Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category

Things that just don’t work for me: ineffectual protagonists

October 23rd, 2014

So, Shannon Hale’s THE GOOSE GIRL.

Goose Girl

This was recommended to me by any number of people. I just finished listening to it last night. And I liked it. I really did. But.

The thing is, Hale’s story keeps closely to the original Brothers Grimm fairy tale. This plot requires a somewhat helpless heroine, which would be a problem to overcome right there. But then where there are departures from the original plot, they make the “helpless heroine” problem worse, not better.

A small but very important difference is that in the original fairy tale, when the lady-in-waiting forces the princess to switch places with her, the princess actually takes an oath not to tell anybody the truth. In Hale’s version, the princess (Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, love the name!!!) doesn’t take such an oath, and so when she vacillates and hesitates and wavers and never tells the king what happened even though she has several difference chances to do so, it is hard to excuse her.

Yes, Ani is shy and tongue-tied. We get that. That is well established beforehand. Even so, when push comes to shove and she’s right there in front of the king and she looses her nerve, I couldn’t help but feel like, Really? Are you serious? And then she spends about a year not doing anything effective. She doesn’t save her horse Falada — which is true to the fairy tale, but really? You let your enemies kill your horse? Seriously? She runs away, she is saved by strangers, she runs away again and hides and is caught and is saved again by strangers and in all this time she does nothing whatsoever to foil the bad guys (other than hide and survive). She finds out her maid, the false princess, is planning to start a war and destroy her home country in order to cover up her treachery, and does absolutely nothing about this for months — months! — while her enemy’s plans go forward.

It’s true that when she does eventually tell the king the truth, naturally at the very last moment, he doesn’t believe her. But that requires the king to be a total idiot, so much so that my suspension of disbelief stumbled hard. He is not presented earlier in the story as a fool, so it seem obvious that if Ani had told him the truth right at the beginning, he would have investigated — just her hair would have been plenty to require an investigation! — proof would in fact have been easy to come by, and poof, the story would be much shorter and less tense. Her horse wouldn’t have been killed, her enemies would have been defeated, and everybody would have lived happily ever after with no need for geese.

I did have other problems with the story, like why include the animal speaking anyway since that was never important? What about her mother’s handkerchief? But basically I was bothered by the Ani’s helplessness.

I have had this exact problem with other stories that I ought to have loved. The one that comes to mind is another fairy tale retelling: WILDWOOD DANCING by Juliet Marillier, an author I love, btw.

Wildwood

I fell so in love with Marillier’s writing in DAUGHTER OF THE FOREST, which is a very beautiful retelling of The Seven Swans. I loved the sequels, too. But WILDWOOD DANCING (The Twelve Dancing Princesses) was ruined for me by the complete ineffectual handwringing helplessness of the protagonist, Jena. When Jena’s cousin Cezar begins to take over everything Jena loves, no one but Jena sees what he’s doing and where it will lead. Jena sees all this clearly, and does nothing at all to stop him. For months and months, she frets and worries and agonizes and completely fails to do anything whatsoever that is in any way useful.

Of course the reader knows that at the end, Jena will suddenly step up and do something heroic. But three hundred and fifty pages of helpless inefficacy is so terribly, terribly frustrating to read about. If you’re the protagonist, then it’s your job to to do something clever to foil the bad guys. Then other stuff goes wrong and gives you another problem to solve. But it is not okay to just stand there and bewail whatever evil is happening right before your eyes and do nothing to stop it.

I mean, can you imagine Miles Vorkosigan just sitting there for months while the bad guys stomp around doing anything they want and having everything their way? It is to laugh, right?

Is it possible that some readers feel that passivity and helplessness can be attractive and sympathetic? In SFF, ineffectuality seems to me to be strictly a thing for the occasional female protagonist. Outside SFF, I can think of passive male protagonists. I think the romantic antihero as exemplified by Young Werther is passive and helpless in a very similar way — and even more frustrating to read about without the SFF setting.

Anyway, SFF or not, I’m pretty sure there is nothing at all a writer can do to make me like an ineffectual protagonist.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponBuffer this page

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on October 23rd, 2014

How to handle negative reviews

October 22nd, 2014

Chuck Wendig has an entertaining post up: Five ways to respond to a negative review: a helpful guide. Funny! Also topical, as it happens. I’m sure it’s not a coincidence that Chuck posted about negative reviews this week!

Those of you who aren’t in the writer/blogger Twitter stream and who don’t happen to follow the right blogs, might have missed this thing where an author named Katherine Hale tracked down a particular reviewer and stalked her — went to her actual house, called her at home and at work, etc. It was big news on my Twitter a couple days ago, and no wonder.

