The Stone War, by Madeleine E. Robins

the-stone-war-by-madeleine-e-robins coverGenre: Fantasy
Publisher: Tor
Published: 2000
Reviewer Rating: four stars
Book Review by Lisa DuMond

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Perhaps it started with Alas, Babylon or On The Beach, but some of us can’t get enough of post-apocalyptic fiction. Or dystopias, for that matter. It may be a morbid fascination, but whether and how people and societies survive is endlessly engrossing. Combine a dystopian world with something like Armageddon and you have the ingredient for a winning novel.

John Tietjen is well aware that New York City has become a true jungle. Danger awaits on every street corner, and squatters occupy every square foot of usable ground, while the wealthy stay locked away from the threat, barricaded in their high-rise fortresses. To Tietjen, however, the city is as much a part of him as it ever was. His connection with the city-under-siege takes him out on aimless walks that criss-cross the degraded metropolis, walks that take him through the night and strengthen his affinity with New York. It is a contact as necessary to him as breathing.

Jit is the product of city’s failure. Abandoned and living beneath the oasis of Central Park, he is more than a simple squatter, and more than human. From the first page of The Stone War, it is unavoidable that these two guardians of the city will meet, but the outcome of that meeting is anything but obvious.

It is while Tietjen is reluctantly away from the city on an engineering project that disaster strikes New York. As refugees stream from the city and all contact with the outside world is severed, those on the outside can only guess at the cause or causes of the catastrophe and watch in horror the aftermath. Those around him feel only relief at escaping the destruction, but Tietjen has one thought: he must return to the city where he belongs.

What he will find if he can fight his way back in? What or who precipitated the nightmare? Can the city ever recover from the unimaginable devastation? And what manner of human will survive to crawl from the ruins?

That last question is the one that will keep readers glued to The Stone War. This is more a story of human behaviour, strength, and motives than a simple story of destruction and reclamation. Tietjen’s intense bond with New York and his struggle to make others feel that link is the force that pushes the survivors to keep moving forward in the face of fantastic obstacles and pitiless odds.

Robins’ deep character analysis is rare in post-apocalypse literature. Her understanding of human nature and gift for expressive prose should make The Stone War an instant favourite in the genre. The paranormal aspects produce magical and lethal effects that are both unique and stunning. The relationships between the survivors are a study of emotion and need under constant stress. The possibilities of the best and worst mankind can become is sometimes disturbing, sometimes reaffirming.

The Stone War is a graceful novel of the beautiful and the grotesque, dark and light, good and evil — the reality remaining when the veneer of civilization is ripped away. It is a story that will captivate entirely and take squatters’ rights of your thoughts until you reach the final, passionate word.

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