Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Grammar Police make terrible writers: discuss

A post I happened across: 4 Reasons Freelance Writers Shouldn’t Be Grammar Police

This title made me pause. I’m too polite (usually) to be a card-carrying member of the Grammar Police, but I’m generally a Grammar Police Sympathizer, at least. And you know, I think I do okay as a writer. Let’s just see what those reasons are, shall we? I thought judgmentally.

Then I read the opening of the post. It starts like this:

The other day I received this email in response to a marketing message I sent out to my subscription list:

Basic grammar forbids the use of double negatives, “…using the wrong
set of skills for the wrong job”. An authority on writing must master
the rules of writing before they can be taken seriously.

I so wanted to let this guy know that “the wrong skills for the wrong job” is hardly a double negative, and that some of the greatest writers of all times used double negatives for emphasis — Shakespeare, anyone? …

This derailed my inclination to be immediately judgmental about the titular four reasons, since it made me smile. I thought, well, the author here, Linda Formichelli, sure missed a chance to respond to her critic. If I’d gotten that email, I would have been inclined to respond:

“Using the wrong skills for the wrong job” isn’t a double negative. A double negative is defined as blah blah blah; here is an example and a citation. I wonder if you meant to put that period outside the quote marks? That is not standard in America. Also, by the way, “An authority on writing” is singular, so you probably shouldn’t have used the plural pronoun “they” in the following clause.”

Then I would have chalked this one up as another example of the basic truism that if you’re going to criticize someone else’s grammar or punctuation, you better proofread your criticism very, very, VERY carefully before you hit “send.”

But sure, now that that’s out of the way, what ARE those four reasons?

1.Ah ha, yes, first on the list: the one about Grammar Police not being perfect.

Well, I disagree. I mean, sure, Grammar Police don’t produce error-free writing. We just produce ALMOST error-free writing, except when we toss errors into dialogue for effect or something like that.

The person who wrote that email with those errors in it is not actually a member of the true Grammar Police, or so I would assert. That person is a mere wannabe, a poser who aspires to true Grammar Police status.

Let’s take a look at Reason Two:

2. Grammar Police waste time worrying about other people’s writing, when they ought to be writing.

Nonsense. Grammar policing is not a career. It’s merely a vocation. A proper member of the Grammar Police is quite able to proffer a quick comment about the correct use of apostrophes just in passing, without a significant loss of time. 

If we want to take even less time than that to police other people’s errors, we can just invest in a t-shirt that says “Silently Correcting Your Grammar,” such as the one at this link. While I don’t have that t-shirt, I should absolutely get one like that.


3. Grammar Police have bad attitudes.

No, no, that’s the wannabes. True members of the GP have excellent attitudes, though plenty of practice in rolling our eyes. 

Of course, that depends on your definition of GP. The author of this post says:

I think the term “Grammar Police” refers specifically to people who berate you for your grammar errors — all out of proportion to the severity of said errors. Those who tell you your writing won’t be taken seriously with typos, or who paint a picture of you as a frazzled writer who can’t cope with life.

People who berate you for anything are generally being seriously rude, whether or not their response seems to be out of proportion to the severity of your error. Perhaps I should add here that I almost never actually correct anybody unless (a) they’re in an English Comp class and it would be nice if they learned to recognize as nonstandard a particular usage that’s common in this county, such as “They have went …”; or (b) they’re preparing to take a standardized test, so ditto; or (c) something else that makes it reasonable to offer correction. And I’m never snarky about it.

Well, almost never.


4. Grammar Police have trouble writing.

It’s perfectly true that anybody determined to make every sentence grammatically perfect is probably not going to be able to write good fiction. 

But you know, you can’t break rules effectively until you’re able to follow the rules. You have to know what effect that comma splice is going to have, or whatever, before you can put it in and actually have it work. Writers with a deep feel for language are always going to write better sentences much more consistently than writers who lack that feel — even though some of their sentences will not be technically correct.

