Magic is part of the furniture in this story, but within Ailm’s Keep it has been absent for a long while, skipping generations. Without a Channeller (mage) to defend the Keep from dragons, desperate measures could be taken by the cruel Lord Huath. We’re led to believe that magic inhabits only high-born families, but Eadha soon begins to question that fact. This could change the path of her own life and that of the boy she’s always loved, Ionain.
The world of The Stone Keep is mesmerising and carefully built. It is a world in which dragons fly overhead as ordinarily as birds. A magnificently medieval space with mossy stone walls and tangled forests, characters communicating in lyrical speak. Its brilliant Irishness runs deep, with a helpful guide to the meaning and pronunciation of names appended. At the centre of the story are Ionain and Eadha, whose relationship to one another shifts and develops as they do.
In The Stone Keep, magic is designed in a compelling new light. The visuals that S. K. Marlay’s descriptions evoke are unlike any magic system in fantasy I’ve read, depicting magic in silver strands and tendrils. It comes at a cost too – and as the book develops, the true secrets and cost of magical gifts become clear.
Marlay’s writing is pointed, and charged with thought and emotion at every turn of phrase. Descriptions of the Keep and the surrounding natural spaces are vivid. This suits the book’s medieval tone, immersing you in Eadha’s time and moment. The forming of these characters into who they are is a joy to behold, bumpy though the ride is.
With a refreshing magic system and a world designed to perfection, Marlay’s The Stone Keep holds a tight grip, and won’t let go until you’re charmed.
By Rory McNeill.
Our huge thanks go to Heroic Books for sending us an advance copy of this magical book and involving us on the blog tour. What a pleasure!