Strout begins a new urban fantasy series with an imaginative if clumsily written tale about an imprisoned guardian spirit and Alexandra Belarus, an artist like her great-great grandfather who designed much of the early New York skyline. While Lexi’s older brother Devon is a royal pain, he enjoys his role as heir apparent of the family real estate empire leaving her free to do what she pleases. That situation abruptly changes when a building collapsed on Devon, killing him instantly. It’s bad enough that Lexi is forced to take an active role in managing her family’s numerous business interests without having strange men jumping out of the woodwork trying to kill her, good thing she has a guardian.
Stanis awoke from long dreams with the compulsion to protect Lexi and soon, the stone gargoyle is hard pressed to keep her alive long enough to discover who is behind all the assassination attempts. Lexi’s best friends Rory and Marshall quickly rally to her support and while Rory actually enjoys the physical challenges, Marshall is more at home in front of a computer then facing bad guys. When Lexi realizes it is possible to restore Stanis’s humanity as well as bring him to full strength, she begins a quest to find the necessary stones, discovering along the way that like her great-great grandfather, she is a Spellmason with amazing powers. To face the ancient family foe, Lexi and her trusty friends face a steep learning curve and learn the tragic circumstances that led to Stanis’s creation.
Inventive and remarkably free of romantic entanglements, this fast moving, inventive fantasy is a nice departure from the typical vampire/shifter/zombie fare. Stanis oozes honor and is certainly the strong if not necessarily silent type. It is remarkable how Stanis’s stony weight can be supported by the many structures he lands in and likely part of the mystery of his creation. One obvious unanswered question is, although Stanis was sworn to protect the family, why Devon wasn’t saved from the building collapse though given his character, maybe no other explanation is necessary. Lexi is an interesting protagonist, at times sassy or whiny, self-reliant or dependant upon her friends; it’s a mix that works. Strout fills in much of the background through running dialog between the characters which doesn’t work as smoothly as could be hoped but given the strength of the storyline, this small flaw is easy to overlook.
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