Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Recent Reading: The Sword Smith by Eleanor Arnason

It says on Amazon:

The Sword Smith tells the tale of Limper, a master sword smith running from an oppressive boss-king who forced him to make junk, and Nargri, his young dragon companion. Written in the early 1970s, and published in 1978 by Condor, The Sword Smith is an anti-epic fantasy. In a new Afterword written for this edition, Arnason describes the characters as “mostly fairly ordinary people, rather than heroes, wizards, and kings. Their problems are ordinary problems, rather than a gigantic struggle between good and evil. There is no magic. The dragons are intelligent therapod dinosaurs, and the trolls are some kind of hominid, maybe Neanderthals. In many ways, it is a science fiction story disguised as a fantasy.

This is only sort of true. I guarantee that some of the problems are not in the least ordinary. In fact, now that I think through the story, almost none of them.

Nor does this story read like anti-epic fantasy to me. Let me see, what does seem like an anti-epic story, where the problems are mostly ordinary and the people mostly ordinary . . . okay, The Sharing Knife series is anti-epic. (Mostly.)

I would say that The Sword Smith reads more like . . . hmm. Like a series of folk tales, kind of. Like Norse mythology, a bit. It’s very episodic and there is no real plot as such. You know Mark Twain’s famous dictum that “A tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere.” This one kind of doesn’t.

Limper is more interesting than likable, though I certainly didn’t dislike him (or I would have stopped reading the book). Nargri is a fine character too, but in fact given the description I would never have thought of her people as intelligent descendants of therapod dinosaurs. I get that this book was published back in 1978, and maybe we didn’t know yet that therapods were feathered, but I did not really get the impression that Nargri was fundamentally bipedal, and that really means that Arnason didn’t draw me a very clear visual image of her people. It’s true that her people make stuff and build stuff and use stuff, all of which implies bipedality, but the way everyone’s first reaction to Nargri is “a big lizard” and the descriptions of her running make me want to envision a big Nile monitor or something like that, which is not at all what any theropod ought to look like. Kate Elliot captured them much better in her Spiritwalker trilogy.

Yet for all that, I found the story surprisingly compelling. I blasted right through it. I liked the detailed descriptions about smithcraft, and the completely non-ordinary problems that Limper and Nargri got into were often very tense, and I whooshed right through the whole story nearly in one sitting, not counting breaks to take the puppies for long walks in this beautiful weather.

So, yep, ordered Woman of the Iron People. Looking forward to trying that one, and I expect to like it. I do wonder whether it will have been put together more like a regular novel, though.

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Ranking (a few of) Georgette Heyer’s Heroes

Okay, after the previous post ranking Jane Austen’s heroes, how about giving some thought to those featured in Georgette Heyer’s novels? The only flaw in this plan is that I haven’t read nearly all of them, even if you restrict yourself to the Regencies.

But hey, why let that stop me? Here then, is a temporary and no doubt soon-to-be-outdated ranking of a mere eight of Georgette Heyer’s heroes:

8. Powder and Patch — Philip Jettan

Philip is kind of a loser, if you ask me. Most of Heyer’s male leads start off confident in who they are. Not Philip. Reinterpreting himself as a fop to please a girl? Please.

7. The Grand Sophy — Charles Rivenhall

Charles is kind of a jerk. He may learn better, but it doesn’t speak well for him that Sophy had to sort out everyone’s problems because Charles couldn’t and didn’t.

6. Devil’s Cub — the Marquis of Vidal

Vidal is awfully casual about shooting people. Sure, he was drunk at the time, but still. And abducting women . . . seriously, Vidal? Good thing his dad appeared to sort things out, or who knows what would have happened?

5. Arabella — Mr Beaumaris

Everything’s a light joke to Mr. Beaumaris. He’s bored, he’s cynical, and he plays games. I like him anyway, but no one but Heyer could have pulled him off.

