Book review: Stone Circle by Kate Murdoch

About Stone Circle

Is the Ability to Read Minds a Blessing or a Curse?

When Antonius’s father dies, he must work to support his family. He finds employment as a servant in the Palazzo Ducal, home of Conte Valperga. Sixteenth-century Pesaro is a society governed by status and Antonius has limited opportunities.

When a competition is announced, Antonius seizes his chance. The winner will be apprenticed to the town seer. Antonius shares first place with his employer’s son.

The two men compete for their mentor’s approval. As their knowledge of magic and alchemy grows, so does the rivalry and animosity between them. When the love of a beautiful woman is at stake, Antonius must find a way to follow his heart and navigate his future.

My Thoughts

Stone Circle is a classic, romantic tale suited to young adult and adult audiences. Set in Renaissance Italy, the story is brimming with the esoteric practice of the era  – geomancy, astrology and ‘seeing’ are especially prominent. The inclusion of such practices might for some place the novel in the fantasy genre, but I would dispute that. Esoteric practice is not fantasy! This novel might just as well be termed visionary fiction or magic realism.

The story is simple. When seer Savinus needs a new apprentice, he devises a simple test to find one. Two applicants show the necessary attributes and Savinus decides to take them both on, making the poor and lowly and very talented Antonius his primary apprentice, and the rich and spoilt and lesser talented Nichola his secondary. Any reader will predict the tensions to follow. Nicholas shows himself to be jealous and spiteful, and Antonius of fine character. Yet he is a man with burdens and troubles and might not make the best decisions. Both young men are also attracted to Savinus’ beautiful and intelligent daughter, Giulia – also a seer – and competing for her affections. Giulia cannot practice her talents as she is female and would be classed a witch and persecuted if she did. Yet she is always there, always at the edge of being exposed.

The plot is as old as storytelling but Murdoch fills it with a unique complexity the result of her intriguing cast of lovingly crafted characters and the esoteric theme. Add to this an evocatively portrayed historical setting and the result is a captivating and gentle read that progresses at a measured pace with numerous delights and insights along the way. Stone Circle is a novel filled with charm, a story that envelopes the reader and takes them far from everyday reality. Highly recommended.

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