cover image The Stone War

The Stone War

Madeleine E. Robins. Tor Books, $23.95 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-312-85486-7

In Robins's New York City, the homeless legally homestead vacant patches of land, armed guards check IDs at nearly every corner and Central Park is a no-man's land too dangerous to traverse. Yet John Tietjen still loves his city, and even enjoys walking its dangerous streets at night. While John is in Massachusetts overseeing an architectural project, something disastrous happens in New York. No one is exactly sure what--the shocked refugees escaping the cataclysm give conflicting reports: of fire, of earthquakes, of bombings. John makes his way back to his home's shattered remains and, after meeting the highly capable and maternal Barbara McGrath, establishes a haven for survivors. At first John and the others expect outside help to come, but assistance never arrives, leaving the survivors to deal with monsters as well as with the everyday challenges of making it in a ruined city. Given John's alleged fascination with the city's rich blend of cultures, it seems odd that the narrative focuses almost exclusively--and to its detriment--on a cast of middle-class, Caucasian characters. And although this imaginative, well-crafted tale boasts a gripping premise and many appealing elements (warm protagonists, fantastic beings, animated statuary, weird powers, strong descriptions), it never delivers quite enough magic or horror to fully satisfy. Still, there's much promise--and talent--on display in Robins's first novel. (Aug.)