4. Frederica — the Marquis of Alverstoke

Alverstroke isn’t particularly admirable when he meets Frederica, but he sure does allow her and her siblings to impose, in a way that clearly suggests he’s a nicer person than is immediately apparent. I like the relationship that he allows to develop between himself and Frederica’s brother.

3. The Corinthian — Sir Richard Wyndham

Oh for heaven’s sake, Richard. Why on Earth were you planning to marry that woman and let her family leech off you in the first place? Just to bored to be bother saying no? What was WRONG with you?

On the other hand, Richard improved instantly when he met Pen and this turned into one of my favorites of Heyer’s books.

2. False Colours — Kit Fancot

The idiocy of the situation isn’t Kit’s fault. Every step of the way, his decisions seem reasonable. He’s just trying — responsibly and soberly — to sort things out for his spendthrift but charming mother and his possibly slightly impulsive brother.

a) Cotillion — Freddy Standen

Even when I read the rest of Heyer’s books, I doubt anybody is going to take Freddy’s place at the top of the list. I love his calm, easy-going nature and his perfect aplomb in every possible social circumstance. And the way he things of things and never drops a stitch. And that punch he landed on Jack when it counted didn’t hurt either.

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A definitive ranking of Jane Austen’s heroes

From Book Riot: A Totally Scientific and Definitive Ranking of Jane Austen’s Heroes.

I liked the title, I’m reasonable familiar with Austen’s heroes, so sure, go ahead and show me your take on ranking them all …

A few rules before we get to the list. Who counts as a “hero,” or love interest, to use a better term? For my purposes, any male character who begins one of Austen’s novels single and ends up married or engaged, unless they are a fairly minor supporting character like Emma’s Mr. Weston. My most important criterion is “this man is someone you would actually want to be with in real life.”

Sounds reasonable.

Oh ho, Mr. Collins is 4th from the bottom! Although I can’t actually argue with this ranking on logical grounds, he is probably my very least favorite male character in all of Austen’s work. Ugh.

Ah, this list puts Captain Wentworth above Mr. Darcy! I can’t actually argue with that either.

Top place on this list goes to Henry Tilney from Northanger Abbey. I don’t know. I rather recently watched a movie version and was not impressed with the movie as a whole — the entire relationship between Henry and Catherine is sort of hinted at rather than visible on the screen. Maybe if I re-read the book I might agree. But Mr. Darcy stands out a lot more for me, along with Edward Ferrars and Colonel Brandon. In contrast I have apparently found Henry Tilney pretty forgettable.

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Recent Reading: Wings of Fire 6-10

Okay, so, finished the second Wings of Fire arc last night. Very enjoyable!

The books included are:

Moon Rising – pov protagonist: Moon

Winter Turning – pov protagonist: Winter

Escaping Peril – pov protagonist: Peril

Talons of Power – pov protagonist: Turtle

Darkness of Dragons – pov protagonist: Qibli

The arc starts off very strong. Because Moon can read minds, she serves as a wonderful way to introduce Winter and Qibli. The reader gets a very clear idea of what all three of these important dragons are really like. This is a real advantage, as Winter is not likeable on the outside – he goes beyond prickly behavior to overtly hostile. But because Moon has a much better idea of what he’s really like than he lets others see, the reader also gets this understanding.

The first book also sets up important overall plot elements: Darkstalker is introduced right away, plus we know that for some reason Moon can’t read Turtle’s mind, plus we know that mostly all she can see in Peril’s mind is an inferno. Plus, Moon is an engaging character in her own right.

Tui Sutherland either must work from a detailed outline or she is good at smoothing out the overall plot arc, because every book moves the overall story along while also giving the reader a more intimate look at a different protagonist. Winter is so sympathetic from the inside, even though he’s so unlikeable from the outside. The personal resolution he comes to at the end of his book is extremely satisfying. Ditto for Peril, who has a strong burn the world violence and hostility both inside and outside, but longs so much to belong and to be loved. Poor Peril! What a terrible life! Her background makes her personal resolution even more satisfying.

