Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Tension in Casablanca

Janet Reid has a post up about query stats for last year, in which she says, “The most consistent flaw in requested mss was pacing and tension. Without tension there’s nothing to hold my interest. If I’m not actively wondering what happens next by page 50, it’s an almost certain pass.”

Then she wrote a post to illustrate what she means by tension and pacing with reference to Casablanca.

Tension rises when French police captain Renault tells Rick that notorious freedom fighter Victor Laszlo will be in the cafe that evening, and that Laszlo is in dire need of exit visas.

(A character must want something for there to be tension; Laszlo wants the visas. Often in editing notes this is noted as “what does the main character want?”)

Each step of the way through the movie, Janet notes, “tension increases because . . . tension abates when . . . tension increases again as possible solutions disappear . . .”

It’s a pretty good post, especially if you’re a fan of the movie.

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Tenai: Back cover description

Many of you pointed to “Last Year’s Leaves are Smoke” as a great line. Yes, that’s my favorite of the lines of poetry I thought of perhaps using as book titles. It’s not out of copyright, however. In a relatively small number of years, yes, but in 2021, no. Too bad! I am not certain whether I should approach the estate to ask permission. It would be simpler to just look only at poems published before 1923. Or just look at Shakespeare. I have a Bartlett’s Quotations sitting around. Maybe it’s time to get that out.

Meanwhile, back cover copy! Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

Book 1

A gifted psychiatrist, Daniel Dodson is perfectly aware that he’s in a tough place personally following the death of his wife. Then a mysterious new patient offers a welcome professional distraction.

The world of swords and magic that Tenai so vividly remembers obviously can’t be real. The deadly enmity and long war that left such deep emotional scars obviously symbolize something else. But perhaps Daniel can use the signposts of those confabulated memories to help Tenai understand how to move forward into a new life in the real world.

Book 2

Down the rabbit hole, but not to Wonderland.

It never occurred to Daniel that the fantastic life Tenai remembers might be absolutely true. But when he and his daughter are swept up in the plots of Tenai’s enemies and dropped abruptly into a world of dark magic and darker history, Daniel is faced with the need to find a way to help Tenai deal with the all-too-real echoes of her past.

Book 3

Sometimes the past does not let go.

Daniel has come to know far more about Tenai’s enemies than he ever wanted to know — and far more than she does herself. Forced into unwilling cooperation with those enemies, can Daniel find a way to free himself, protect his daughter, and help Tenai overcome the shadows of her past — before it’s too late?

The conclusion of the story begun in [TITLE].

What do you all think? I strongly prefer short back cover descriptions, and I prefer not to give away too much just on the back cover. But I have to say SOMETHING about the third book. Is that too much, too little, the wrong thing to reveal?

I’m concerned that these back cover descriptions may make the story sound too dark. On the other hand, it IS a darker story than, for example, THE FLOATING ISLANDS.

Also, I realize that referring to a male pov character and an important female character on the back cover suggests romance. I can’t quite think of any way to prevent the impression that this story might or probably does include an important romance, so I see no choice but to let some readers avoid the story because they don’t want to read a romance and then disappoint other readers because the story turns out to contain SOME romance, but not the one they may expect from the back cover. Any ideas about that? I don’t suppose there some standard code phrase for “not a romance” that I haven’t ever noticed? I could mention that Daniel is middle-aged; I could even mention that Tenai is over four hundred years old; but neither of those factors says “Also, they do not have a romance.”

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What do you think of lines of poetry for book titles?

So, I’m still struggling with possible titles for the TENAI trilogy.

By “struggling,” I mean, this is just impossible and frustrating. No wonder everybody gives up and uses the character’s name as the title, or names the book “XYZ’s DAUGHTER,” or whatever. I swear, those random title generators are starting to look like a pretty good idea.

For fun, I paused to actually use the random title generator linked above. “I’ve written a book,” I tell the generator. “Give me a title.”

SWORD’S MASK.

Well, close! There’s a sword! Otherwise, nope. Let me try again:

THE WAR TEMPLE

Ha, that is so far off base, it’s funny. Okay, I clicked on the random title generator a dozen times — it’s kind of fun to see what pops up — but obviously this sort of thing is entirely useless.

