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Crystal Mask

Style: Weak

Attitude: Unobjectionable

Cover of Crystal Mask

Author: Katherine Roberts

Series: Echorium

Publisher: The Chicken House

Published in: 2001

Age Range: Pre Teens

Period: Indeterminate

Setting: Earth in a mythical pre-history

Genres:  Fantasy


Characters:

  • Shiala is a human child brought up among centaurs. She is taken as captive to the Echorium, home of The Singers, and there joins novice Renn and Singer Kherron in a quest.
  • Renn is a novice Singer, son of singer Rhialle. He is able to understand Shiala's half-creature speech.
  • Kherron is Second Singer of the Echorium and enemy of Lord Frahzin who controls the Khiz Crystal.
  • Erihan, son of Horse Lord Nahar, joins Shiala after they help a group of children escape from slavers.
  • Nahar, noble lord of the Kelerei, joins forces with Kherron and Renn when it's clear they have the same goal.
  • Yashra is an evil young woman whose mask of Khiz crystal is her link with the half-living Lord Frahzin, enemy of the Echorium. She enslaves children -- human and centaur -- and has them quarry for the crystal she needs.

Synopsis:

Shiala, Renn and Kherron with an escort of orderlies from the Echorium try to track down the wearer of a mask of Khiz crystal, a channel for the evil power of Lord Frahzin. When they are separated, Shiala meets Erihan and together they help the centaur herd infiltrate Yashra's stronghold; Renn and Kherron team up with Erihan's father Nahar and mount a more frontal assault on the castle.

Notes:

The story's construction is competent, following a tried-and-trusted pattern: set off on a quest, become separated, each party finds its own way to a final destination gaining experience, acquiring allies and overcoming difficulties on the way.Finally, the younger characters have to mature quickly to shoulder a greater responsibility.

However, the characters seem stilted, never really fulfilling their initial promise. It's as though the book is relying on its prequel Song Quest for its sense of wonder. The characters of Renn and Shiala who interest the reader at first quickly become pale and flat plot devices with only occasional moments of relief and colour. Of its nature the book is plot-driven, following its questing pattern and very little interest is aroused by the revelation of Renn's parentage and of the centaurs' secrets. Again, perhaps this reflects over-reliance on the book's prequel.

Music clearly plays an important, almost mystical, part in the history of the story. Song is used by those trained in its use for healing, laughter, discipline, even death. There is non sign, however, of recreational music.

The implication is that Renn's mother was sufficiently intimate with a number of men that she could not be sure who his father was.

She stood at the rail with the salt breeze tugging at her hair, stroking the little blue stone and thinking of the centaur herd. The Wavesong had been following the coast for many days now, but this morning they'd rounded a headland and turned between two low hills where the wind snatched at the sails, sending the Two Hoofs running to their posts. Shaiala's blood ran faster as she caught the familiar smells of sun-baked earth and dung. The dark-skinned Two hoof who seemed to understand her as well as Renn came over and lent on the rail beside her, the bones at the end of his braids clacking in the wind

Sunday 4th April 2004