Personally, I think Hale actually must be suffering from some kind of emotional dysfunction, not that I’m a psychiatrist, but read the article if you like and I think you’ll agree that her actions and thoughts were not normal throughout any part of the story she relates. From obsessively making corrections to finished work already on the shelf, through tweeting while drunk, right along to actually getting stalkery and scary. It was all rather disturbing. I don’t think it’s appropriate to pile on Hale, though, since she does in fact appear to be actually crazy. (I do think it would be perfectly appropriate for the blogger to press criminal charges, since being crazy does not mean you get to stalk people and it might be a good idea for the blogger to hire a lawyer and forcibly point this out.) But the great villain of the piece is actually The Guardian, which saw fit, for some reason, to publish Hale’s article as though it approves of stalking. Some editor there seems to think it’s keen to let an author publish an article gloating about her actually illegal stalking activities, which is . . . words fail me.

Anyway, back to Chuck’s post, here is a short version of his advice regarding negative reviews. The actual post is much longer because, you know, this *is* Chuck Wendig and brevity is not his thing.

1. Do Nothing. Bad reviews happen.

2. Hey, No, Seriously, Do Nothing. Wait, why are we still here?

3. Goddamnit, I Just Told You — Hey, Where Are You Going? Whoa, whoa, whoa. Where are you going? What are you planning on doing?

4. Fine, Slake Your Rage In Proper Rage-Slaking Ways. This review is like a seed stuck in your teeth, isn’t it? Fine. Fine. Invoke your rage. Quietly.

5. Oh, For The Sake Of Sweet Saint Fuck, You’re Gonna Respond, Aren’t You? No no no no noooooo – You’re doing it anyway, aren’t you?

And then he provides advice for how to minimize the potential fallout if you do respond to a negative review.

Which is all very well and good, but I have slightly different advice.

1. If you see one, two, or maybe even three stars on a review, don’t read it.

There, problem solved. Now there is no need to go on to Chuck’s Helpful Guide.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponBuffer this page

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on October 22nd, 2014

Series I’d like to start . . . or finish!

October 21st, 2014

Okay, I saw this link to the Top Ten Tuesday topic over at Shae Has Left the Room: Series you have that you would love to start, but haven’t. It caught my eye partly because of just reading THE THOUSAND NAMES, so hey! That’s one series I actually *have* started, and only a year after the first book came out, so that’s not bad!

The entry on Shae’s list that would also be on mine is DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE by Lani Taylor.

Daughter

I must admit that I have had this book on my TBR shelves for two years and counting, and the whole trilogy is now out, and I’ve heard great things about it, and yet I haven’t yet picked it up.

Another book I have on my TBR shelves is THE DEMON KING by Cinda Williams Chima. The whole series — four books — is out, and yet have I read the first book? No. I actually feel a twinge of guilt when I look at it. It’s been out since 2009.

But you know what makes me feel even more guilty?

Not finding time to go on with a series that I *have* started, and really liked, and yet haven’t finished.

Like Rae Carson’s GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS. I loved the first book, I have the whole series, and yet have I gone on with the second? No. Aargh.

Almost the same is the PATHFINDER trilogy by Orson Scott Card. I loved how the first book played with time in so many different ways, and I do have the second book, but I haven’t read it even though the third is due out early next month, so this would be an okay time to go on.

On the other hand! I HAVE now read the first book of Eileen Wilks’ Lupi series, TEMPTING DANGER. Yay! That’s a different kind of list: Top ten books you have FINALLY gotten around to reading. Took me forever and a day to get to it. For me it was actually just okay, but I felt the same way about the first Kate Daniels’ books — I think it can take a few books for an UF series to hit its stride. It had some nice elements, especially Grandmother.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponBuffer this page

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on October 21st, 2014

Gritty fantasy vs Dark fantasy –

October 20th, 2014

Recently I said that THE THOUSAND NAMES by Django Wexler is a bit gritty, but less so than Scott Lynch’s books; and a bit dark, but less so than Brent Weeks’ books. And then I thought: I definitely define “gritty” and “dark” differently, but I’m not sure how broad the agreement is about what each term comprises. So then I googled “gritty fantasy” and decided that my definition is perhaps idiosyncratic, because the first several definitions I found did not seem right to me.

I don’t agree that “gritty” fantasy is “painted in shades of gray, realistic, with more gory violence and sex.” That, to me, is probably dark fantasy. Or, if the author defines realistic as “everything starts off shitty and then gets worse,” and treats rape as the dominant conception of sex in that world, then it’s probably grimdark.

