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on January 16, 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This book is the first in a new series by Rawn called the Glass Thorns. I loved Rawn's Dragon Prince series and was excited to see what she's been up to all these years. Well I was sorely disappointed. I read the first 120 pages of this book and finally just gave up. The beginning is confusing and there is no real goal driving the plot forward.

Cayden Silversun is trying to put together a troupe of players that will rise to the top and eventually end up on the Royal play circuit. He ends up bringing together a group of diverse individuals (both in temperament and race) and starts having some success at creating really awesome plays. Then the group is invited to partake in a contest to see if they can stand up against other troupes.

I don't really even want to spend time writing a review for this book; I was just so disappointed in it. The beginning of the book throws a ton of terms at the reader; each of which is a special part that a member of the troupe needs to perform to make the show a convincing whole. They each use special magical tools that have strange names to do this. I tried to just go with it, but for the first fifty pages or so I had no idea what was going on.

Cayden comes off as a weak character; he is easily swayed and constantly struggling to keep his troupe under control. I found him uninspiring. Some of the other players are equally obnoxious; for example Mieka who is the new member to the troupe is very annoying and likes to drink a lot...but because he is very good at what he does is tolerated by the rest of the troupe. None of the characters jumped out as especially easy to relate to or interesting.

The other big problems are the world and the plot; the characters are a complex mish-mash of different types of Elven heritage, Trolls, and numerous other races that are never very well explained. The plot doesn't have much to drive it which prevents the story from having any urgency. Yes, they want to win this contest...but that is pretty much the only thing driving the plot. Most of the plot deals with the characters internal struggles to balance winning with their own beliefs and principles. So most of the plot is driven by the characters' internal struggle...and I didn't like the characters, so I kind of didn't care about their problems all that much either.

It is an interesting idea for a story and if there had been a little glossary at the front of the book explaining all the foreign terms the whole thing would have been much less painful to read. If the troupe were fighting against some other treachery outside of their own internal struggles it would have made the story more engaging.

I finally put it aside after struggling through the first 120 pages over the course of three days. I still couldn't figure out the point to the story.

Overall I really disliked this book. It was hard to read and pointless. I can't in good conscious recommend this book to any of Rawn's fans; stick with her earlier works.
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VINE VOICEon December 17, 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I'm a big fan of Rawn's Dragon trilogies and was eager to read Touchstone, but came away greatly disappointed. The story was mildly entertaining, but for the most part it is wasted potential. There is one main plot, and it isn't suspenseful in the least. A whole lot of nothing really happened, and the ending was greatly disappointing. She tried to sort of leave it mysteriously open-ended, but instead it was just unsatisfying and left me wondering what was the point behind much of the story - this is seemingly a short story taken too far. I also think this probably belongs in the young adult category, based on the style of writing and the age/personalities of the main characters.
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VINE VOICEon December 13, 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )

Melanie Rawn has set Touchstone in a world with humans and humans mixed with the older races like the Elves, Trolls, Giants, Wizards, and Fae. The four main characters are a theater troupe working to become the best troupe in the kingdom. All theater troupes are composed of four members who use magic to create the illusion in each play. Each member has a specific role to play.
When the story starts Cayden, Rafcadion and Jeschenar are old friends who are searching for a fourth member who will fit into their troupe. Mieka joins them in a trial to see if he fits and they finally have the four members who fit together. From there it is a journey to become the best in the land. Cayden is the main character in the story. He has dreams that tell a possible future. Some of his dreams are about the members of the troupe. Those dreams and his actions after dreaming as well as his interaction with Mieka are the heart of the story

This is the first time I have read a Melanie Rawn book. I was in a world where I was lost for most of the first third of the book. This is the first book in a new series but I wonder if this is an extension of a world she created in a previous series. Touchstone is filled with dialog and is very character driven. There is conflict but it is mostly internal. There were hints of external conflict but nothing was developed. I was left a little puzzled about where the series is going. I guess I will read the next book to see if my question is answered.

Touchstone is an ARC I received form Amazon Vine.

