Review: The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

After I reviewed the first book, Katherine Arden’s publisher reached out and asked if I wanted to review this one as well. Of course I jumped at the chance! The Bear and the Nightingale was one of my favorite books last year, so I fully expected The Girl in the Tower would at least live up to that one. And wow, did it do all that and more.

Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya’s options are few: resign herself to life in a convent, or allow her older sister to make her a match with a Moscovite prince. Both doom her to life in a tower, cut off from the vast world she longs to explore. So instead she chooses adventure, disguising herself as a boy and riding her horse into the woods. When a battle with some bandits who have been terrorizing the countryside earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, she must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces—even as she realizes his kingdom is under threat from mysterious forces only she will be able to stop.

I made the mistake of beginning this book on the first really cold of the season. If I hadn’t waited so long, I could have read this book while the weather was still mild, even nice. Instead, I waited until I was cold—and then this book made me colder. Such is the power of Katherine Arden’s words and story.

Of course, the real reason I shouldn’t have waited so long to read this book is because it’s so good. Whenever I paused, and I read most of this book while I was at work so there were frequent pauses, I found myself asking, “But how?” How is this book so beautifully written? And how can I write something like this someday?

The first book was set in the snowy forest and a small town in the wintery and perpetually cold landscape of medieval Russia, and Vasilisa was a small girl. This book has its fair share of freezing forests, but it also takes the reader to Moscow in that day, a metropolitan city. Moscow is a place where women are kept in towers, away from the men, and Vasilisa struggles to come to terms with the wildness in her heart in a society that would rather burn her as a witch than let her ride a horse. She handles this by, as the blurb says, disguising herself as a boy and living as she wants. The tone of this book doesn’t suit the “wacky hijinks” that sort of scenario might normally come with, and but it works and is well done all the same.

One of my favorite things about the first book is also back in the new book: the continuing romance between Vasilisa and Morozko, the death god and frost demon. I’m usually all about the gratification—the moment when it all pays off, when they finally both know how the other feels and when they can finally be together—but the slow burn (heh) of this romance is really delightful. Neither of them really knows what to do with the other, given that neither of them falls into the traditional roles of the time and place. Even as they come to realize their feelings, there is still so much going on—outside of their relationship as well as in—that they aren’t given an opportunity for that “climax.” Arden even uses the reader’s expectations of a romance against them at some points, and wow do I need that third book asap.

Finally, this book answers some questions that were left over from the first book—who was Vasilisa’s grandmother?—but also asks new ones—now that we know how her grandmother’s story ended, how did it begin? What I liked best about those questions and answers were how they integrated with the rest of the plot. Her grandmother’s fate has always been a large part of what set Vasilisa on her path, and how that plays out is really well written. I’m already speculating on how the new questions will be answered in the next book.

The Girl in the Tower is written by Katherine Arden and was published by Del Rey Books on December 5, 2017. It is the second book in The Winternight Trilogy. My review for the first book can be found here.

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NaNoWriMo 2017: Week 4 Progress + Wrap Up

The end of November is always hard to get through. There’s Thanksgiving, and some time off work, and all I really want to do is curl up on the couch with my cats and my husband, and not have to use my brain too much. I did get some words in towards the beginning of beginning/beginning-middle of this week, but then I hit 25k words and… stopped. My novel wasn’t done, but that was good enough, wasn’t it? I’d hit that goal, so I could stop now, right?

Obviously I needed to redirect my brain for a little bit. I read a whole book (all in one day, that was a good book), I helped my husband clean our apartment (although let’s be real, he did most of the work because he’s amazing like that), and played Guild Wars 2 because I love my game and I don’t get to play it as often as I’d like (which, if left to my own devices, would probably be all the time).

I gave myself permission to think about things that weren’t my novel and it was fantastic and much needed. Still… my novel was also the thing I fell asleep every night thinking about.

When my long weekend had passed, I went back to it. But… I found it hard to get back into it as much as I wanted to. Part of that was probably the breaks I had taken—after all, I’d had momentum on my side before I took those breaks. But another part of it was that I was encountering large holes in the story that I hadn’t considered and didn’t know how to bridge while I was in the middle of writing.

