Author :  Linda Newbery

Date of Publication :  Feb. 28, 2007

Publisher :  Transworld Publ. Ltd UK; New Ed edition

ISBN-10: 0099451336

ISBN-13: 978-0099451334

No. of pages :  368


The Story:

Sam Godwin gets the job of his dreams.  As an artist-tutor to two beautiful teenage girls, he is paid comfortably and housed in Four  Winds, a beautiful  and  most artistically  inspired residence  he has ever had the privilege to stay in.  In this idyllic setting, he becomes fond of  the  governess,  Charlotte Agnew, and of his two students,  the quiet, gentle Juliana and the vibrant, mesmerizing Marianne.  He also idealizes Ernest Farrow, his employer not just for his kind treatment but also for his impeccable taste.

Enamored of the house and especially of its sculptures of the North, South and East Winds, Samuel becomes obsessed with meeting the dismissed sculptor,  Gideon Waring, and finding out about the missing West Wind.

But there is more to the house and the family of Four Winds than meets the eye.  There is a darkness to their lives as Marianne is bothered by seeming madness and Juliana, a profound sadness.

When Sam tracks down Gideon the sculptor, he discovers  horrifying and devastating secrets about the family that surprisingly, bear on the circumstances of his employment.

The Review :

I picked up this book as an inclusion to my YA reading this year because the cover boasts its win of The Costa Children’s Book Award in 2006.    I do not know whether The Costa Awards is a reputable awarding body, because as far as awards go, I am simply not familiar with which hold prestige and which don’t.

Prestigious or not, I strongly disagree with the awarding body in its classification of this book.  Three fourths of the way in, I was shocked to discover why this novel should not have been listed in the children’s category.   This is not to say that the book isn’t good enough to be a winner.  It is, but I just don’t agree with its classification.

A children’s book, this is not.  Perhaps, the category “children” should be further defined by age groups so that books meant for those in their late teens wouldn’t be lumped  in with those for early teens, preteens, or even younger.   Set In Stone deals with issues which are quite disturbing,  very adult in nature and require a more experienced mind to deal with these adequately.   I cannot divulge the issues here as these would spoil your reading experience.

I believe this novel’s youngest readers should be at least in their mid teens because for the younger market,  this book is far from wholesome.

Come to think of it though,  I can’t say it is an adult novel either.  The issues in question aren’t explored so much as it would have been in an adult novel.  Nothing is graphic or that detailed.  There is a lot of understatement so probably the reason for its classification as YA.  But then again, it doesn’t read like most YA novels in that the writing is more mature in tone.  So as it is neither this nor that, it stands in a twilight of its own making.

To Read Or Not To Read:

Despite its ambiguity, Set In Stone reads beautifully.  Style-wise, Linda Newbery writes tautly and elegantly.   Although refined, understated, and never graphic, her writing can  evoke vivid imaginations and draw strong reactions from her readers.

The story is told from two perspectives, that of Samuel Godwin, the artist/tutor and Charlotte Agnew, the governess.  As events progress, each of these characters take their turns telling things as they experience it so that the story, always  in the first person perspective, gives the reader a view into each character’s minds as they encounter events.  This way,  readers get to be more intimate with the characters.

This author can also throw a sneaky punch.  Here you are,  three-fourths of the way,  teased through a mildly interesting story,  when suddenly, the jolt comes from nowhere.   She throws out her first big secret and you are up and riveted.  Shocked from your steady ho-hum pace,  you are more than hooked, as you turn the pages fast and well into the night.

Newbery does know her techniques well.   No wonder the award.

In A Nutshell:

Set In Stone is an exceptionally well crafted novel, a very absorbing  but dark-toned read.  Despite the YA classification, parents are best advised to read the story first before handing it over to their preteen or early teener.    With a lot of potentially disturbing surprises, this one packs a wallop!

My Mark :  Outstanding

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Merrick” is my first choice for the R.I.P. IV Challenge just because it’s been quite some time since I’ve read anything from my all-time favorite gothic author, Anne Rice.  As a side story created from her famous vampire and Mayfair witch series,  it merges  Rice’s vampire world with those of her witches’.

