Review: Stone Circle by Kate Murdoch, by Shelley Timms

Title: Stone Circle
Author: Kate Murdoch

Genre: Historical Fantasy
Favourite part: The scenes that involved Antonius learning how to transform, and learning about the extent of his powers.
Favourite quote: “A third image on the next page was an eagle, its coal-black wings extended, its beak a noble flash of gold. Traces of the coloured wind still curled in front of the creature. Savinus has stared at the three illustrations before … he now knew that they depicted complete transformation.”

This book was sent to me for review by the author. All opinions are my own.

Stone Circle is a historical fantasy set in Renaissance Italy by debut author Kate Murdoch. It follows the story of Antonius, a servant at the Palazzo Ducal, and nobleman Nichola, the Conte Valperga’s son. When a competition is announced and Antonius’ powers for ‘seeing’ and transformation come to light, it sets both men on a path of jealousy and revenge.

I was initially hesitant to read Stone Circle as I do not usually gravitate towards the fantasy genre, but Murdoch’s ability to weave historical fiction into the story made it easy for me to understand the fantasy elements while still enjoying the plot. Murdoch is a widely exhibited painter in both Australia and worldwide, and her talent has clearly been translated to the page. I fell in love with her descriptions of settings in the book, with her vibrant language and ability to paint the perfect picture of what life would have been like in Renaissance-era Italy. While reading, I bookmarked a few phrases that I loved:

“Granite cut by masons from the surrounding hills formed the low structures of the village houses, their roofs laid with rounded terracotta tile. The windows were small mottled squares, inserted into the houses like pairs of eyes. Some villagers added personality to their dwellings by painting their doors blue or red.”

“He watched Savinus browse a stall filled with bright silk scarves. The hung in festive rows from the awning and danced in the breeze.”

While Stone Circle is billed as a historical fantasy, I did find that the fantasy elements took a backseat to the historical fiction and romance. While the romance read true, I was a little disappointed in the lack of exploration into the magic system set out in the book. What was included was well written, and as a beginner to the fantasy genre I often find that I avoid fantasy because it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the barrage of information. Murdoch set the world out in such a way that it was easy to digest and didn’t take away from the plot. However, I do feel as though the fantasy elements had a lot of potential that wasn’t met.

I also found that the dialogue felt a little awkward at times, but given that it is a historical fiction/fantasy novel, it is understandable why the characters spoke in such a way. Given that this is a debut novel, there is nowhere to go but up when it comes to issues such as this, and there is always room for improvement.

Overall, Stone Circle is a strong debut from author Kate Murdoch, and I would recommend it to anyone who is just dipping their toes into the fantasy genre. The descriptions of the settings were brilliant, and Murdoch’s attention to detail is evident when it comes to worldbuilding. I enjoyed the plot and characters, and look forward to seeing what she comes up with next!

 

This book was provided free of charge to Underground Writers by the author for the purposes of reviewing. 

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