Dark fantasy: There may not be a clear good guy vs bad guy type of arrangement, because the characters you’re supposed to root for are not that good and morality is painted as this relative concept. You would probably not find that the word “integrity” leaps to your mind as the defining characteristic of any character, but you do find yourself rooting for the protagonist to succeed, even if he is an assassin, as in Brent Weeks’ Nightangel trilogy.

Night Angel

Violence is probably widespread, detailed and explicit, but there is probably an aim to it as the protagonists are probably trying to achieve a worthwhile goal. Rape may occur, but is certainly not presented as the typical or desirable sort of sexual encounter. The protagonist is probably in love with someone and this gives rise to a positive relationship that strengthens both people involved.

I don’t know. Something like that.

Gritty fantasy: in high fantasy, nobody needs to slip off behind the bushes and pee. Women probably do not have periods. If there are beggars, they are not too repulsively pathetic. If there are street urchins, they are not actually starving. If there are thieves, they probably have heart of gold, or at least redeeming features of some kind.

In gritty fantasy, on the other hand, we have, uh, grit. The grime is added back into the world.

Thieves

Streets are filthy, and we get a good look at the sewage. Beggars have rotting fingers, and we get to smell the putrification. Poor families may sell a child to slavers, and may not feel especially bad about the necessity, either.

But this doesn’t mean that the author doesn’t show us the beauty in the world, too. The grittiness is another layer added to the world, a layer that is more or less elided in high fantasy.

Or so it seems to me.

So Grimdark = unrealistically grim and dark; elides beauty, honor, love, and any sense of the ineffable; both protagonists and the world wind up worse off at the end; also probably gritty.

Dark = not unrealistically grim; includes the beautiful as well as the horrible — see Locke Lamora’s relationship with Jean, for example; if the protagonist is worse off at the end, it’s because there’s a cliffhanger and another book is expected, because in the end the story will reach a satisfying conclusion. May or may not be gritty, because it’s perfectly possible for a story to be dark high fantasy.

Gritty = the grimy details of the world are shown, but the story may either be grimdark fantasy, dark fantasy, or adventure fantasy. You can’t tell just from the word “gritty.”

Now, if only everyone would adopt my definitions, think how much easier it would be for me to find the books I would most like to read! None of this conflating “gritty” and “dark” and “grimdark.” We could have a simple letter code, like moving ratings! Tuck a little GD or DK or GRT or HF in the corner of the cover. Wouldn’t that be handy! Clear up all that confusion in a heartbeat!

(Hah hah hah, no, just kidding, can you imagine the arguments about what rating any particular book deserved?)

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponBuffer this page

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on October 20th, 2014

Recent Reading, and also Aargh there goes my writing holiday –

October 17th, 2014

Recent Reading: A TURN OF LIGHT by Julie Czerneda.

Turn of Light

It’s not as well written as all that, and it’s not as catchy as it might be, and the protagonist has a certain Mary Sue specialness about her — I don’t really see the appeal, and yet people fall in love with her left and right. Love triangles are a bit tiresome these days, surely! Yet the story has a certain charm. I like the house toads. Actually, I rather like a lot of the details: the bone hills, and the way cows at Meadowdell just know to stay out of the grain, and, I don’t know, the atmosphere. I read about half of it and then took a break, but I expect I will probably finish it.

But I already know I will give this one away. I suspect a teen reader might fall into this story better than I have, though as far as I know it wasn’t marketed as YA, perhaps partly because of the length.

Oooh, but!

THE THOUSAND NAMES by Django Wexler.

Thousand Names.indd

I thought something grittier might make a nice break from A TURN OF LIGHT, and OMG did I pick a great one off the TBR pile!

I loved THE THOUSAND NAMES! The writing is excellent, the characterization is excellent, the plotting is edge-of-the-seat exciting, this book has it all. More than once, I literally felt my heart rate speed up while reading this book. (I do mean literally, not figuratively.) It’s a bit gritty, but not actually dark. I mean, obviously some violent stuff happens — it is military fantasy, after all. But this is less gritty than Scott Lynch’s LOCKE LAMORA series and less dark than Brent Weeks’ LIGHTBRINGER series and more fun than either (I like both of those, but I like this better).

Winter is a wonderful character: a woman who disguised herself as a man in order to enlist in the army, and who at the beginning of the story is rapidly promoted to lieutenant, but who is NOT a kickass heroine. It is such a pleasure to see a “strong female character” who is complex and wonderful but not actually physically strong. Winter suffers more than a bit from “imposter syndrome”, but she is a very! good! officer.

Marcus is a wonderful character: he’s the guy you can really identify with — not brilliant, but smart enough; not flashy, but dedicated and steady; sometimes cautious, but never wavering. Marcus is defined by his great integrity.

