Clouds End

Posted by : atcampbell | On : August 17, 1999

Clouds End by Sean Stewart

Eight people showed up for the discussion of Clouds End, a fantasy novel by ArmadilloCon 21 Guest of Honor Sean Stewart. Six had read the book, and the others were present to socialize or observe. The book is a heroic fantasy set in a fully imagined world. The story concerns a group of island people who get wrapped up in a struggle involving supernatural Heroes and the mysterious Mist. A young woman, Brook, encounters a bird that turns into a twin of herself. Worse yet, the twin (called Jo) brings news of an ominous invasion. This causes Brook, Jo, and several of Brook’s friends to embark on a quest of danger and self-discovery.

We found the world of this book to be a brilliant and wonderful piece of invention. Stewart created interesting and fleshed-out civilizations and mythologies. The characters seem like they fit well in this world, and their novel speech patterns are both unique and believable.

The story structure is unusual and complicated. It involves several interweaving plot threads. Also, people in the story often recite mythical stories, which tend to foreshadow events in the “main” story. Knots are an important element in the lives of these seafaring people, and Stewart works knots into every aspect of the story – including its structure.

The biggest problem with this book is that we didn’t find the individual characters as interesting as the world they inhabit. We were more interested in descriptions of their society and its fascinating myths than in the careers and love lives of the relatively insignificant group of protagonists. Also, some of us had trouble accepting “Spit!” as a swear word.

Overall we liked this book a lot. Even those who don’t normally like fantasy liked this one. As usual for Stewart, Clouds End is unlike anything he’d written previously. We feel that Sean Stewart’s approach to fantasy has little or nothing to do with traditional commercial “fat” fantasy, and for this we are grateful.

— A. T. Campbell, III