And that’s the problem I encountered with doing a more general plan and letting the details fall into place as I went. Those details turned out to be larger than I thought. My word counts on the last two days could have been much higher—but I realized I hadn’t done enough work on some of the relevant history of my world. When I had laid out my general plan, I hadn’t known that the history was going to be as large a part of the story as it turned out to be. When I think about it, that’s also one of the problems with the only other novel I’ve finished: the main storyline is pretty strong, but the backstory and the history and the things that have led the characters to where they are is much weaker, because I hadn’t planned for it until I was in the thick of writing. I knew where my novel needed to end, and most of the large plot points I needed to hit between beginning and end, but the middle turned out to be more involved than I had accounted for.

However, at 27,357 words, this is the farthest I’ve ever gotten during a NaNoWriMo. I’m really, really proud of that. It’s also more than I’ve written probably since I finished that other novel in 2013, so that’s something to be proud of too. Even better, I have a solid base to work with as I continue with this story.

In December, I’m going to take a step back. I’ve been down in the trees this last month, but now I need to see the forest. I need to know where the holes are before I can start figuring out how to fill them. I’ll go back to the planning phase now that I know the shape of this story a little, and fill things in. I hope that in the new year, having done a little more planning, I can jump back into this story and write it to its completion.

Overall, this was a really great NaNoWriMo for me. I went to write-ins—I even hosted a weekly one at the coffee shop in my apartment building. And I made some friends, friends who are interested in continuing to meet and write and talk about our writing. And, of course, I wrote a bunch of words. Now, I’m armed with a plan to move forward, and I hope that in the coming year I can write a whole bunch more words.

How was your NaNoWriMo 2017? And what’s your plan of attack for 2018?

This Week’s Word Counts
Day 22: 0 (20,295)
Day 23: 0 (20,295)
Day 24: 2,098 (22,393)
Day 25: 1,552 (23,945)
Day 26: 1,147 (25,092)
Day 27: 0 (25,092)
Day 28: 0 (25,092)
Day 29: 859 (25,951)
Day 30: 1,406 (27,357)

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NaNoWriMo 2017: Week 3 Progress

This week was a little crazy, and I missed my Wednesday update. So I’m catching up now, and let’s just pretend I adjusted it on purpose because the last week of November is always slightly too long for an update and a wrap up… or something.

This week I broke 20k! That’s pretty exciting. This was also the week where I accepted that I wasn’t going to make it to 50,000 words before the month ended. It was possible, but there were some struggles I was having (more on that in a minute) and I probably didn’t have time to do the work that would allow me to boost my word counts as much as I would have needed every day to make it.

Well, I thought to myself, that’s ok. This is still more than I’ve written in years, and I’m happy with that. My new goal will to be to write more this year than I’ve ever written during a NaNoWriMo before. That was about 24k, I thought, and since I had just hit 19k, I was sure that was pretty doable. But I went and checked the stats that NaNoWriMo so helpfully provides for its users. It was not 24K as I had previously thought; it was 14k. I had already blown that goal right out of the water without knowing it. So I readjusted again. I’m aiming for 30k as the more challenging number, but if I only get to 25k, that will be ok too.

My challenge for this week, and thus also the coming week, is this. As I began to move forward in my story, I realized I knew basically what was going to happen, but I didn’t necessarily know how those larger plot points were all connected. I knew what was going to happen, but not what was going to happen next. And yes, I can write those big things, those big exciting and fun events, but then what would happen when I ran out of those to write? I got desperate enough that I started making a map, something I swore I was never going to do again.

Maybe it was a crisis of confidence—after all, I’d written a novel before simply by asking myself, “What next?” and that had been enough to propel the story forward—but every novel is different. I’ve been struggling to get even to 1,000 words in a day. Maybe I don’t know enough yet about my world and my characters and my plot to get to the end of this novel.

Well, that’s ok for now, though it’s going to make for a really interesting editing/rewriting process. For now, I’ll write my big scenes, the exciting and fun ones that sprung fully formed into my head and what make me excited about this book, and I’ll get as many words out of them as I can.

