The second book in Ricardo Pinto's dark fantasy trilogy, the Stone Dance of the Chameleon, begins right where the first book (The Chosen) left off. Masters Carnelian and Obsidian (who is the God Emperor elect) are drugged and trapped in urns, about to be buried alive. The two lovers are then kidnapped out of the imperial capital of Osrakum by slavers and end up with a band of Plainsmen out on the wild Earthsky, an endless expanse filled with nomadic tribes of barbarians and deadly carnivorous creatures. Once healed, Obsidian begins plotting revenge on the people who betrayed him in Osrakum, but Carnelian wants to forsake those plans and live with the Plainsmen in peace.
Most noteworthy about this series is Pinto's skill at creating a richly detailed, truly unique world powered by a complex political and social caste system. Masters have evolved into unfeeling, godlike beings that rule over all other races through fear and violence. When Carnelian and Obsidian see firsthand how the other races exist, their responses couldn't be more different.
As is the case with most fantasy trilogies, The Standing Dead suffers from middle-child syndrome. Newcomers to the series will be lost (reading The Chosen beforehand is a must), and fans who have already read the first book will be frustrated because this middle novel ends just as events are coming to a head. The level of my frustration, however, only goes to show how emotionally invested in this brilliant saga I am. I can't wait to get my hands on the concluding volume of this trilogy, which promises to be as stunning as it will be brutal. Paul Goat Allen