This sort of thing always reminds me, these days, of a writer pointing out that in Great Expectations, Charles Dickens suddenly switches to writing a series of fragments when he introduces Magwitch. Sorry, I don’t remember where that was, so I can’t credit the person who pointed that out.

Grammar Police in the less-strict sense of people who know correct grammar and punctuation backwards and forwards, use it by feel, wince when someone says “Aren’t all these baby’s cute!” on Facebook, and occasionally, when appropriate, correct someone’s misunderstanding … those are the people who also know when to use a series of fragments to stop the action and show the reader a scene.

Ever since noticing that CJ Cherry sometimes uses a semi-colon in front of a conjunction, I’ve felt free to stet that kind of thing myself. No, I think as I zap the copy editor’s correction.  I actually do want a little bit more of a pause right here, and I don’t care that it’s not technically perfectly correct. I put that semi-colon there by feel, but I leave it there because a closer analysis confirms to me that my feeling was right.

Well, anyway, it’s an amusing post. Who knows, maybe the author’s definition of Grammar Police is actually standard. What do you all think? 

Grammar Police = rude, and frequently not as knowledgeable as they think.

Grammar Police = knowledgeable, but generally polite, if sometimes a bit snarky.


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Things that happen to other writers

So, this:

I’ll Bet You Think This Story’s about You: When People Keep Finding Themselves in Your Fiction

I change names, genders, ages, locations, and other identifying factors, nothing that’s not standard. I have also at times left a sibling out of a scene entirely if I can get away with it, to minimize the bruising, if I think there will be any.

Mostly, I stick with fiction.

And I’m here to tell you it doesn’t make the problem disappear. I could write about dragons who play tennis on Mars and I would still undergo family scrutiny and receive comments like, “I know who that head dragon was supposed to be,” or “you did a good job of portraying Mom as a fire-breathing tennis champion.”

This is a writer named Gila Green. Apparently she has this issue with every book. Her siblings point at characters and get mad.

This never happens to me. On the one occasion I was thinking of my brother as I developed a character, he had no reason to get mad (and didn’t, though he spotted the occasional resemblance.) On the one occasion I was thinking of my mother as I developed a character, she didn’t notice; unsurprising, since this was very much in the background. As far as I know, that’s it for me. No one (as far as I can tell) thinks I’m putting them in my novels, or commenting on family situations, or whatever. Certainly no one fusses at me about it.

Pretty sure this is not just me. I’m betting Green’s experience would be different if she actually did write about dragons — at least if she plunged her dragons into saving-the-world urgency rather than having them negotiate the endless shoals of family drama. But since she’s writing literary (I think, from a quick glance at Amazon), well, there you go.

Yet another reason to be just as pleased I’m writing SFF. If I put a dragon on Mars, my family will just see a dragon on Mars, not themselves. 

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Door Into Light: Back Cover Copy

Okay, as you know, or at least as you may have hoped, I’m still moving toward releasing Door Into Light this year, if at all possible. 

This weekend, along with having Thanksgiving and moving forward with revising my actual WIP and enduring a pretty nasty and persistent cold, I also waded through the enormously tedious job of fixing everything my helpful volunteer copy editors found. No, I didn’t count the typos. Yes, there were a lot, or it sure seemed like a lot during the hours I spent fixing them. No, the two different helpful volunteer copy editors did not catch (many) of the same errors. Yes, that is amazing.

Missing words, repeated words, wrong words, endless queries about comma splices and oh did you mean not to have a period at the end of this paragraph … you can imagine, probably. Those of you who have done any copy editing: thanks for not sounding snarky when you point out that singular subjects take “is” not “are” and other similarly basic errors. I swear to God, I don’t make mistakes like that; they just appear by some nefarious kind of magic.

So, so tedious.

But that’s done. Whew. I really ought to order another proof copy and go over it one more time, but we’ll see.