This Week’s Word Counts
Day 15: 671 (13,834)
Day 16: 1,344 (15,178)
Day 17: 0 (15,178)
Day 18: 2,143 (17,321)
Day 19: 1,700 (19,021)
Day 20: 0 (19,021)
Day 21: 1,274 (20,295)

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NaNoWriMo 2017: Week 2 Progress

This whole year has flown by, so it’s not exactly surprising that November is doing the same thing. At the same time, I find myself looking around and wondering where the time is going. How can we be halfway through it already? How is Thanksgiving already next week and the beginning of December the week after that? Are we entirely sure that someone out there isn’t messing with the timeline?? (Can you tell I’m getting a little silly-brained?)

I’m still behind the official NaNoWriMo word count, but I’m still chugging along, still writing, and that’s a personal victory for me. I’ve written more for NaNoWriMo this year than I have for a NaNoWriMo since 2009, and while I might not “win,” this novel feels like something I could actually finish, which I haven’t done since 2013. So I’m calling it a win anyway.

This week’s challenge was finding the forward momentum in my story. I actually wrote a little during October: I had an idea for a scene, and I decided to just write the scene rather than outlining it, because I’m a rebel, and I just wouldn’t include those words in my official word count. But I knew when I was writing it, that the scene took place right before the main action of the story starts, but not at the beginning of the book. I would need to write all the things that led up to that scene, as well as the things that came after it, which was where most of the action would happen.

But I kept thinking of more and more things that needed to go in before it. I kept adding more and more backstory, set up, even characters who would likely never reappear. Instead of moving forward, I kept moving backwards. Yes, I was adding to my word count, but I wasn’t moving the story forward, I was just continuously setting up for the action.

I had to figure out how to move forward.

So I sat down and thought about what scenes needed to go right before the one that I had written pre-NaNoWriMo. What was actually important to that specific plot point. And then I wrote (well, am still writing) those scenes. Maybe I’ll also write one or two more scenes that go before that, but only if they are important for moving forwards.

Because there are two challenges of NaNoWriMo. First, and more obvious, is writing 50,000 words in 30 days. But the secondary challenge is writing a story that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Without those things, you don’t really have a story. You just have 50,000 words.

So here’s this week’s takeaway for me: There will always be more backstory and more world building you can do. But those things aren’t your story, they aren’t the action and the plot and the characters running around getting things done. Make your story move forward, make your characters move forward. Don’t get lost in the foundations.

This Week’s Word Counts
Day 8: 941 (5,345)
Day 9: 2,020 (7,365)
Day 10: 1,889 (9,254)
Day 11: 0 (9,254)
Day 12: 1,729 (10,983)
Day 13: 729 (11,712)
Day 14: 1,451 (13,163)

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NaNoWriMo 2017: Week 1 Progress

Well, here we are, a whole week into NaNoWriMo. And here’s how my week went.

I started out strong. I set a personal goal of 2,000 words per day, with a 1,700 minimum, so I would always be over the official count. The first two days, I made those goals, and was thus ahead of the game. (I also went to write-ins both those days, which probably helped. So note to self: that resolution was a good call. Go to more write-ins.) But then three things happened: 1) I got sick, 2) I hit a section I didn’t want to write, and 3) it was the weekend.

I stayed home sick from work on Friday, and managed a few measly words, but otherwise I queitly fell off the NaNoWriMo bus for that long weekend. I knew weekends would likely be slower days because that’s when my husband and I are both home and actually try to spend that time together—something I wasn’t sure I was willing to give up even for NaNoWriMo. But being sick meant that I wrapped myself up in PJs and a fuzzy blanket, and the two of us played through the entirety of Halo 4. Fun? Yes. Productive? Not exactly.

After the weekend, with only a little sniffle to show I had previously been sick, I pulled up my Scrivener doc, and stared at my project. I knew exactly what needed to go next: a nice little piece of verse, something in the vein of a ballad or an epic poem. Despite my college poetry classes, verse isn’t my favorite thing. Staring at my project document, I started to consider abandoning NaNoWriMo altogether.

Yeah, you read that right. All because of a few lines of verse, I was prepared to call it quits, even before the first week wrapped up.