So, questions:

A) Is it okay to use lines from real poems as the titles of fantasy novels?

B) Is it okay to use Latin words and phrases as the titles of fantasy novels?

Here is what I’m thinking of so far:

Tenai Book 1 — the prelude —

  1. Memoriae
  2. Too Long for Those Who Grieve — that’s from “Time Is” by Henry van Dyke
  3. Last Year’s Leaves are Smoke — that’s from “Time Does Not Bring Relief” by Edna St Vincint Millay

Tenai Book 2 — the first half of the main story —

  1. In Tenebris
  2. The Memory of Finished Years — that is from “Echoes” by Christina Rosetti

Tenai Book 3 — the second half of the main story —

  1. Lux Aeterna
  2. How Dark and Bright — Houseman’s “Easter Hymn”

Probably the above is all hopeless and I should start over. Possibly with random title generators.

****

In struggling with ideas for titles, I stumbled across this poem, which I like and thought I’d share:

Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep by Mary Elizabeth Frye

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

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Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow

From tor.com: Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow Might Be Coming to FX

I wouldn’t watch it. Have you read this book? Because some of the situations in this book constitute the second-worst things I have ever encountered in fiction. I really enjoyed The Sparrow, in a way. I admired the book very much, in a way. But, (a) I have never re-read it; and (b) I am far, far less tolerant of terrible things in visual formats than in words. I could handle the awful things in The Sparrow when I read it, but I don’t think I could stand to watch it.

Also, I trust they actually mean both The Sparrow and Children of God. This is not a story where you can stop halfway through the duology. No.

Having said that, there’s no indication at the tor.com post that anyone is actually planning on completing the story. That’s … unspeakably awful. The Sparrow ends in a terrible, terrible place. If you don’t go on with the second half of the story, that’s where you’re left! That’s an awful thing to do to the viewer!

This duology was very interesting to me as a writer because I read a lot of reviews that divided down the middle. Half the reviewers said, “I hated this book; the characters are SO FLAT.” The other half said, “I loved this book; the characters are SO REAL.” I thought that actually both takes on the duology were half-right: the characters are in fact flat, but the story is nevertheless brilliant. The one-dimensional characters allow the author to do a lot with the worldbuilding and plotting that more complicated characters would have interfered with.

Also, the dialogue is absolutely stunning. The least believable thing about the story as a story is that no one is that consistently witty in conversation.

The least believable thing about the story from a scientific perspective is that the evolutionary situation described is so entirely unlikely as to be impossible.

Anyway, interesting choice for visual media. I could think of a hundred books I’d rather see in that format, but, well, it’ll be interesting to see what happens with this.

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Dire wolves weren’t that much like wolves!

Oh, this is super cool! Except now it makes me really want to re-name dire wolves — I mean the common name. Listen to this:

When researchers sequenced the extinct predator’s genome, they found it wasn’t a wolf at all but instead a distinct lineage that split off from the rest of the canines some 5.7 million years ago … Though the bones of the dire wolf are so similar to today’s gray wolves that paleontologists sometimes have trouble telling them apart, the genes told an entirely different story … dire wolf DNA also showed that the species’ lineage is separate from the other living branches of the canine evolutionary tree, including African jackals, coyotes and dogs. To reflect the dire wolf’s now lonely perch on its very own branch of the canine evolutionary tree, researchers propose giving it a new scientific name: Aenocyon dirus.

The image at the link re-imagines “dire wolves” as canids with shorter coats of a reddish color — basically dhole coloration and coat type. While possible — and cool — and a good way of emphasizing that “dire wolves” weren’t wolves — this isn’t likely. One thing we definitely know is that dire wolves were predominantly a cold-climate species. I suspect that it’s more likely the coat was much more wolf-like than dhole-like.

