TOR, Mar 2003
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood
Carnelian, son of the high official He-Who-Goes-Before, and his lover
Osidian, God-Emperor-to-be, want one last day alone together before being
separated forever by Osidianís impending Godhood. Seizing the opportunity,
Osidianís mother, the former Empress, has them kidnapped to keep Osidian
from power. Carnelian and Osidian escape to the outer lands and find
refuge with the Ocher Tribe.
Carnelian was raised far from the capital city of the Chosen, the Masters
of the earth, and he does not share its attitude of malign cruelty. He
takes quickly and lovingly to life with the Ocher. He is dismayed to
discover that he has brought a piece of the empire with him, in Osidian.
Osidian, as lover and heir to the God-Throne, was a very different person
from the deposed Osidian now obsessed with revenge. To Osidian, anyone and
anything is a tool to be used for vengeance. In building a power base from
which to bring down his mother and brother, his gradual poisoning of the
tribal civilization is merely a political gambit.
As a Master with a conscience, Carnelian is at war with the callousness
expected of him. Osidian finds ways to make Carnelianís kindness useful
against the tribes, so that guilt becomes a ruling emotion of Carnelianís
life. When he falls in love with a tribesman and adopts a war orphan, they
become Osidianís most powerful weapons against Carnelian. Yet his loyalty
to Osidian keeps returning at the wrong times.
THE STANDING DEAD is the second in a series called The Stone Dance of
the Chameleon. The first book, THE CHOSEN, covered Carnelianís
education in the depraved society of the Masters. In THE STANDING DEAD,
author Ricardo Pinto creates another entire society for Carnelian to adapt
to. Plains life is demanding but suffused with love and harmony with
nature. This makes the warring of his loyalties that much more painful. At
every turn Osidian is a danger Carnelian cannot bring himself to deal
with. As this stage of Osidianís plans come to culmination, at the end of
THE STANDING DEAD, we see the next stage wearing the face of despair, to
be resolved in the sequel Pinto is currently writing.
Pintoís writing is beautiful, concussive, full of the power of the tribesí
Earthsky and the horror of its destruction. It is enough to make you
squirm inside, when you read excerpts from Chosen philosophy: "Do not the
Wise teach that the sounds of agony are the vocal mode the Dark God most
prefers? If this is so, then it follows that the most sublime form such a
performance might attain is that in which the vocalist is skillfully
excruciated and held shimmering at the very brink of death." Quotes such
as these build to a point where it becomes appalling when Carnelian passes
up one of his many chances to exterminate Osidian.
The most inviting element of THE STANDING DEAD is the family feeling
Carnelian develops with the Ocher family who adopt him. The
hearth mother protects him, he wins acceptance by sharing the most menial
of chores, he draws comfort from their Mother Tree. Here also is the
fantasy within a fantasy story: Fern, the man he falls in love with,
returns his attraction although such relationships are not a part of this
culture; and Fernís wife, after her first distress, even learns to accept
it. In the several gay lit books I have reviewed lately, this wish
fulfillment, that anyone the gay hero wants is sexually receptive without
consequence, is the element they have most in common.
It was my promise to review that kept me reading through this very long
and progressively more painful book. I will know better than to accept the
sequel when it is released.
Apr 2003 Review Originally Published on WOR
All cover art used at Reviewer's Choice Reviews is copyrighted by the
respective publisher. All reviews and articles found at Reviewer's Choice
Reviews are the sole property of the contributor and are copyrighted by