Melanie Rawn made a triumphant return to the high fantasy world in February 2012. Her novel, TOUCHSTONE, kicked off the Glass Thorns trilogy, introducing readers to a fantastical theater troupe and setting up a world of great intrigue and mystery. The second volume of the series is on bookstore shelves now; with ELSEWHENS, the story expands and the troupe finds itself in dire straits.
As audiences and successes continue to grow for the magical theater group Touchstone, they are seemingly knocked back on their heels when they lose the annual trials. Yet even this setback is an apparent victory. Prince Ashgar is preparing to set off outside the safe borders of Albeyn, making for the Continent in order to collect his bride, and Touchstone has been selected to accompany him on this mission. They are the first theater troupe to travel outside Albeyn in 70 years, and the uncertainty surrounding their possible reception is cause for concern.
"It does leave readers with some questions and fears as the plot moves along, but ultimately the whole of the novel seems like a prelude to the plunge to come --- a necessary book that is deftly written, to be sure."
The journey will have dangers on two fronts. On one hand, the people of the Continent view magic with suspicion, and they are hesitant to put any trust in non-humans. On the other hand, Cayden, the playwright of the group, has been plagued by his elsewhens: moments he cannot control when visions of the future flood his mind. Within those futures he sees the death of Mieka, the elven Glisker whose powers design the visual effects for the troupe's performances. With the death of Mieka comes the undoing of Touchstone. Cayden is torn between knowing the path that will keep Mieka alive and Touchstone together, and isolating himself from his companions so much that they begin to break apart due to the strain on their friendships.
With ELSEWHENS, Rawn has gone to considerable lengths to ramp up the payoff from the previous novel. By leaving Albeyn, she is able to expand her world and make it all the more rich and interesting, particularly given the light of the Touchstone troupe as they enter realms where magic is prohibited. The individual characters all continue to grow and pull in fans, particularly Cayden. His elsewhens leave him truly torn, and readers are brought along for the struggle on every page. His growing distance from his mates is difficult and the friendships are growing more strained, potentially causing the problems he is so desperate to avoid.
All told, ELSEWHENS cannot stand on its own. Not only is it a sequel in a longer story, it also does not seem to fully reach beyond and expand the story in a way you would expect. It does leave readers with some questions and fears as the plot moves along, but ultimately the whole of the novel seems like a prelude to the plunge to come --- a necessary book that is deftly written, to be sure. ELSEWHENS is full of the magic and excitement one would expect following the events of TOUCHSTONE, and we can certainly anticipate THORNLOST, the final volume due out in February 2014, to be the freefall toward the epic conclusion.
Reviewed by Stephen Hubbard on February 22, 2013