Meanwhile! Back cover copy. Last time you all said, direct quote, “By all that’s holy, do not try to reintroduce all the characters from HoS in the back cover copy! Are you insane?”

So this time, I tried not to do that. This actually reads less like the back cover copy of a sequel and more like a standalone. I guess it could actually be read as a standalone? You will have to let me know what you think, eventually.

There are still, inevitably, a lot of names. What do you think? Too much, not enough, too many names, can you follow this, does it sound interesting? I have actually included a spoiler in the back cover copy, but really, it’s not much of a spoiler; it’s a plot point that’s revealed during, if I remember correctly, the early part of the second chapter. 

Here we go:

A coup against Geriodde Seriantes, ruthless king of Lirionne, forces his only remaining legitimate son, Prince Tepres, to flee to Kalches . . . nearly on the eve of war resuming between the two countries. Tepres may have won the friendship of Kalchesene prince and mage Taudde Omientes ken Lariodde, but in the face of his cousins’ hostility and his grandfather’s mistrust, not even Taudde may be able to protect the heir of the infamous Dragon from the perils of the Kalchesene court. Worse, his duty to his own country may require that he set aside every consideration of friendship . . . unless he can find another path both countries can accept.

In Lirionne, in a city poised to accept a regicide as their king rather than remain divided in the face of imminent war, Leilis holds too many dangerous secrets for comfort. She knows where Tepres fled, and with whom. She knows his father the king is still alive, and where he is hidden, and why he cannot declare himself and take back his throne.

But not even Leilis knows that the true conspiracy was not the one aimed at the king, nor at seizing ordinary power. The true conspiracy was always aimed at the true dragon, the dragon sleeping beneath the mountains of Lirionne. In all the lands of both countries, only Nemienne can hear the dragon as it stirs toward wakefulness. If it rises, Lirionne may fall. If the conspirators force it to their will, worse than that awaits. And Nemienne, only an apprentice mage, with no one to help her but the youngest and least-regarded heir of the Dragon, can find no way to stop any of the disasters poised to crash over both countries.

Still needs some work, I expect! Looking over it now, I can see some potential problems. Go ahead and tear it apart!

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Mars landing of InSight probe … success!

This must’ve been a tremendous relief for everyone involved.

NASA’s InSight landed safely on Mars on Monday afternoon, with scientists now hopeful they’ll get a below-the-surface look at the Red Planet.  …

“This never gets old,” said jubilant chief engineer Rob Manning. “What a relief. Fabulous, fabulous.” …

The InSight lander arrived on Mars’ surface by surviving what NASA called “seven minutes of terror” as its prized craft decelerated from 12,300 mph to 5 mph at landing.

Years to get the probe to Mars, $850 million investment, so whew! Glad the probe got down safely.

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Should you read the Chronicles of Narnia in publication order?

Mari Ness says yes. She says it humorously, like so:

I tend to be a bit agnostic on the question of “what order should I read/watch these in?” With three exceptions:

Legends of Tomorrow, which everyone, without exception, should start in the second season, only tackling the first season much, much later after getting a chance to realize that these characters can actually be fun.

Blackadder, which everyone, without exception, should also start in the second season, only in this case, never return to the first season at all.

And The Chronicles of Narnia, which everyone, without exception, should read in publication order.

I’ve never watched Legends of Tomorrow or Blackadder. Is she right?

Of course I’ve totally read The Chronicles of Narnia; who hasn’t? (Anyone?) Is she right there as well?

She asserts that Prince Caspian and The Magician’s Nephew are both weakish, whereas The Silver Chair is the strongest book of the lot. How about that? Right or wrong? 

I read this series a long, long time ago, in publication order (I’m pretty sure). I know I liked Prince Caspian much better than The Silver Chair, but objective artistic quality was not something I was capable of judging (or interested in) when I was about, I don’t know, eight or ten or whatever.

The Last Battle was such a downer I hardly got through it to the happy ending. Even when I reached the ending, I wasn’t super, super, super keen on the grim story by which we got to the ending. I don’t believe I ever read the entire story again, just sort of skimmed through it to the ending.

