This one starts with a bang, as a mysterious woman in white appears out of nowhere, seemingly, into the middle of a peaceful village. She stays exactly where she is for the rest of the book, but the story races about all over the Kingdom of Tyrland as the former Queen, now exiled into Eferum, the ‘other’ world, tries to make good her return.
There are two main characters, of whom Rennyn is the more interesting by far. Intelligent, competent and entirely self-sufficient, yet she never becomes a Mary Sue, and it’s always clear that she has hidden depths, as well as (perhaps) an agenda of her own. She’s accused of being arrogant, but perhaps it’s more a question of self-awareness. It’s not arrogance to know what has to be done and to go about doing it with minimal fuss. Kendall is the bratty not-quite-child, whose major role seems to be to ask the tricky questions so that essential elements of the magic system or necessary plot points can be explained to the reader, or to act as a window to events not seen by Rennyn. Despite her heroics at the big confrontation, she always felt a bit extraneous. I rather liked Rennyn’s younger brother, Seb, however, who has a very focused view of magic and simply refuses to acknowledge the validity of any viewpoint other than his own. He will ring a bell with anyone with knowledge of a certain geeky type of teenage boy.
The Kellian are the most intriguing aspect of the book. The stained glass monsters of the title, because of their ability to reflect or absorb (not quite clear which) the colours around them, they are magically created beings (golems, originally) who have subsequently interbred with humans, with interesting and very creepy results. Given that they give the book its title, it was always obvious that their role would be pivotal to events. Even so, I wasn’t expecting the way things turned out; as always, the author has the power to astonish and disturb in equal measure.
I’m a big fan of the author, who creates believable worlds where women are just - well, people, everything from Queens to mages to soldiers to farmers and everything in between. In addition, her worlds are always very different from the standard fantasy tropes and themes, so that just when you think you’ve got a handle on things the plot shoots off at a completely unexpected tangent. I love to be taken by surprise, especially when (as here) the surprise is totally logical and in line with everything that’s gone before. And as always, this is not just a retelling of the traditional good versus evil story. It’s not at all clear where, if anywhere, the distinction lies, and there are more shades of grey than black and white. There is also a more philosophical depth, for those who enjoy such things, about the rightness, or otherwise, of making decisions for other people, of controlling people with magic, of using people against their will.
If I have a complaint, it’s that the first half of the book is overfilled with exposition - details about the magic system, for instance, which is moderately complicated, or about the underlying politics, or about the plot itself. The Grand Summoning is a complicated process, and I got lost in the details sometimes. There were also too many characters for me to keep straight, and I wasn’t even clear, sometimes, which of them were human and which weren’t. Most of this, however, either resolved itself before the final confrontation or ceased to matter, and there was compensation in the array of very different locations where breaches from the Eferum occurred, necessitating some innovative solutions, both practical and magical.
The finale was appropriately epic, with innumerable twists and turns, the main plotline tied up with a very satisfactory little bow on top, yet with enough dangling threads to carry forward into book 2 of the series. This is a relatively short book with an interesting magic system, the fascinating non-human Kellians and some thought-provoking ideas. Apart from Rennyn and Seb, the humans are mostly walk-on parts, but they still feel like properly three-dimensional people. Another enjoyable read from Ms Höst. Four stars.
All my fantasy reviews also at http://fantasyreviewbarn.blogspot.com.