I can see why Sutherland had trouble with Turtle, but she did a rather good job with him in the end. No, he is not a typical hero. Yes, he is an understandable and sympathetic character, plus brave when it counts. The end of his book is the only cliffhanger in the set. I, at least, had a very good idea of how he would get to a more satisfactory ending in the last book, which he does. I’m guessing that any astute MG reader will also immediately see how he is going to recover from what Darkstalker does to him.

Qibli’s novel provides an fine ending to the arc. I will say, I saw the ultimate solution to Darkstalker coming way, way in advance. Somewhere in Turtle’s book it occurred to me that I could definitely think of one solution, so the big question left was, would Sutherland come up with a different way to solve the problem? Answer: no. I’m curious: for those of you who’ve read these, did you also predict the ultimate solution? Did you see a different solution than the one that was actually used?

Now, I don’t read books for the excitement of solving the puzzle, but for character and setting and style, so figuring out a good solution to the Big Bad Guy early did not detract from the reading experience. Qibli does a great job carrying the final book. From time to time, Sutherland reserves information that Qibli was thinking about so as to pull off a plot twist; this involved mild cheating since, as the reader is in his pov, really the information should by rights have been right there on the page. But she does it smoothly enough that it works pretty well. Just for a bit, the reader is left thinking, Can Qibli, who’s so smart, really be missing these obvious clues? The answer is no, he saw them and put them together, as becomes clear at the opportune moment.

Minor quibble: The love triangle plot element is SUCH a deeply cliched component of YA that it’s a pity to see it used unnecessarily in a MG series. Worse, it almost sets Moon up as a Mary Sue character in the most cliched fashion possible, as she winds up at the center of attention for so many male characters. Granted, this is a relatively minor element — this is a MG story, after all — but I wish Sutherland hadn’t included it.

Major pluses: Practically everything else. Such wonderful writing. Great characters, each one of whom grows and learns over the course of the story, but not in a heavy-handed way. Snappy, fun plots that are dark enough not to seem shallow or saccharine to adult readers, but not so horrifying that they should be an obstacle to most MG readers.

Has anybody read the early books of the third Wings of Fire arc? How are those? I’m not sure I like the idea of having to get acquainted with the dragons of a whole different continent, but say something positive and I’ll probably overcome that hesitation.

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AI generated poetry

Fascinating post by Scott Alexander: Gwern’s AI-Generated Poetry

GPT-2 is the language processing system that OpenAI announced a few weeks ago. They are keeping the full version secret, but have released a smaller prototype version. Gwern retrained it on the Gutenberg Poetry Corpus, a 117 MB collection of pre-1923 English poetry, to create a specialized poetry AI.

Extensive samples provided, with commentary:

This is all perfect iambic pentameter. I know AP English students who can’t write iambic pentameter as competently as this….It has more trouble with rhymes – my guess is a lot of the poetry it was trained on was blank verse. But when it decides it should be rhyming, it can keep it up for a little while. From its Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard fanfic …

Scott chose interesting examples to show how the AI can start off rhyming perfectly and then gradually the rhyming deteriorates; or how it can start off well and then deteriorate into complete gibberish.

Would you spot this as fake robot-generated poetry if no one tipped you off?

My heart, why come you here alone?
The wild thing of my heart is grown
To be a thing,
Fairy, and wild, and fair, and whole

Scott really, really liked this tidbit, and says:

That last line, with its ABAB structure, is actually brilliant even by the standards of human poets. “Fairy and wild and fair and whole”. I could say that all day. This has to be a coincidence. It’s not that good anywhere else. But even having something generally okay enough that it can occasionally blunder into something that good is great.

I have to admit, several bits of poetry worked out really well. I am now predicting that someone is soon going to start using this type of AI thing to generate lines and poems. I can see that working much better than using this sort of word-generator to write prose. Would it be cheating, to present poems as though you wrote them yourself, if whole quatrains or longer stanzas were generated in this way?

Click through if you have time. There’s a trick buried in the post, so do read the entire thing if you’ve got a minute.


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Five Books About Running Away to Join the Space-Pirates

Hah, what a great idea for a column. Here it is at tor.com: Five books about running away to join the space-pirates.

