There was a time the concept of Earth as a sentient spirit or entity was part of every culture on the planet. Now we leave it up to activists to amplify the voice of Earth we’ve forgotten as a society how to hear.
In the Prologue of her premier novel, Stone of Power, Kimberly A. Riley presents Earth as a character in its own right. Her bold, indomitable version of Earth contradicts the image in my mind of a long-suffering planet that’s lost the will to fight. Memories of Sunday school at church came to my mind. Earth’s voice on these early pages struck me as more closely aligned with my concept of God the Father than Earth the Mother; a parent willing to sacrifice children to a struggle they could not understand. It forced me to set aside my original belief the Prologue was unnecessary exposition. Reader expectations rooted in cultural beliefs would need to be adjusted from the outset in order to appreciate Riley’s portrayal of Earth as something other than a helpless victim of the whims of humanity.
The first chapter of Stone of Power presents a challenge lightly reminiscent of Tolkien. Tolkien created journeys rooted in folklore and legend. Riley builds her world upon string theory and a view of the laws of the universe informed by science. Riley’s tale replaces the one ring to rule them all with a Stone of Power that hates Keepers—the beings who need it to create stalemates when no other solution to interdimensional strife can be found—and requires non-Keepers to wield its power.
In addition to protecting the interests of Earth on a cosmic scale, Keepers are tasked with carrying out its will. Earth selected one Keeper to be its herald. After reading the Prologue, I anticipated the voice of Earth to boom from a thundercloud or burning bush. Earth’s subtle insinuation of will is underwhelming by comparison. It’s nice to have early reassurances the agency of characters will not be overpowered every time the plot needs to move forward.
The Stone of Power has dominion over Quester Stones. Before they were named and described, I believed they’d be connected to aspects of the natural world. The array turned out to be surprising: Past, Future, Fire, Ice, Malice, Daring, Life, Fear, Earth and Friendship.
As a person on the autism spectrum, I relate to Raptor’s description of the Stone of Friendship as the Stone of Manipulation. Questers who possess this Stone tend to sway people to follow them without regard to their safety. They ultimately betray the loyalty of these followers. While stereotypes of autistic people that include lack of empathy deserve whole-hearted rejection, I’ll admit to finding the responsibilities of friendship a struggle. They occasionally strike me as a form of manipulation, the way they appear to Raptor.
** Brief Side Note: I won’t apologize for referring to myself as autistic rather than person with autism **
The abilities and jurisdictions of the original four Keepers—Fire, Earth, Air, Plants—were connected to the natural world. The dominion of Keepers who followed expanded to include: Dimensions, Computers, Technology/Invention, Chemistry, Animals
If Young Adult novels have taught me anything, it’s that supernatural beings will inevitably end up paired with regular teenagers. The human need to belong tends to be the most urgent need of adolescence. Teenagers want to believe there’s more to our world than meets the eye. They also want to feel special enough to be let in on the secrets.
In the vein of The Mortal Instruments and the Twilight Saga, one of the two regular teens the Keepers encounter at a local carnival turns out to be less mundane than they appear. By virtue of the antagonism the Stone of Power holds towards Keepers, the second teen also turns out to be integral to the success of the mission at hand. It turns out even if she isn’t a Keeper, she could be what they call a Quester. These are people with some latent abilities, able to handle the stones without pain. Occasionally one of Earth’s many Questers rise in power and prominence—leading people in both good and bad—until one character decides take an active role in deciding and grooming who rises.
Conflation of mental illness with bigotry on social media has made the issue of language surrounding mental illness more important than ever. One of the key characters in Stone of Power has spent years isolated in a mental health facility. Words including insane asylum and loony bin are used to describe this situation. At least one character exhibits disapproval and corrects peers when this language is used, which is vital for authors to do. Problematic portrayals brought to the page must be addressed and deconstructed on the page. However, language around mental illness tends to be among the most bigoted to make it onto the page and screen. Deconstruction needs to be more aggressive than a nudge, frown, and apology. My fear is that leaving it there gives the impression it’s only a matter of political correctness; a word people invented to dismiss basic human empathy.
The cast of characters in Stone of Power can definitely be described as diverse. In the matter of cultural diversity, there is more ambiguity. If these characters are from such diverse cultures, shouldn’t that show up more? Keepers join young, live long lives, and have their own language and culture. One might argue their original cultures have blended with Keeper culture over time. The debate around culture in science fiction/fantasy has been heated on social media. Some people believe authors should be free to use creative licence to develop their fantasy worlds. Others argue any fantasy world inspired by real cultures have a responsibility to represent those cultures accurately. It’s something to at least consider while reading.
This Young Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy novel will appeal to any reader who enjoys Quest stories. If you’re an online gamer or role player, you’ll likely appreciate the dynamic and substantial cast of characters kept in constant interaction with each other during intricately choreographed action scenes. If you enjoy books intended to be part of a series, you will appreciate digging into Riley’s world with this first novel.
Our world is alive and often in trouble.
When Earth faces a serious threat from collapsing alternate dimensions, it handpicks individuals, called Keepers, to locate and obtain special Stones that have the power to restore balance to the universe.
Andrew is trying to impress his new girlfriend Christine at the carnival when he meets the Keepers. Drawn to them by an unidentifiable familiarity, Andrew follows them. Thrust into a world of harrowing adventure, he journeys through various dimensions and encounters Venom, a man who holds the one thing the Keepers desperately need to save Earth—the Stone of Power.
But Venom has other ideas about what Earth needs and threatens the Keepers’ plans at every phase of their mission. In these new realms of danger and even horror, Andrew must find his own power in order to make the sacrifices necessary to save Earth. As Andrew begins to fight back, he realizes he and Venom have a lot more in common than he thought.
Get it now for Kindle!