What is the ultimate price we pay for the ever-increasing levels of technology we attain? In the world of Victoria Strauss's The Arm of the Stone, the cost of unfettered handpower is division from and loss of the most powerful and mystical parts of our minds.
Over a millenium ago, humanity nearly destroyed itself in its headlong rush to develop new and better technologies. While most people embraced physical science and the improvements it wrought, a few clung steadfastly to their belief in the importance of mindpower. As the ways of science became the ways of society at large, the tension between adherents of technology and believers in the mind tightened to the breaking point. People, families, even whole communities vanished overnight; the world was literally divided. The technophilic half annihilated itself in a conflagration of its own making; the technophobic half survived.
The inhabitants of this otherwhere have retained Gifts that might have been called magical or supernatural in the world they left behind. They have kept alive, too, a violent opposition to rampant technological advancement. There are Limits, in this world ruled by the power of thought, strict rules that prevent another sundering of existence. Here, the Gifted keepers of the Limits seek and root out all Violations. They rule by the will of the Stone, that which holds and at the same time simply is all that exists. Long ago, the Stone made a pact with a worthy man named Bron, that the charge to keep and protect the stone would be his and his descendants' after him. But a wicked man named Percival marched upon Bron's stronghold, murdering the man and his family so that he might possess the Stone. He vanquished Bron and spirited the Stone away to the other side of the split in reality. His victory, although he did not know it, was not complete, for one of Bron's children was hidden and saved. From that single child sprang a family who passed down from one generation to the next the Tale: the story of the sundering of the world and the prophecy of the new Bron who would restore freedom, peace and the Stone.
A young boy is raised on this Tale, a secret his family can allow themselves to think about only in the strict privacy of their own home late at night. Young Bron cannot even think of the Tale otherwise, lest the Arm of the Stone who are the guardians of the Limits catch wind of his thoughts. If he and his family are found out, it will mean the death of them all and the prevention of their fulfillment of their destiny. But Bron's impetuous older brother, seeking to make his mother's life easier, creates a new tool for her. A simple thing, not much of an improvement over the original, but more than enough to be a Violation. The family buries the abomination, but no hole is deep enough to hide from the Roundheads who enforce the limits. The Violation proves to be deadly for Bron's family; only his brother escapes the authorities whose power is vested by the Fortress where the Stone is now housed.
Bron plots a revenge that will take years to come to fruition but will be complete. He insinuates himself into the Fortress, beginning the training that will shape him without ever changing the Gift of Power and the burning desire for vengeance at his core. Single-minded to a fault, the only thing that can ruin his plans is the complete revelation of who he is and the Power he holds to another person. Love will be the death of him, and the death of hope for the deliverance of the Stone.
In speculative fiction, the journey through the tale must often be breathtaking enough to make up for a weak ending. The Arm of the Stone delivers both an engrossing trip through the story and one of the most impressive climaxes seen in the genre of late. It is a novel of loss, rage, and ultimately, one of hope.