3 out of 4 stars
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Talisman of Hope: Book One - The Stonemason's Curse by Janet Bradley draws on many high fantasy elements, including creatures such as orcs, dragons, and elves, as well as a fight against an all-consuming evil mage who threatens to destroy the land. These story beats are familiar, and even if they may be somewhat over-used, Bradley employs them remarkably effectively. The book's prose matches the high fantasy genre as well; it is thorough without being overly verbose.
The story follows Talia, a half-elf, half-Dardinax woman who has been chosen as the bearer of the eponymous talisman, as she attempts to lift a spell that has turned the residents of the village she grew up into stone. The Dardinax are a warlike people who support the Blood Mage in his quest to conquer the world, so she must struggle against negative perceptions of her race almost everywhere she goes. In her quest, she is joined by Brymble, an often-inebriated sorcerer who serves as an unconventional twist on the genre's typical mentor figure, and Ivus, a womanizing elven prince, along with several other companions spanning a variety of races.
This book's greatest strength is the variety of environments it throws its characters into. The Stonemason's Curse is full of inventive locations like the Creek of the Crying Cradles and the Windwhistle, with a variety of fantastic beasts and other obstacles for her party to overcome. While it could be argued that Bradley relies too much on common fantasy tropes, I found enough unique elements to make the book not feel like a carbon copy of other narratives, including the forest-dwelling Querrilian and the inventive monsters Talia's troupe had to face up against.
There are a few aspects of the book that I can see deterring potential readers, though. The book's narrative lacks some polish with regards to its formatting; some chapters stretch on for over an hour, while some take less than ten minutes to read, with no distinguishable stylistic reason. The book also seemed to cut out at the end, without a real resolution or conclusion. There are also many grammatical errors, some of which change the meaning of entire sentences, including missing commas or quotation marks and even no space between two words on some occasions.
Ultimately, I rate The Stonemason's Curse 3 out of 4 stars. It succeeds in telling an engaging high fantasy adventure, but the formatting and grammatical errors prevent it from receiving full marks. I'd recommend it to devoted fans of this genre who enjoy long-form narratives, as opposed to light reading and don't mind moderately prevalent grammatical errors. People who are not fond of these things, or who are put off by setting-appropriate gore, would not enjoy this book.
The Talisman of Hope series.
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