Here they are:

1) Jack Crow of Armor by John Steakley, running away from prison and various self-inflicted misfortunes to join a crew planning a research colony heist. I met him as he was plotting to kill somebody who didn’t need to die, and I was worried about the main character at the time, so I was not happy to see him in the book, at first. His alternative courses of action are all terrible, though, and he barely tolerates the legend that humanity has constructed around him. Because he’s an unlikable fellow, it’s fun to watch him suffer through everybody treating him as “Jack Crow, ferocious pirate.” 

Well, I don’t like watching unlikable fellows, suffering or otherwise, so I’ll probably give this one a miss.

2) Miles Vorkosigan gets his start at being a pirate in The Warrior’s Apprentice

Of course! Though he did not join the space pirates so much as re-create the space pirates in his own image, which is perhaps not quite the same thing.

3) Jos Musey of Warchild by Karin Lowachee his chance to do [run away and join the pirates] comes long before he’s ready for it. And after the pirates raid his family’s merchant vessel, there’s no home to go back to and the adventure doesn’t end. Jos has a hard life aboard his new home, the Gengis Khan, but eventually he accepts to become what is basically a tattooed space pirate assassin-priest. 

Yeah, I wound up not being crazy about this duology. Among other things, it was soooooo obvious who the overall bad guy was, and the good guys spend soooooo long dithering rather than dealing. I really thought the bad guy must be a red herring, he was SO OBVIOUS. Nope.

Other things also bugged me about this story, but that’s the one that stands out in my memory.

4) This is a line in the 2016 installment of the series, Babylon’s Ashes: “James Holden has just declared piracy legal.” That’s it. That’s the series. Holden and his crew are always sailing from one disaster to the next, and this is no exception. There’s been a radical change to the galactic political landscape, and Holden has backed the losing side because he has history with them. 

Kind of an Oops moment right there. I liked the first book of this series pretty well, but I didn’t go on with it.

5) I first heard of Neptune’s Brood (2013) as Charles Stross’s blog post titled “Books I will not write #4: Space Pirates of KPMG.” I am so glad he wrote it anyway. Aside from the economics, which are very interesting, the protagonist, Krina Alizond-114, is venturing forth to find her missing sister when one Count Rudi and his crew attack her ship. Rudi obviously recognizes skeletons in closets because he’s running from several in his own, despite his claims to being an “honest privateer.” I mean, he is a space pirate bat accountant, and have you read about bats?

Okay, that one sounds really fun! Space pirate / accountant, with bats! OTOH, Charles Stross’ work does not always appeal to me. Has anybody read this? What did you think?

Okay, we can definitely expand this list, because it’s not that hard to think of a handful more that belong:

6) In Corsair, James Cambias gives us a guy who ran off to join the space pirates some time ago. Now he might be involved in something he needs to get out of, if he can:

In the early 2020s, two young, genius computer hackers, Elizabeth Santiago and David Schwartz, meet at MIT and have a brief affair. David is amoral, out for himself, and soon disappears. Elizabeth dreams of technology and space travel and takes a military job after graduating. Ten years later, David works in the shadows for international thieves, and Elizabeth prevents international space piracy.

I liked this book quite a bit, which is saying something, because near-future SF is a pretty hard sell for me.

Incidentally, looks like Cambias has a new one out this year: Arkad’s World, which doesn’t look to me like exactly something I’d ordinary jump on, but what with A Darkling Sea and Corsair, sure.

7) Becky Chambers hands us a very definite space-pirate element in A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and especially in the sequel, A Closed and Common Orbit.

In the latter, Pepper’s story is so compelling I was not quite as engaged by Lovelace. But I did like both subplots, and one day soon I must go on to the third book. Anyway, very definitely space piracy going on in A Closed and Common Orbit. Also a definite element of running away. This is probably my favorite book on this list so far.

Not sure I can get to ten … okay, here’s one more, which may be a bit of a stretch:

8) I haven’t read this one, but it’s on my radar: Artemis by Andy Weir. I hear it’s not as good as The Martian, but still, I do want to try it one of these days.

