Phoenix Pick 2011
(first published by HarperCollins Eos, 1999)
Trade Paperback: $14.99
Long ago, when the worlds were one…
So begins the Tale, the ancestral legend Bron’s family has guarded for a thousand years. Once, they were the keepers of the Stone, the most sacred object on earth, from which all the powers of Mind are drawn. But when the conflict between Mind and Hand split the worlds apart, the Stone was seized by an ambitious sorcerer. To keep the new world from contamination, he created rigid Limits circumscribing which tools might be made and which knowledge might be pursued—laws brutally enforced by a group of Guardians known as the Arm of the Stone.
For centuries, Bron’s family has concealed the secret of its heritage. But when Bron’s brother invents a new kind of plow—an unpardonable heresy in the world of the Guardians—the Arm of the Stone reaches in once again to tear them apart. Fleeing for his life, Bron vows revenge. To strike the Guardians down, he will become a Guardian himself. But Bron cannot know how much that choice will change him. Nor does he anticipate the hatred of a powerful enemy, or the love of a beautiful Guardian named Liliane…whose mission is to destroy him.
This book was so compelling that I put everything else aside and read it. It is a really brilliant novel…a most unusual and fascinating novel, exceedingly well done.
- Anne McCaffrey -
Involving fantasy…treated with unusual depth.
- Locus -
The Arm of the Stone is an intelligent, fascinating novel…the complicated politics and social structure of this world give it a depth most fantasy novels lack.
- SF Site -
A rich story about human nature, this fantasy is a thought-provoking page-turner. The characters are deeply etched, and the plot turns are credible yet arresting…A thoroughly enjoyable read.
- Kliatt -
Excellently crafted…Strauss has created a world rich in detail, fascinating characters whom you instantly like or dislike and who never lose your interest…I look forward to seeing more of her intriguing work.
- Vector (Journal of the British SF Association) -
Neatly avoiding many of the cliches that seem to permeate the epic fantasy genre, Strauss creates a world from a fascinating premise. An exciting and unusual novel which lovers of epic fantasy will not want to miss.
- The Internet Writing Journal-
Once I started reading this book, I couldn’t put it down.
- Paul Goat Allen, B&N Explorations -
Highly recommended…I’m not above begging for another intelligent, well-crafted work by this excellent author.
- Under the Covers Book Reviews -
This intricately wrought fantasy is built layer upon carefully crafted layer to create a well thought out and beautifully constructed world…an outstanding fantasy novel.
- Diana Tixier Herald for Genreflecting -
The Arm of the Stone delivers both an engrossing trip through the story and one of the most impressive climaxes seen in the genre of late.
- Sharon Schultz-Elsing for Curled Up With a Good Book -
I was mesmerized by the dialogue, the characterization, the way all the people in this rich tale came together…This book will leave you breathless and wanting more.
- Titan Magazine -
The Roundhead lowered the parchment. No one moved or spoke. On the dais, Serle stared straight ahead; he gave no sign of having heard the harsh phrases of his sentence.
Bron gazed up at his brother’s bruised face. He was numb, the kind of numbness that precedes agonizing pain. Strangely, the physical reality of punishment—the lashing, the House of Reeducation, the harsh Watch that was the price of the family’s survival—seemed less terrible than the excision of Serle’s name. With a few words he had been transformed into a ghost, his existence canceled, as if he had never lived at all.
Next to Bron, Annis was sobbing into her hands. Elene and Olesin wept into their mother’s skirts. Alse’s fingers were pressed against her mouth.
“It’s not death, Alse.” Jevon placed shaking hands on her shoulders.
“I prayed for death.” Her voice was dry and hard. “Death would be kinder.”
One of the men in leather came forward. He unlocked the manacles on Serle’s hands and removed his shirt. He tied a strip of cloth tightly around Serle’s eyes and thrust a piece of wood between his teeth. Turning Serle roughly about, he bound him to the stake with rope, stretching his arms high above his head. The second man raised a whip. It had a short handle, and six flexible braided-leather thongs. It would cut the skin on the first lash, and with the twentieth lay bare the bone.
The Roundhead held up his hand. The lashman drew back his arm. The sun, beating down from a cloudless sky, flooded the faces of the villagers; it poured over the dais, the officials and the Roundheads, Serle’s straining arms and broad white back. Bron felt his head swim. It was, exactly, an image from his dreams the night before.
“One,” the Roundhead said.
The whip whistled as it traveled through the air. There was a sharp crack as it made contact with flesh. Six thin red lines sprang up on Serle’s back. He made no sound.
“Two,” the Roundhead said. The lash fell again, a second set of welts neatly crossing the first.
A simmering pressure had begun to grow inside Bron’s head. Distantly, he could hear weeping—Annis, Elene, Olesin—and strange muffled noises from Alse. He saw Serle’s arms jerk with each blow, his hands clenched against the rope that bound them to the stake. He saw the passionless faces of the Roundheads, their duty done, the righteous gravity of the town officials, conscious of the passage of justice. Behind him he felt the crowd, avidly focused on his brother’s anguish, their own virtue affirmed by each crack of the whip.
With the sixth lash Serle cried out at last, an awful ragged sound. Bron knew what the loss of control must cost his brother. The lash fell again; again, Serle cried out.
With that second cry, the pressure in Bron’s head broke. Deep inside him, in the darkest spaces of his secret self, something arrowed forward. His barriers yielded like shredding cloth. The thing tore up through the layers of his consciousness, flooding his mind and body as if he were no more than an empty jar. Still it swelled, an endless indrawn breath, until he was no longer able to hold it and it exploded outward, a cataclysmic burst that almost took his consciousness with it, a tidal wave of power sweeping irresistibly over the crowd, the square, the entire village.
Beside Bron, Annis was still as a stone. On the dais the lash was arrested in midair; the counting Roundhead stood immobile, his mouth open on a number yet unspoken. The crowd was motionless, caught between one breath and another. Birds hung suspended in the sky, as if they had been painted on the clouds. Every living thing was frozen.
All but Bron. He was the center, the fulcrum of a delicate balance. Power spread out from within him, effortless, like a great net. He did not know why the power was there or where it had come from—yet he understood that whatever he wished, he had only to think of it and it would be so.
He thought of Serle’s bonds, broken; and they were. He thought of Serle, released from stillness; and he was.
It took Serle a moment to realize that he was no longer restrained. Slowly he lowered his hands. He turned, his face bewildered, like someone in a dream. He looked at the broken ropes about his wrists, at the motionless lash and the arrested crowd. There was a pause that seemed to last forever. Then, quick as a cat, he turned and raced across the dais. He leaped into the crowd, toppling bodies like trees, and was gone.
The power was no longer effortless. Sparks had begun to dance around the edges of Bron’s vision. He could feel his mind and body straining. Grimly he held on. But determination was not enough. His strength gave out all at once. The power disappeared like a thunderclap. Darkness rushed in to fill the void where it had been.
Want more? Download the first chapter