This fantasy epic begins with a politically driven war that shifts the balance of power in an age old empire.The Garden of Stones

Corajidin heads the house of Erebus, but visions have foretold that he will rise to rule all his people. Impatient for his destiny, he commits atrocities to accelerate his ascent.

Renowned warrior-mage Indris would rather not become involved in the conflict, having turned his back on old responsibilities after losing his wife. Yet even he can not escape the momentum of events.

Mari, Corajidin’s daughter, is caught between filial duty and doing what she knows is right.

Whether or not you like this book will strongly depend on how much you enjoy complex fantasy worlds – because The Garden of Stones is all about the world. Barnes creates a multi-layered banquet for the senses and the mind with detailed descriptions of settings and culture that will scintillate a particular type of reader.

I will confess upfront that I am not one of these readers. To me, the world always has to take a back seat to the plot and the characterisation. In my opinion the extreme world-building of this book got in the way of the story.

Consider these statistics. In the first two thousand or so words of the novel we are introduced to:

  • Eight character names (we only meet four of them)
  • Six place or geographic feature names
  • Eight different groups of people (Family Names/Race names/Order names)
  • Seven fabricated words or concepts for objects or magic
  • Four rank titles

All this detail at the start of the novel slowed the action down – the opening battle scene had the pace and tension of a tea party. And Barnes continues to introduce new names, concepts and facts almost all the way through.

Having said that, the descriptions did evoke a strong sense of place (if not necessarily character), and the world Barnes has created is original. For example:

In Seethe fashion there were no exterior walls in the Hai Ardin. No doors. Crystalsingers had coaxed the growing formations into seemingly random steps, chambers and tilted columns. In some areas the high, semi-vaulted ceilings of the Hai-Ardin were open to the sky. Translucent beetle-shell hangings adorned the walls. Ilhen crystals shone like jagged candle flames frozen in time.

Another highlight of the novel was Corajidin, who is a better rounded villain than found in most series. He is not a bad man, just one with strong ambition who ultimately is driven towards immoral actions by failing health. His desperation and impatience with his mortality sings through every scene he inhabits. In retrospect, I found him more interesting than either of the other viewpoint characters. Sometimes I even wanted him to triumph.

In summary, although I personally didn’t particularly enjoy this novel and am going to give it a 3/5, I think many fantasy readers who love detailed worlds will devour it and pant for more.