Tor will release Touchstone by Melanie Rawn in February of 2012.
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VINE VOICEon June 3, 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I'd like to give this book four stars, and if I rated it based only on how much I enjoyed it, I would. With this new fantasy Melanie Rawn shows she could still be a major talent in the field. She's created an unusual premise by combining myth and magic with the drama of a group story reminiscent of VH1's miniseries 'The Temptations.' Most of the characters she uses to show off her world are worth meeting, and the side characters in particular beg to be explored. She doesn't stand too much on a soapbox. It doesn't matter, either, if you haven't read her other work. _Touchstone_ stands or falls on its own.

Mostly it falls. Despite everything I just said, I can't give it more than a middling grade because *nothing happens in it*.

Cayden Silversun's driving goals are to find his theater troupe a glisker and make it to Trials, where they'll hopefully earn a place on one of the formal performing circuits. All of this is resolved one way or another by the novel's halfway point. After that, the story meanders around accomplishing precious little. The characters banter; the characters bicker; Mieka relieves himself out a window. Hints of future plotlines are given, but they're too vague for the reader to know for sure who the antagonists will be, much less what they're planning, and much, much less what Touchstone might have to do about it. Even in terms of setup it's hollow.

And while most readers would probably be interested in how the theater performances work, I never felt like I was sitting in the audience for one, or as though I stood in Cade's shoes onstage. The shows were glossed over, and describing them was not the rule. I'm still not sure of things like why a tregetour can't be his own glisker or what the difference is between Elf and Wizard magic, though it seems important. That's really quite unfortunate, as Mieka--the 'soul' of the group--is more than a bit of an obnoxious, whining, manipulative, entitled brat, and his amazing talent as a glisker is the main reason everyone puts up with him long enough to form friendships. But we don't see that talent. In fact, we see more of him screwing up than of his skill. It makes for a disconnect: the narrative pushes the point that Mieka is the key to Touchstone's success, but he's shown as a liability and his brilliance has to be taken on faith.

All the same, weirdly, I liked the book. I read for hours at a stretch without getting bored. I cared what happened to Cade, Jeska, Rafe, and Blye, even when it seemed like not much was happening at all. I'm very interested in how different mythical bloodlines mix and where the series is going to go with that. I'll look for the next entry in the series, even if Mieka is the focus again.

But I can't quite recommend _Touchstone_. A book should have a story to tell, and this one doesn't.
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Melanie Rawn's Touchstone is the first book in her planned Glass Thorns trilogy. Unfortunately, it was a struggle to get through and I finished it with little interest in continuing the story, though it did pick up a bit toward the end.

Touchstone is sort of The Commitments meets Dragon realm. In Rawn's world, the major form of entertainment is a sort of theatrical performance which makes use of magic to convey a more full sensory and emotional experience. The performing groups are made up of members, each of which plays a specific role (a glisker, a tregetour, etc.) and if they are good enough they get to Trials (a judged performance at the Court), then they can go out on Circuit and move up in the world.
Touchstone follows one such group--called Touchstone--from the very beginning, mostly through the eyes of their writer/tregetour Cayden Silversun, as Cade and the two friends he's been performing with add a new glisker--a near full-blood Elf named Mieka. Soon they're pulling them in at the local bar, then the local theater, and then they're invited to the big time--The Trials where they'll perform at the court.

Matters are complicated by several factors. One is that Cade has prescient visions which torment him as he tries to figure out ways to avoid the less-than-pleasant futures he occasionally catches glimpses of, never knowing if they are actual futures or merely possible ones, and always fearing that he'll unfairly manipulate his friends to selfishly avoid his own unpleasant future. He also has parental issues. Mieka has some drug and drinking issues. And Cade's longtime female friend ends up in some difficulty due to her father's death and the inherent sexism of the culture. And now and then issues of racism and class arise as they move through the various tiers of society and mingle among various mixed groups of Elves, Wizards, Trolls, Goblins, and the like.

I had several issues with the novel. The beginning I found quite off-putting due to lots of unfamiliar vocabulary and a too-unclear sense of just what it was Cade and his group do and just what the differences were in their specific roles. I usually don't have an issue with strange vocabulary (in fact, I think I may even have praised its early use in China Mieville's Embassytown), but here the vocabulary wasn't simply background or atmosphere--it was the major undergirding of the plot and character and so it felt more of a barrier. The same reasons held true for why the lack of clarity on the art form itself bothered me so much. And to be honest, I wouldn't say I ever felt wholly, solidly, clear on just what went into the shows, which were themselves a bit flat and disappointing both in terms of their plots and the manner in which they were conveyed. The lack of clarity was also an issue with all the mixed races, which seemed to want to play an important role in terms of what sort of abilities the characters had due to their mixed blood and also how they sometimes responded to or were responded to by other characters depending on their ancestry, but again, it never felt fully, cleanly clear enough.