Now, what this actually all reminds me of is a different book: Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of CS Lewis, by Michael Ward.

For over half a century, scholars have laboured to show that C. S. Lewis’s famed but apparently disorganised Chronicles of Narnia have an underlying symbolic coherence, pointing to such possible unifying themes as the seven sacraments, the seven deadly sins, and the seven books of Spenser’s Faerie Queene. None of these explanations has won general acceptance and the structure of Narnia’s symbolism has remained a mystery.

Michael Ward has finally solved the enigma. In Planet Narnia he demonstrates that medieval cosmology, a subject which fascinated Lewis throughout his life, provides the imaginative key to the seven novels. … Ward reveals how the Narnia stories were designed to express the characteristics of the seven medieval planets – – Jupiter, Mars, Sol, Luna, Mercury, Venus, and Saturn – – planets which Lewis described as “spiritual symbols of permanent value” and “especially worthwhile in our own generation”. Using these seven symbols, Lewis secretly constructed the Chronicles so that in each book the plot-line, the ornamental details, and, most important, the portrayal of the Christ-figure of Aslan, all serve to communicate the governing planetary personality. The cosmological theme of each Chronicle is what Lewis called ‘the kappa element in romance’, the atmospheric essence of a story, everywhere present but nowhere explicit. The reader inhabits this atmosphere and thus imaginatively gains connaître knowledge of the spiritual character which the tale was created to embody.

Fascinating book, and pretty convincing.

What ought to happen is, Ward or someone interested in this subject ought to select a few dozen readers, present them with the characteristics of the seven medieval planets, and suggest they read the books and peg each one to a planet. Would everybody decide on the same pairings? Wouldn’t that be interesting?

Secondary topic: What other series ought to be read in publication order, even though that differs substantially from internal chronological order? I have one:

Vlad Taltos series by Steven Brust. I am pretty casual about reading series out of order, but for these, publication order is definitely the way to go. No question. Brust changes and grows as an author over the long period during which he’s been writing these, so trying to read this series in internal chronological order would be awkward, even jarring at times.

Any others?

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A Firefly tie-in novel

Okay, I didn’t know about this until I just saw a reference on tor.com. 

The first original novel tying into the critically acclaimed and much-missed Firefly series from creator Joss Whedon.

The Battle of Serenity Valley was the turning point that led the Independents to their defeat at the hands of the Alliance. Yet the Browncoats had held the valley for weeks against all odds, before being ordered to lay down their arms. Command stated they refused to send in airpower because the ground war was “too hot.” But the soldiers who were there insist that was not true…

While picking up a new cargo on Persephone, Captain Malcolm Reynolds is kidnapped by a bunch of embittered veteran Browncoats who suspect him of sabotaging the Independents during the war. As the rest of the crew struggle to locate him, Mal is placed on trial for his life, fighting compelling evidence that someone did indeed betray them to the Alliance all those years ago. As old comrades and old rivals crawl out of the woodwork, Mal must prove his innocence, but his captors are desperate and destitute, and will settle for nothing less than the culprit’s blood.

The book, which is called Big Damn Hero (great name!)  came out yesterday, which is no doubt why there’s this post at tor.com. It was written by someone named Nancy Holder. Let me see, what else has she written. . . . looks like a lot of media tie-ins for various shows; haven’t read any of her novelizations or tie-in works before. The two reviews for Big Damn Hero that are up already are positive.

The on-trial-for-his-life plot element is not one that appeals to me, but the reviews suggest the feel of the show is captured well and that all the characters get a chance to shine.

Hmm. I certainly can appreciate a good tie-in novel. Maybe I’ll be picking this up. 

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Burdening your protagonist with superlatives

From Janet Reid, this:

When I read a lot of manuscripts in succession some patterns I might have missed if I wasn’t reading so much, stand out clearly.