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The Sphere of the Winds

Okay, someone asked for a teaser from the sequel to The Floating Islands, so …

Actually, this was a bit difficult. Rather than showing you only a scene from Chapter One, I’ve chosen to show you a short piece from Chapter One and then another short piece from Chapter Two. Here we go:

1: Araenè

Araenè opened a door at random and glanced through it at the bare room thus revealed, maybe fifteen paces or so across, unfurnished except for a single chair and gauzy draperies blowing in the warm breeze. The room’s windows were narrow and numerous, so there was a lot of gauze. Pink gauze. The chair, carved with ornate swirls and ripples, had been painted pale violet. Its cushions were a deeper purple. The walls were a sky blue. The combination of colors in the small space was a little . . . well, it was a little . . .

Ceirfei, peering with interest over Araenè’s shoulder, murmured, “Sugar cakes.”

Araenè had to laugh. That was exactly right. The room was exactly like a plate of cakes rolled in pastel sugars, the sort given out to children too young to have any subtlety. She shut the door, gently, and looked up and down the wide white marble stairway upon which they’d found themselves. “This wasn’t exactly what I had in mind,” she admitted, glancing sideways at her companion, “when I said I’d show you the hidden school.”

“Well, we certainly are seeing some new parts of it,” Ceirfei said, in a very serious tone that was like a smile.

He wasn’t nervous. He didn’t mind being lost. Araenè was relieved. If Ceirfei wasn’t nervous, she didn’t have to be, either. Embarrassed at her inability to find her way to places she knew, maybe. But not nervous.

She opened the door again. The room was still filled with pink gauze and blue-painted walls and that ridiculous violet chair.

“Up?” asked Ceirfei. “Or down?”

They’d already explored a series of chilly, windowless rooms far underground: one with long shelves stacked with delicate porcelain plates and platters and bowls, far fancier than the ones anybody actually used; and one with all sorts of fancy scented candles shaped like animals and birds and fish and flowers; and one with, prosaically, about a hundred sacks of rice and bundles of noodles. Araenè had hoped that last one would lead them back to the familiar kitchens, but instead they’d found themselves entering a long hot gallery with dozens of high windows that let in the rich afternoon light and the sharp briny scent of the sea. Finally they had come out of that gallery upon this wide spiral stairway. The gallery seemed to have let them out right in the middle of the stairway, because from this landing, it coiled endlessly up and down a perfectly smooth shaft of white marble, with nothing visible above or below but more loops of wide, shallow stairs and the occasional landing. Looking down made Araenè dizzy and looking up made her tired, but the pastel-sugar room didn’t seem to hold much promise. And going back along the gallery would be boring.

Araenè had meant to show Ceirfei some of her favorite places within the hidden school: not just the kitchens, but also the aviary where the little birds flitted among potted trees and flowers, and the room of glass, and the hall of spheres and mirrors. But today she couldn’t seem to find any door that would cooperate at all. Not even the ‘friendly door’, Akhan Bhotounn, which was nearly always accommodating. Araenè might have called out to Master Tnegun for help, but if she did that, she would have to admit, not only to Ceirfei but also to her master, that she couldn’t find her own way back to familiar places. She didn’t want to do that. She was already slow to learn things the other apprentices all seemed to absorb as naturally as bread absorbs melted butter.

Besides, she wasn’t really nervous yet. And Ceirfei didn’t seem impatient. That made sense, actually. He was never very eager to return to his family’s home, though the Feneirè apartment in the palace was beautiful and filled with every luxury, with servants to do all the work and bring you things.

Araenè never commented on the way Ceirfei preferred to visit her at the hidden school rather than ask her to come to the palace. She knew all about needing to get away from your home and family, so you could be yourself instead of the person everybody else wanted you to be. And no one worried much about chaperones or propriety, so long as they stayed in the hidden school – Master Tnegun and the other mages being presumably capable of keeping track of one young apprentice and her visitor. Even if her visitor was a Feneirè and the son of Calaspara Naterensei herself.

Araenè glanced at Ceirfei again. He still had that particularly sober expression that meant he was actually thoroughly amused. If he wasn’t worried about his parents’ fretting, she didn’t see why she should be. Really, Ceirfei was lucky in his parents. Mostly. In some ways. Anyway, he was lucky just to have a home and a family to go back to. Not that she would ever say so.

Besides, if it got too late, so that Ceirfei’s mother might miss him or Master Tnegun might miss her, or if they stumbled across anything frightening, she could call out then.

