Book Review – Broken Homes (Peter Grant #4) by Ben Aaronovitch

Hi Blogland,

This week got off to a slow start with a migraine that refused to respond to medication. Yesterday was my first day without pain, and I had some obligations in the morning and then work in the evening. So, now it’s Friday and I’m finally here with the review for the next Peter Grant book! Beware some minor spoilers below.

Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars

broken homes

I think this was my favorite of the books so far. As I’ve come to expect, Peter takes the reader through an all new area of London, furthering my mental image of the city with each flip of the page.

A string of suspicious but seemingly unrelated murders have piqued Nightingale’s interest, which means Peter and Lesley are on the job. From the car accident that revealed a murder in progress to the Housing Authority worker that committed suicide on the Underground. It all links back to a stolen book, a German tome on the industrial uses of magic and an architect from the 60s.

You see, the Faceless Man wants that book, and he wants the building the architect used to mine magical energy.

So, Peter and Lesley move into a vacant flat in the rundown Skygarden Tower. It’s a low income area with passionate tenants that have called the tower home for decades. They have monthly meetings to discuss how to combat the city council and keep the building protected.

Which is unfortunate, because the Faceless Man intends to blow it up.

This book takes its time setting up the history and lore, including how Skygarden Tower was designed, the purpose it serves, and the lives of those who call it home. Including a wood nymph named Sky who may be the spirit of the land the tower is built on. The Rivers are present, including the return of Peter’s almost lover Beverly Brook, and Zach the half-fae even makes a comeback!

But, once you reach the last 70 pages or so, things really take off. I felt like there were more action sequences in this book than in the previous one, and we get to see Nightingale really take off the gloves and unleash some monstrous power on the Faceless Man’s flunkies.

And, you know, Peter throws himself into danger in order to save civilians, like the proper copper he is.

There’s a lot more going on in this book, including some very interesting character developments, but I don’t want to give too much away. Suffice it to say I really liked this book and it launched me into Foxglove Summer the very next morning. foxglove summer

I’m hoping to get a ton of reading done over the weekend. I’m running out of time on these Interlibrary loans!

I should have another book review out next week, and I think it’s just about time to have a big Submission discussion, where I talk about my submissions so far and then share what my submission process looks like and what resources I use.

So, keep an eye out for both of those sometime next week.

 

Until then, Bloggos,

 

BZ

Book Review – The Glass Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

Blogland!

I finally have a calm moment to try and write this book review.

Oregon is… in a weird place right now. A vast majority of the state is in flames as forest fires ravage my green home. Salem is nestled in the Willamette Valley, and is safe (so far) from the wildfires, but the Columbia River Gorge, Central Cascades, and Southern Oregon are all on fire. Ash is falling from the sky in Salem, coating cars and outdoor furniture, and tainting the air in a grayish-brown haze that makes breathing uncomfortable for many.

It’s pretty tragic, and terrifying.

But, that’s just another disastrous event I can tack on to this summer. I worry for the forests and natural beauty of Oregon, and my thoughts go to the people these fires have displaced. I heard it might rain on Thursday, and I sincerely hope it helps.

But, let’s talk about The Glass Magician!

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Blah blah Spoilers Ahead blah blah

In this sequel to the very enjoyable The Paper Magician, Ceony must face the consequences of the first book.

It’s been three months since the events of the first book, and life has gone back to normal for Ceony and Emery Thane, much to Ceony’s dismay. You see, she saw her future with Emery in the fortuity box, and she’s eager to get their romance rolling. But, though she now calls him by his first name, and they’ve fallen into comfortable domestic routines, they have carefully danced around their feelings for one another.

When Ceony is at the center of a series of attacks from the Lira’s cohorts (Emery’s ex-wife, and Excisioner baddie from the first book) things begin to heat up between the Magician and his apprentice. One scene that stood out was when Emery asked Ceony why she did all she did to save his heart. Her response was quiet and almost hurt, “don’t ask me that. You know why.”

Cue that painful disgusted sound that is synonymous with getting your heart twisted and wrung out to dry.

Her answer didn’t make Emery deny her words or even deny his own feelings, but he did share his doubts about the morality of such a relationship, between a Magician and his apprentice. That was enough of an admission for Ceony. But, the subtle change in their relationship doesn’t go unnoticed.

Magician Aviosky, the Glass Magician that mentored Ceony before she graduated from Pragis Taff, has suspicions that the relationship between Ceony and Thane may not be purely professional or scholarly, and she greatly disapproves.

So, not only are they trying to avoid death at the hands of crazy Excisioners (Magicians who have Bonded to blood), but they’re trying to keep nosy busy-bodies out of their private business. Even if those busy-bodies might have a point.

The best part of the book, for me, was when Emery was headed to the train station to hunt down Saraj (Bad Guy #2), leaving Ceony behind in London. She gets out of the cab, and fearing that she may never see Mg. Thane again, calls across the courtyard, “If you’re going to get yourself killed, the least you could do is kiss me goodbye!”

And he DOES IT! I definitely squealed, chock-a-block full of that ridiculous giddy feeling when two characters FINALLY get together.

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Me when Emery actually KISSED Ceony!

But, that was one shining bright moment that was quickly snuffed by the end of the book. Not story-wise, though that does get dark very quickly. But, writing-wise. Ceony is left on her own, dropped off at Mg.  Aviosky’s house in London. When she arrives she finds that Grath Cobalt (Bad Guy #1), who is actually a Glass Magician, not an Excisioner, has killed Aviosky’s apprentice and tortured Mg. Aviosky herself.

Some epic shit goes down, and Ceony does some quick thinking to save the day before she passes out and the point of view shifts to Emery…

WHAT? Like… WHAT THE WHAT? You can’t just do that! You can’t just knock your main character unconscious and then swap POV when you have literally NEVER SWAPPED POV BEFORE!

