Although this is billed as a sci-fi thriller, there’s not so much of the science fiction about it. The action is firmly grounded in the here-and-now, on earth. In England. Mostly in the Midlands. In fact, there’s so much detail about the city streets and the routes travelled in the ‘roadtrip’ segments that you could probably follow the characters’ progress, step by step (if you had nowt else of interest to do with your life). The protagonists are entirely humdrum human. They’re facing an implacable alien with an unknown – probably hostile – agenda, but this is speculative fiction, not star-spanning science fantasy.
Similarly, The Stone Man isn’t really a thriller. It sustains an intriguing premise with a strong sense of purpose, and hooks the reader with a slow dance of seven veils, gradually revealing more of the Stone Man’s unpleasant purpose. But it’s far from non-stop thrills, spills and plot twists. In fact, it’s a verbose, lengthy novel which is one of those slow-burn stories that takes its time to build tension and deliver the goods. After investing an unusual amount of hours (for me) in its extensive passages of description, the payoff was reasonably rewarding – a satisfying conclusion to a substantial story.
There are several aspects to The Stone Man which are particularly rewarding: the creature itself and the very credible explanation for its strange behaviour. The female senior soldier – it’s unusual to see a woman character being given a role of gravitas and not merely used as the next victim in line. The clean, easy to read text – it’s not 100% perfect but it’s better prepared than many indie ebooks.
Then there are a few aspects which I liked less; the way the whole international aspect of the crisis was ignored (were there no other visitations in other countries? Did no other nation consider bombing Coventry into next century?). And some of the blow-by-blow, step-by-step minutiae slowed the pace too much for my liking. An editor could’ve trimmed the text by 30% and it probably would’ve made the book twice as enjoyable to read.
I should also say that there’s a substantial amount of back-matter or bonus material in here, so if your ereader displays the remaining pages then be aware that the final 20% at least is afterword, sample chapters and – I liked this bit – an alternative ending.
Grouses aside, the author is to be applauded for realising an original idea in fine style. This was an interesting read: it’ll be interesting to see what Luke Smitherd can do as he hones his talents in future books. My suggestion? Less would be more.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
The Stone Man by Luke Smitherd is available as an ebook and paperback