“Up,” she decided, because she knew Ceirfei would prefer it. He was a kajurai, and kajuraihi always preferred heights to any kind of secret subterranean chambers. “Up would be better?”

Ceirfei looked at her, knowing exactly what she was thinking. The corners of his eyes crinkled. “Definitely up,” he said gravely.

Araenè couldn’t suppress a laugh. Embarrassing to be lost? Maybe; but if she had to be lost and wandering through unknown parts of the mage’s hidden school, well, there was surely no one better to be lost with than Ceirfei. “Definitely up!” she agreed, and ran ahead of him, taking the shallow steps two at a time.

Steps and steps, white marble underfoot and white marble walls, with a cool breeze blowing down from above. At first, the spiral stair didn’t seem to lead anywhere at all. There were no landings for the first four or five turns of the stairway. Araenè dropped back to a more sedate pace, breathless and starting to feel the strain in her calves. She might have suggested they go down, but no, she’d selflessly offered to go up . . . Ceirfei caught up to her, gave her an amused sidelong look, and took her hand in his.

He wouldn’t have done that if they were where anybody could see. Araenè, suddenly breathless for a reason that had nothing to do with running up stairs, decided that getting lost had actually been a clever idea. Then she wondered whether Ceirfei thought she’d gotten them lost on purpose. Then she wondered whether maybe she had gotten them lost on purpose, without even realizing it.

Surely not. Anyway, too much thinking was definitely not good. She pointed ahead, to the upward curve before them. “There’s another door!” She wasn’t sure whether she was relieved to see it, or not. She wanted to get them back to the familiar parts of the school . . . didn’t she?

“That’s fancy,” Ceirfei said, looking the door up and down. “Shall I open it? Or do you want to?” He didn’t sound confused or uncertain or breathless. He just sounded interested in finding out what lay on the other side of that door. But he didn’t let go of her hand, either.

“I’d better . . .” You never knew what you might find, opening doors in the hidden school. Araenè touched the latch carefully. It was made of crystal, to match the door, which was all ebony and crystal and very fancy indeed. The kind of door that looked as though it really should open to something more interesting than sacks of rice. But the latch didn’t feel hot or cold, or shower her fingers with sparks, or do anything but click down.

Araenè opened the door, carefully, ready to slam it again if she found a basilisk or a coiled serpent or a roaring fire surging toward her or anything else alarming.

But the room on the other side didn’t match the fancy door at all. It was a tiny square room, which contained nothing but layers of dust and a single unstrung harp resting on a stool in the middle of the floor. Dust had poofed up as the door skimmed across the floor, and now settled again slowly. The air smelled of age and solitude, and somehow of darkness and silence.

“Hmm,” murmured Ceirfei, peering over Araenè’s shoulder.

The harp, framed in the bar of light that fell in through the open door, was extremely elegant, carved of some dark red wood with ebony inlay. There was no dust on the harp at all. Araenè suspected that it might actually be strung with the winds or with musical notes that played without strings, or maybe with the voices of the forgotten dead. It looked like that sort of harp, somehow.

She closed the door again and said out loud, in her firmest tone, but without a great deal of hope, “You know, the kitchens would be better.” But when she opened the door a second time, she found exactly the same dusty room and exactly the same stool. Only, disconcertingly, this time the stool was occupied not by a mysterious stringless harp, but by a little dragon, perched perfectly still, its silvery-dark wings half open and its fine-boned head turned toward the door, its yellow eyes glittering.

***

Then other stuff happens. Meanwhile:

***

2: Trei

Trei flew above layers of air lucent as crystal. He could see a cool, dense wind arriving from the north, shoving the warm southern air upward. He could see the swift rushing wind that skirled out as the winds mingled, carrying streamers of cloud that formed and coiled and stretched out and dissolved again. He flew above all that activity, so high that the air seemed as still and pure as glass and he barely needed to shift a feather to hold his position. He flew so high even Milendri looked small. The white towers of Canpra glinted like tiny chips of white marble at the eastern edge of the Island, and the pastures stretched away from the city in a featureless blur of green. A scattering of other Floating Islands were just visible in the distance, Kotipa nearest, the rest half lost against the unbroken sapphire haze of the endless sea.