It felt cheap. The easy way out from a writing perspective. We watch Emery deal with Saraj, for a short chapter, and then go back to Ceony’s POV in which she awakes and Emery is already back and everything is said and done. WHAT?!

I’m still pretty worked up about it, and I think the only thing that could fix it for me is if the next book, The Master Magician, alternates point of view consistently. Otherwise I will continue to feel a bit put out over this.

Another thing I was less than satisfied with is the ending itself. The book sort of just… ends. The bad guys are handled, Ceony will be okay, and Emery is there. But, she broke her Bond to paper in order to Bond with glass and defeat Grath. She tells Emery this, and how she needs sand to break her Bond with glass so she can go back to paper, and he is confused but so relieved she’s all right that he just sort of nods and promises to get her some.

the paper magician

That’s it. That’s the end. No demand for an explanation of how she somehow managed to break the main tenet of their magic system, no in scene moment of performing the ritual and re-Bonding with paper. Nothing.

I really enjoyed the majority of this book, but the last 20 pages or so left me feeling gypped (I really don’t like this word but it is the right one in this scenario). When your book is only 213 pages long, you can’t have a reader upset at 10% of them. Just saying.

Anyway, I have all my hopes pinned on the last book in the series. Hopefully it will redeem this one for me. Either way, I love the characters enough to keep reading. It’ll be a little while before I get to that one though, since I’m still reading The Stone Sky, and about a million other things at once.

Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but it feels like it. Check out my Goodreads to keep tabs on my ridiculous reading schedule as I try to make up for lost time to get to 65 books this year.

And until next time, Blogland,

 

BZ

Book Review – Dead Beat (Dresden Files #7) by Jim Butcher

Well. Here I am. Writing a book review for the first time in months. Huh.

Gotta say, this is weird. But it feels damn good. If you’re keeping up on my Goodreads page, then you know that I’ve been reading up a storm the last few days. I don’t plan on slowing down, either.

Also, I had a bit of a breakthrough on the fanfic while I was in the shower today (of course), so I should make some serious progress on it over the next week or so.

My aunts have been staying with us this whole week, camped out in my writing room, so things have been a bit out of sorts for me. Even now  I’m typing this from the kitchen table, listening to Incubus in my headphones while Trevor plays his video games in his office. I didn’t realize how used to my routine I’d become, but man, this week has put it into perspective.

I started a new short story, and it’s really rough right now. I’m not sure if it’ll ever turn into more than some weird little tale, but I had a really great time writing it, so that seems good enough for now. I’ve also been doing a bit of research on the requirements for membership with the SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Association) which then spiraled out into all kinds of interesting searches about publishers, agents, and magazines with open submissions.

So, long story short, my brain is kicking back into writing mode, and I couldn’t be happier.

Now that you’ve got the short version of my thoughts these last few days, have a book review! This is the part where I tell you that there are spoilers below…

Dead_Beat
This book took me entirely too long to read. I started it as a digital audiobook on loan from the library back at the beginning of April. I was in the height of my Mass Effect playing then, so the poor recording was left neglected except for when I had a migraine. The digital loans aren’t renewable, and of course there were a bunch of holds on it, so I couldn’t get the audiobook again. I told myself that, since I owned the paperback, I’d just commit to finishing it the old-fashioned way.

Four months later I finally cracked it open and finished it in a couple of days. Because it was good! I know there’s no point in being upset with myself or trying to feel guilty about my sabbatical, but damn. I could have been so much farther in the series by now!

In this installment, Dresden is tasked with fighting off the Disciples of Kemmler, a notoriously evil necromancer whose acolytes are all vying for Godhood on a particularly stormy  Halloween. To make matters worse, Mavra, of the Black Court Vampires, also wants the “Word of Kemmler”, the necromancer’s book that all the Disciples are after. Within the book lies a ritual for calling forth the Erlking, lord of the Wild Hunt, and unlocks power that would bequeath enough power to make one a God.

So, a typical Thursday night for Harry.

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Cover art for Wizard at Large, an omnibus of Blood Rites and Dead Beat, by Dan dos Santos.

 

But, shit gets pretty intense, pretty freaking fast. There’s necromancy galore, with zombies and spirits and ghouls running rampant. Butters, the coroner, tags along with Harry the whole time, and Thomas and Mouse are large players as well; a full cast of my favorite people.

Murphy is conveniently elsewhere for the duration of the novel, and I’m excited to see how her Hawaiian vacation with Kincaid went. It was obvious in the beginning of the novel that she wanted Harry to be jealous or to try and stop her, but he’s Dresden. He didn’t do any of that even though he really wanted to. He respects Murph way too much to audibly question her romantic entanglements.

Which… come on! Just kiss already!

Anyway, nothing is ever easy for Harry, and this book in particular put the wizard through the wringer. The Red Court did some dirty fighting to deliver a crippling blow to the White Council, almost completely decimating the Wardens. It was really cool to see the Wardens in action, and one in particular, Ramirez, was a new favorite character. Of course, that means his life is in immediate danger, because I like him way more than I should. Sorry, Ramirez.

Also, Butters gets ragged on by Thomas the whole book for being a coward, and then does some insanely badass shit in order to save Harry, including riding on the back of a resurrected Tyrannosaurus Rex whilst using his one-man polka suit to keep a drum beat.

 

Because Polka will never die.

And behind all of this is the longer arc of the war between the White Council and the Red Court, and the even longer arc of Dresden and Lasciel, the fallen angel he thought he’d locked away beneath two feet of cement in his basement. Yeah, she makes an appearance or three, and it’s some weird shit.