Here’s part of the description:

Jazz Bashara is a criminal.

Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you’re not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you’ve got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent.

Does smuggling count as piracy? Not sure about the running away to join the pirates, that may be a stretch.

That’s eight. Anybody have a candidate for this running-away-to-join-the-pirates theme?

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Things I Love: Really Smart Characters

So, I have no comments yet about the 2nd Wings of Fire arc, except that so far I do like it as much as the first arc, but I’m stuck for a couple of days waiting for the third and fourth books to arrive. At least it’s giving me a chance to go back to the first five-book arc and re-read those. I’ve forgotten plenty of details, so that’s fine.

But I did jump ahead to see who the pov protagonists are for the remaining books because I really, really wanted one of those protagonists to be Qibli. Yay! He is the pov character for the last book of this arc.

Now, why I like Qibli — from the title of this post, you know why. Because he’s really smart and perceptive and Tui Sutherland does a fantastic job making this clear in the first book of the arc, Wings of Fire 6, Moon Rising.

Really brilliant characters, I love them, and they’re fairly hard to write, so probably for that reason among others, we don’t see that many of them in fiction. I don’t mean geniuses like Archimedes in Bradshaw’s Sand Reckoner; I mean smart in a more general or tactical sense. I was trying to think of a top ten list and how the authors pulled off the trick of writing them. Not sure I can get to ten, but this has been a really good year for very intelligent characters, so let’s see:

1) Qibli from the Wings of Fire series — I’ll start with him because he made me think of this list. Sutherland does it by having him think of more things more quickly than any other character, and by having his thoughts chain together into rapid and coherent conclusions and perceptions. Very nice job! I loved him from Moon’s perspective and I expect I’ll love him when he gets center stage in his own book.

2) Jarrit from the Magic’s Poison series. Gillian Bradshaw does it by having him always be ten steps ahead of everyone else, even when he is in terrible physical shape and half-conscious; by giving him cutthroat political instincts; and by having his most important weakness be an inability to predict what really stupid antagonists might do.

3) Ben Ryder from the Extraction trilogy. Haywood does this by having him murmur a series of stream-of-consciousness thoughts at important moments as he figures something out, and by the way other characters react to him and he reacts to them. He just cannot believe Emily hasn’t figured out various important things; he is the only one Mimi more or less treats as an equal, and so on.

4) Bren Cameron from the Foreigner series. (Hey, where’s the next Foreigner book?) A great contrast to Jarrit, because it’s hard to imagine Bren ever doing anything to anyone that’s as vicious as the kinds of things Jarrit, when properly motivated, can do. Bren is so much quieter and less ostentatious, but his political instincts are also top-notch, obviously.

Anybody know anything about Foreigner 20? Because usually CJ Cherryh has brought a new one out about this time every year and this year, no sign of one.

5) Janos in The Thousand Names series. He’s terrifying because we never see inside his head, and it’s really hard to tell whether he’s actually a good guy, and of course things get really complicated with him at the end. By refusing to let the reader see inside Janos’ head, Wexler emphasizes his brilliance. The reader never has a clue what rabbit Janos will pull out of a hat till it’s right out in view.

6) Lymond from Dunnett’s series. Again with the killer political instincts. Also with never seeing anything from Lymond’s point of view. Very intense series. The first book can be read as a standalone; the second book is not the strong point, so if you go on with this series, don’t stall out on that one and quit. I don’t feel Dunnett really knew where the series was going until after that.

7) Miles, obviously, from the Vorkosigan series.

8) Vlad Taltos, from the Taltos series

In both of the above series, the authors pull off tactical brilliance and we have no idea how hard they had to wham their heads against a wall as they figured out how to get their characters out of the corners they painted them into. I would never be able to do that, or at least I hope I could, but wow, I wish it were easier to come up with brilliant tactical solutions to intractable problems after your protagonist is stuck.

And … that is not ten.

