Is the ability to read minds a blessing or a curse?
When Antonius’s father dies, he must work to support his family. He finds employment as a servant in the Palazzo Ducal, home of Conte Valperga. Sixteenth-century Pesaro is a society governed by status, and Antonius has limited opportunities.When a competition is announced, Antonius seizes his chance. The winner will be apprenticed to the town seer. Antonius shares first place with his employer’s son.The two men compete for their mentor’s approval. As their knowledge of magic and alchemy grows, so does the rivalry and animosity between them. When the love of a beautiful woman is at stake, Antonius must find a way to follow his heart and navigate his future.
Stone Circle explores themes of class, rivalry and spiritual growth.
Antonius watched the blue and amber flames as they crackled upwards, repeating the same patterns into infinity. He felt his body move to the rhythms, and realised they all moved in tandem around the fire. The music, the flames, and the night were as much a part of them as the blood coursing through their veins. The pace quickened and they followed, twisting and turning with fluidity.
Antonius’s mind was clear and untroubled. At the same time, he watched Giulia’s russet hair swing across her back and the long line of her slender white arm as she moved with perfect grace. He felt the eyes of many upon him, but he was not afraid. It was a sense of being held in the embrace of the observation, as if he were returning to the home of a friend that was as familiar as it was strange. Glancing at Giulia, he saw she scattered herbs into the flames. His nose twitched as their combined scent wafted towards him—sage, elderflower, cloves, and others. Three crystals were then released into the fire—purple, white, and gold. Several loud cracks erupted into the air and multi-coloured sparks flew, with a hiss and a whine. In a low voice Savinus chanted. It was a mellifluous language he had heard during the rituals at the blue cave. He spread his arms in an outward motion, as if clearing away smoke.
Stone Circle, an historical fantasy novel set in Renaissance Italy, is the debut offering by Australian painter turned writer, Kate Murdoch. Mystical elements converge with historical superstitions and romantic notions in this atmospheric coming of age story about two young men vying for the attentions of one woman while also competing for the top position as apprentice to a highly revered seer.
While historical fiction is my favourite genre of all, I generally avoid fantasy like the historical plagues I read so much about. That’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed fantasy novels in the past, it’s just that I find them more often than not overly complicated to follow. Combining history and fantasy is to my mind, a big call, yet Kate has pulled it off very well. The story is authentic to its historical setting as well as being deeply atmospheric in terms of mystical content. I particularly enjoyed the sections that detailed the study of alchemy and prophecy.
I did find the story to be rather fast paced, and while this in no way impeded my ability to follow the events, I do think it impacted on both character and plot depth. It seemed at times as though Kate was holding back and I longed for her to have just dug in a little deeper. But I’m used to historicals that are longer and more explorative so my expectations may simply be in line with that. I also found at times there was a bit of head hopping within scenes. These are minor issues though when you consider the fantastical scope and historical detail of this novel, particularly within the framework of it being a debut offering.
I’m quite looking forward to seeing what Kate will produce for us next as I think she shows a lot of promise within the historical fantasy genre. She has a deft hand when it comes to setting scenes, particularly those that involve nature and mystical conjurings. Overall, Stone Circle was a very enjoyable read and I wish Kate all the best for success with its release and eagerly await her next novel.
Thanks is extended to the author and Fireship Press for providing me with a copy of Stone Circle for review.
Stone Circle is book 72 in my 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge.
Kate Murdoch has exhibited widely as a painter both in Australia and internationally and was a finalist in a number of prize shows before turning her hand to writing. In between writing historical fiction, she enjoys writing short stories and flash fiction. Her short-form fiction is regularly published in Australia, UK, US, and Canada. She has also completed another novel, The Orange Grove, about the passions and intrigues of court mistresses in 18th century France.