Trei had never before flown so high. That had been the assignment: to climb above all the winds that touched the earth. All the novices had immediately wagered hours of tedious featherwork on who could fly highest. Trei thought he might have won, but it was hard to be sure. Away to the east he could make out the dark fleck of another novice suspended in the crystalline sky, but it was impossible to tell which of them was higher.

That speck was probably Genrai, but it might be Kojran. Kojran was sometimes annoyingly vain, but Trei had to admit that none of the other boys was as good at bending the winds as he was. Kojran might have coaxed a dense lower wind to follow him all the way up the column of the sky to support his climb. But Genrai was the strongest flier, and he wasn’t bad with windworking either. Trei wouldn’t mind losing the wager to Genrai, but if Kojran won, Tokabii would be jealous– he always ran after Kojran and tried to beat him, like a little brother after an elder. And Rekei would be angry if either of the younger Third City boys won. Rekei always wanted the Second City boys to do best at everything, and that meant him or Trei. It would be all right if Genrai won because he was so much older, but Trei wasn’t sure his rival was Genrai.

If Ceirfei had been allowed to fly today, he would have won. Ceirfei was always the best at everything. Nobody would mind Ceirfei winning. But Ceirfei’s family wouldn’t let him try anything that seemed dangerous. Obviously falling from the very vaults of the heavens was no more deadly than simply falling into the sea off the balcony of a First City tower, but people who couldn’t fly never thought of that. It was too bad. Everything was better when Ceirfei was allowed to join the rest of them. And every time his family refused, everyone had to wonder whether they were going to ground him permanently. Trei didn’t like to think about it.

Probably that other novice was Genrai. Trei tilted his wings a minute degree, spreading the feathers of his left wingtip, sliding through the sky toward the other boy. He was beginning to think that other novice was above him. If he was, and if it was Genrai, Trei though he would just concede. He could go down, back to the novitiate. He could strip off his wings and have a hot bath and something hot to drink, everyday comforts after the grandeur of the heights. His wrists and arms were tired and his back ached all down his spine. And the other novice was close, now. Almost close enough . . . yes. It was Genrai. Trei recognized the older boy’s angular, bony build, so different from stocky Rekei or little Tokabii.

Then he looked again, staring through the layered wind with his crystalline kajurai eyes, and saw he had been wrong after all. The other novice was not Genrai at all. It was Nescana.

Nescana, Genrai’s sister, was the very first girl novice ever. She was fifteen – three months older than Trei. She’d been supposed to get married. Genrai had actually put off his own audition for years so she would be old enough to get married. But it turned out she hadn’t actually wanted to get married at all. She’d put it off and put it off and then the kajuraihi had announced the special audition for girls just in time, so she hadn’t had to after all. There was a lesson in that, though not the kind adults wanted you to notice.

Nescana said she’d walked all the way from Third City the day before the special audition and then sat outside all night waiting. Trei understood that perfectly, but then he wasn’t from the Islands. Kojran and Rekei were offended by the whole idea of girl novices and annoyed to have a whole third of the novice hall blocked off for a girl – not that they’d say so where Genrai could hear, of course. Trei thought that was ridiculous. Obviously anybody, girl or not, might be sky-mad, so why not let girls audition if they wanted to?

Master Anerii had been the ones to make the kajuraihi audition girls, after Trei had pointed out how ridiculous it was to refuse girls the chance. “If the dragons approved a half-blood Tolounese boy, I expect they’ll approve full-blooded Islander girls,” he’d pointed out. “Why not? Everyone says we need more novices. Well, then, don’t you think the dragons would know better than you whether girls would make good kajuraihi?”

Master Anerii had been gruff and sarcastic and impatient, but then he had argued Wingmaster Taimenai into allowing the special audition after all. Nescana hadn’t been the only girl to audition, but she’d been the only one to succeed.

“The only girl novice, and she would have to be my own sister!” Genrai had complained. “What use is that? I ask you!” But he had been proud when his sister had woken up after her audition with crystalline eyes that could see the wind. Trei had been surprised to find himself jealous of Genrai because his sister was a kajurai novice – because his sister was here. Alive. Obviously it only made sense to let girls be novices, but he had discovered he hated even looking at Nescana at first, because she made him think of Marrè.

