C.L. Talmadge,
The Green Stone of Healing #3: The Scorpions Strike
(Booklocker, 2008)

This is the third book in the Green Stone of Healing series, following a very good The Vision and a fair Fallout. Would this one regain the quality of the first, stay in the run-of-the-mill mode of the second or drop in quality even further?

In the first two books, we learned of the fictional island kingdom of Kronos, dominated by the very status-oriented, feudal hierarchy of the Toltec race, with the second-class (status-wise) Turanian people. We also learned that the Toltec society was very much controlled by their religion, which imposed harsh sanctions against any Toltec-Turanian children and those who created them. Most importantly, we learned of Helen, an intelligent, talented healer, who was a half-breed, but who had risen to some prominence as a military physician.

These books teems with political scheming, alliances, power struggles and plots to rise in rank through assassination. There is an abundance of physical cruelty, sexual liaisons and ugly combinations of the two.

In this third book, I was hoping for some conclusion to the saga or, at least, clear and measurable progress toward a conclusion. Many things happen in this book, but much of is rehashing or re-enactments of things that occurred in the first two books. Political schemes abound, but none really succeed or fail. Alliances strengthen or shift, but all the main players are still on the board at the end, with no real gains made. The bad guys do seem to gain some ground, but score no really impressive wins. The momentum is shifting in their direction, but I cannot say they gain anything other than that.

The strength of the first book rested on character development, and the characters remain the most interest aspect of this third book. Helen remains an intelligent, strong-willed, talented woman who has earned some status, and even covert respect, because of her skills, determination and achievements, despite rampant bigotry involving racism and sexism. She is the centerpiece of all the books, although there is an interesting ensemble around her of friends and foes. Helen is striving to find some level of real status, as the now-acknowledged illegitimate daughter of a powerful Toltec noble who has many adversaries of his own.

The technical quality of the writing remains good, including the basic mechanics of vocabulary, word choice, vocabulary range and sentence structure. What is missing here is an issue of pace. While there is plenty of action, it ends up being like watching a man try to march up a sand dune: two steps forward, one step back; two steps forward, slip and slide back three steps. In the end, we have watched a soccer or hockey game resplendent with scoring attempts, but the score is zero-zero and overtime is the only step possible. With a book, there is no overtime; there are sequels. The Green Stone of Healing series appears to be prime to become something akin to The Wheel of Time series or the seemingly endless "based on the writings and notes of my father" books by Christopher Tolkien.

Some readers enjoy these slow-paced series with numerous iterations and drawn-out overarching storylines, that can go 10, 20 or even more volumes. I am not such a reader. I prefer a series like Robin Hobb's Farseer and Tawny Man books. Those books are rich in action, development of characters and detail and give the reader a sense that the big story is not endless.

review by
Chris McCallister

19 September 2009

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