Anyway, I feel really rusty at this whole book review thing, but I needed to do this before  I got too deep into the next  Dresden book and couldn’t keep the details separate. Despite how long it took for me to finish this book, I really loved it. If you’ve made it this far through Dresden, are you really gonna give up on it now?

A sincere thanks to all of you that continued to visit the blog, even though I was gone for so long. I knew it’d be a while,but I didn’t think it’d be almost five months… But, I’m back now, and looking forward to balancing projects and getting back into my more productive routines.

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Me, twirling through my TBR list.

I’m reading about five things right now, so I have no idea what the next book review will be. Probably The Atlantis Complex (Artemis Fowl #7) by Eoin Colfer, because I just finished it. I’m also listening to Alan Cumming’s autobiography, Not My Father’s Son, which is phenomenal so far. I’m also listening to Zombie Spaceship Wasteland, Patton Oswalt’s first book, and enjoying myself. And I’m reading Preludes & Nocturnes (The Sandman #1) by Neil Gaiman.

Good gravy. I really am trying to make up for lost time. I’m exhausted just thinking about it. So, stick around for more blog posts as my reading and writing reestablishes a working rhythm.

Until then, Blogland!

 

BZ

Book Review – The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson

Hello Blogland!

Today has been a wonderful day so far, though I admit I wish I’d got an earlier start on this part of it. But, my best friend’s dad (basically my second dad) is arriving in town today, so I prepped a big dinner and did some house chores. The next three hours or so will be dedicated to blogging and fiction, and it will have to be good enough.

Last night was the first meeting of Book Club session #3, and it didn’t go that well. Three of the five people didn’t show, though they all contacted me ahead of time. So, I’ll get into the meeting, and the book more tomorrow.

Today we’re here to discuss The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps. wildeeps

I learned about this book from my friend and co-worker, Matt. He’s a well read mofo, and can be damn cerebral when it suits him. He can also spend hours figuring out Cookie Monster’s extended family based on geographical location (i.e. Curry Monster for India, Kimchi Monster for Korea, Sushi Monster for Japan, and Gravy Monster for Canada, etc.). His versatility never ceases to astound and amuse me.

Anyway, he read this book a few months back and raved about it to me. I added it to the Goodreads TBR list, and promptly forgot about it. Then, while perusing the library’s catalog for new Sci-Fi and Fantasy, it popped up. I put a hold on it, the only one to do so, and waited.

When I finally checked it out I was surprised at how thin it was. A whopping 212 pages. Immediately I had doubts. Fantasy this short meant that world building would be minimal, or character development would suffer to accommodate it. I wasn’t wrong…

But I wasn’t right, either.

The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps is such a strange, fantastical story that I find it difficult to write this review. There are so many conflicting elements in this story, things that threw me off and alienated me as a writer, but enthralled me as a reader. And educated me immensely as both.

Part luxurious prose that stands out in the genre, part Hip-Hop dialogue that definitely stands out in the genre, and part mythological ballad that brings it all together in this blur of whimsical and visceral language that finds its own rhythm and song.

It was really hard to get into at first, and my own insecurities didn’t help. All the characters in this book are black, as it takes place in what I believe to be (a possibly VERY distant future) Africa, and the main character, Demane, is gay to boot.

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The only picture I could find of Kai Ashante Wilson

As Matt and I agreed, we are not the target audience of Wilson’s novel. And I worried that my distance from Demane’s experience might make it impossible to enjoy or even really understand what the book was trying to tell me.

What a silly notion. For sharing experience and encouraging empathy is the true magic and purpose of fiction.

Yes, at first, it was difficult to follow the exposition. And just when I’d found the rhythm, suddenly harsh and unexpected dialogue would throw me off all over again. Until, completely beyond my awareness, it all seamed together into one voice. By the end the telling of Demane’s story was as natural to me as listening to my stepmother speak. This book lilts in a similar way as her thick Brazilian accent does and it required as much willingness to listen as her voice does when I’ve been away for a long time.

I don’t want to go into actual details of the plot, because the way it all unfolds in the book is really important. Telling you a rough explanation of events would just ruin it, and do it absolutely no justice.

That being said, I fully expect to purchase a copy and reread it after I’ve had some distance from it. It’s a book whose ending will directly affect how you read the preceding passages.

The world building is thin. It’s not a focus of this book, but it is there. It also seems to be set on Earth, because there are enough familiar places to suggest it, but no real proof. But, the story doesn’t suffer from it. The character’s are even subtly built, with sparse and purposeful language.

This is a book that uses your whole brain, long after you’ve finished it. I’m glad it wasn’t longer, because it would have lost a lot of its impact by shedding more light on places and people. The bits that we get are given to us for a reason. This is writing that truly embodies the idea that every word must serve multiple functions, and it is beautifully done.

It’s this that has put Kai Ashante Wilson firmly on my list of authors to watch. I look forward to reading more of him. And you should too.

Until tomorrow Blogland,

 

BZ

 

Book Review – Blood Rites, Dresden Files #6 by Jim Butcher

Hello Blogland!

Welcome to the first book review of 2017! I am NOT used to typing that. Really I’m just not used to typing anymore, it seems. This whole “not biting my nails” thing has been an adjustment. But, for the first time in my life I have pretty, feminine hands that aren’t likely to chip, break, or be covered in Frappuccino Roast or Mocha.

It’s so liberating!

Anyway, a little of the backstory of me and this book.

I’ve been reading Dresden for a while now, and was even a fan of the doomed Sci-Fi Channel (back when it was still spelled that way) series based on the books. Paul Blackthorne as Harry Dresden will always be my accepted Canon.

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Notice the hat? He wears one on every cover, but never wears on in the books…

So, I’ve read the first five books multiple times, mainly because I keep telling myself that I should reread them in order to get back into the series and finally catch up. Spoiler Alert- that never works. Inevitably I get to book six, Blood Rites, get to about page 60, and then get bored, distracted, or just plain old give up.

