This is the last book in the Touchstone series by Andrea Host. The whole series has been entertaining and I’m glad I read it.
In this last book we have the true enemies revealed (no, it’s not the cats) and the true threat to the world(s) revealed. We also see the pendultimate expression of Cassandra’s power: she can literally create things from pure imagination, will and pain. If there’s a more clear parallel to being a writer, I don’t know of it.
Although we do get a clear resolution to personal relationship plots as well as the world-shaking events of previous books, this was my least favorite of the trilogy. It’s the Return of the Jedi of the series, if you will. I’ll try to explain.
Things I liked:
I loved seeing the ultimate expression of Cassandra’s power. The ability to replicate objects, settings and even people from sheer imagination is something I haven’t seen in literature very often. Not unless we go back to the ‘Lathe of Heaven’ by Ursla K. Leguin.
Relatedly, the author’s use of these powers, but the main characters as well as the supporting character’s, shows imagination and a clear vision. The action is always easy to visualize and exciting. Which is why I wish there was more of it.
Cassandra finally comes into her own as a hero here, acting and moving to shape events as opposed to being a tool moved around by others.
The conflict is also huge here, with mass death and destruction –mostly off stage- and very high stakes drama in everything but the main character’s personal life.
Speaking of relationships, I did like the way Cassandra and Kaoren’s relationship is depicted. It’s a little idealized but, damn it, I like that sometimes. Real relationships are full of disappointments, it’s nice to see fictional characters having a happy ending.
What I didn’t like:
The action, so vivid and exciting, starts to wind down in this book. Cassandra is considered too valuable to go on monster-clearing patrols, to the book’s detriment. Too much of the story takes place in bedrooms and hospital labs, moving those scenes to locations of danger and action as in the second book would have helped.
The main characters, who is 18, ends up adopting three children and this REALLY slows down the pace and drama in the story. As happens elsewhere in the book, with the loss of liberty and privacy, the main character raises the issue that maybe an 18 year old newlywed isn’t the right person to be raising three children. But that is papered over pretty quickly and the main character starts playing house. That doesn’t mean that those scenes aren’t well written. They were and Cassandra’s actions all seemed in character. It just felt slightly more unbelievable than her ability to create dragons. (Which might be unbelievable but is also very awesome)
There isn’t enough cost to victory. Lira’s eventual fate has Deus Ex Machina that had me saying ‘Come on’ aloud when it was revealed. There is a lot of death and destruction and one previously-high-profile character does get badly wounded. But that isn’t enough. The author is good enough to recognize these issues and even address them but she seems to shy away from ‘pulling the trigger’ as it were. But maybe the Mega-Happy Ending is expected in YA.
Characters that we spent a lot of time with in the first book are pushed to the background and nearly forgotten. I’m thinking most of Zan and Maze, who were so prominent and supportive when she needed it. But once she hooks up with Kaoren Ruuel, he and his Forth Squad take center stage. This actually is very realistic, new relationships can crowd out old friendships, but I think it’s a flaw from a story viewpoint.
I didn’t like Ys as a character. She doesn’t play ‘hard to get’, she plays ‘hard to want’, to quote Ford Fairlane. I just didn’t like her and couldn’t really see why Cassandra would spend so much time and attention on her. It could be that Cassandra is just a pushover. I’d buy that as a reason.
There is a clash of cultures that is barely touched on. One culture has slavery. One is a very Liberal technocracy. This would be a great novel in and of itself, so I almost don’t blame the author for glossing over it. But that begs the question: why bring it up if you’re not going to explore it? There’s no plot reason for slavery or indentured servitude.
The climax happens too fast. The whole series has been building up to this moment. It deserved a lot more time and resolution to give an appropriate emotional climax and release.
The ‘dénouement’ after the climax goes on too long.
The last book in an interesting trilogy, this is a required purchase and it should charm readers of the first two books. Indeed, there is even an inexpensive fourth book-let for those readers not yet ready to say good bye to living, breathing characters of the Touchstone books.
The book does go off in the last third into ‘what happened after’ rather than staying focused on the story. This is one area where an editor’s voice would have helped but on the whole, I am very impressed by the author and this series. Those same rough spots were deliberate choices by the author and lets her voice and her decisions drive the story.
I think Andrea Host is a potent counterpoint to anyone who says there’s nothing by a self-published author is any good.