Janus is a wonderful character, the kind who is improved by Wexler’s decision to keep him opaque. We never get inside his head, and it’s a good thing, because it’s more fun when Janus pulls another rabbit out of his hat. Mind you, he is also a bit scary! What’s he got behind that imperturbable calm, anyway? We get that he’s ruthless; is there anything to him besides cold practicality and perhaps colder ambition? The uncertainty actually adds to the reading experience.

Lots of great secondary characters, too.

I was torn between ordering the sequel on Kindle (and thus getting it instantly) and ordering it in paper (to match the first book). I finally chose the latter, but it was a tough decision! Now I won’t get the sequel till Monday!

And in fact I may not read it right away. Does anybody know whether Wexler’s THE SHADOW THRONE stands alone? Because if it ends on a cliffhanger, it may be practical to put off reading it till the third book is out.

Especially because I have gotten my head’s-up about incoming editorial comments: Early next week I should get comments from my editor about KERI (THE WYVERN KING) (Actually still working on the title). There’s no help for it: when those comments arrive, I’ll just have to sigh, hide my TBR books, put my Kindle away, and see if I can briskly complete whatever revision Michelle wants and get that out of the way. Because the second half of November has been earmarked for other tasks, so I would like to get this turned around with reasonable speed.

Anyway! I’m thinking THE THOUSAND NAMES may be my second-favorite fantasy title of the year. If it stands alone, it may be something I would like to nominate for the Hugo and Nebula next year.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponBuffer this page

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on October 17th, 2014

At last! I get to make an exciting announcement!

October 14th, 2014

The announcement has just appeared in Publisher’s Marketplace, so it’s official! So let me tell you about —

Oh, I’m starting this story in the wrong place. Let me back up.

If you’re a writer, you already know how immensely flattering it is when a reader takes the time to tell you that he or she loves one of your books. It totally makes your day. If you’re not a writer, let me assure you that this does not get old.

What’s even MORE flattering is when a writer whose work you admire comes up to you and tells you she loves your work. THAT makes your month.

But it turns out that beyond even THAT is when an editor approaches your agent and says, “I love your client’s work. Does she have anything I might be able to look at?”

This is what happened a month or two ago, when Navah Wolfe, editor of the new Saga Press SFF line at Simon and Schuster, called Caitlin.

So, it’s now official: Saga Press will be bringing out THE MOUNTAIN OF KEPT MEMORY and also KEHERA (now tentatively titled THE WINTER DRAGON). One will come out in 2016 and the other in 2017. I will be revising MOUNTAIN to make it an adult fantasy — this is an adult SFF line — and also to, uh, well, it’s complicated. To smooth the plot out in a way that both Navah and I think will improve the final book. It’s a pretty significant re-write, but it shouldn’t take too long and in general I sort of kind of like revision, so hopefully I will enjoy doing this one.

Anyway! I could not be more pleased and excited about this deal! Especially since this gives me one YA and one Adult fantasy title scheduled for release in 2016, and again in 2017. How about that! Here is a representation of my happy dance:

Tangled

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponBuffer this page

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on October 14th, 2014

Beginning scenes: UF edition

October 14th, 2014

So, it turns out I have six UF novels on my Kindle right now, all of them the first book of one series or another, all of them recommended by somebody (though sometimes I don’t remember who). Last night I opened each of them and read just a bit. (I’m actually reading something else right now, but I was curious.)

You know, I hadn’t realized how universally UF novels draw on police procedural or murder mystery tropes. I knew that was a Thing in Urban Fantasy, but now I know it better. All but one of these draws on that kind of set up. Also, I’m glad to see that two out of six of these stories were written in the third person. First can work for me, but unless it’s especially well done, I generally prefer third. For a while it looked like paranormal and UF were both going to be completely taken over by first person narration, but evidently that hasn’t happened.

Anyway, take a look and see what you think:

1. Tempting Danger, the first book of the Lupi series, by Eileen Wilks. This one was recommended by Chachic. I’ve been slow to try it because the series is up to ten books or so and I haven’t wanted to risk being drawn in. I do have time now for this series, though if I’m going to read this book, I’d better do it soon, before I run out of time for a long series. I do expect to get busy with stuff again in November, after all, though maybe not the first half of the month because the World Fantasy Convention and WindyCon are right there. Anyway:

TemptingDanger

He didn’t have much face left. Lily stood well back, keeping her new black heels out of the pool of blood that was dry at the edges, still gummy near the body. She’d seen worse when she worked Traffic Division, she reminded herself.

But it was different when the mangling had been done on purpose.

Mist hung in the warm air, visible in front of the police spotlights, clammy against her face. The smell of blood was thick in her nostrils. Flashes went off in a crisp one-two as the photographer recorded the scene.