Author :   Anne Rice

Date of First Publication :  October 17, 2000

Publisher of First Edition (Hardcover) :  Alfred A. Knopf

My Edition’s Publication Date :  July 2001

My Edition Published By :  The Ballantine Publishing Group (Mass Paperback)

No. of Pages :  379

What It’s All About :

Readers of Rice’s vampire series will be familiar with David Talbot, the secretive Talamasca society’s former Director-General turned bloodsucker by the indomitable Vampire Lestat.  As a favor to his preternatural friend Louis, he approaches the love of his former life,  Merrick, a powerful mortal descended from a long line of witches of the Mayfair clan.  He asks her to call the spirit of a dead vampire child, Claudia, whom Louis had so loved and protected.  From Louis’ desire to know about the witch who agreed to grant his utmost desire,  the story of Merrick is told by David who recounts her life, from the little girl she was when she first came to the Talamasca’s attention to the beautiful, sensual, powerful witch she has become–dangerous enough even to a vampire.

It would be a Rice vampire fan’s  interest to know that the famous Lestat makes a minor comeback here.

The tale revolves mostly on the new character, Merrick,  although there are some jolting surprises by our beloved vampires toward the end.

My Review :

Anne Rice is in her usual passionately sublime style with “Merrick“.  The feel is deliciously dark although there is always a lofty atmosphere, which is a classic Anne Rice stamp on her gothic novels. Her characters always seem to yearn toward something much more and if anything, her novels always have a sense of hope and salvation.

She imbues her unholy characters with strong human passions, and in these are her characters’ saving graces which grip the reader’s affinity and empathy.    When Louis or  David feel, they feel deep pathos, exultation at beauty, stunned awe, infinite hatred, and all-consuming love.  There seems to be no in-between for Rice’s characters.

This is particularly true with her vampire personalities which thrive on beauty.  She has been consistent of their traits from the first book in the vampire series, “Interview With A Vampire” ’til this book.  To illustrate, David’s thoughts on looking at Louis:

“He looked rather splendid in his sorrow.  Again he made me think of the paintings of Andrea del Sarto.  There was something lush in his beauty, for all the sharp and clear well-drawn lines of his eyes and mouth.”  — p. 81

Moreover, her characters are always strongly sensual and oftentimes have no sexual boundaries.  This leaves the author a lot of leeway in exploring sexual issues.  In this particular novel, age factors and homosexuality.

As in most of her other novels,  expect some philosophical meanderings in this one.  As Rice’s vampires are deep feelers and thinkers, she keeps a consistency in their traits all throughout her chronicles.  This novel is no exception:

Louis : “You speak of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as magical, and I understand you, because if the Bread and Wine are transformed into the Holy Sacrifice of the Crucifixion, it is magical, but why does it involve blood?…

What I’m saying is, we might compare rituals the worlds over in all religions and all religions and all systems of magic, forever, but they always involve blood.  Why?  Of course I know human beings cannot live without blood; I know that ‘the blood is the life’, saith Dracula;   I know that humankind speaks in cries and whispers of blood-drenched altars, of bloodshed and blood kin, and blood will have blood, and those of the finest blood.  But why?  What is the quintessential connection that binds all such wisdom or superstition?  And above all, why does God want blood?”– p. 83

You never leave a book from her vampire series without some food for thought.

To Read Or Not To Read:

Although Anne Rice does go back to give a bit of background on her characters,  it would be better for new readers to read the first two or three novels in her “Interview With the Vampire” series so that they would know the characters in context.  Not having a background on the Mayfair witches is alright because Merrick is a new character;  but the Louis, Lestat, Claudia, and David Talbot are vital characters upon whose histories the reader’s appreciation depends.

If you had read the first six novels in the Rice’s  vampire collection,  “Merrick” is a must-read.  It may not stand out as the others but in this, Louis goes through a major turning point which should not be missed.

In A Nutshell:

Those who have not read Anne Rice should know that she has written a wonderful series on vampire and another independent series on witches.  Those worlds had not touched each other until this book; so that Rice’s fans of both series had been thrilled to know that the author breathed new life especially to her vampire chronicles by merging them in “Merrick“.

The resulting novel is quite good; however, it is not that close to Rice’s best ones.  Nevertheless, it is a good addition to her vampire chronicles for her famous pair, Lestat and Louis, are back and are setting the stage for more adventures with a looming war with the Talamasca.  And Rice is still in top form with her lush detailing and profound prose.

My Mark :  Very Good