James Stoddard,
The False House
(Warner Aspect, 2000)

Sequels make me nervous, especially when they're sequels to books I really like. I've seen too many good characters and ideas run into the ground when the books they're in become series. Most of all, though is the fear that the sequel will not measure up to the first book at all.

Thus, I faced reading James Stoddard's The False House with trepidation. It was hard to imagine that there could be more to say without being a mere retread of The High House, a book which displayed exquisite complexity and richness. Still, the only way to know for sure was to read it. I was pleased to find that it was a good read, although not quite up to the standards set by Stoddard's debut novel.

The book begins with the Master of the great house Evenmere, Carter Anderson, going to Innman Tor, the location of one of the most dramatic scenes in The High House. He discovers anarchists digging in the crater where the Tor once stood, and some of them escape with an unidentified object. He later learns that they have stolen the Cornerstone of Evenmere, a crucial part of the construction.

The Cornerstone is not the only thing the anarchists carry off; they also abduct Lizbeth, the 12-year-old ward of Count Aegis, First Factor of Inmann Tor. The anarchists take her to the Outer Darkness, far from Evenmere. There the power of the Cornerstone is funneled through her to create a false version of Evenmere, one which will facilitate the new order the anarchists hope to establish. Although Carter and the others search for Lizbeth, they eventually give her up for lost.

In the six years after Lizbeth's disappearance, Carter has courted and wed Sarah, Count Aegis' daughter. When he discovers that Lizbeth is still alive, he organizes a rescue party to find her and to regain the Cornerstone from the twisted false house. His half brother Duskin accompanies him, and the characters of Hope, Chant and Enoch also return.

The False House has more action and dialogue than the first novel, but it seems that some of the richness is lost. It is more contemporary in tone and reads less like the older works to which he pays homage. Furthermore, his references to these works and authors is more obvious and at times seems contrived. I did appreciate the names of the two Door Wardens of the Tower: Mr. Spaulding and Mr. Bradbury, references to Ray Bradbury's classic Dandelion Wine. Several scenes of expository dialogue were jarring, and Sarah's sometimes inappropriately whimsical personality seemed forced at times.

Still, even though The False House doesn't quite touch The High House, it is still a good read, but be sure to read the books in order.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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