“Hey, Yu,” the officer behind the camera called. He was a short man with chipmunk cheeks and red hair cut so short it looked like the fuzz on a peach.

She grimaced. O’Brien never tired of a joke, no matter how stale. If tey both lived to be a hundred and ran into each other in the nursing home, the first thing he’d say to her would be, “Hey, Yu!”

2. Nightshifted, the first book of the Edie Spence series, by Cassie Alexander. I can’t remember who recommended this, or if it just sounded like it might be good. I like the title and the idea of a nurse protagonist, and I like the beginning, too.

Nightshifted

“How can your liver be this good?” I stood outside Mr. November’s room, watching him stir restlessly. Normal people couldn’t get 20,000 micrograms of fentanyl and 80 milligrams of Versed an hour and live, much less still be attempting another slow-motion escape from their hospital bed.

But I knew Mr. November wasn’t normal. From my assessment, when I’d seen his chipped yellow fangs around his titanium-tipped endotracheal tube, and from the way he was restrained in bed – six soft cuffs, two on each arm, one on each leg, a Posey vest wrapped around his chest and tied beneath the bedframe – and from the fact that he was here on Floor Y4 to begin with. No one here was normal, except for me.

3. Dark Currents, the first book of the Agent of Hel series by Jacqueline Carey. I loved the Kushiel series and, though I found the Naamah trilogy rather too much, I do admire Carey’s writing. So I’m interested to see what she does with UF.

Dark Currents

It was an idyllic summer evening in Pemkowet the night the Vanderhei kid died. No one could have guessed that the town was hovering on the brink of tragedy. Well, I suppose that’s not technically true. The Sphinx might have known, and the Norns, too, come to think of it. But if they did, they kept it to themselves.

There’s some sort of Soothsayers’ Code that prevents soothsayers from soothsaying on a day-to-day basis, when it might, you know, avert this kind of ordinary, everyday tragedy. Something about the laws of causality being broken and the order of creation overturned, resulting in a world run amok, rivers running backward, the sun rising in the west, cats and dogs getting married . . .

I don’t know, don’t ask me.

I don’t pretend to understand, especially since it wasn’t an ordinary, everyday tragedy after all.

4. The Check Your Luck Agency, the first book of that series, by Cara d’Bastian. I wanted to try this because it was recommended by Andrea K Höst. I like the cover. It’s essentially a novella — it’s really short, anyway — which means I may be inclined to try it first of this lot. “Cara d’Bastian” is a pen name, btw, and the five Check Your Luck stories have now been reissued as The Complete Check Your Luck Agency under the name KS Augustin.

CheckYourLuck

There’s one thing I hate more than being wrong, and that’s being right about presuming somebody is as big a scumbag as they turn out to be.

“Are you sure about this, Xiao Chong?”

A small cherubic face looked up at me and nodded vigorously.

Looking at us together, a casual passer by – if they noticed us at all in the crush of people – would think I was merely placing a takeaway order from one of the nearby stalls. The covered open-air food court was noisy with the chatter of hungry diners and the hard surface of concrete, plastic, steel and melamine kept all those voices bouncing off each other until they combined and reached a crescendo of sound. It was late, I was hungry, and between my growling stomach and the clattering din, I was getting a headache.
I hate eating when everyone else does, shoving elbows that have intruded into my personal space and my meal. I hated the case Fiona had handed me. But most of all, I hated that I was right.

5. Written in Red, the first book of the Others series by Anne Bishop. The Black Jewels trilogy was not without flaws, but I enjoyed it very much, so I’m interested to see what Bishop does with this UF. I did not like the long infodump prologue, though. So your world has a history: they generally do. Why not work that into the actual story? My snippet is the actual beginning of the story.

WrittenInRed

Half blinded by the storm, she stumbled into the open area between two buildings. Hoping to hide from whomever was hunting for her as well as get some relief from the snow and wind, she followed an angled wall and ducked aroun the corner. Her socks and sneakers were soaked, ad her feet were so cold she couldn’t feel them. She knew that wasn’t good, wasn’t safe, but she had taken the clothing available just as she had taken the opportunity to run.

No sound of footsteps that would confirm she was being followed, but that didn’t mean anything. Blocked by the wall, even the sounds of the slow-moving traffic were muted.
She had to find shelter. It was too cold to be out here tonight. As part of her training, she’d been shown pictures

of people who had frozen to death, so she knew she couldn’t stay out here much longer. Bu the city shelters that provided a place for the homeless would be the first places the hunters would look for her.

Was she going to die tonight?

6. Clean Sweep, book one of the Innkeeper series, by Ilona Andrews. No one had to recommend this. I mean, it’s by Ilona Andrews! So I picked it up.