The plotting was very episodic as the group grows in stature and moves out into the world and I never felt very invested in what was happening to them. Partly because of the above problems, partly because of the episodic nature of the narrative--"they did this then they did this then they did this"--, partly because that episodic nature never felt in the service of a larger, overarching narrative arc or theme (the where are they going and why am I reading about them going there question), and finally, partly because of the narrative choices, which leaned overmuch on summary rather than scene. This had the effect of distancing both the action and characters and lending the novel an overall flat feel to it. The other problem is that the storyline behind the fantasy elements was pretty familiar; you pretty much know what you're going to get in a "band story": there will be fights over creative differences, fights over someone being too drunk or too stoned or too hung over to perform, someone will be the girl-getter, someone will be the one that threatens to "poison" the band, they'll have some jealous or competitive interaction with other such bands trying to move up, there will be some broken glassware, and so on.

I didn't care much about the characters, wasn't grabbed by the style, was disappointed by the performance art, and had seen the plot before. As one might guess, this all made the novel a true struggle to finish. Prior to Touchstone I'd zipped through three novels in four days; this one took me a week to finish as I kept finding reasons to put it down and other reasons to not pick it up. Had it not been a review book, I'm sure I would have stopped and in fact, this was the first review book in a long, long time that I seriously considered giving a Did Not Finish. Not recommended.
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on April 4, 2014
I was looking forward to a new Melanie Rawn book, but - although her writing was exceptional as always and the concept is intriguing - there just isn't enough plot to sustain this book, let alone a series. Sure wish I could say something more positive.
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on December 31, 2012
There are only two good things about this book: the sweet vocabulary (Rawn pulls a bunch of Old-English words and gives a fun vernacular feel to the dialogue) and the not original but nonetheless interesting use of fantasy elements (that is, the magic is original enough and the history and usage of a broad range of fantastic races makes for a rich social world).

Other than that, it sucked.

The homoerotic overtones would be fine if she didn't also go through so much effort to dehumanize women. There are more instances than I can count of the men lauding each others' sexual prowess, and the only woman with a hint of a character gets flatter with each appearance.

Basically, the book is Jersey Shore in a fantasy setting. Half of the book is oh-my-head-hurts-so-much-what-did-I-do-last-night, touting the fun of alcohol and drugs. The other half is the bromance between the main characters as they live the actors' dream, with most of that besties-with-testies part composed of them switching narrative voice to marvel repetitively (not kidding. Dunno who edited this, but it was like a Nanowrimo novel without the "oh, I said that exact phrase already" cutting stage) about how beautiful the other is and how much he changes everything about his life, oh elf my love, oh beautiful wizard...

The writing is just bad. Melanie has never really been a poet, but it's like she didn't even try in this book. The characters might have been written by a 14-year-old girl for all their depth (and it was utterly irritating to have to listen to the protagonist ponder how much he has grown up as he realizes various things about himself... never heard of show, don't tell, Mel?) and there are more exclamation marks than witty retorts, of which there are also too many.

I could go on, but I won't. I rarely review books, but this one was so bad I had to get it out of my system. Travesty. If she wasn't already famous, it wouldn't have gotten published.
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on September 16, 2015
Rawn does a great job in creating a brand-new magic world that exceeds expectations. It is nice to find something "new" out there with her magic, her characters, and her story line. I am looking forward to the next book.
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on April 2, 2014
I resisted reading this because I didn't think I would like it. Boy, was I wrong. It was magical and engaging and had such depth of character. I bought the second book immediately upon finishing this one and I'll get the third on release day. Highly original and satisfying fantasy.
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This is a wonderful book about rock and roll history in fantasy disguise.
Think 60's bands.
Touchstone = The Who
Shadowshapers = The Beatles
Black Lightning = The Rolling Stones
Look at it that way and you'll be breathlessly waiting for the next book to see if the author takes Meika (the Keith Moon character) off the deep end or rewrites history the way most of us would like it to be and saves his life.
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