Riddle in Stone - Robert Evert Originally posted at The BiblioSanctum:

Riddle in Stone popped up on my radar and the blurb interested me enough to add it to my to-read pile. A polite message from the author inspired me to push it right to the top of the list and I’m glad I did.

The book promises and quickly delivers on its atypical hero, Edmund, an overweight, middle-aged stuttering librarian who wishes for adventure but clearly isn’t fit for it. Yet, when an opportunity presents itself, Edmund pulls up his breeches and steps out into the world. This impressed me because it was the first indication that Riddle in Stone was going to do its best to avoid the fantasy tropes so many story tellers rely on. Rather than the hapless atypical hero stumbling upon or being dragged into a quest to save the kingdom and the girl of his dreams, Edmund reads the king’s proclamation and decides that he, with his vast knowledge, is the right person for the job.

Not that Edmund doesn’t have self-doubt. I enjoyed the way his inner monologue argued with itself over every decision. This process could have been dragged out tediously, but Evert did a good job of writing the equivalent of the devil and angel on the shoulder in a pithy and interesting manner. I liked the way that, as with the initial decision to leave the town of Rood, Edmund’s determination and survival instincts usually wins out over his doubts and keeps the story moving forward.

Unfortunately for Edmund, he doesn’t get far on his quest before being captured by goblins. A good two thirds of the book is then spent with him dealing with their torture and trying to escape, all while trying or not trying to solve the riddle carved into the wall of a tower. He meets a few people and a loyal dog along his journey, but ultimately, Edmund is forced to rely on himself to survive and to help those he chooses to. There is no wise old guide to rescue him. No blue fairy to wish on. Just Edmund and his wits and determination and a few basic spells. I loved the way Edmund remained true to this, as well as the way he remained noble, but not stupidly so in his dealings with the other prisoners in the goblin mines. How often have I yelled at characters for making impractical decisions for the sake of nobility. Sometimes, the right thing to do just isn't, and I loved that Edmund recognizes that, even if it does hurt him to do so.

I also liked the way the book mercilessly reveals the consequences of Edmund’s desire to go off on a big adventure. It also calls into question the histories we are told by the winners of the battle, versus the reality.

Looking at the page numbers, I suspected that the book would be a bit longer than it needed to be, and found the last part, when Edmund seeks the help of the king, to drag a bit, but it was soon back on track.

Overall, a well-thought out beginning to an epic fantasy story, featuring a fairly unique character that I look forward to adventuring further with.