 

It’s been a real problem.

And then, I discovered the magic of Overdrive, and my library’s Libray2Go service. You see, we have a downloadable program, where cardholders can download ebooks and digital audiobooks in addition to the items they check out in person. And that service had Blood Rites as audio.

On a whim, I put it on hold, and waited for it to show up. Honestly, it’d been so long that I actually forgot I was waiting for it until my email notice reminded me that it was now available for download.

At about that time, I was struck with a persistent and angry migraine, and it snowed. Now, snow here in Salem is a big deal. We’ve had four or five snow days here this winter all ready, and that is not typical, so basically the whole town shuts down when frozen water falls from the sky.

So, stuck indoors, in pain and unable to sleep through it, I turned to my audiobook for some sort of entertainment that wouldn’t make me want to vomit. And it was heaven. If heaven can be so painful.

I listened to the bulk of the book in just two days, and promptly put book seven on hold. It’ll be another long wait, but it’ll be worth it.

Now, on to the story!

I think what really made this experience so wonderful was James Marsters’ narration. That’s right, Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the voice of Harry Dresden, and he is phenomenal!

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Everyone’s favorite Vamp Bad-Boy lends his voice to our favorite Wizard for Hire.

He has Harry’s tone and humor down perfectly, and he does all these different voices for the various characters so that you know at any given time who is speaking. He even yawned part way through a line of dialogue, which made me stop mid-dish scrubbing to say, “did he just yawn?” And then the dialogue tag followed, “I said with a yawn.”

 

Talk about attention to detail. It’s true when someone says that the narrator can make or break an audiobook. One. Hundred. Percent. True. And Marsters brings this series to life.

As for the actual guts of the tale, without some serious background, it won’t make much sense. The gist is this: Harry takes on a case helping a Porno director fend of an Entropy Curse, all while planning to attack Mavra, a Black Court vampire that’s trying to kill him.

But, the best thing about this book is that it centers around one of my favorite characters in the series, Thomas. He’s a White Court vampire, which means he’s a sexual energy vampire, more or less.

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Fanart (artist unknown) of Thomas Raith

Still basically immortal, still unnaturally strong, but otherwise incredibly human seeming. Which makes him, and his kin, even more dangerous. They don’t mind daylight, and religious artifacts and talismans mean nothing to them. They’re alluring, charming, and undeniably attractive.

 

But they can kill you just as quick as any Red Court or Black Court vamp (think Dracula).

Anyway, Harry and Thomas have a tense, but hilarious working relationship that fills the majority of the book. Also in this installment, Harry has the first flickering of non-platonic thoughts for Karin Murphy, his Cop friend/occasional partner. While I don’t know yet if this ever comes to fruition, and honestly don’t think it will because Harry and Karin are stupid and stubborn, I was glad to hear Harry at least admit the thoughts were there before he banished them.

And of course, this book is full of mystery, death, magic, and Harry getting hurt. Really, by the end of every book Dresden is lucky to be alive, and is usually in immense amounts of pain and in need of medical attention.dresden-what-i-do

In this respect Blood Rites does not disappoint.

In character development, I found Blood Rites to be wonderful. We learn so much about Harry, Karin, and Thomas that I found the Mavra plotline to be almost distracting from the characters. Don’t get me wrong, those scenes are great and important, but I just wanted to get back to learning about these people!

So in short (too late!), only read this book if you’re reading through the series. You can’t just pick this one up and expect to understand anything. You won’t. But, if you’re a fan of Dresden, this is a very good installment.

And I highly recommend giving this series a try on audiobook! It was so good that, despite owning a print copy, I’d rather wait for my audio hold than just read it.

Who knows when that will be, but be sure that once I’ve listened to Dead Beat, I’ll be right here with another review!

Talk at you soon, Blogland.

 

BZ

Book Review- White Sand by Brandon Sanderson, Rik Hoskin, and Julius Gopez

Hi Blogland,

I know I said the next time we met it’d be to talk about Lansdale’s Savage Season, but I ended up staying home with a bit of a back injury today. In my invalid time, I read White Sand cover to cover. At 160 pages, it wasn’t difficult to do.

This is Sanderson’s first tale told in the graphic format, and I have to say that it was pretty good. I’ve been reading more graphic novels lately, and I would say that this one was solid. Not genius level like Saga, but come on, what is?WhiteSand01DJ-C-233x350

The story follows Kenton, a Sand Master. Or, well, a wannabe Sand Master. He’s been in training for eight years, and he pretty much sucks at controlling sand. A terrible shame for the son of the Lord Sand Mastrell, aka the leader of all Sand Masters.

So, Kenton is a hard headed young man, determined to prove his worth despite his fizzling and unreliable abilities. All to spite his father who wants Kenton to give up and move on with his life.

Too bad the guy doesn’t live long enough to see Kenton’s dreams come true. The Sand Masters are attacked, and only a handful survive. Kenton is one of them, his father is not. So now he’s left in his father’s place, and suddenly able to command the sand like he never has before.

But, the government is sick of paying for the Sand Masters. They’re an aloof and elitist bunch, who’ve now worn out their welcome. Kenton has two weeks to unite the Sand Masters behind him, and to convince the council to reconsider their decision to dissolve the Sand Masters entirely.

While Kenton deals with all this, two other characters are followed. Khrissala, the duchess of a kingdom on the other side of the world. She’s on the dayside seeking the fabled Sand Masters in order to appropriate some weapon that her deceased fiancé was after. Though they traveled together for a time, it’s not until the last page that Khrissala learns what Kenton is.WhiteSand01-18-19.jpg

And then there’s Trackt Ais. She seems like a government sanctioned bounty hunter. More likely some sort of detective. She’s hunting for a man called Nilto, who she believes is actually Sharezan. Who that is and why she’s after him, I have no idea.

