The Stone War
By Madeleine Robins
In something of an odd coincidence, this is the third book out of the last four I've read that was about New York. This one came to me via a co-worker, with whom I've been trading books and DVDs lately. I lent him my copies of Forever, Good Omens, and Neverwhere, and he lent me The Stone War.
The book is set in a dystopian near-future New York City where crime and homelessness have run rampant. Most of the city's residents have retreated into locked-down apartment buildings staffed with armed guards, while the homeless have been granted the legal right to squat in doorways and street-side gardens. The main character, John Tietjen, is one of the few who loves the city the way it used to be and still walks the streets unafraid.
This is the scene as we are introduced into Tietjen's life, and we watch as he interacts with his neighbors, argues with his ex-wife, and tries, unsuccessfully, to get his children interested in the city. Suddenly, while he's away on a business trip, an unknown catastrophe falls upon the city, with thousands killed and most of the rest fleeing as refugees. Tietjen makes his way back to New York, discovering an eerie ruin, covered with damage that no natural causes can explain. He brings together a small community of survivors, who must fend for themselves against the challenges of rebuilding, not to mention darker forces loose in the city.
Overall, The Stone Rose was an enjoyable read, but I kept feeling like it could have been more. It was author Madeleine Robins' first novel, and had many of the strengths and weaknesses first novels so often have. On the one hand, Robins' ideas were strong and she clearly has a passion for writing--older writers often seem to burn out long before they actually stop writing, to their readers' detriment. Unfortunately, her vision just wasn't executed that well. Much of what's set up in the initial parts of the book is dropped completely after the disaster, which left me feeling very unsatisfied with the overall direction of the story. Too, it's never really explained or resolved just what's so special about Tietjen, though numerous references are made to him being so. And the picture of an empty New York City, twisted and ravaged by supernatural forces, is wonderfully evocative and provides an opportunity for some truly dark or eerie scenes, I couldn't help but feel that Robins wasn't able to fully deliver on that promise in the way a more experienced writer might, though she did reach in that direction.
It may sound as though I'm bashing the book, which isn't really my intention--as I mentioned before, it was pretty enjoyable overall. I think the reason for my disappointment is just that there was so much potential for this to be a truly great story, but unfortunately that story never fully materialized.
Started: 4/12/2010 | Finished: 4/14/2010