Well, I didn’t. Instead, I formed a plan. Step one: write some shitty verse that I didn’t have to care about right now. Step two: wrap up that scene extra quick, because I hated everything about it. Step three (and this is the important one): MOVE ON. Yes, part of NaNoWriMo is about “forcing” out the words, but it’s important to remember that there are still appropriate times to bail out. Scenes that you actively hate and that make you even consider quitting? BAIL OUT NOW. I decided that I just did not have time during NaNoWriMo to write scenes that I hate.

So here’s my current advice: When you’re stuck, write the scenes you love, write the scenes that made you want to write this novel in the first place. Fall back in love with your novel.

This Week’s Word Counts
Day 1: 1,713 (1,713)
Day 2: 2,013 (3,726)
Day 3: 101 (3,827)
Day 4: 0 (3,827)
Day 5: 0 (3,827)
Day 6: 288 (4,115)
Day 7: 289 (4,404)

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Thinkin’ About: NaNoWriMo ’17.

It’s that time again. (Or, almost that time again?) It’s that time of year when thousands of writers all around the globe start thinking about putting as many words down as they can during the month of November as part of National Novel Writing Month. So, predictably, I’m thinking about it too.

Last year was a total bust. There were just too many things going on in my life, and I think I wrote less than 500 words that whole month. But I think I have a real shot this year. There are three main things that I am doing differently this November in my latest attempt to win NaNoWriMo—and, more importantly, write a novel.

First: Unlike last year, when I had a new job, a visiting friend, and Thanksgiving and its associated travels to contend with, this year I have nothing but time. (Well, of course there’s still Thanksgiving and travel for that, but that’s normal.) This year I’m working a different job, one that affords me plenty of free time in front of a computer—time I’m hoping to use as dedicated NaNoWriMo-ing time. Even if I can’t turn off the internet (which I need for work), I’m making a NaNo Resolution™ to ignore social media (at least until after I’ve hit my daily wordcount) and I might even go so far as to delete the apps from my phone.

Second: I’m doing a lot more planning this year. I always say I’m going to plan, but then I don’t. So this October, I’m working on that. I’m not going so far as to write an outline (hah, have you met me?), but I am creating character sketches (not actual artwork, though that would be a really cool way to prep) and even briefly jotting down scenes. Hopefully this means I’ll at least have things like names for these characters and a general starting point by the time I start writing…

Third: Lately I’ve been feeling like I don’t have anyone to talk to about writing—mine, or theirs. Writing can be a solitary endeavor, but it also doesn’t have to be. Talking about my writing really helps me to work out ideas, to figure out things that will work or realize that some things won’t. So this coming November I’m going to go to as many write-ins as I can. This is both an attempt to make some friends—something I haven’t really done since moving to Colorado over a year ago because hello social anxiety—and an attempt to find some people who I can write with, and talk about writing with.

So far that’s my plan. Even better, so far I have been sticking to it.

What are you doing for NaNoWriMo prep?

(Wow, this post has a lot of parentheses in it…)

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Review: The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip

I’ve written about how much I love Patricia A. McKillip’s writing on this blog before and that sentiment only grows stronger with every book of hers I read. The Forgotten Beasts of Eld was originally published in 1974, and though it has been widely available to me for years (I distinctly remember seeing a copy of it in my high school library) this was my first time reading it. Of course, by the time I was done, I was wondering what took me so long?

The powerful young wizard Sybel requires the company of no man. In her exquisite stone abode, she is attended by exotic, magical beasts: Riddle-master Cyrin the boar; the treasure-starved dragon Gyld; Gules the Lyon, tawny master of the Southern Deserts; Ter, the fiercely vengeful falcon; Moriah, feline Lady of the Night. To complete her menagerie, Sybel only desires the mysterious Liralen, which eludes even her strongest enchantments.

Sybel’s solitude is shattered when a desperate soldier arrives with an endangered child. Soon she will discover that the world of men is full of love, deceit, and the temptations of vast power.

People sometimes talk about urgency in a story. The feeling of something imminent that pulls the story along. But this story moves slowly, like a slow winding stream that moves purposefully towards its destination, but doesn’t rush. Some people might prefer the tension that almost automatically comes with urgency, but there is something to be said for the story that moves forward not because it’s being pulled along by the plot, but because it is just moving that way itself.