CleanSweep

Brutus was dead. His body lay under an oak on the Hendersons’ lawn. A small group of neighbors had gathered around his corpse, their faces sad and shocked.

It had been such a nice morning. The Texas summer had finally cooled a little, allowing for a light, happy breeze. Not a single cloud marked the blue sky, and the walk to the twenty-four-hour gas-station convenience store had turned out to be downright pleasant. Normally I didn’t go shopping at the gas station at seven thirty on Friday morning, but when you run a bed-and-breakfast, it’s a good policy to accommodate requests from your guests, especially if they’ve paid for a lifetime membership. So I gathered my blond hair in a ponytail, put on my flowered skirt and a pair of sandals, and hightailed it half a mile to the store.

I was coming back, carrying my purchases, when I saw my neighbors gathered under the tree. And just like that, my happy day ground to a halt.

“Hey, Dina,” Margaret Pineda said.

“Hello.” I glanced at the body. A second’s worth of looking told me everything I needed to know. Just like the other two.

Brutus hadn’t been what you would call a good dog. An oversized black Chow Chow, he’d been suspicious of everyone, ornery, and often too loud for his own good. His chief activity when he’d managed to escape Mr. Byrne’s yard had been hiding behind trash cans and exploding with thunderous barking at anyone who dared to walk by. But no matter how annoying he’d been, he hadn’t deserved to die this way.

There you go: a look at a handful of UF titles. What do you all think of these?

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponBuffer this page

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on October 14th, 2014

Recent Reading: THE GOBLIN EMPEROR by Katherine Addison

October 13th, 2014

So, nice weekend. I went to the Canine Games at Purina Farms, and it was a pleasure to be able to take my two older girls to something fun. They miss out on so much since they’re basically retired from showing. It wasn’t actually raining, but I must say, it was on the damp side! The girls got horribly muddy and I had to periodically run them through wet grass to clean them up a bit, so ick, but they had a good time. They got to show off their (excellent) Rally skills, and try an unofficial Barn Hunt instinct test — both passed, but Pippa REALLY was into finding and trying to get at the rat. They got to play on agility equipment, too, and of course they got to meet many, many people who admired them as they deserve. Also! I saw my first-ever Silken Windhounds, a breed created from whippets and borzoi. They are not only lovely, they are practical for cold-winter regions like Missouri, because they love snow and cold weather. Here’s a picture in case you’re interested:

silken_windhound_2

The one in front is a Silken. The one behind is a borzoi. You see why people might appreciate Silkens! The size is so much more practical! Honestly, I think you have to be six feet tall and wearing diamonds to look good standing next to a borzoi. A Silken, whippet sized, is just about knee high. The two I met were both darker than the one in the picture above, both brindle and both with charming personalities.

Anyway, I also read books! I read Hodge’s CRUEL BEAUTY, which I liked quite a bit. I’m surprised in retrospect that I didn’t see the echo of the Tam Lin story coming, though the book did draw more heavily on the Beauty and the Beast story. Beautiful writing and yes, the house was especially delightful. I found Nyx more likeable than I’d heard some readers have.

And I read Hartman’s SERAPHINA, which I also really enjoyed. I’m glad I finally got a chance to read it! A strange, complicated relationship between dragons and humans going on in this world. I’ll look forward to a sequel.

But! The standout for the weekend was without question Addison’s THE GOBLIN EMPEROR.

Goblin

I don’t know that I feel capable of writing a decent review for this book. But I can start by saying that it was published in 2014 and I plan to nominate for everything possible next year. This book belongs on any serious slate of nominees for the Hugo and Nebula and World Fantasy Awards. I would particularly like to see a stronger slate of novel nominees for the Hugo next year; a list from which it’s actually tough to pick your first place choice. I want this title on that list.

But other than that, I hardly know what to say. THE GOBLIN EMPEROR is like . . . it’s a bit like a cross between Cherryh’s Foreigner series and NK Jemisin’s THE KILLING MOON, except unlike the former it’s a single self-contained novel in one volume and unlike the latter it’s tightly focused on a single character. It’s an adult story, with a deliberate pace and a deep sense of place, but it certainly utilizes the YA coming-of-age plotline. It uses one of the most common fantasy tropes ever – young outsider becomes king – only it sets up a whole new standard for that trope.

I’d wish I’d written it, except it was such a pleasure to read.

The world:

We see almost nothing of the world other than the Untheileneise Court, but we see that in great detail.

Well, no, actually, we see relatively little even of the Untheilesneise Court: mostly we are confined to the Alcethmeret, the emperor’s principle residence.

