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The Chosen: Book One of The Stone Dance of the Chameleon Trilogy

Ricardo Pinto

Bantam Press / TransWorld Publishers

UK Hardcover First Edition

ISBN 0-593-04171-2

Publication Date: 01-02-1999

495 Pages; £17.99

Date Reviewed: 12-16-02  

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2002



Fantasy, Horror


The label of fantasy usually carries with it a set of expectations. If a book is called a fantasy, it will involve a sword, a quest, a young man coming of age, an adventure. Yet fantasy is an appealing genre exactly because it's the best description for novels like Ricardo Pinto's 'The Chosen', which includes only one of those elements. 'The Chosen' is a decidedly different when considered as a novel, let alone if considered as a fantasy. Pinto eschews most of the trappings of typical genre literature, or piles them on so thick they might suffocate the reader. He revels in minute descriptions of every event that falls into the characters' purview, piling on the detail until the blizzard of words he hurls from the page threatens to drown the reader's patience as well as his perception of the world actually surrounding him. If you let yourself fall under Pinto prose spells, you can easily lose yourself in his world of words. There's also the possibility that you might equally well asphyxiate in the emerald green oceans of descriptions that roll across the pages.

As 'The Chosen' begins, Carnelian Suth is the troubled teenage son of Lord Suth, the Master of The Hold. The Hold is a remote castle on a forbidding island somewhere removed from the civilized world, which is mentioned now and again, called Osrakum. Events conspire that will drive Suth and his son to Osrakum. The events that transpire however will be described practically step by step, as will every bit of clothing and room that Carnelian happens to pass through. Pinto has designed a society so hidebound and hemmed in by laws and traditions that the highest classes wear masks, and if the lower classes glimpse the masters without their masks, they're quickly and bloodily slaughtered, unless they're slowly tortured first.

'The Chosen' is not a novel for someone looking for a bit of light diversion. It's filled to the brim and beyond with lovingly described torture and violence and cruelty. Pinto has constructed a very bizarre and elaborate world in his imagination. It's startlingly original and very well described. The visions he presents the reader with come to life in the reader's mind. Unfortunately, after they do, the characters simply walk through them. To say that this novel has a glacial pace is being generous. If a character walks from his seat to the door, you can be sure that Pinto will describe in agonizing detail the feet, the socks, the shoes, and the doorknob. There are pages and pages of descriptions of dressing in this novel. If you took them all out, the book would be at least a hundred pages shorter. Or at least it seems that way.

But Pinto's complex descriptions do build up a clear picture of the elaborately bizarre world he's conceived, a world that's reminiscent of 'Gormenghast' in the complexity of its laws and traditions. Alas, whereas Mervyn Peake liked to breathe a bit of humor in his world, Pinto dwells in a perpetual state of teenage angst. You could call the book Goth-in-ghast. Pinto also takes time out to honor Clive Barker, with a nod to the delicate cruelty of 'The Books of Blood'.

For many readers, this book will be a startling and fabulous read. It is at least utterly original, and the society described offers enough fascinating hints and includes some very bizarre creations that one suspects might have a interesting origin. You don't get a hint of how things came to the pass that is described so well in 'The Chosen', however. You do get the fattest slab of angst this side of a teenage sock hop. You get a lot of beautiful prose and a cast of unpleasant or sickly characters. For readers who adore the Anne Rice novels, 'The Chosen' might be a huge revelation. For readers who think fantasy is only elves and swords, 'The Chosen' is a bulging bubble of hallucinogenic imagination. For readers who are fascinated with strange cultures and odd costumes, 'The Chosen' is a runway seat for a haute-couture fashion show. For readers who like a novel where the proportion of plot to page exceeds one step per paragraph, 'The Chosen' might prove more problematic. Set your tolerance for description to eleven, your horror-o-meter to twelve and your pace to cosmic, and you're ready to make the most of this unusual book. If your dials don't go that high, they might after you're finished reading 'The Chosen'. It'll be your call whether that's a good thing.