The Spirit Stone is book five of the Dragon Mage sequence by Katharine Kerr. The events in this book follow on directly from those in the Gold Falcon - the joint armies of Westfolk, Deverry men and Mountain Folk are mustering in order to put Zakh Gral (the Horsekin fortress) to the sword. This time round we leave the stories of Branna and Neb, who remain behind at the dun. Instead Salamander and Dallandra come to the fore - dealing with a group of Gel da Thae who have been banished for using dweomer by those who follow Alshandra; finding and trying to discover the secrets of the black pyramid and the white; and trying to cure Rori's wounds.
I enjoyed this tale, finding a number of new story strands to enjoy and seeing where Kerr is filling some of the gaps from previous stories. For instance, we went back in time here to when Salamander was merely Evan (in his mother's language) and Ebany (in his father's) - a child of only a few years. It was a time where Dallandra had already gone to the Guardians and her son Loddlaen was growing up - where Nevyn realises that Loddlaen has suffered through being in Dalla's womb when she first travelled with Evandar and went to different worlds. It was interesting seeing how Loddlaen turned from an odd young man who struggled with dweomer to someone who was prepared to commit murder (eventually becoming the deranged mage we met at the time that Jill and Rhodry first came together).
Speaking of that, Branna and Rori also experience a heart breaking scene, where Branna only remembers that JIll was once friends with Rhodry before he turned dragon, and nothing more than that while Rori knows what truly passed between them.
Another fantastic scene was where Dalla tries to explain to Gerran the nature of war and the fact that no side will truly win since both commits atrocities in the name of what they believe in. Very strong and powerful.
In fact, there were only few bits to this novel that I found wearisome. One was actually the "war" against the Horsekin in Zakh Gral. It has been built up over the last book and a half to be something huge and menacing, yet was over extremely quickly and with very little loss of life or danger to the Westfolk/Deverry men. I understand the war is not yet over, but I did feel as though there would be more tension.
So, onto the next book in Kerr's neverending cycle - although I do see the finishing line now! In the next book I anticipate more of Rori and the rediscovery of Haen Marn!
P.S. I've no doubt that to anyone who has not read the previous books in the Deverry sequence this review is so much garbled mess, of characters and storylines that don't make much sense. For this reason I would urge people strongly to start with Daggerspell and move forwards in written order.
If anyone is trying to decide whether to read the Deverry books based on my review, I cannot recommend them highly enough. They are rich with details - realistic characters, political viewpoints, magic, adventure, romance, the Seelie, Elves, Dwarves, Dragons. Truly, there are few fantasy series that truly deserve the description "epic", but this is one of them. I believe that Kerr is enormously under-rated and has quietly put out one of the most accomplished long-running series in the field. Please don't miss out!