Overall, this was a quick and fun read. I think the characters are great, the magic is awesome as usual, and the artwork is really delightful. But… and this is hard for me, but the world building is kind of flat. Maybe it’s the format. Maybe it’s just too difficult to build the world with such limited text. I mean, the artwork does a bit of it, but there are a lot of things that just get glossed over and filed away with only a contextual understanding. I’m hoping that the future volumes will flesh things out a bit more, but there’s only two more to go, so I won’t get my hopes up.

I wonder if adapting the graphic novel from an actual novel is part of the problem. This work was not originally intended to be told in a visual format, maybe the world building was part of the sacrifice to get it to work well as a graphic novel.

Either way, this story is still great. I’m ready for the next installment, whenever that will be.

Sand Master
It’s just so pretty…

 

Next time we meet, it should be about Savage Season. Jemisin’s newest book is coming along well, and I can’t wait to finish it and talk to you all about it. My listen of The Martian hit disc 7 today. There are only 9 discs, so that will be over before you know it. Then it’s on to Coraline.

Basically, I’m doing all I can to make up for all the lost reading time over the last two years.

See you soon Blogland,

 

BZ

Book Review- The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman

Blogland!

Remember when I said I’d have this review up “tomorrow”? Turns out tomorrow is like, a week after the fact. What’s new? This whole sticking to a routine business is going to take some time to get used to, that’s for damn sure.

Anyway, let’s a talk a bit about the conclusion of Quentin Coldwater’s story. Finally!magicians land

By the time The Magician’s Land gets rolling, Quentin has been through a lot of shit. His girlfriend burned herself up with magic, turning into a blue rage demon known as a Niffin. That broke my heart. Alice was my favorite character of the first book, and she deserved better than 23 year old, extra douche-y Quentin. They were mid-fight/break-up when Alice sacrificed herself in Ember’s tomb.

That really messed with Quentin.

But, he still reigned on as a King of Fillory, and when he finally got a quest worth a damn, and completed it admirably, learning a lot about himself, and what it means to be brave, Ember kicked him out. That’s right, the other Physical Kids, Quentin’s friends from Brakebills, get to stay, and Quentin is forced back to his mundane life on Earth.

But, he’s almost 30 by this time, and suddenly a little peace and quiet doesn’t sound so bad. Plus, there’s something he wants to research. So, he gets a job teaching at Brakebills and begins the tedious process of researching Niffins. Because he wants to bring Alice back.

At this point even I think Quentin has gone off the deep end. There’s no bringing someone back from poofing into a nebulous blue cloud of rage. Everything up to this point in the series has made it painfully clear: Alice is gone.

But, Quentin’s not giving up. Not even when he gets fired, and has to take up a sketchy side project in order to make some substantial fast cash to fund his research.

And the crazy part is that it works. It’s not in the way Quentin ever imagined it, and there are a lot of details I’m glossing over that are really pivotal to the story. This book isn’t just about rescuing Alice, and how broken she is when she comes back, but about Fillory, once and for all.fillorymap_lg

Because it’s dying. And nothing Eliot, Janet, and even Julia do can stop it. In a last ditch effort, Eliot goes to Quentin to get his help on one final quest. Only to find that Quentin and his former student now roommate, Plum, have already done the legwork!

So, they all return to Fillory so they can save it. But, again, nothing ever goes quite as planned. But, if anyone can put Fillory back together again, piece by agonizing piece, its Quentin Coldwater.

And that’s exactly what he does. But once it’s done, he knows it’s over for him. The fairytale of Fillory has lost its appeal. Despite multiple offers for him to stay, Quentin and Alice return to the townhouse in New York, and Quentin promises Alice that he’s there for her, no matter how long it takes.

They build a new land, using a spell Quentin found in the Neitherlands (that place between worlds), and the book ends with them exploring the land hand in hand.

It’s a happy, if vague ending that left me completely satisfied.

What really impressed me most about this book was how much Quentin had changed. In the first book, I actively hated Quentin. Don’t believe me? Read my review here. It’s pretty scathing in regards to Quentin’s character. In the second book he sort of played second fiddle to Julia, whose time in the book was spent rehashing what she’d been up to during the events of the first book. It was an odd set up, but the information proved critical for the final installment.

And then, by the time Quentin joins Plum on the heist in the opening pages, he’s someone new. Still quick-witted and sharp-tongued. Still cynical and riddled with self-loathing, but now he actually has a good reason for it.Before it seemed like he was apathetic because he was bored and had nothing better to do. In The Magician’s Land Quentin is in one of the darkest places of his life.

And it really looks good on him.

magicians
I still haven’t watched this show. Add it to my “To Do” list…

For the first time, I rooted for Quentin. I worried about him. I couldn’t imagine him dying, or getting hurt. And every stabbing comment Alice made when she first returned broke my heart for him. Because she wasn’t wrong, or at least not entirely. And Quentin admitted that. He actually admitted it! The Quentin could never have done that. And his new honesty and humility endeared him to me in a way I never thought possible.

Fine. I’ll admit it. By the end, I had a certifiable crush on Quentin Coldwater.

And I’m happy to say that I feel like his story ends on just a positive enough note that I have confidence that he and Alice can figure things out. And that makes my heart incredibly happy.

So overall, I still wasn’t a fan of the first book. I enjoyed the second one, but this one was by far the best. Bit of a drag you have to slog through the first two to get here, but there’s no way you could skip over them. I’d say, ultimately, this last book is worth reading the first two. It definitely redeems the series, in my opinion.

Since I last posted, I’ve also finished reading Savage Season by Joe R. Lansdale, so keep an eye out for another review soon. I’m also making decent progress on N.K. Jemisin’s newest release, The Obelisk Gate, and should have it completed by the end of the month.