But of course that wasn’t fair. Nescana was nothing like Marrè. Nothing at all. So he had made himself be nice. He would have wanted the boys to be nice to his sister, if it had been Marrè.

And Nescana did work very hard to catch up with the boys who had auditioned at the beginning of the summer.

That was the problem. Because Nescana was not supposed to be in the sky today. That was partly because she wasn’t supposed to try the advanced exercises yet, but mostly because she was grounded. Nescana was very bad at following rules. She’d slipped out six nights in a row to fly. Everybody did it, but not everybody made it six nights before they got caught. Nescana had been grounded for a whole senneri.

But here she was anyway. Breaking all sorts of rules. Again. And she was even a little higher than Trei. He could see the warmer air she’d coaxed to rise with her. She had a real gift for pulling the winds, but . . . she might not understand long and exhausting the flight down would be. She wouldn’t know the tricks for resting on the wing. She might be in a lot of trouble, and not know it yet. Trei arched his wings just a little, turning in a slow, climbing spiral to catch Nescana’s column of warmer air. She wasn’t stupid. Probably he could get her to listen to him.

And besides, he wanted to get above her because it wouldn’t be fair at all if she won the exercise when she hadn’t even been supposed to fly in it at all.

She’d seen him, though, and was laboring to climb. Trei was so close now he could see the strain in her tight wrists and the way she caught short, gasping breaths of the thin air.

Nescana really looked a lot like her brother. She and Genrai weren’t twins, she was three years the younger, but they looked almost like they might be twins. Even though she was a girl, Nescana was actually a little taller than Trei was, which wasn’t fair. That was probably another reason she’d gotten so high: she was too tall and too strong for a girl. Where Genrai was thin, Nescana was gawky, all knees and elbows, with hands that looked too big for her narrow wrists. She was much too bony to be pretty. Besides, her eyes were too wide-set, her nose too large, her mouth too wide, her chin too strong. Trei thought she would have made a far more convincing boy than his cousin Araenè had ever managed. Not that he would ever have said so to either girl.

But she wasn’t clumsy in the air. For a girl who’d just started flying, she was really good. Not that Trei was jealous, that would be stupid. But he wasn’t going to let her win, either. He gritted his teeth and put a little more arch into his wings.

Nescana ducked her head, looking for him. When she saw how close he was, she swore, her voice thin and breathless.

“You’d better go down!” Trei shouted up at her. His own voice was thin, too, at this height. “You’re going to be in so much trouble!”

“Less, if I win!” gasped Nescana. “I can do it! I said I could and I can!”

“Down will be harder than you think!” Trei called. He closed up the last of the distance between them, his wingtip almost overlapping hers. He held the arch in his wings . . . and held it . . . and closed up the spread feathers of his wingtips . . . and he was above Nescana at last. She swore again, her language pure Third-City. Trei might have laughed at her except he didn’t have enough breath to laugh.

Nescana swore once more. “You should let me win!” she said. “That would be polite!”

“I won’t! Don’t be stupid! Give up, and we can both go down!”

“I won’t!” she called back.

Trei didn’t think it mattered, actually. He thought they were both going to run into the limits of the thin air, and it wouldn’t matter how good either of them were at rising in place or coaxing the winds to help them. But he could show her the techniques she would need to get down safely. She’d be all right. He was sure she would be. He let himself slip back down, or he let her catch up, until their wingtips once more nearly overlapped and he could talk to her without shouting. “Let’s go down!” he called. “I’ll say you got just as high as I did!” It was almost true. If they stayed high, that girl might make it true. She wasn’t going to stop.

“I can get higher!” Nescana’s jaw tightened as she tried, but Trei could see how her narrow wrists trembled and how the muscles of her neck and back clenched with effort.

“You really don’t know how much strength going down will take!” Nescana was so new to flying, she probably thought down was as easy as falling. “You’re going to overfly your strength! We need to go down!”

“You wouldn’t say that to Genrai!” said Nescana. “We can get higher! At least, I can!”

