m setting up a new tag – I’m reading enough bite-sized fiction these days that it’s about time I recognised it). This is the first Echo of the Ascended – a collection of novellas exploring the fantasy world of Aedaron through four different characters – and four different types of fantasy. It’s a brave and interesting approach from authors Mark Gelineau & Joe King, and if I’m honest I’m on the fence about it. On the one hand, I love the idea – bite-sized fantasy! – as I thoroughly enjoy shorter science fiction. On the other, my frustration with A Reaper of Stone is that there isn’t more of it.
Props to Gelineau & King for just how much world-building they pack into a mere 90 pages without damaging the pace of the story they wanted to tell. I loved the flashback prologue (although being a long-time fan of Tremors, I struggled to take the monsters seriously), which instantly immersed me in the new world even as it surreptitiously fed me more detail than I realised I’d absorbed. It’s intense action made the opening chapters feel slow by comparison, easing us into the situation at Timberline and unpacking aspects of Elinor’s character that the prologue had hinted at as it raced past.
In fact, I enjoyed the world-building more than the story itself. Unfortunately, this felt a little shallow by comparison, with sneering noble villains and honourable underdogs at odds on the edge of an empire. While many scenes worked hard (I loved the confrontation in the stable), the short form couldn’t quite do it justice – there just wasn’t enough room to bring it fully to life. Con and Elinor aside, there was no room for character building, leaving the rest of the cast feeling like two-dimensional archetypes.
Nonetheless, there was more than enough to hold my interest and I’m determined to read other Echoes of the Ascended. I’m not entirely convinced by the experiment so far, but the world of Aedaron is compelling and I sense the authors have some great stories to tell.
…and more amazing cover art to share. I mean, seriously – it’s fabulous, right?
A Reaper of Stone (Echoes of the Ascended | Elinor) is available now in the UK, as are the other 3 first instalments in the Echoes of the Ascended collection (Rend the Dark, Best Left in the Shadows, Faith and Moonlight).
The sequel to A Reaper of Stone, Broken Banners (Echoes of the Ascended | Elinor #2), will be published on 15th February.
I received a copy of A Reaper of Stone from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.