These words can’t quite describe the tone of this book, but they might give another reader an idea of what to expect. This story moves forward because the characters are moving forward themselves, not because they are being pulled along by the plot.

One thing I noticed about this story is where it started. When I was in college, I took a screenwriting class where the teacher told us that the beginning of a story is right before everything changed. This doesn’t just apply to scripts, and really helped me with my prose writing as well. This starting just before the catalyst as it were, allows that same sense of urgency to help a writer pull a reader in. Obviously this isn’t a hard and fast rule; it’s a guideline that can help writers. This book doesn’t use that rule at all, which helps dispense with the urgency that might be found in other books, and lends itself instead to the previously mentioned slow and easy tone of the story.

In some ways this book seemed less “strange” than her other books. Other books of hers have had some sort of strangeness to them, an otherworldly air, while this book was almost mainstream by comparison. As this book was one of her first books published, it’s easy to imagine that it was also one of the first ones she wrote. I can see how she was still coming into what I, years later, think of as her style. There were also elements of other characters from other books in the characters of this book, parallels that I kept drawing in my head.

None of this should be taken to mean this book isn’t amazing. I loved this book, and read it in one sitting, gulping it down when it absolutely deserved to be savored. In fact, this book will likely make the list of the best books I read in 2017, a lesser honor than the World Fantasy Award it already won after its original publication. It definitely made me want to read some of my favorite McKillip books again—particularly the ones that may have grown out of this one.

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld is written by Patricia A. McKillip and will be published by Tachyon Publications on September 19, 2017.

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Thinkin’ About: Rekindling A Love Affair With Paper Books

For the past few weeks, I have been trying to rekindle my love affair with books. Not books, as in “things that we read,” but as in, “the actual physical paper artifact.” And I say trying because I’m not sure it’s working out as well as I might have hoped.

I’ve read almost exclusively on an ereader (specifically Kindles, although I’ve had three of them as new models come out) for the last several years. But recently I’ve been unable to get my hands on e-copies of some books, so I went to my local library—a building I have lived four blocks away from since last October—and got myself a library card. (My love/dismay relationship with libraries is probably a whole other post…) The library was able to get me the books I was looking for, but they were, of course, paper.

I love books. But that statement apparently has to be broken down further, to distinguish from “things we read” and “physical paper thing.” Because I do love actual paper books, but I love them as artifacts. I love the covers that artists produce for them, I love taking them to authors and having them signed, I love supporting the authors whose works I love. But. I don’t love reading on paper anymore.

Yes, there is something to be said for the convenience of an ereader, of being able to carry around hundreds of books in such a small package. But more than that, it’s a different physical experience. And for me, it’s a more comfortable experience. Books are hard to balance, they can be large and unwieldy, require two hands to turn pages and a light to read by, and they can be physically damaged by the very act of our opening them carelessly. My Kindle is small, has a page turn button right where I hold the device anyway, and has a backlight so I can read into the wee hours of the night while my husband sensibly sleeps.

In a way it’s hard to get my head around the idea that I might not love actual books as much as I used to, particularly since I own so many of them, and want to continue to expand that collection. A goodly chunk of them are signed, some of them are books I’ve owned for many, many years and have fond memories attached. On the other hand, the convenience of the Kindle is hard to beat. What does that say about the practicality of owning those physical artifacts?

So here’s my (potentially) unpopular opinion: I don’t love reading paper books. I love reading on my Kindle.

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Review: An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors by Curtis Craddock

I’m not sure how this book popped up on my radar, but when I saw it on NetGalley the cover at least was familiar. And obviously, if the cover was familiar, it was because someone whose opinion I trust had said this book was good. Whoever that was, thanks for the tip, because boy, An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors was seriously fun. My husband asked what I was reading the other night, and I told him, “This book with airships and blood magic and math. Oh, and also musketeers.” Oddly, I think it was the addition of the musketeers that made him laugh.

A polymath princess and her faithful musketeer must unravel the plot of a thousand-year-old madman in order to save an a foreign kingdom from a disastrous civil war.

Caelum is an uninhabitable gas giant like Jupiter. High above it are the Risen Kingdoms, occupying flying continents called cratons. Remnants of a shattered world, these vast disks of soaring stone may be a thousand miles across. Suspended by magic, they float in the upper layers of Caelum’s clouds.