Wait, it’s not even true that we see even the Alcethmeret in detail. No, we see it in depth. This world has tremendous weight and heft. The Untheilesneise Court has existed for thousands of years. We don’t need to be told all about its history: that history infuses every word of this story. The attitudes and customs and religion, the divisions and alliances within and without the court, the alliances and pacts and tension between this empire and its neighbors – everything is there. This world is all but palpable.

The language adds to this impression. The style of speech does not feel affected or false, but it is certainly very different from any modern American style. That’s one reason this story struck me as similar to the Foreigner series. The formal plural, the use of thee and thy only in the familiar singular, the overall diction – this is all brilliant. The complicated tiles and modes of address also add depth to the world. From personal experience, I am confident Addison has seen a good many comments about those complicated, hard-to-wrap-your-tongue-around names and titles. As you might guess, I enjoyed them. But I plan to buy this book in paper so that when I re-read it, I can flip back and forth to the glossary at the back.

The characters:

In the Foreigner universe, Bren Cameron is the outsider who serves as link between the reader and the world of the story. In THE GOBLEN EMPEROR, Maia is that outsider. A younger son, out of favor from birth, raised far outside the court, and erratically educated, Maia succeeds his father as emperor of the elves because of a tragedy that kills not just his father but also everyone ahead of him in the succession. The narrative is a tightly focused third person that follows Maia into the court and through the first eventful months of his reign. Though the other characters are well drawn, none of them is anything close to a secondary protagonist: This is Maia’s story, period.

Which is fine, because Maia is a tremendously sympathetic protagonist. He is heavily influenced by his memory of his mother, a goblin woman who died when Maia was eight. He owes his empathy and sense of duty to her. He is also profoundly affected by the miserable isolation of the ten years that followed his mother’s death, which left him with a horror of cruelty and a lingering social awkwardness. Though his sense of propriety prevents him from any dramatic public denunciation of his father, when he takes the formal name of Edrehasivar VII instead of following his father’s choice of Verenechibel, his choice shows a sharp rejection of his father and his father’s policies.

Naturally, after becoming emperor, Maia is no less an outsider. His continuing loneliness would be heartbreaking, except the reader can see long before Maia himself that his closest attendants have become, if not actual friends, then surely the closest thing an absolute ruler can hope for. Besides, by the end of the story, I think the reader can be quite confident that Maia will find companionship and even true friendship with his soon-to-be wife. I don’t know if Addison/Monette plans a sequel, but I’d be right there, not least because I would love to see Maia’s relationship with Csethiro Ceredin develop. (And how about that name, eh? There’s a pronunciation guide at the back of the book, along with the glossery.) There’s plenty of room for a sequel, in fact – I would love to see the bridge across the Istandaärtha built; I want to see Maia establish policies that will improve the lives of the common people of his empire; I want to know what happens about that border fortress built on the gravesite of the Nazhmorhathveras people. But there is no actual need for a sequel, since the story does reach a satisfying conclusion in this book.

One final note: I was right to put this book off till I had time to read it. Don’t start THE GOBLIN EMPEROR unless you have time to finish it. Despite the formal language, unusual names, quiet tone, and deliberate pace, it’s almost impossible to put down.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponBuffer this page

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on October 13th, 2014

Recent Reading: Still whittling down the physical TBR pile

October 9th, 2014

First:

Glass Sentence

Beautiful cover. Great description, too: Boston, 1891. Sophia Tims comes from a family of explorers and cartologers who, for generations, have been traveling and mapping the New World—a world changed by the Great Disruption of 1799, when all the continents were flung into different time periods. Eight years ago, her parents left her with her uncle Shadrack, the foremost cartologer in Boston, and went on an urgent mission. They never returned. Life with her brilliant, absent-minded, adored uncle has taught Sophia to take care of herself. …. Then Shadrack is kidnapped.

However, I found the execution disappointing. There was no feel that the world had been fractured by having different times crash into one another. Instead, this world felt as though different magical fantasy realms had intermingled.

People with wings that are really leaves? With orchid roots growing on their heads instead of hair? With iron teeth?

Faceless weeping spirits that haunt people and drive them to despair?

Onions that are really maps you peel to see the way to your destination?

Maps that are made by putting together eyewitness accounts and creating an overall memory of a place or event?

Don’t tell me all this comes from the distant future. Don’t even bother. It is reasonless fantasy magic. This was a great disappointment to me, since I really looked forward to the interweaving of different historical periods.

The world doesn’t make sense on its own terms, either. How can you have three wealthy cities in a land where everything around the cities is stricken by poverty, as in the Baldlands? How exactly do those cities maintain their wealth? Not by trade. Or by growing or making anything. Magic prosperity!

