Estara's Reviews > The Touchstone Trilogy

The Touchstone Trilogy by Andrea K. Höst
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Jan 19, 13

bookshelves: ebook, read-in-2012, favorites, re-read, read-in-2013
Recommended to Estara by: I liked Champion of the Rose
Recommended for: fans of quiet, bookish ya heroines and sf opera/ planetary romance
Read from January 12 to 18, 2013 — I own a copy, read count: 4

** spoiler alert ** There is no way I can even begin to review this objectively because the book hit so many of my personal kink buttons ^^ - if I were in my teens or twenties I would have started hogging the author's back-list as obsessively as I did Mercedes Lackey when I discovered Arrows of the Queen for the first time. For me this book is a 4.5 stars on first read. It might become a favourite reread.

In some way this trilogy reminded me of that experience. First of all you need to like quiet and shy heroines who haven't really got a plan for their own future. Compared to Talia, Cass is not repressed, she is simply fairly bookish and not massively attractive and so she has had a best girlfriend and she has had some experience with boys, but her main emotional stay and stumble-block is her mother (divorced) and in some ways her younger brother - at least when I consider the number of times they are mentioned.

You NEED to like Cass in the first 100 pages - first of all because they are mostly her alone, dealing with the situation she finds herself in, trying to survive and second because this is a diary entry book in first person. If you don't like her voice and herself you won't like the rest of the trilogy either. When she gets found and taken to the other planet, she reports on her conversations as well, but it is always pre-selected according to what she remembers or wants to remember or when she has time to write it down.

I really enjoyed the situation that rescuing Cass was just a side-effect of a regular exploration by the Tare Setari (the psychic space ninjas that are mentioned in the description ^^ - quite correctly) on their old homeworld of Muina, which has been deserted for thousands of years (and why that is so and how that will change is a major part of the plot).

She is also not the only stray that has ever wandered through the tears in space into a different part of the universe, so the Tare bureaucratic machinery originally treats her like they treat all strays.

It is only when she shows reactions that are quite different from other strays - and which threaten her health more than once, that the Setari decide to keep more of an eye on her. And I thought this was another strong point, if hard to read: Cass regularly gets used as an experimental tool, even as she does it in controlled environments.

Because the Tare Setari find that they have no precedent with her powers in their knowledge, the experiments regularly get too dangerous and she finds herself in sickbay a lot. Even if it isn't for injuries, they observe and examine her there. She is under constant level two monitoring of her vital signs and sight - the Tare use nanites to create a virtual reality network that every Tare has integrated into their body.

They seem to be fairly democratic, but when they can't judge a potential threat, the monitoring isn't optional. This is why Cass keeps her diary writing, because English remains the language no one else understands - no one from Earth has become a stray before.

The virtual network which works like a computer-enhanced network and does NOT work to make you telepathic - none of the Setari have telepathy although they have telekinesis and elemental powers for fire, lightning - allows for people having at least private space to think, I liked that.

So Lab Rat One shows how Cass finds her own place in Tare and Setari life, how she manages to balance cooperation and communication of her own needs so that the Setari have an interest in accommodating her wishes - as a matter of fact she cooperates a whole lot because she has common sense enough to know that she wouldn't have survived long on Muina on her own (although she can be annoyed at the testing and exasperated, going as far as decorating her clothes with a drawing of a lab rat), and while the tests and the inclusion into Setari work are dangerous, they are dangerous for the Setari, too. Some of them start building a personal relationship with Cass.

There's this one guy - very repressed to everyone, not just Cass, very perfectionist - who was one of the two Setari who found her and who saves Cass from making a mistake and letting the memory/dream space monsters -the Ionoth, which the Setari fight - into Earth space when she dreams herself into her old home. After that he starts being someone she is very aware of and grows to long to be with, but Cass is shy and she's starting to be empathetic (I think she NEEDs to become so, because her life now depends on interpreting what others want from her): she realizes that he is NOT interested, and that his powers make him aware of her longing and he avoids her.

This is one of my kink buttons, because that's exactly what I did as a teenager: fall in love with one guy and only getting my nerve together to confess to him after knowing him for roughly two and a half years. And when he wasn't interested, trying and succeeding in elegantly fading into the background (I don't believe in forcing your love onto people who aren't interested). I would have been as mortified about Cass's dream powers, as she was.

So Cass slowly develops various personal friendships, the Setari and Tare slowly realise how important her powers are and the stakes get higher with the work she does, which leads to more recuperation in sickbay. Her increased skill in the development of her powers and the outward threat of the Ionoth led by the self-aware Crutzach (who don't seem to be memories or dreams) eventually lead to her kidnapping, to Cass accidentally paving the way to opening Muina for resettlement and discovery of major bits of the problematic past for Tare, their fellow former Muinans Kolar and Nura. This will become another fascinating strand of the story: discovery, research and resettlement of Muina.

During that time there is this subtle giving of more agency to Cass, of her not feeling so totally at the mercy of her rescuers, but being of value. Of being able to speak the language well enough that she can back up her complaints about certain ways she is treated with explanations and of another really quite nice Setari becoming interested in her.

At the end of Lab Rat One - at the end of half a year of Cass living on Tare - the boy she has fallen so deeply for finally changes his mind about what he wants - he had fallen for her much later, but very deeply and he never had that deep a relationship before and his exacting standards didn't really like what his emotions did to him (it reminded me a bit of the idea of the original Spock being in love ^^, very uncomfortable feeling).