One such pattern: the tendency to describe characters in superlatives. World renowned, elite, billionaire, first dog on Carkoon.

…if you need a character to be really good at something, just have them be good at it. They don’t need to be world renowned. …

Take a look at your characters. Are any of the burdened with superlatives they don’t need?

This caught my eye because one of the things I dislike most in (some) (too much) Paranormal Fantasy is the tendency for the male lead to be 

a) super rich, and also

b) super handsome, and ALSO

c) the absolute top [insert your favorite shapeshifter variety] of the pack.

In some (too much) Paranormal, every single male character who steps onto the stage is super, super, super handsome. Soooo dreamy. Almost too beautiful for a man. I bet some of you can name the series I’m thinking of here. Feel free to guess in the comments if you’re so inclined. Anyway, I overdosed on that trope way, way long ago. I don’t like super-rich/super-handsome male leads in contemporary romance either, though in that case (c) is no longer relevant.

It’s interesting because I generally appreciate uber-competent protagonists, especially in, for example, thrillers. But I seldom if ever appreciate uberness in any realm other than competence, and extreme superlativeness of the male lead in any kind of romance has become nearly a dealbreaker for me because it makes me roll my eyes so hard I can’t read.

How about you all? Do you get turned off by extreme superlativeness in a protagonist, and if so, which kind of uber-superlativeness turns you off?

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An unusual happy ending in Paradise

So, the fire. That was pretty horrifying.

It seems as though there’s not much room to cast blame around, though I understand why a lot of people feel blame ought to go somewhere.

Apparently cell service was very, very poor in the town, so a lot of residents didn’t have cell phones or didn’t get the warnings; also the warning system in place, which did call landlines as well as cells, could not make 10,000 calls per minute. That would have been nice, but no. I don’t hear my landline phone if it rings at night; it’s upstairs. I turn my cell on airplane at night to conserve the battery; reception is so terrible that the charge runs down super fast if I leave my phone on. I completely understand why a lot of the residents did not get the warnings.

The fire started early in the morning and reached the town at an hour that was still early-ish, and then the evacuation plan that might have worked for a fire moving at a rate of one football field per minute wasn’t adequate for a fire moving at a rate of one football field per second, which is one estimate I’ve seen. Hard to imagine how incredibly fast this fire was moving as it approached the town.

And finally, Paradise was built in a place where all the roads were constrained by geographical features: no way to put in anything wide. Gridlock was inevitable, probably.

It’s probably true that aggressively cleaning out the underbrush would have helped. Or staging small fires at safe intervals, but that’s trickier than some proposals make it seem, because if there’s a drought for several years, then there’s no safe time for a burn. A buddy system would have been nice. Not error-proof by any means, but very useful for those who didn’t have good phone contact, probably.

So, honestly, although things could probably have been handled better, especially if authorities had had a time machine so they knew how fast that fire would move, it looks like most likely things couldn’t have been handled much better, given the way events unfolded. Here’s an article about this. 

It was just a terrible place for a town. You could say that about a lot of towns after the fire or earthquake or hurricane hits, of course.

Here’s a good video. I admire the calm of the father who’s driving his sons out of the inferno. If you watch long enough, you’ll see the darkness give way to daylight as the car emerges from the smoke. It’s impossible to believe this video was shot during the daytime until that happens.

And here is the orchard that survived the end of Paradise:

“So,” I asked, “Is it all gone? Is the green stone house gone?”

“It’s all gone,” Mr. Noble said. “All except the trees. The orchard survived.”

“What? How’s that possible?”

“My trees were still all green and full of leaves and fruit. There was a fire break I put in years ago and have been improving. When the fire got to our place there was no easy food to be had from my apple trees. They were too moist and out of reach. The fire went around them. My trees are still there. The orchard made it.”

That makes me unreasonably happy. I’m glad something survived in Paradise. If no one wants to build a town there again — which would be very reasonable — maybe the whole area could be turned into orchards.