For me, the writing was not catchy enough nor the characters engaging enough to carry this story. It’s on the giveaway pile, despite that cover.

So, next:

Vessel

Another beautiful cover!

I enjoyed VESSEL far more than THE GLASS SENTENCE.

Liyana has trained her entire life to be the vessel of a goddess. She will dance and summon her tribe’s deity, who will inhabit Liyana’s body and use magic to bring rain to the desert. But when the dance ends, Liyana is still there. Her tribe is furious–and sure that it is Liyana’s fault. Abandoned by her tribe, Liyana expects to die in the desert. Until a boy walks out of the dust in search of her.

Korbyn is a god inside his vessel, and a trickster god at that. He tells Liyana that five other gods are missing, and they set off across the desert in search of the other vessels. The desert tribes cannot survive without the magic of their gods. But the journey is dangerous, even with a god’s help. And not everyone is willing to believe the trickster god’s tale.

This story read a bit young to me, and a bit slow. It seemed to take forever to get all the “vessels” together and go on with the rest of the story. On the other hand, I did not really get impatient, because the reading experience was a pleasure. I loved all the tiny little stories woven by all the broader narrative: The moon admired her reflection in the sea, and so she . . . A god once entered the wrong vessel by mistake, and he . . . Once upon a time when the world was young . . .

All the characters tell stories to one another. When Liyana walks into the enemy camp and demands to be taken before the emperor? Yep, she opens by telling him a story. This works beautifully.

I liked Liyana, who might have suffered from doubts and fears, but was also decisive and practical — qualities I love in a character. I liked how all the other vessels were annoying to start with, but wound up as people you could root for. I liked the interplay between Liyana and her goddess, Bayla. I liked the emperor, though he might have been a bit good to be true. Oh, and I enjoyed the world, which was not an alternate anything — I sort of thought it was going to be an alternate Mideast kind of thing, but no. It was a purely secondary-world desert setting. I loved the sand wolves!

In fact, I really enjoyed the whole thing, and though this wasn’t my favorite book of the year, I will be keeping an eye out for Durst’s other books. I would say that to me it seemed more MG than YA, so I would suggest approaching it as MG or young YA. That might put your expectations in line with this story and tend to let you enjoy it more. There is plenty to enjoy.

If you’ve read it, I’m curious: do you also feel this was on the young side for YA? What did you think overall?

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponBuffer this page

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on October 9th, 2014

The World is a Fantasy Novel

October 8th, 2014

Yes, another collection of amazing pictures from Twitter, presented as evidence that we are really living in a fantasy novel:

SunThroughRock

I’m sure the sun doesn’t shine through this rock on just on any common dawn. No, once every hundred years, the sun rises at exactly the right angle.

Then, if you’re standing at exactly the right spot on this beach, the light illuminates letters in a forgotten tongue, carved deep into the cliff behind you. The letters begin to glow until it seems they are filled with fire.

With your long training in the mystical arts — or your gift of tongues — you can read the words carved there. As you read them, they reveal at last the prophecy that unlocks the central mystery of the story and enables you to fulfill your quest and save the world.

Butterflies

What does it mean when the butterflies gather like this? Don’t trouble to describe the seasons or mention ecology: I will tell you what it means.

This tree is not just any tree. It is the source of a special fountain of magic, which has poured itself out into these butterflies, called here to this place for just this purpose. In a moment, the butterflies will scatter on the wind, carrying dreams and portents on their sapphire wings.

When one of these butterflies lights on your hand, you’ll be swept up in a memory of a long-past age. All images and emotions, this memory will not be clear. But it will offer you a tantalizing hint to follow on your journey, during which you are certain to meet others touched by butterfly dreams.

Japanese Maples

These trees could be Japanese maples, as the caption said on Twitter. But I suspect they are related to mallorns. As those leaves fall, the world is paved and framed and roofed in carnelian light. Walking through this grove of trees might very well carry you to another world, one of high magic and — perhaps — terrible danger.

Perhaps elves walk in the shadows of this red wood; when you turn around the curve of the path, you’ll see the greater trees beyond, with delicate bridges and towers built into the graceful heights of the forest.

Or perhaps as you approach you’ll find that these are not natural trees at all. Perhaps the leaves are indeed each carved of carnelian, and make a sound like ten thousand chimes with every breeze. You won’t know until you walk beneath their shade.

Lake

I’m pretty sure this is the great lake up in the mountains of Casmantium, from the shore of which Gereint and Tehre built the Wall between the lands of men and the country of fire.

Or it could be the Lake of Dreams, with water that is not exactly water and Luth’s hall lying just out of sight.

There are so many enchanted lakes. I’m sure this is one. Aren’t you?

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponBuffer this page

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on October 8th, 2014