Stonewiser: The Heart of the Stone
Dora Machado
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Buy *Stonewiser: The Heart of the Stone* by Dora Machado

Stonewiser: The Heart of the Stone
Dora Machado
Mermaid Publishing
464 pages
May 2008
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Stonewiser: The Heart of the Stone is an impressive fantasy debut.

The story is set in a divided world where one people, the Old Blood, live in a green, fertile land, and the other, the New Blood, have to survive in a rotting land as best they can. The rot started to spread centuries ago, and everyone knows that it is the fault of the New Blood who broke the covenant with goddess Meliahs. That is why the New Blood must now endure their exile in the Rotten Domains.

In this world, the truth can only survive when the stories or contracts are imprinted in stone. The only ones who can read, or wise, the stones are the Stonewisers. As a result, their Guild is the only source of justice in the land. They uphold history and law for the Old Blood. The New Blood are denied Stonewisers and are therefore considered lawless and corrupted.

Sariah is a young Stonewiser born and raised in the Guild as little more than a slave. Still, she has a hard time adhering to the strict rules and being properly submissive to the Masters and Mistresses. She likes to ask questions, especially when the official law does not have the answers. One day she wises twin stones, and to her shock, the stones tell a history she knows nothing about. The Guild has hidden some of the history from the people. Sariah must know what else is wrong in the Guild. She is forced to flee the Guild in the company of three New Blood brothers. The New Blood need a Stonewiser, and Sariah agrees reluctantly to leave her life and accompany them to the Rotten Domains and to a strange, new way of life.

Unfortunately, the Guild has no intention of letting her go. They send the Shield  - an organization which is supposed to keep the New Blood in check - after Sariah. These brutal men are willing to do almost anything to get the job done, and Sariah's cruel new Master wants her back.

The Guild is a joyless and stark place where romantic and family relationships are not allowed; children do not even know who their parents are. Sexual activity is only allowed between a Master or Mistress and his or her indentured apprentice, called a "lease." With all the scheming and politicking for power and status, in the Guild it is not wise to trust anyone.

When Sariah leaves the Guild, she plunges into the New Blood's world where people marry for love, raise their own children, and where trusting others is essential to survival. She has never been able to trust anyone but herself and trusting others is not easy, and it is difficult for the New Bloods to trust her.

One of the three New Blood brothers thinks that Sariah will betray them as soon as possible. Kael, a sullen and private man, has to think about his people' wellbeing above his own. He seems to also resent Stonewisers, keeping a close eye on Sariah and insulting her at every turn. His brothers, however, are a little more friendly and willing to give Sariah a chance.

Sariah's old Master is also looking for unknown truths in the stones, but only for his own benefit. At the start of the story, the Master has disappeared and Sariah suspects that he has been murdered. The other Masters and Mistresses are very self centered and manipulative, but the other people in the story are more complex; some of them are greedy, others are kind.

When the four people run across the Old Blood lands, Sariah realizes that the other Old Bloods also live very different lives from the strict order which the Guild imposes. She wants to fit in, but it is not easy.

In a fast-paced plot full of surprises, the characters act according to their motives even when it is bad for them. The book has a strong romantic side plot that fits the story well. The world is complex and lush, the story brimming with loyalty and betrayal, pain and love.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Mervi Hamalainen, 2010

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