Genrai has more sense than to overfly his strength!” Trei snapped. “You overfly your strength and fall into the sea, you’ll drown! It’s really hard to get out of the water once you’re in! You haven’t learned anything about that yet! You don’t want to find it out the hard way!”

Nescana was too stubborn for a girl. Changing tack, he called, “I’ll show you a trick! A way to rest in the air!” Then he tucked one wing and turned the other and swung neatly over on his back, instantly taking the strain off his arms. He meant to rest just for a moment, surrounded by thin air and brilliant light. He meant to make sure Nescana tried this trick, too. Then he would talk her into dropping back toward the sea. He would stay close to her all the way down, in case she got herself into trouble. More trouble.

Instead, turning, Trei found himself staring into a twisting, layered complexity of barely-visible shape and movement, terrifyingly huge and close, so close he could have almost put out a hand to touch it.

He couldn’t breathe. He spilled air and dropped and barely caught himself. Beside him and now a little above him, Nescana cried out.

The dragon was transparent as ice, glittering with opalescent blues and golds around the edges. Its long body coiled and uncoiled, rippling in several directions at once until the whole sky seemed streaked with half visible movement and Trei was dizzy from trying to focus on it. The dragon’s great wings spanned the sky from east to west; the sunlight slanting across the feathers turned the quills and barbs to crystal and spun glass. Its head was as fine boned and delicate as a bird’s, but crystalline teeth longer than a man’s hand glinted within its narrow jaw. The deep-set chatoyant eye that gazed at Trei was larger than his whole head.

***

There you go, dragons everywhere, that’s a pretty good intro, I think.

Also, if you haven’t met Nescana yet, you might want to read her story before you read The Sphere of the Winds. Nescana is featured in the novella “Audition” in the collection Beyond the Dreams We Know. In fact, that may be my personal favorite out of the stories in that collection.

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Yet another new upcoming title

Okay! This year is going to be SO CLUTTERED with new releases from me, I can’t even tell you.

THE FLOATING ISLANDS came out ten years ago. Did you realize that? I actually did not until I just looked it up. Wow, it’s been a long time. As you may know, my editor asked me to write a sequel, which I did. Random House then merged with Penguin and, by the time the sequel was written and handed to my editor, their acquisitions process had changed so that the editor did not have full authority to take a sequel. Instead, I wrote a couple standalone novels for that imprint, while shelving the sequel.

Since I’m now moving forward with self-publishing in a much more definite way, this seems like a good time to bring out that sequel. It’s actually just a coincidence that this is the ten-year-anniversary, but hey, that does seem like an appropriate time to quit waiting around and just do it.

The title will be THE SPHERE OF THE WINDS, and as with everything else, I’ll release it as soon as it’s in shape; eg, proofed for typos and with a cover.

I wrote this book with an eye to eventually going on with a third book. SPHERE is self-contained, sure, but there is a looming situation in the world that, well, it would be just nicer to eventually resolve that. So we’ll see. I have a lot of other things I’m working on this year, and those projects are pretty likely to extend well into next year. But one thing seems very likely: If I ever do write the third book of this trilogy, I won’t wait ten years to do it.

This has always been one of my favorite covers. It’ll be interesting to see what an artist comes up with when I ask, “Can you match the tone and brightness of this cover?”

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Nikoles

For generations the Ugaro of the winter country have traded peacefully with the Lau of the summer lands. But now a fatal mistake has created bitterness and hatred on both sides of the river, threatening to destroy a peace that has become tenuous.

Nikoles Ianan realizes, too late, that he should have prevented his own people’s unforgivable trespass – he should at least have tried. Now it seems impossible for a single Lau soldier to do anything to prevent the escalating tragedy … until the most famous scepter-holder of the summer country arrives.

Lord Aras Samaura has urgent tasks waiting elsewhere and little time to forge a new peace before bitterness turns to outright war. He’ll need luck – and all the help he can get from a young Lau soldier with a unique connection to the Ugaro people and the determination to do whatever he must to atone for his mistake.