Who has someone to add to this list? Recommendations are very welcome, especially if the brilliant protagonist is also an admirable person.

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Inability to go back to a book

Here’s a post by Diana Pharaoh Francisat Book View Cafe: Reading and Hoarding:

My problem is that I can’t seem to finish a book. I find that am delighted with the story, but after I set it down for whatever reason, I can’t make myself pick it up. I have two really good books I’m reading now that I can’t seem to make myself go back to.

I have no idea why I’m having trouble. … I sure wish I had an answer, though. And a way to change it.

I don’t have an answer, but I do have an observation.

When this happens to me, it is almost always because:

a) The situation in the book is tense, I put it down because I was nervous about where it was going, and now I’m having trouble picking it back up because of that nervousness. I don’t really want to see the characters suffer through what I can see is probably coming up.

b) The plot looks like it might be heading in a really annoying direction, one that will involve an important personal pet peeve. I am worried about that and I don’t want to go on with the book because I liked the first part and I’m reluctant to see it ruined with a trope I hate.

c) A character in the book is petty, stupid, selfish, and completely unpleasant to read about. That character has walked on stage and I put the book down because I just don’t want to read about him or her. Even watching other characters have to deal with this character is just too unpleasant. If I could be sure this character would walk offstage again in short order, it would be easier to go on with the book, but as it is, I’m delaying.

In all three cases, the only real antidote is trust in the author, so all of these problems hit much harder with a new-to-me author. I do not experience any of this with a new book by Martha Wells or Andrea K Höst or, for that matter, Gillian Bradshaw.

Given a new-to-me author, it can take a possibly surprising amount of willpower to go back to a book once I set it down for any of the above reasons.

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Tips for writing a novel

Via the Passive Voice blog , Tips for Writing a Novel:

In order to finish your novel in a timely manner, you should set a goal of writing a thousand words per day. But these can’t just be any random words you think of, typed up in a list. I learned that the hard way….

Readers will often make a snap judgment about whether to read your book based on the first sentence. That’s a lot of pressure on the first sentence, which is why my novels always begin with the sentence “Oh, no, something went wrong at the book printers,’ and the first sentence of this book was erased—ah, well, here comes the rest of the novel, I guess.” That way, readers can’t know whether the first sentence would have been good or not, so they’re just forced to read the whole book!

The whole thing is hilarious, but the above paragraph is especially relevant since I just posted ten novel openings. I guess none of the authors of those novels had read the above advice.

What makes that paragraph, imo, is the “I guess” at the end of the fake first sentence.

Definitely click through and read the whole thing.

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Recentish Additions to the TBR Pile

First, let me mention that it’s spring break, so I’m at home, which is good, but the weather has been so bad lately that it was impossible to connect to the internet until today. Too overcast. However, I did manage it today, so here is a post I actually wrote two days ago:

Along with Gillian Bradshaw’s fantasy quadrilogy, I seem to have picked up a handful of sample and quite a few full books recently. Let’s take a look!

In this particular set, I specifically noticed the use of pronouns vs names in the opening. In my very strong opinion, it is almost (but not quite) impossible to pull off a really good opening sentence or paragraph while concealing the identity of the pov character and just saying “the man” or “he.” This nearly always a clumsy device for artificially inserting mystery into the opening scene, which would generally profit from clarity instead. This set of openings provides plenty of examples that illustrate this opinion, including one counterexample that I think works just fine with “he.” Now that I’ve drawn your attention to this feature of openings, see what you think.

I will add that many workshop entries use a “the man” or “the girl” type of opening, that this never works, and that my experience reading those entries may have made me both more sensitive to this kind of unnecessary mystery and less tolerant of it. But see what you think!

1. Mrs Brodie’s Academy, “The Way to a Gentleman’s Heart” by Theresa Romain.

“Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,” chanted Marianne Redfern as she kneaded dough for the next day’s bread. “Witch’s mummy, maw and gulf of the ravined salt-sea shark…” She trailed off when she noticed her assistant, Sally White, looking at her with some alarm. “Did you … are you making a new kind of bread, Mrs Redfern?”