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Jonathan Franzen’s 10 Rules for Novelists

I’m sure you all saw Franzen’s Rules on Twitter, because there were so many funny responses, but hey, if you missed it:

Here are Franzen’s 10 Rules. They are in fact ridiculous, and Literary Hub should be embarrassed to have given them space. More on that in a moment.

Many, many novelists jumped in with their own lists, as you might expect.

Much hilarity ensued, of which, taken in its entirety, my favorite was Chuck Wendig’s takedown.

Here is Literary Hub’s follow-up piece, showing that yes, they actually were embarrassed, at least after the fact.

Now, if you missed out on everything, I bet you’re curious, so if you are undecided about clicking through, here are Franzen’s 10 Rules:

1.The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.

2. Fiction that isn’t an author’s personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn’t worth writing for anything but money.

3. Never use the word then as a conjunction—we have and for this purpose. Substituting then is the lazy or tone-deaf writer’s non-solution to the problem of too many ands on the page.

4. Write in third person unless a really distinctive first-person voice offers itself irresistibly.

5. When information becomes free and universally accessible, voluminous research for a novel is devalued along with it.

6. The most purely autobiographical fiction requires pure invention. Nobody ever wrote a more autobiographical story than The Metamorphosis.

7. You see more sitting still than chasing after.

8. It’s doubtful that anyone with an Internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.

9. Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting.

10.  You have to love before you can be relentless.

Here are two of Chuck Wendig’s responses:

“I really hate the prohibitions against language that demand you not use a whole chunk of words, or ask that you prescriptively remove a common word from your stable of words. NO ADVERBS is bad advice that writers should stop telling other writers, f’rex.”

And also this:

“I’m just gonna try to say something vaguely profound and hope people are moved by it. And if they’re not, they at least pretend to be moved by it, because they don’t want to feel stupid.”

There you go, I don’t have to say those things because Chuck said them. Along with a lot of other pithy things that you should click through and read, but moving on: 

I missed out on my chance to jump on this bandwagon until it was too late … partly because I follow Rule 8 more closely than I would like to … but sure, 10 Rules for Novelists, no problem. I love many of the short, funny versions produced on Twitter, especially the ones that are just song lyrics set to the ten-rule pattern, but I’m not that creative, so how about actual rules that are possibly more useful and certainly a lot less fake-profound than Franzen’s:

1.Not all readers will like your books. Even the readers who love most of your books probably won’t like them all. Don’t worry about that. There’s nothing you can do about it anyway. Put it out of your mind and write for yourself and for the readers who will love this particular book.

2. Writing for money is also okay.

3. If an adverb would improve your sentence or your scene, go for it. Ditto for other parts of speech, including “then” and “and.” If you’re concerned you might have gone overboard with a word such as “very,” it’s tedious but possible to look at your manuscript and take out 3/4 of the uses of “very” before you call it done. (That’s on my mind because I’m doing that in fits and starts for my current WIP, since I don’t want to do it all at once at the end.)

4. If writing is in any way reminiscent of a journey into the frightening or the unknown, maybe you should calm down a trifle before proceeding. Have some hot chocolate. Pet a puppy, I hear that helps. 

5. Write in third or first, whichever works. Write in present or past tense, whichever works. If it’s not working, switch and see if that’s better.

6. Listen to your beta reader’s opinions.

7. But don’t take that advice if you can’t stand to. It’s your book in the end and you hopefully have a pretty good feel for it.

8. If you fall down the rabbit hole of research and never come out, it might be hard to finish your book. But the internet is a super-keen means of quickly finding out how to make explosives out of common household items or look up how much weight a single Siberian husky can easily pull or whatever other adventurous details your life might not have prepared you to just know off hand.

9. It’s okay not to write every day if that works for you. Everybody’s process is different.

10. And imo the only truly universal rule for all novelists everywhere: If you want to be successful as a novelist, you must finish at least some of what you start.

