At first glance, The Vanishing Sculptor is a straightforward adventure-quest story. with a lot of familiar elements. There’s a lost treasure to recover, a journey to undertake, villains to vanquish, and a world-shattering threat hanging over the whole enterprise that must be neutralized. The heroine, Tipper, is a winsome young lady with a lot to learn about the world and herself. She has an assortment of friends to help with her quest–a wizard, a warrior, an artist, a scholar, and a wise advisor. There are also dragons, which are much more than the sluggish housepets they initially appear to be.
That last point is one element of a major theme that characterized the story for me: Appearances Are Deceiving. Just about everybody and everything in this story has some hidden depths or talents that nobody suspects, and sometimes even the individual in question isn’t aware of the full extent of their abilities. Little sculptures hold the fabric of the world together. The absent-minded wizard isn’t quite as random as he appears. The young dragonkeeper is much more than the custodian of an isolated castle. Tipper’s seemingly senile mother has method to her madness, and even Tipper herself has a power she never imagined.
In the course of learning to not take anything at face value, Tipper and her friends, and, incidentally, the reader, begin to see that there are real, powerful, unseen forces that shape their world. Tipper’s people have a kind of agnostic acknowledgement of a supreme being, but it quickly becomes clear that this quest has been orchestrated by a very real Deity, Wulder, who wants to reveal a revolutionary, liberating truth to the entire world. It’s a huge paradigm shift for Tipper and her skeptical advisor, Beccaroon, and they don’t fully embrace it at the end of the book, but the path ahead is clear.
There were a couple of things about the story that didn’t quite connect with me. Ms. Paul has an affinity for long names, and I acknowledge that there’s a lot of preexisting worldbuilding for this universe, and things need to be consistent, but every time I confronted a tongue-twisting name, even one I’d seen before, it interrupted the flow of the story. I felt a bit like Charlie Brown, who, when asked how he handled the Russian names in The Brothers Karamazov, replied that he simply “beeped” over them.
The other thing that tripped me up a little was how characters began stressing how important honesty was to Wulder, even going out of their way to reveal information about their quest to potential enemies because it would be wrong to deceive them, yet when grilled by a town sheriff about a fight in an enemy’s house that resulted in the death of said enemy, they spun a story that sidestepped what actually happened, placing implied blame for the incident on the enemy’s thugs. This yielded a “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” resolution in which the sheriff tacitly acknowledged they’d done him a favor by taking out the bad guy.
Ethically speaking, I’ve got a lot more difficulty with lying to an officer of the law than withholding information from someone who intends to do me harm and may pose a threat to the entire world. Not a huge point, perhaps, but I think it’s important to be consistent about these things.
The WaterBrook Press paperback I purchased has beautiful cover art and nice black and white sketches of the three pivotal sculptures inside. Ms. Paul includes a helpful glossary of important people, places, and things, as well as a map of the land of Chiril, where the story is set. A subtitle on the cover declares it “A Fantastic Journey of Discovery for All Ages,” and I think that’s truth in advertising. I enjoyed this story and expect it will appeal to just about anyone who likes fantasy.
Tomorrow, I’ll take a look at what my fellow-travelers on the Tour are saying about The Vanishing Sculptor. Until then, please pay them a visit on your own:
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
Todd Michael Greene
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Eve Nielsen (posting later in the week)
John W. Otte
Rachel Starr Thomson