Okay, that’s kind of amusing. I can’t say that I ever kneaded bread to the rhythms of Shakespeare, but why not?

2. Green Rider, by Kristen Britain

The granite was cold and rough against the gray-cloaked man’s palms. It was good, solid granite, from the bones of the earth itself. He traced barely perceptible seams between the huge blocks of the wall. It was the seams, he believed, that held the key. The key to the wall’s destruction.

Okay, well, that’s fine. My first response was positive: I like the way this sounds. My second response was less positive: I thought, good solid granite as opposed to what other kind? Possibly it isn’t useful to type opening sentences of a novel; it slows you down and permits you to ask that kind of question, rather than just turning the page to see what kind of wall this is and why the unnamed person wants to destroy it.

3. A Thousand Perfect Notes by CG Drews

What he wants most in the world is to cut off his own hands.

Wow. I’ll just stop there. I mean … wow. That is one potent first sentence. It’s going to be hard for any other novel opening on this list to top that one. Something might be catchier or more appealing, but I doubt any other book I’ve picked up recently is going to start with a more powerful sentence.

And thus we see that if a sentence has enough impact, I’m okay with “he” rather than a name in the first sentence.

4. A Week to be Wicked by Tessa Dare

When a girl trudged through the rain at midnight to knock at the Devil’s door the Devil should at least have the depravity – if not he decency – to answer.

Minerva gathered the edges of her cloak with one hand, weathering another cold, stinging blast of wind. She stared in desperation at the closed door, then pounded on it with the flat of her fist.

Catchy. I’ll add a sentence from the next page because it is so startling in context:

Of the three Highwood sisters, she was the only dark-haired one, the only bespectacled one, the only one who preferred sturdy lace-up boots to silk slippers, and the only one who cared one whit about the difference between sedimentary and metamorphic rocks.

Hah! Well, that reminds me why I decided to try this particular novel by Tessa Dare.

5. From Unseen Fire by Cass Morris

Lucius Quinctilius was not, by nature, a reflective man, so perhaps it was just as well that the Dictator’s men gave him little time to contemplate his fate.

The morning of his execution dawned cool and fair, and no one in the household but Quinctilius himself had the slightest inclination that anything was amiss. Even Quinctilius suffered only a mild prick of unease, no more troubling than a splinter. His tongue had overrun him during his last public speech, but as a few days passed and retribution did not fall on his head, he convinced himself that his lapse had been overlooked.

This is a prologue, and sure enough in another page or two, Lucius is dead, so don’t get too attached to him. His wife’s sister is going to show her magical gifts in saving the wife and daughter, in another few pages, and then we’ll see where the story goes from there.

6. Honor Among Thieves by Rachel Caine and Ann Aguirre

I feel the stars.

Energy pulses against my skin, murmuring secrets about this small galaxy, about orbits and alignments and asteroids streaming in space. Impulse makes me want to dive and cruise those currents, but I control those urges. I shift my attention to the flutters of life within my skin.

Marko glows orange with crimson streaks. He is warm, always the easiest to find. Just now, he stands and stares at the blue-green orb swirling below us.

A space leviathan. Not my favorite. This is another long prologue, so I don’t know where the real story might pick up. Probably not in the belly of the whale, but who knows?

First person narratives are of course immune to the “pronoun problem” in the opening. But it helps if the pov is immediately engaging. As it happens, space whales are a hard sell for me.

7. This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

The night Kate Harker decided to burn down the school chapel, she wasn’t angry or drunk. She was desperate.

Oh, yeah, this is a good opening. Out of these ten novels, if it weren’t for the one with the hands, this would be the opening with the most impact.

8. The Sword Smith by Eleanor Arnason

A little after sunset he came in sight of the town. He reined his horse. Ahead of him the road went down into a wide valley, surrounded by low wooded hills. The town was at the valley’s center: a little cluster of dimly glowing lights. A short distance from the town was a second, smaller cluster of lights, probably a caravan’s camp fires. Nargri, who’d been sleeping curled up in the big saddle bag, raised her head and said, “What’re you doing, Limper?”

