The Island and the Ring - Laura C. Stevenson First off, let me say that this book has truly stayed with me throughout the years. It's one of those books that I read when I was just getting into reading, and there are so many things that are in this book that I've never found expressed quite so simply that inspired my young mind to remember them, all these years later. Nevertheless, for all its clear standing as a fantasy novel, and for the interweaving of many delightful romantic elements throughout it, this book is not that great or outstanding when put up against the crowd. It's an enjoyable read, and has a tale that echoes a lot of the sensations and ideas that you get while reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien. In fact, I'm pretty certain it was inspired by the series on quite a few points--most of them plot related. Around this similar plot, though executed as differently as Stevenson could manage, you still see the strains poking through very obviously in quite a few points where you feel she has borrowed those concepts. As such, reading the story for its plot is, beyond argument, a bad idea. It does not, I feel, bring anything new to realm of Fantasy as far as fantasy itself goes, and though you have less emphasis on "Good versus Bad" here, you still don't get enough motivating storyline to love it for the story's sake.

Where I feel the value of the book comes through is in the characters, which can be quite complex as well. You can love some characters so fully and easily, but it's blemished a little by there being so -many- of them. *Frowns* And I understand, that that is a very odd thing for me to say, considering when I read other books I didn't complain when I had an overabundance of characters that I liked. However as much as I really, really, really loved almost ALL the characters, they seem to me to have been stifled by their environment--and I mean that as literally as I do the storyline itself. There is no magical place that elicits the same kind of wonder or life as you would think. Dacaria, the only place untouched by the perpetual winter of the "evil overlord Ascanet" is just that. The only place untouched. And though the people in it are lovely and charming, and you really could imagine yourself living with warmth and peace there, there is something that promotes restlessness in me. I feel like Kylian (who is a fantastic, but I feel too-downplayed character, by the way) in that I could enjoy my stay there, but like him, I would be drawn to wandering, only coming back very infrequently to visit the people I cared about. *Shakes her head* For all that the book is a "Fantasy" novel, I feel it still lacks that "fantastic" quality to make it a lasting read.

Okay, so what then made me so fond of this book in the first place that I would remember it over the years, right? *Laughs a bit* It can really be cut down to three things. The first, is Eliar. The second is the Wolf Queen herself (for so I will call her to avoid spoilers) and how she chose to live her life, and the creature she became. And the third is the scene where the main character, Tania, has to make the hardest choice ever presented to someone in love, which I cannot elaborate on here, because it would be a magnanimous spoiler.

Let me get the last point out of the way first: I will only say that you have to read it in order to understand it. I'm not one for spoiling books, and will not do so if I think there's even a shred of something that you can get from reading it for yourself. If I had to save you from boredom and agony, then I would tell you, but this book is not bad, for all that it's not amazing either. Therefore, I will say to you instead that you can go and read for yourself to find out that part. It's one of the few that's worth it, because of Eliar. But I will get to that momentarily.

Let me work backwards and talk about the Wolf Queen next. In the book she's a person of legend, but she lives on in this story, having forsaken her mortality and humanity to become a great silver wolf that lives in the frozen forests of the world. For the first time when I was young I met a strong, wild creature who was both animal and human too. When I read about her, and saw that she could still take a human form, while retaining that feral, wild nature in her at the same time, I became fascinated with the idea: that there is no separation between one form and the other, and that she was perfectly both without ever being able to forsake either. Now most people will think, with all the new fads that are out, "Werewolf!" But I will not say that. The term somehow doesn't apply to her. Because she's not that "in-between" feeling human who got a wolf's form and traits. It's like she's always been this form, and she's both at the same time, no difference no matter how she "appears" to people. *Thinks* In fact, for my anime friends, you could almost say that she resembles the wolves in Wolf's Rain more than the now typical and corrupted idea of a werewolf. She is this wild creature: a wolf. And her human form is human, but you never stop seeing her as a wolf either. Though you don't see much of her, she's a truly amazing character, who is one of the very, very rare ones that embodies more than can be explained or that can be seen. To understand who she is, she has to be felt by the reader. And when you read the book, should you so choose, you will see that she is one of the hardest creatures to pin down in terms of what she is, even though you know, inexplicably, that it must be so.

The last thing and probably most worthwhile thing for me that made this book so impressionable is the character of Eliar. He's not even the main character! Why don't I talk about her? (Her name is Tania, by the way, if I have not already mentioned it.) And well... I don't mention her because she's not who captured my heart. I don't hate Tania, nor do I love her. She merely exists for me, and though she does some things that upset me and does other things that bring about my respect for her, I can't say she's a character I can necessarily relate to. ...Eliar, on the other hand... is like a treasure forged so painfully... and so beautifully, that underneath every harsh exterior, every wry and sardonic word, every keen insight and cold reality he puts on you, he warms your heart and draws you in ever closer. I will unabashedly say that I fell in love with him; the first time I read this book... the second time I read it... and now again. I have come to accept now that my foolish pre-teenager's love for this character is now as true and pure as it had probably been then. I saw a character that was destroyed in almost every way possible, and who was shunned by everyone under every normal circumstance. Heck, I just about declared a lasting hatred on Tania because when she first met him she jumped to the same conclusions that... sadly, almost anyone would. Or at least any woman in her situation. But it took only the first few pages for me to see how truly precious and incredibly beautiful he is. I don't even care if he's scarred beyond all recognition of his former elegant stature, or handsome face... his words and his gestures, his cares and concerns and intelligence... it banishes everything else from it. And it teaches my heart a love worth having. He is by far one of the dearest characters I've met in a book, because he gave me a love that I have since recognized only because he first brought it up inside my heart. It's the same protecting, fierce, unyielding love I have for the people that are most important to me in other stories. The people that no one defends, when they should be loving them as hard as I do! That is my belief! And for that reason alone, to experience that kind of love awoken in you, this book became worth much more than its story.

Perhaps my enduring love for this book is ill-grounded if you take it for only what it is: your everyday, normal fantasy story. I cannot say this book is amazing, or even that I greatly enjoyed it. Because I didn't love it. What I love are those three things, and they are enough and great enough to me as things I value enormously for me to stick by this book probably for the rest of my life. Is it incredible? Do I think you should run to your nearest library and read it or order it from offline and get yourself a copy post-haste? (It's out of print.) No. But if you are looking for a book with two amazing, unique characters (and a few more or so~), and a book more than a little lined with romance and the usual fantasy gizmos--then it's a book you can read and probably enjoy. If you're looking for characters to love, and get ideas off of, then read it. That by far is perhaps the most developed part of the book, which itself still leaves a lot to be asked. But the characters speak beyond this author's ability to write them, I feel. They took on their own life and lived: the Wolf Queen and Eliar. If for nothing else, read it for them and a handful of the others. They are a wonderful, worthwhile lot, even if the rest of the book is not.