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Recent Reading: The Wind Reader by Dorothy A Winsor

As you perhaps know, I haven’t been reading much this year, especially not since August, when the obsessive WIP happened. I’m now revising that manuscript, and let me tell you, the revision may not be as obsessive as writing the first draft, but it is still a lot more compelling than ordinary revision. No comparison. Nevertheless, it’s revision, so I am now reading again, if you count “reading for 20 minutes before bed, sometimes” as reading, which I guess I do, this year. I do wonder when and if I might actually be able/ inclined to make inroads in my (still growing) TBR pile. Fortunately some of the pile is electronic, so my house is not actually collapsing from the weight of accumulating books.

Anyway, I am reading at least a little now, so I managed to finish this one:

The Wind Reader is a Middle Grade story, just about perfect for taking in 20 minute chunks, at least to begin with. Doniver’s traveling with his father, plague hits the ship, his father dies, and he gets stranded far from home without a penny to his name. So Doniver falls in with a couple other penniless kids and winds up faking fortune telling to earn the odd coin and the plot unrolls from there, as various important people buy into the fortune-telling shtick.

So: street kids and a gritty, hand-to-mouth struggle to survive; false fortune-telling and true-fortune telling; enemies and friends and a good scattering of characters who switch from one category to the other; princes, acrobats, assassins, and the odd gardener; and, unintentionally in the middle of everything, Doniver, trying to get home without completely compromising his honor and preferably without abandoning his friends or leaving assassins on the loose.

The story was a little young for me – you all probably know I don’t read a ton of MG – but by the end I wound up getting a little too absorbed by it, so that I put off reading the last 50 pages until I’d have time to read  the rest all at one time (ie, more than 20 minutes right before turning out the lights). I finally finished it during the snow day yesterday, so yay for snow days!

Here’s why the story wound up pulling me in:

a) Sons and fathers.

This story includes some very important friendships, but the most intense relationships are between sons and their fathers – even if a father or a son happens, in some cases, to be deceased. Where a MG reader might notice primarily the adventure story, I was drawn in by the added depth these relationships brought to the story. And yes, there were also important daughter-mother relationships and so on, but the son-father theme is so powerful, I would call that the thematic heart of the story.

b) Trust and honor.

If you’ve read more than one or two of my books, you can’t possibly have missed that trust is an important theme for me. So is honor. Those are the big issues Doniver struggles with in The Wind Reader. Telling false fortunes is a really big deal for him. He’s lying about something that is of great cultural importance to him. How can he justify that? But how can he not do it, given his terrible situation? Besides that, he really wants to trust Beren, the prince for whom he’s telling fortunes. But he doesn’t dare. Then things go wrong … and more wrong … and Doniver finds himself with his back to the figurative wall, forced to make very fast choices. Which of course he does, that goes without saying.

c) Good writing.

Smooth prose, sufficiently invisible that the writing style doesn’t especially catch the reader’s attention. I did notice one line which I would like to steal:

“She’s smarter than you are about this stuff.” Jarka spat into the dirt. “You begged for trouble none of us needs.” He clumped down the alley, his crutch thumping with each step like a series of sharp words.

His crutch thumping like a series of sharp words! That did catch my eye, so I marked the page to make sure I’d remember to mention it. But mostly the writing is unobtrusive.

Who should read this book?

Well, practically any MG reader who likes fantasy. The story’s straightforward enough to appeal to rather young MG readers, probably, but there’s enough complexity to it that older readers should enjoy it too. In particular, if you have a kid whom you think would love The Power of Three by Diana Wynne Jones, but the kid isn’t quite old enough for that one, then The Wind Readerwould probably be a good choice. Plenty of the same themes, but aimed at a slightly younger reader.

What I didn’t care for:

This was not a big deal, but the dirt and grime involved in life as street kids hit my gross-out buttons a little more than I’d have preferred. Especially Tava’s bag, but really all the dirt. Ugh. But my guess is a good many MG readers would find this element actually a plus, especially boys.

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