A page later, we have an implication that Nargri is a dragon. I was certainly wondering.

Now, as a separate issue, I seem to be more sensitive to stupid-sounding names than some readers, so that, for example, I always had to make an effort of will to tolerate the stupid names in Pratchett’s books.  My response to this opening is: Ah, pronoun. Followed by, Limper? ?re you kidding me?

9. Emergency Contact by Mary H K Choi

“Tell me something, Penny . . .”

Penny knew that whatever Madison Chandler was going to say, she wasn’t going to enjoy it. Madison leaned in close, mouth smiling, beady eyes narrowed. Penny held her breath.

“Why is your mom such a slut?”

These first sentences are not the least bit appealing to me. Ugh. However, I will say that when Penny lists her options for responses, that list is not without charm. Here is a truncated version of the list so you can judge for yourself:

a) punch her in the face

b) punch her pervert father in the face

c) rage-cry later

d) unleash the pyrokinetic abilities bequeathed to you upon birth, scorching the shopping mall with the fire of a trillion suns.

Okay, fine, I presume option (d) is not actually on the table, and it would of course be a trifle over the top, but including it in this list is the one thing that will make me turn the page.

10. Skinwalker by Faith Hunter

I wheeled my bike down Decatur Street and eased deeper into the French Quarter, the bike’s engine purring. My shotgun, a Benelli M4 Super 90, was slung over my back and loaded for vamp with hand-paced silver fléchette rounds. I carried a selection of silver crosses in my belt, hidden under my leather jacket, and stakes, secured in loops on my jeans-clad thighs. The saddlebags on my bike were filled with my meager travel belongings – clothes in one side, tools of the trade in the other. As a vamp killer for hire, I travel light.

Well, fairly generic UF opening there. When I happen to be in the mood for a new-to-me UF, I will be glad to try this, but who knows when that might be. I do remember who recommended Faith Hunter to me, though, so I am disposed to like the series.

Okay, so that is, let me see:

1 kind-of-Regency

1 actual Regency

2 ordinary fantasies

1 interestingly Roman-inspired fantasy

1 Urban Fantasy

1 SF

2 contemporary YA

1 YA dystopia.

Not bad for variety. The one I’m most likely to try soon: The Sword Smith, because I suspect I may not like it, which might mean I could take a quick look and then discard it. Same goes for Honor Among Thieves. I’m always happy to be wrong about that suspicion and sometimes I am, so we’ll see. The one I’m least likely to try soon: A Thousand Perfect Notes. It takes me longer to try a book if it looks powerful.

The book I am actually reading right now:

The sixth Wings of Fire book by Tui Sutherland – the first in the second  five-book arc. I hit something of a nothing-sounds-appealing period, so I thought picking up this series would get me over the hurdle. So far so good! Still looking like my favorite MG series. Enormous charm.

Actual current writing of my own:

I am essentially wasting spring break by getting stalled out on my WIP. It’s the SF thing – Invictus is the working title. I doubt I’ve written even 10,000 words in the past five days, not a great writing pace when I’m home all day and the weather is bad; particularly disappointing when the earlier part of the draft went so fast and smoothly.

Yesterday I just poked at it and didn’t get anywhere. Today I am backing up and writing a new Chapter 17. If that doesn’t work, I think I’m going to have to set it aside until I can figure out whether I might be in the wrong pov or maybe figure out how it ends. Or both, obviously. Preferably, I will come up with wonderful, compelling scenes that get me from where I am now to the end. It’s at 86,000 words, so I did get pretty far before it stalled, but it’s annoying because if I knew where it was going and was on a proper roll, I could probably have finished the draft this week. As it is, there’s no chance.

If Invictus won’t get moving, I may pick up Copper Mountain, which stalled earlier this year, and see if it would care to de-stall at this point.

I did finish tweaking a novella, though, and sent that back to Caitlin just now, so that’s something.

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