Born with a deformed hand and utter lack of the family’s blood magic, Isabelle is despised by her cruel father. She is happy to be neglected so she can secretly pursue her illicit passion for math and science. Then, a surprising offer of an arranged royal marriage blows her life wide open and launches her and Jeane-Claude on an adventure that will take them from the Isle des Zephyrs in l’Empire Céleste to the very different Kingdom of Aragoth, where magic deals not with blood, but with mirrors.

Anyone who knows me, probably also knows that I… am not a math person. Number do not behave for me—unless, oddly, I’m multiplying. Basic addition? Definitely don’t count on me for that. Friends of mine still make fun of me for the time I added 8 + 3 and got 12. It wasn’t really until I’d started reading this book that I realized that “polymath” was literally in the blurb and I’d just sort of… glossed over it. Happily for me—and possibly for other people who are interested in reading this book—actual numbers don’t really make an appearance in this book. Instead, “polymath” seems to be code for, “incredibly smart with an interest in math, science, and natural philosophy.”

The heroine, our polymath princess Isabelle, then proceeds to demonstrate all of those things without losing either my interest or my understanding, a feat both appreciated and admired. Isabelle is a delightfully fleshed out character whose mind was fun to inhabit for a time. Of course, she isn’t without her flaws, as all well-written characters are. But those “flaws” are believable and become strong parts of her character, rather than devices the author is using to prove that his character isn’t perfect. She hesitates where others might not, she hopes—a quality that literally walks her into danger—and is less vicious than both everyone hopes she will be and than everyone around her actually is.

Isabelle is also a disabled protagonist, born with a birth defect. It’s something that colors her entire existence—but that’s mostly due to social and religious biases that are a part of the world she inhabits. She herself has learned to live with the disability and works around it, using her body the only way she knows how. Without giving away anything that would certainly ruin a plot point, there is a really nice moment when even that is taken away from her, and she’s momentarily devastated. Although the recovery from that devastation smarts a little of a deus ex machina, it also manages to still be a reasonable recovery within the world of the book, as well as setting up future schemes for subsequent books.

Like most readers, I like to try and guess at the mysteries a writer teases as I read. I think the best executed plot twists are the ones that lead the reader along at the same speed as the rest of the characters, and this book delivered on that. There were things that I started to guess at just as the Isabelle and Jean-Clause started to get suspicious too. And for the big reveals, I guessed at them within a page or two of the characters figuring it out for themselves. There was even one character who wasn’t who he said he was and I never saw it coming.

Another thing that I really liked about this book was that the romantic subplots are almost non-existent. By the time the main action of this book begins, Isabelle is 24 years old—old enough in the structure of her world that she has given up on the idea of marrying anyone. Of course, much of the plot revolves around an arranged marriage for her, and she does dream that love might blossom in that marriage, but it’s a brief dream and she returns her focus to the fact that people are trying to kill her. There is absolutely set up for romance to do some blossoming in future books, and given the characters said blossoming might happen between, I’m looking forward to seeing how it could develop.

The one hiccup in this book, for me, is the world itself. Not the cities or the religion or most of the other world-building things that make a fictional land feel like a real one, but that actual geography. The landscape of this book’s world is intriguing, yes, but doesn’t feel relevant. Airships and floating landmasses and odd wind patterns that play havoc with said airships and sometimes even those landmasses are all sort of present in the book because they’re facts of life for the people who live there—but you could probably swap out airships with real ships and put those landmasses in the ocean and nothing structurally would change. The history of how those landmasses came to be is hinted at, both in the blurb above and within the book itself, but it doesn’t play an integral part in anything. Maybe this is something the author is working towards, since we do get those hints, but from just the one book it seems like an unnecessary “coolness” device.

All that being said, I’m really excited for the next book in this series. The love story that has the potential to play a larger role in future books is with a character that we didn’t get to learn nearly enough about, but who still managed to make me like him almost instantly. Not to mention the political ramifications of this book’s plot on future plot lines. I do hope that we get a little more about the world itself, but since it seemed like the author was setting that up anyway, I’m not worried. Who knows what Isabelle and Jean-Claude are going to do next time?