In other words, I’m back in the game!

See you soon, Blogland.

 

BZ

Book Review- The Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones

Hello Blogland,

As promised, I finished The Castle in the Air this weekend, and so I’m here to review it before my entire life is absorbed by The Bands of Mourning (out tomorrow!).

It’s late, so let me get right to the point.
Castle_in_the_Air_Cover

First, this book follows much in the same vein as the first book. Though Howl and Sophie play much smaller roles, they are present, and they warmed my heart as ever.

This book follows Abdullah, a carpet merchant in far away Zanzib. He’s a man of daydreams, whose childhood was full of disappointment and derision. His father’s only son, he was to follow in his footsteps, except a prophecy at his birth foretold that he would not carry on the carpet business, and would in fact rise above all others in the land.

In Diana Wynne Jones typically cheeky way, this happened both literally and figuratively.

Abdullah’s dreams begin to come true after buying a magic carpet. The carpet whisks him away in his sleep to a beautiful night garden, where an enchanting princess is kept in solitude. Thinking he is but dreaming, Abdullah tells the princess that he is a lost prince, kidnapped at birth and brought to Zanzib to lead a dreadfully mundane life.

But, when Abdullah realizes that the princess, named Flower-in-the-Night, is in fact real, and that they both love one another very much, he is determined to marry her and fly off into the sunset. But, nothing is ever so simple.

A Djinn, leathery and winged, scoops up Flower-in-the-Night, just as she’s running to join Abdullah on his magic carpet, kidnapping her. Abdullah pursues her, and through various mishaps, comes across a Genie in a bottle. This Genie is cantankerous, and overall an unwilling character of the story. He grants a wish a day, but does so in such a way that no matter the wish, something bad will happen.

As Abdullah travels, he arrives in Ingary (home of Howl and Sophie), where he joins the company of an old Soldier, and they travel together to Kingsbury to speak to a Royal Wizard. Along the way the Soldier adopts a cat and her kitten, who wield their own brand of magic.

All of this so Abdullah can reach the castle in the air, which floats disguised as clouds. castle in the air2.jpg

Well, they finally all arrive, and it turns out Sophie was the cat this whole time, her kitten being Morgan, her and Howl’s son. They are returned to their proper form, but Sophie’s not giving up until she finds Howl.

So once in the castle, thanks to the magic carpet, Abdullah is reunited with Flower-in-the-Night, and they devise a plan to be rid of the Djinn’s who have captured the various princesses of the world.

In the usual way of Ms. Jones, the final scene play out in a whirlwind of loose ends tying up in fancy, neat bows. You see, once the Djinn’s are vanquished, we see that Howl, Sophie, and Calcifer were in the story all along. Sophie, as Midnight the magical cat, Calcifer as the Magic Carpet, and Howl as the cantankerous Genie!

So, after much turmoil, Abdullah and Flower-in-the-Night are married, but are unable to return to Zanzib, since her father doesn’t approve of the union. So, through some favors and bribery, Sophie and Howl convince the King to appoint the newlyweds and Ambassadors to Ingary. They more or less live happily ever after in a modest house with magical gardens that bloom year round.

And they are visited often by their magical friends.

This was another fantastic tale from Diana Wynne Jones. All the magic, humor, and whimsy of the first book asserted itself in this one. Though no characters can compete for with the love I have for Howl, Sophie, and Calcifer, I found that Abdullah’s patience and adoration for Flower-in-the-Night was endearing and powerful in its own right. I laughed out loud often, and read well into the night, curious to see how everything played out.

But, this one didn’t make me cry, so I can’t rate it quite as high as the first one.

However, I really appreciated the way Howl and Sophie are depicted. Though they are separate through much of the novel, once they are reunited, they are perfect. Just as I remembered them, they bickered good naturedly. Howl teased Sophie, and she yelled at him, though she smiled through it. They argued, and though their voices were in it, their hearts weren’t. Sophie and Howl are two sides of a coin, constantly at odds while relying and depending entirely on the other. Seeing them together, with their child for the first time, and witnessing their subtle admissions of doubt in their new roles was so touching. Despite the magical world in which they live, Howl and Sophie are a very real representation of a married couple.howl and sophie

I love them for that.

But, this story wasn’t really about them. It’s about Abdullah, and his devotion to Flower-in-the-Night. He worked tirelessly to find her, the only man to even attempt a rescue of his princess. And his patience, determination, and devotion all paid off. Since they lived happily ever after.

Talk about the perfect fairy tale!

If you find yourself craving a quick and easy read that keeps you smiling way passed your bedtime, I suggest you give this book a try.

Since I finished Castle in the Air on Saturday, I found myself with spare time before The Bands of Mourning released. Since I didn’t have time for a full book, I read both Saga Vol. 1 and Sanderson’s short story Dreamer. I don’t make a habit of book reviews on short stories, because really, what’s the point? By the time you read the review, you could have just read the story yourself! But, I plan on doing a review for Saga, once I’ve read it in its entirety.

So, not any time soon.castle in the air alternate

Tomorrow I’m waking up early to hit the bookstore when it opens, that way I have The Bands of Mourning all ready to go before work tomorrow. I figure it will only take a couple of days for me to plow through, and then I’ll be right back with a review.

Until then, Blogland,

 

BZ

Week 3 Summary

I took notes in purple ink this week.  I like it much more than the red.

We started this week’s lecture talking about Characterization.

What Makes a Great Character?

Relatable
Exist Beyond the Page
Motivation
Growth
Admirable
Flaws

This was a list the students created, to which Sanderson added:

Passions and Motivations Beyond the Main Plot
Interruptions in the Life

Proactive
Capable
Sympathetic
     Empathetic   
     Similarities
EMOTION
Limitations
Character Arc

Sanderson suggested that you ask yourself questions. For instance, What would your characters be doing if the main plot wasn’t happening?

