Thursday, 20 December 2007

Heart of Stone by C.E.Murphy

Heart of Stone is the first book in the Negotiator Trilogy by C.E.Murphy. An urban fantasy, it begins with legal aid lawyer, Margrit Knight speaking to mystery man, (Alban), late at night in Central Park. She later learns a murder took place in the park, and he's the main suspect. Problem is, he's a gargoyle and can't afford to be questioned by the authorities - there's that pesky problem of turning to stone in daylight. He needs Margrit's help, and before long she's drawn into the world of the Old Races, negotiating with dragons, bargaining with vampires, and trying to prove Alban's innocence.

When I started reading this I was unsure of how I was going to describe it. At the beginning of the story (with the exception of Alban) everything is very normal - almost too normal. We are pulled into Alban's world slowly, it unfurls before the reader as Margrit is drawn into the conflict and tensions between the races. So for readers who prefer their urban fantasy to open with an attack of zombies, a mob of rabid vampires or a big explosion, this may not be one for you.

Having said that I thought the story was incredibly well constructed. It's 'bookended' with similar scenes between Alban and Margrit, they've come full circle, but everything in Margrit's life has changed. We experience both Margrit and Alban's point of view, and his view of humans and the world around him helps solidify in your mind that he is something other than human. It's also very important to pay attention to what's going on in the background. A couple of times a character said something along the lines of - we saw that the other day when we were at the office - and I was thinking 'did we?' and lo and behold when I skipped back (rewound :) ), we had.

As a relationship builds between Alban and Margrit, they go from caution, to comrades, and towards the end they have a wonderfully subtle eroticism that was first hinted at during their meeting as strangers on a dancefloor. I'm very interested to see how their relationship evolves, as a romantic involvement with a human is considered taboo.

I like the set-up of the world. The five remaining Old Races - dragon (fire), djinn(air), selkies (water), gargoyles (stone) and vampires (other). Plus there are a couple of oddballs in there, who I hope will be making appearances in the next books. All the races have their own secrets, and as Margrit is pulled further into the world of the Old Races, we come to see that everyone has at least one ulterior motive, and some characters seem to have several.

I did have a couple of problems. I felt Margrit changed about 90 pages in, and that the character I'd initially been introduced to wasn't quite the same person. There are also three 'literally's', but I admit this is the first story I've read this year where it didn't bother me too much.

In Heart of Stone we learn about the world of the Old Races as Margrit learns, but at the end of the story, so much still remains a mystery, leaving you hungry to find out more. Why is Alban referred to as 'The Breach', and what favours is Janx going to ask Margrit for? In Margrit's conversation with Alban at the end of the book, she sets out her mission statement.
"Laws, Alban," Margrit said clearly, "are for reinterpreting, rebuilding, negotiating and discarding when they no longer make sense within the confines of a society. I'm not quitting just because the going's getting tough."
The story continues in House of Cards (March 2008).


Anonymous said...

Sounds intriguing! Gargoyles are a step up from run-of-the-mill vampires and demons, eh?

I think I've read one of her books before, think it must have been Urban Shaman, but obviously didn't stay with me. I'll have to check this one out in the bookstore.


LesleyW said...

Yep, I've read Urban Shaman as well, and admit to having the other books in that series though I haven't got round to reading them yet. The thing that sticks in my mind about Urban Shaman is that the heroine witnesses a crime taking place on the ground whilst she's in an aeroplane coming in to land.

Anonymous said...

Lesley, I loved this book, which came as a total surprise. I'd read and enjoyed Murphy's other series, although I had--and still have--the same problem you mentioned: it is impossible to see anything on the ground from a plane as it lands. Agatha Christie could get away with "What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw" from a train, but as a premise, "Urban Shaman" seemed doomed. Once past that obstacle, however, I was drawn in by the wonderful, engaging characters she created, and that's what propelled me to "Heart of Stone."

Did I mention I loved that book? :) Gargoyles! I liked the measured development of the relationship between Alban and Magrit, how it built over the course of the book. Some readers may lament the lack of an HEA, but drawing these characters, I hope, into another book suits me just fine. I'm so glad to hear you enjoyed it as well.

Anonymous said...

eeek! I meant Margrit.

Anonymous said...

I've only just got my copy and barely started it, seems interesting so far though.

Don't miss all the referances to eye glop from her Shaman series!

LesleyW said...

Glad I'm not alone in enjoying this one. I'm eagerly looking forward to House of Cards. :)

I really must get back and finish the Urban Shaman series as well.

Anonymous said...

Any idea how long this series is going to be? I've gotta admit that I prefer to buy an entire series in one shopping spree if I know ahead of time that there's going to be another book in the series about the same couple. Does that make sense?

LesleyW said...

Scooper - it's my understanding it will be a trilogy. C.E.Murphy refers to it as the Negotiator trilogy on her blog and website.

Books 2 and 3 should be released next year.

Carolyn Crane said...

Great review. You know, I got the feeling they wouldn't continue as a couple at the end due to certain events. But I loved their erotic connection, and the way Alban was drawn. And I loved the originality of this book and the creatures you get here, though at times I got weary of the roomie stuff. And I always thought that male roommate of hers was sort of hitting on her. Did anybody else?

LesleyW said...

Carolyn Jean - I didn't get that vibe from the roomie. I thought he was just behaving like an overprotective friend. Though they've obviously got a very close relationship.

Whilst part of me would like Alban and Margrit to get together, I don't really want the author to finagle an artificial situation between them to make this happen.

Carolyn Crane said...

Yes, I totally agree, Lesley, I wouldn't want an artificial coupling between them just to qualify the ending as a HEA. It was the smart and right move, I think, what Murphy did there based on the circumstances, and it doesn't mean they can't ultimately be together in the next book, or the third.