I like the fact that neither Cass nor Kaoren Ruuel change a lot for the other, really. They just find to their surprise that they fit far better than either of them thought, that the other can give them a level of emotional support that they haven't had before. Cass powers seem to lighten the load that Ruuel's sight powers give him, and for Cass the total devotion that the single-mindedness of Ruuel brings into their love removes most of her loneliness.

She really comes first with him (which his teenage sister can't handle at all, really) Also, he may be arrogant of nature, but time has tempered that even before he met Cass, and she doesn't mind his willingness to excel as long as he doesn't force her to do the same.

The final part of the trilogy, Caszandra , has the big resolution of the outside plot: what to do about the increasing Ionoth, what about the Crutzach, what about Muina's past? Cass in her Touchstone role again has a lot to do with it. There's a huge amount of drama involved in the death of an entire planet(moon?) and what to do with its survivors (mostly children - only about 8000 survivors in all).

I admire Cass for deciding that - just as she was given a place and eventually made herself a home among the Setari (to the extent that she would like her Earth family to come to Tare and Muina, but not go back herself) - she would personally give a home to three orphans who, because of their problematic role in their own society, are unlikely to get the support they need, whatever happens to the survivors.

So Cass and Ruuel end up as the guardians of two ten-year-olds and a four-year-old. And when the big plot with the Crutzach and the true past of Muina comes to a climax - she even ends up with another 11-year-old ward ^^. And sends her diaries via the next gate to Earth back to her mum in Sydney.

Weaknesses I still remember: (view spoiler)

ETA: A 150 page novella of more detailed happy ending (not that the one we have here isn't satisfying, but if you want to know who marries whom and who lives where and who has babies, now that the main war is over - this is the freebie for you) is free to download as Gratuitous Epilogue at Smashwords!
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Yes, the third read was just as satisfying ^^ - I seem to average a read every two or three months - clearly a comfort reread. (August 2012)
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Fourth read (Jan. 2013) - consistenly captivates me and takes me away *sigh* Now I no longer devour it, I can see more of what the side characters do, lovely interweaving.
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Reading Progress

02/18/2012 page 440
51.76% "For some reason GoodReads showed me reading the hardcover - I'm actually reading the Smashwords edtion which comes to 820 pages on my e-reader"
02/19/2012 page 640
75.29% "I really liked the final development of the middle book - and because I have spent so much time from Cass's viewpoint - I have the feeling this is consistent with her significant other's personality (although I could have done without the "punishing kiss" bit, glad that didn't take too long). Lab Rat One is really mostly about Cass sort of finding her place in the myriad previous relationships among the Setari."
03/31/2012 page 700
82.0% "This remains a perfect comfort re-read for me. I rarely reread so soon after the first read through, but this just takes me away and leaves me cheering Cass along."
01/12/2013 page 40
4.0% "I desperately need a comfort read right now, and since it's a new year Goodreads is actually going to count this (even though as only one book, grrr)." 8 comments
01/15/2013 page 250
29.0% "Fairly near the start of Lab Rat One - and I can confirm again that Cassandra's woes and triumphs take me out of myself as much as ever."
01/16/2013 page 450
52.0% "I just read the epic snow fight. It's such a lovely break, even as Cassandra still has to be carted around (mostly) by the telekinetics because of her burned feet. And I remember how surprised I was that they'd organize it in the first place, and that the Setari gave it their own spin when I read it the first time. *happy sigh*"

Comments (showing 1-10 of 10) (10 new)

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message 1: by Li (new) - rated it 5 stars

Li I have been following your updates - I think you got me at the Arrows comparison!


message 2: by Estara (last edited Feb 21, 2012 03:07PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Estara Heee ^^. It really is - if you like Cass's voice - just a really great romp with the gratuitous epilogue - free! - as a happy end extension, because you already get the happy end in the trilogy itself.

Oh and lots of nods to current geekdom, and some Australian lingo (August is deepest winter by the way, even on Muina and I never knew stickybeak before reading this book - I love my e-reader dictionary function).

Do read the huge excerpt first (on Smashwords, or here), because 8.99 $ is expensive if you can't stand the voice. On the other hand it is cheaper than buying them singly. I'd have bought them singly if she hadn't released the trilogy, though.


message 3: by Li (new) - rated it 5 stars

Li Thanks for the tip - will remember that as I had a look on Amazon and thought it was on the expensive side, didn't realise it was an actual trilogy. And I had no idea what stickybeak meant either!


Laura (Kyahgirl) this sounds so good I went to Smashwords immediately and bought it! Can't wait to read it.


Estara Don't forget to download the free epilogue as well! As long as you like Cass, you'll enjoy it - I'll be 45 this year and I had no problem feeling with her and enjoying/dreading the ride (depending on what was happening).


Laura (Kyahgirl) Thanks, got it! :-)


Laura (Kyahgirl) 'comfort re-read' is a good term. its so wonderful to sink into a book you know you love and find it just as welcoming and engaging as the first time....or the second time...or maybe the 10th? :-)


Estara Well, considering I've been spacing them every two or three months since I bought them this February... I ought to at least get one more reread in this year heh - and none of the rereads counts for the GoodReads challenge :P, they only count them a year apart.


message 9: by Katharine (new) - added it

Katharine Kimbriel I need to go read a sample of this, you love it so much!


Estara Yes, you do! And I do. There are huge excerpts at Smashwords, but the Kindle excerpt seems to be just as huge. Looks as if it's at least 100 pages.


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