And then we talked about quirks.

Quirks are ways to humanize characters w/minimal details. Simple things that help the reader understand the character. Things like:

Hobbies
Interests
Actions
Tells~~~> Always tapping foot, eyepatch, etc
     ~~~~> Quickly characterizes

One way to do this is the Dossier Method. This is where you either find or create your own list of questions that you ask yourself about each character.

Below my notes about the Dosseir Method is a large triangle that’s been cut into three sections.

The top section is rather small. This is what the reader sees.

The Middle section is smaller still, and this is where you hint at details and knowledge that you know exists, but you don’t actually show to the reader in detail.

And then there’s the bottom, by far the largest. This is what you know about your story. The details and information that ultimately isn’t important to the story or characters, and therefore neither appears in or is hinted at in your story.

A side note near the triangle reminds me to Beware World Builder’s Disease.

Also, Sanderson notes that you should skimp on large details and overdue small details. Small details are what make characters and settings feel more realistic.

Another thing Sanderson suggested was to intentionally cast the wrong person. Find a character and put them into your plot. What makes them incapable of filling the role? Usually, that’s a good thing. It creates instant tension. “Stick the square peg in the round hole.”

From there we moved on to the two types of characters. There’s the Everyman, who is normal, the Frodo’s and Sam’s of the world. And then there are the Supermen.

Everymen are relatable, have potential for growth, and are usually the underdog, which we all love. Whereas the Superman is someone to admire and gives the reader a bit of wish fulfillment.

Sam is an Everyman, BUT he has a super power. He has inhuman loyalty. And that loyalty is why Sam is so determined and follows Frodo doggedly. His loyalty is why we all love him.

Aragorn is a Superman. He is capable and unwavering. Someone to admire and aspire to.

These are things you want to think about when building characters.

Then we segued into Character Flaws.

There are three types of Limitations your character can experience. There are Character Flaws, Physical/Mental Limitations, and Handicaps.

Handicaps are external limitations. They tend to be out of the character’s control and don’t necessarily need to be overcome.

Physical/Mental Limitations are internal. They are also out of the character’s control, but will most likely need to be overcome.

And then there are the full blown Character Flaws. These are the Character’s Fault. They have control over them and can change it. These flaws promote growth and add conflict. They also make the reader care.

For instance, a character with Depression. Depression is not a character flaw, it is a Physical/Mental Limitation.

Another reason flaws are important is because they show Incremental Progress. Plot is about a sense of progress. Think about it. Time is arbitrary in writing. You can cover 10 minutes in 10,000 pages or 2 words. It’s up to you.

Below that is the too familiar chart depicting plot. You know the one.  It starts with the introduction, and slowly climbs then drops, until it reaches the climax, and then steadily declines into the end.

This chat that we all know so well also works for character progression.

Think of it in terms of a Try/Fail cycle. The character tries to act and fails, but it helps us like the character more. Sanderson used the example of Han Solo, when Darth Vader appears and Han realizes they’ve been betrayed. Hand doesn’t turn to Lando and say, “You betrayed us!” No. Instead he pulls out his blaster and attempts to blow Darth Vader into smithereens.

Does it work? Of course not, but Han tried anyway. He acted. Instead of talking, which can be boring, he straight up decided to DO something.

Make sure your characters DO things. I know it sounds simple, but there are a lot of words out there in which nothing happens.

And then, the moment we were all waiting for. We started the magic conversation…

It wasn’t much, just the last ten minutes. I paused the video and made myself some ghetto crisps (microwaved quesodillas)  and then hurried back up stairs to the computer. So, my notes are a little scant, seeing as I was stuffing my face during the lecture. The beauty of online class.

Sanderson told us to ask ourselves questions about our magic, just like we do our characters. How do you get the magic? What’s the cost of using it?

You need to outthink your readers about the ramifications of that magic. A good magic system doesn’t just affect the magic, it effects everything!

Brandon admitted that Urban Fantasy is harder, because the magic exists within a world where we already know the rules. Also, the existence of magic will often complicate the character’s viewpoint on religion. Explore that!

And remember, good magic is connected to everything around it.

I tried to condense this week’s summary, because last week was just nuts. But, the lecture itself wasn’t as dense this week, or else it would probably have been about the same length.

I’m learning a lot. And these summaries help me to go back and take a second look at the lecture and really absorb what’s being discussed.

The website was having some difficulties earlier, but I am trying to respond to people’s submissions, though I haven’t had many responses these last two weeks. Not sure what that’s about, but hopefully it’s not a reflection on my work.

Anyway, it’s time to get some lunch and work on my novel. I want to finish chapter 14 today, but I’m not sure if it’ll happen.

Talk at you later blogland,

BZ

Week 2 Summary

I’m sitting in my Starbucks, on my day off, staring at my notes for Sanderson’s lecture last week. It’s scrawled in red pen, since it was all I could find, and it’s a mess of circles, arrows, and random side notes.

Typical for notes of mine.

We started off last week’s lecture by taking a look at what new writers really need to think about more often.

So, the title of this page looks like this:

The Problem w/ New Writers

Then the words Plot, Character, and Setting are scribbled in the rough shape of a triangle and circled, so that it looks sort of like a venn diagram. Except the bubbles aren’t quite touching. And then the word Conflict finds itself in the center, touching every bubble.

And here’s what Sanderson had to say about these words.

Character is most important to telling stories. Readers finish books because of characters.

Plot is generally a close second. And if it’s a Sci-Fi, it may come first.

Setting is where new writers really seem to struggle. New writers tend to overload on setting and have boring stories. New writers need to practice to be able to create an awesome setting unobtrusively.