Book Details:

UK / US Print Edition
Date: September, 2020
ISBN: 979-8674771579
Format: Paperpack
R.R.P.: £8.81

Ebook
Date: September, 2020
ISBN: B08H9YVS6B
R.R.P.: £3.76

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Buying Info:

Links to online retailers to follow…

{ or use the following }

UK Print & Ebook
Amazon.co.uk |
North American Print & Ebook
Amazon.com

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A book review podcast

So, just pointing out this podcast, called A Good Story is Hard to Find. Long, thoughtful book reviews of a wide variety of books and movies, about an hour in length. Nice, calm podcast to listen to while walking the dogs.

Also, as you may have suspected, the podcasters (is that the term?), Scott and Julie, happened to have reviewed TUYO for their first podcast of the year. It’s a great review. You can bet I immediately downloaded various other episodes — including one that reviews Paladin of Souls and one that reviews Watership Down.

I’m particularly interested in listening to or reading good reviews of books I have already read and love — does anybody else feel that way? — But once I trust that a reviewer’s taste is more or less compatible with mine, I do go on to read reviews of books that I haven’t read. Or in this case, listen.

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Blog

Top Five List for 2020

I really, honestly read very few new-to-me books in 2020. I’m not sure exactly how few, because I didn’t keep track. If I were guessing, I would say I might have read as few as fifty books last year. That may be overstating how few, but way, way down from an ordinary year, no question about that. Since I read fewer than half as many books as I ordinarily would, I’m doing half of a Top Ten List for 2020; thus, a Top Five List.

As you know, when I did read new-to-me books, I was largely interested in stories where nothing terrible happened. That may bias the following list to some degree, but honestly, not too much. These are stories I would have loved in any year. I’m listing them in chronological order by when I read them.

1) One Night in Boukos.

The riotous Psobion festival is about to begin in the city of Boukos, and the ambassador from the straightlaced kingdom of Zash has gone missing. Ex-soldier Marzana, captain of the embassy guard, and the ambassador’s secretary, the shrewd and urbane eunuch Bedar, are the only two who know.

Here’s my review of this lighthearted story with a serious undertone. As an added note, nothing terrible happens in this story.

2) Pyramids of London.

In a world where lightning sustained the Roman Empire, and Egypt’s vampiric god-kings spread their influence through medicine and good weather, tiny Prytennia’s fortunes are rising with the ships that have made her undisputed ruler of the air.

Here’s my review of this complicated murder mystery with the most incredibly baroque setting imaginable.

3. Network Effect.

When Murderbot’s human associates (not friends, never friends) are captured and another not-friend from its past requires urgent assistance, Murderbot must choose between inertia and drastic action.

Drastic action it is, then.

Here’s my very, very short review of this wonderful Murderbot novel.

4. From All False Doctrine.

Toronto, 1925: An ancient manuscript and a modern cult promise the secret to personal metamorphosis. An atheist graduate student falls in love with a priest. A shiftless musician jilts his fiancée and disappears. From All False Doctrine is a metaphysical mystery wrapped in a 1920s comedy of manners.

Here’s my review of this wonderful novel in which, by the way, nothing really terrible happens (at least not permanently). This is, as you may know, by the same author as the #1 entry above, though under a different name. I absolutely loved this book and read it straight through twice in quick succession. I didn’t care for the sequel as much, but I did enjoy that as well.

5. The Hands of the Emperor.

One day Cliopher invites the Sun-on-Earth home to the proverbially remote Vangavaye-ve for a holiday.

The mere invitation could have seen Cliopher executed for blasphemy.
The acceptance upends the world.

Here’s my short review of this novel, which was equally as wonderful as #4 (though very different) and which I also read straight through twice in succession. I know a lot of you have read this one recently and also loved it, and I hear the author is writing a direct sequel right now, so we’ll all want to keep an eye out for that!

So this Top Five list includes two long-time favorite authors — Andrea K Host and Martha Wells — but also two new-to-me authors. That’s fantastic. Nothing I love more than adding another name to my list of favorite authors! I discovered both Alice Degan and Victoria Goddard through commenters on this blog. Thank you so much for recommending them to me, and if any of you reads a book this year and thinks, “You know, this is just the kind of thing I bet Rachel would love,” by all means drop me a line about it! You all have the BEST taste in books!

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