The island nation of Ferranda is the jewel of the Acrarian Kingdom, and its Founder, Aritz a Mata, is revered as a god amongst men. But twenty-five years ago, Aritz was merely a man, a colonizer, an Invader seeking glory and fame in the name of his King and Queen, and Ferranda was a nameless union of indigenous Tribes, reverent of the heightened powers and aptitudes granted to them by their Animal Deities, but sundered by the foreigners claiming their lands to the south.
In the unconquered north, the Stone Tribe has for fifteen years offered a safe haven for the southern Tribes displaced by Aritz’s Invaders, whose occupying march north has been ostensibly halted by a dense forest barrier dividing north and south. Among the Stone people lives Sen, an outcast for the circumstances of her birth, preserved in society only by her status as daughter of her Tribe’s Chief. Forever relegated to the fringes of society, she is forced to watch as countless of her kin, including her sister and brother, complete their rites of passage into adulthood and accordingly earn their aptitudes by the Deity to whom they share an affinity – the Bear, the Wolf, or the Owl.
Despite this, Sen finds comfort in her life of forced solitude with her close inner circle, but hers is a comfort in days of waning tenuous peace. When Aritz’s technologically-advanced forces push north, Sen is thrust into a singular quest to rescue one of her precious few captured in the ensuing struggle. While her goal is earnest – save someone dear to her and prove her worth to her Tribe – her people’s goal is far mor dire: survival in the face of uncertainty.
Joe Lee. Joe Lee. Joe Lee. Joe Leeeee.
I’m begging you please don’t make me cry, my man.
Joe Lee. Joe Lee. Joe Lee. Joe Leeeee.
Please don’t make me cry just because you can.
Now that my plea and totally appropriate rendition of Dolly Parton’s Jolene is out of the way, I want to talk about the heartbreaking The Bleeding Stone by Joseph John Lee.
The Bleeding Stone is one of those books that I didn’t fully understand the conceit of beforehand, and I still wound up fully embracing its world anyway. In my mind, there is no doubt that this was a worthy SPFBO semi-finalist, and really would have made a worthy finalist for any blog. No, that is not hyperbole. I looked forward to every moment I could find to spend with it, and I was sad when I realized my time with it was over.
The Bleeding Stone tells a story that many of us are familiar with though many of us choose to forget—an invading force colonizes and dehumanizes a group of indigenous people. Though the story starts with the perspective of an invader in the present, we are treated to a variety of points of view throughout the history of the invasion and subsequent occupation.
Most of this story is told by a single family—the family of the chief of the Stone Tribe. The principal narrator of which is Sen, the chief’s outcast daughter. Though the narrative revolves around Sen’s actions and backstory, each member of her family gets a chance to shine. While I could tell you a bit about them, or why Sen is an outcast, I think a lot of this story hinges on discovery through reading.
As the story weaves across time and character, we discover more about the world and the characters—both as they are now and clues to the past that formed them. And that’s a part of the beauty of this story. This is an intensely intimate slow-burn of a read, but you would think that I had just described a sprawling epic.
Joseph Lee makes absolute magic of taking the big world he has built and condensing it to the point of view of his characters—never giving us an easy answer as to who is in the right and where are we going from here.
The Bleeding Stone never shies away from the awful truth of colonialism, alcoholism, and betrayal. It plays with the ideas of memory and tradition. In many ways, this is a difficult read. There is trauma, death, and wicked characters. But this is a worthwhile read. And potentially, necessary.
Perhaps more than the heroes, I found myself thinking about the villains. Characters with their own goals and biases that felt very human. That is a strength of the character work in this novel—every character felt believable in their own way. Even when you hate a character, you can still see where they are coming from.
However, that does lead me to my one criticism of the work. There were certain characters that I felt could have used more context. Though their actions made sense, their motivations felt a bit vague. To me, this stood in contrast to our main cast which felt fully realized. Though even with that said, it didn’t detract from the overarching story.
Part of the reason for this was the deftness with which the author crafted the narrative and the gorgeous prose. “Buckets of talent” was something I found myself thinking more than once. There are a few authors that elicit that response from me. I fully expect that there is a bright future ahead for Joe Lee and his Spellbinders and Gunslingers.
Don’t miss out. Buy this book from Silverstones, and read it. Support a fantastic dude and this store!