An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors is written by Curtis Craddock and will be published by Tor Books on August 29, 2017. It is the first book in the Risen Kingdoms series.

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Review: Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

miranda-and-caliban I haven’t read everything Jacqueline Carey has ever written, but I’ve read a decent chunk of it. And I’ve always liked it. Kushiel’s Legacy is one of my favorite series, one that I reread every couple of years. The Agent of Hel Urban Fantasy trilogy is a fun romp that I couldn’t read fast enough, and wish there was a lot more of. Like many readers, when I read one thing by an author that I like, I’ll read more of their works because I want to find more things that I like. With authors whose MO is to explore the various subgenres of Fantasy, that desire to like everything they write can be hit-or-miss. I wanted to like Miranda and Caliban as much as I liked the rest of Jacqueline Carey’s work that I’ve read. But I just didn’t.

A lovely girl grows up in isolation where her father, a powerful magus, has spirited them to in order to keep them safe.

We all know the tale of Prospero’s quest for revenge, but what of Miranda? Or Caliban, the so-called savage Prospero chained to his will?

In this incredible retelling of the fantastical tale, Jacqueline Carey shows readers the other side of the coin―the dutiful and tenderhearted Miranda, who loves her father but is terribly lonely. And Caliban, the strange and feral boy Prospero has bewitched to serve him. The two find solace and companionship in each other as Prospero weaves his magic and dreams of revenge.

Always under Prospero’s jealous eye, Miranda and Caliban battle the dark, unknowable forces that bind them to the island even as the pangs of adolescence create a new awareness of each other and their doomed relationship.

There’s nothing technically wrong with this book. The writing isn’t bad, the story isn’t full of holes, the world is consistent. At the same time, the pace was almost unbearably slow. I was more than halfway through the book and still wondering when they story would start. The characters weren’t unlikeable, they just weren’t particularly interesting either. I wasn’t exactly bored by this book, but neither was I so excited to read it that I raced through it as fast as I could.

The story begins when Miranda is six, and for that age she’s an incredibly eloquent child. But as the story progresses, Miranda doesn’t. Despite the story making a point of her education by her father, she never seems to grow intellectually. Part of that is Prospero keeping his daughter ignorant for his “great working,” but another part of that is simply that there’s not much room to grow given the starting point. Even harder for me to read, she is—for much, if not all of the story—content in her ignorance, even knowing that she is such.

There’s a reason for much of this, of course. The whole story of this book takes place within the framework of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a play whose action occurs all within a single day. So while it builds some new things within that frame, it never expands outwards—because it can’t. Many readers will know how the play ends, and so this book had to end that same way. Because I knew where the story was building to, it lacked some of the dramatic tension that I have previously enjoyed in Carey’s work. Though it has been long enough since I last read The Tempest that I only remember the barest outline of that story, I wonder if I might have liked this book better if I had never read the play, or if I had read it more recently.

The rest of the cast—Caliban, Ariel, and Prospero—has such potential to be interesting, but they don’t really do much. Miranda and Caliban narrate the story in alternating first person perspectives, but Prospero and Ariel take up so much of the story still, given that the cast of the story is limited by to the occupants of the island. Even Ariel’s Shakespearean language patterns don’t quite make him a fuller character, and the play’s constraints on the book make Propsero’s “great working” is mostly done off-screen, so while we get to see the inevitable results, we don’t see much of the working itself outside of the observations of Miranda or Caliban.

Don’t get me wrong. There are definitely people out there who are going to love this book. This is certainly a departure from what I’ve read of the rest of Jacqueline Carey’s books, which was part of its appeal. Of course it’s always a pleasure to read the next book in a beloved series, but its where authors allow themselves to depart from the familiar and learn new things that readers can really get a sense of their skill as writers.

The one thing I found myself getting really into in this book was the magic Prospero uses. It’s an interesting mix of alchemy and astronomy, and the Greek and Roman pantheons. Carey herself said that she did a lot of research into the magical practices of the time, picking and choosing the ones that allowed for a consistent magical system, and I would happily read another book that used the same magical construction.

Miranda and Caliban is written by Jacqueline Carey and was published by Tor Books on February 14, 2017.

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