The first two books in this YA quest fantasy quartet are suffused with Scottish myth and magic!
Books: The Stone of Destiny and The Cauldron of Life by Caroline Logan
Read before: No
Publication date: 1st October 2019 and 8th October 2020, respectively
Ownership: Ebook of the first book and paperback of the second sent free of charge by Cranachan Publishing. All opinions my own.
Content warnings: mentions of child and baby death; violence, causing injury and death; some minor body horror.
Ailsa is a changeling; a faerie child swapped for a human baby, she’s outcast from society, she lives a lonely life by herself until she comes across two selkies on her beach and saves them from certain death. Suddenly, she’s dragged into a quest to help them find the Stone of Destiny and save the kingdom – and things only get bigger from there. Because Ailsa’s faerie mother might be someone very dangerous indeed, and there’s a cataclysmic war brewing… As always, when discussing multiple books in the series it’s very hard to avoid spoilers entirely, so although I will give a specific warning right before I talk about anything in depth, if you want to go into this series completely unknowing, you should probably just click away now.
I very much enjoyed the magic that fills the world – beside the main cast’s various species, there are also many encounters with creatures straight out of mythology, from murderous kelpies to a terrifying nuckelavee. I love a book full of atmosphere, and from the windswept beach to the dark forest, the settings and inhabitants of this world feel very vivid. On the whole, even though Ailsa is older than the typical YA protagonist at 19, the books feel like fairly young YA – although there’s a little bit of romance, the story has more in common with traditionally middle grade discovering-yourself-while-on-a-quest fantasy than YA pacing and plot. I don’t in any way mean this as a bad thing! But if you go in expecting the kind of punchy, heroic, romance-focused lost princess plot beats of a YA, you may find these books something of a surprise. I’m certainly pretty baffled by the comparisons to Outlander and Game of Thrones, as neither the violence, politics, or sex are present! There’s plenty of action, and the 400-odd pages of both books are very quick to read, but there’s a contemplative quality to the narrative that (for me at least) reads slightly younger than the standard. They’d make great transitions from MG to YA.
Ailsa is a prickly heroine, which is really refreshing to read about. She’s a total recluse and very suspicious to begin with, and it’s lovely to watch her warm up to the concept of having friends and discover that she isn’t as worthless as she’s always been told. She’s very much the straight man in the story, with the other characters providing the humour, particularly bickering selkie siblings Harris and Iona. I really enjoyed their dynamic – Harris is a fun-loving jokester, while Iona is a little more reserved, but their easy chatter really helps to pull Ailsa out of her shell. Ailsa doesn’t like Harris at all to begin with, but the spark that grows between them is sweet and fun to read, and I found myself quite invested in their romance…
[this is where that spoiler warning comes in]
… which is why I was a little surprised in the second book to find that Ailsa’s budding romance with Harris had been thrown out of the window! He’s captured at the end of book one, so is absent for most of the main book (though he gets a few POV chapters of his own). Ailsa, while on her mission to rescue him, goes from kissing him passionately in book one to deciding he’s definitely more of a friend in book two without us ever seeing her thought process there. Part of this is, I suppose, to make space for new romance option Maalik, a gentle demon who Ailsa becomes magically linked to, but it made it quite difficult for me to be invested in that when I was thinking ‘but have we forgotten about Harris??’ and then being surprised that it had been shut down so firmly. That being said, Maalik is a great character that I loved Ailsa’s relationship with, and I do appreciate the author steering away from the typical YA love triangle. I suppose we’ll have to see where things go in the rest of the series…
Book two ended explosively, and I’m very excited to see where Ailsa and her friends end up next on their quest, given the huge revelations that occurred. If you’re looking for an atmospheric read that’s still easy to fall into, this series is a great pick. Four out of five cats!