And finally, Conflict. Conflict is the glue that hold all of these elements together. As a writer we need to actively seek out conflict. Not just the main conflict of the story, but conflict in the little moments. In a conversation, or even in an internal moment. Conflict should be everywhere. And that’s a problem I currently have in my longer works.

So, the first page of notes was rather tame. Flip the page and you’re greeted with an odd mixture of printing and cursive, my signature scrawl. Arrows point in all sorts of directions, words are circled or underlined, or maybe both if it really needs to stick, and the side margins are full to the brim with words going the wrong way.

Welcome to BZ note-taking 101.

Info Dumps & Learning Curves

As fantasy writers, we have to fight the urge to explain everything all at once. and this leads us to info dump. Literally, dump a ton of world information on the reader so that they can hurry up and understand so we can tell the story.

DON’T do that!

You want information to come to the reader almost organically. Nuggets of understanding should come in character and in an unobtrusive way. Also, you want it to make sense. The character should have a good reason to be thinking about something, not just randomly having a thought to teach the reader something about the world.

For those of you who have read it, think of Mistborn. That world has an extremely complex magic system, and the reader’s understanding of said magic system is integral to the conclusion of the story. But, if Sanderson had just dumped the laws on us machine gun style, we wouldn’t have really grasped it, and the ending would have been less than thrilling.

Instead, Sanderson takes his time. He develops his main character slowly, realistically, and allows the magic system to unfold as her character grows. By the third part of the story the reader has a natural understanding of the magic that allows them to anticipate things before they happen. So, in action sequences, where things are moving quickly and magic is used heavily, the reader understands the laws of the magic and can start to piece together and really envision what is going on.

It makes the story that much more immersive and incredibly realistic.

Another important thing to think of as you write is that every sentence, and therefore every paragraph should do multiple things. And this is great because it applies to every type of writing, not just Sci-Fi/Fantasy.

So, you’re sentence should simultaneously develop character, evoke setting, and move the plot along. And it is incredibly hard to do. That is a skill that requires a lot of practice, but I’m determined to get it down.

The next page is oddly empty, compared to its predecessors.

Blending the Familiar & Strange

I think I was pretty immersed in this particular lecture, because the notes are minimal. So I’ll summarize.

Basically, every story has a blend of the familiar and strange. It’s the familiar that brings readers in. A character they can identify with, or a setting that they really enjoy. But it’s the strange, the new, unknown thing that keeps them.

So, you need a blend of these two things to create a captivating story, and every story’s ratio will be different.

Sanderson made this sound more or less natural, something you don’t actively think of too much, but that you learn to recognize with time.

Generating Physical & Cultural Settings

That’s a mouthful.

This page in my notes has a sort of t-chart roughly sketched and labelled.

Physical                                                                     Cultural
Geography                                                                   Religion
Flora and Fauna                                                        Race Relations
Weather Patterns                                                       Customs
Topography                                                                 History
Day/Night Cycle                                                        Holidays
Climate                                                                         Language
Government
Gender Roles
Food Culture
Fashion
Economy
Occupations
Pop Culture
Pets

And then the class started to build worlds. Sanderson suggested that, while all of these things are important and would be good to know about your world, you should pick 3 of them and really focus on those. Know those three elements of your cultural setting and tell your story through and about them. That makes for much more involved and interesting settings.

Strategies for Showing, Not Telling

We learn early on that showing is always more interesting than telling, and this relates directly to using an active voice instead of a passive one. But, what are some good methods to show instead of tell?

Use Dialogue! Dialogue is always more interesting, because good dialogue should characterize and be an exchange of power. And so, dialogue is more interesting to read than description, and is usually easier to read, because of its formatting.

Another method is using In Character Thoughts. This is where the character has a thought, and instead of saying it aloud, they internalize it, usually in italics. This isn’t as compelling as dialogue itself, because there tends to be less tension, but is still an attention getter.

And then of course there’s Description. Description isn’t as interesting as dialogue or in character thoughts, but if it’s done well, description can do a great job. Just remember that your descriptions should be seen through a lens. Meaning they should be described through the eyes of your characters. It allows you to evoke setting through character or plot eyes. Which sounds confusing, but it basically describes the setting with the voice of the character, or in the tension of the moment. So, you describe something in the room because your character uses it to do something in the scene.

Here Brandon reminds us not to fall in “World Builder’s Disease”. Basically, don’t spend 17 years building your world, and let it keep you from writing your story.

Ok guys, we’re almost there. To those of you who have made it this far, don’t give up yet!

Magic & Satisfying Resolution pt.1

Sanderson’s Laws:

1. Your ability as a writer to satisfactorily solve problems w/magic is directly proportional to how well your reader understands said magic.

2. Limitations are more important than the powers themselves.

3. Everything influences everything.

We should avoid “Deus ex Machina”. The scenario where the character is written into a corner and then saved by a mystical ability or entity. This undermines the conflict, and really draws the whole story into question. “If they could have done that all along, why’d they go through all the struggle?” Also, it keeps readers from being able to solve problems, which is part of the enjoyment of reading!

DON’T DO IT!

Magic & Satisfying Resolutions pt. 2

This one is a bit blank…

There’s a two-headed arrow. One end is labelled “Sense of Wonder” and the other “Solving Problems.”

Remember that we’re talking about magic here. Magic inherently should have a sense of wonder, but a strong magic system also needs to solve problems. Your magic should strike a balance. And it needs to be consistent. You can have irrational magic that’s mystical and unknowable, but it needs to be consistent. And you an have explicit magic that follows exact laws, but it can’t suddenly break the laws in order to solve a problem. Follow the rules you create!

Holy crap. That was one lecture.

What have I gotten myself into?

As far as responses go, they’ve been positive so far. Though last week I only got one response…

BZ