NaNoWriMo 2013 – Here we go!

At the last minute, I decided to go ahead and participate in National Novel Writing Month this year. My wife is behind me, and ready to work with me to be sure I get the time to write my 1667 words/day. If you’re also trying, feel free to add me as a Writer Buddy. My profile page is right here.

I’m going to be writing a secondary world fantasy story that I had already planned to do as my second novel. The idea came to me years ago, after thinking about weapons of mass destruction. Mages, I reasoned, are potential WMDs. Yet in traditional fantasy settings they are usually completely unregistered and self-regulating. I didn’t think that was very likely in any place with a semblance of government. In fact, I thought control would probably be very tight indeed.

My first attempt at playing with the idea was as a D&D campaign. Unfortunately, my ideas required a fair amount of house rules, and being in your late thirties doesn’t lend itself well to spending a ton of hours designing a campaign. It fizzled, but the idea remained.

So now the first day is done, and I’m a little off the pace but feeling good.

Word Count: 1328/50,000

Review – Gravity’s Revenge by A. E. Marling

Gravity’s Revenge is the third book of the Enchantress series, and continues the development of Elder Enchantress Hiresha, Tethiel the Lord of the Feast, and others.

This book is by far the most straightforward of the three, following a basic fantasy quest/action storyline.

Premise
The story opens with Hiresha escorting the daughter of her maid, Janny, up the magical Skyway to the Academy of enchantresses. On their way we are treated to both explanations and demonstrations of the Academy’s gravity-defying design. Hiresha also witnesses its failure as she sees the form of a young enchantress hurtle past to her death.

Just getting the other Elder Enchantresses to acknowledge the possibility of a failure of the college’s enchantments is Hiresha’s first problem. The Academy’s design is attributed to the Opal Mind – the Goddess of Intellect and Creativity. Despite the fact that they know how the magic works, suggesting the possibility of its failure is tantamount to heresy.

Before anything can be done about the possibly failing magic, another wrinkle is added to the tapestry – Bright Palms have ascended the cliffs and intend to take the Academy hostage in order to force concessions from the government. In short order, Hiresha is cut off from her stash of gems, her Spellsword bodyguard, and most of the rest of the academy.

The Final Step to Independence
Because Hiresha is so thoroughly cut off from her normal sources of support, she is at her most active and independent. This completes a character arc that began in Brood of Bones where she is almost entirely dependent on her maid and spellsword to accomplish anything. In the middle book, she has cast off many of the comfortable and confining trappings of pomp and title, but still leans heavily on her maid and spellsword. In Gravity’s Revenge she is forced to rely on herself to overcome both physical and mental obstacles.

The Theme of Moral Ambiguity
All three of the Enchantress books ask us to consider the nature of goodness, and what it really means. Like in real life, there are no wholly good or evil organizations in the Lands of Loam. Few characters present as wholly positive or negative, either. Gravity’s Revenge tackles this question head-on. The Bright Palms consider themselves the protectors of the innocent, but their methods can be callous to the point of villainy. The Academy is a center of learning and progress, but it’s hidebound and elitist. Even the Lord of the Feast, patriarch of a family of monstrous predators, finds himself acting on behalf of the greater good.

Gravity’s Revenge is a an excellent book, with a strong heroine and disturbing villains. Marling’s command of the language continues to mature, and the writing in this latest outing is solid – lyrical in places, without being stilted or obtuse. If you like action-packed adventures and books about characters trying their best outside their comfort zones, this one is for you.

Rating: 4/5

Review – Old Blood’s Fate by Michael Merriam

Old Blood’s Fate by Michael Merriam is a fast-paced urban fantasy with heavy elements of thriller and romance.

Jack Clausen is a Creek man transplanted to Minnesota from his native Oklahoma. After a trip back to his old stomping grounds to write a travel article, Jack ends up on a crashing plane with Emma (a magically gifted flight attendant) and Old Coyote.

After mysteriously surviving the plane crash, Jack is soon caught up in the schemes of Coyote an the other First People of North America.

I liked the way this story was executed. Jack’s character is important enough to warrant the attention of the powers present in the book. At the same time, he is not so powerful or wise as to make his struggles meaningless or unrelatable. The Animal People do a good job of combining “regular guy” qualities and ancient wisdom and power, like the best myths of most peoples. The “fate” aspect of the book is definitely present – something that I usually don’t care for. However, it’s not heavy handed, nor does it result in a feeling of inevitability or fatalism. Instead, it manifests as a tendency toward coincidence, and a drawing together of the major actors in the story. I found it a very tasteful way to handle it.

The romance subplot is important, but doesn’t overpower the rest of the plot. The progression of the relationship is very believable, as well. The sex scenes are pretty hot – fans of Merriam’s earlier work will notice they are considerably more graphic than his usual “cut-to-curtains-blowing-in-the-windows approach.

There are questions left unanswered by this book, and I liked that. It would have been too pat to answer ever question that was brought up, and would have weakened the overall impact of the story. Whose theories about the story’s major problem were correct? What will the overall impact be of the way the problem was resolved? These things are left open ended, or totally unaddressed, inviting the reader to think about them for himself. They also leave room for Merriam to expand on this setting and these characters, without being locked in to an obvious next step. (In fact, I believe I recognize at least a couple of characters as having already appeared in one of the stories in the collection Shimmers and Shadows.)

Unfortunately, my eBook copy of the story suffered some copy editing issues. Nothing that prevented me from enjoying the story, but a few that broke the flow of my reading.

In summary, I definitely recommend this book for fans of urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and folklore based tales.

Rating: A solid 3.5 stars.

Review – The Devil’s Hand by M. E. Patterson

M. E. Patterson appeared on my radar completely by happenstance. He was one of those random Twitter adds that you can never remember after the fact. Either he added me based on the other people I follow, or I saw him mentioned in a Twitter post and checked his profile out myself. I was immediately intrigued by the description of his first novel, The Devil’s Hand. I used to play a bit of online poker for real money, and was actually beating the game. So an Urban Fantasy novel where the protagonist is a poker player appealed to me.

It took me a while to get around to reading it. I always seem to have either more books than I can handle at a time, or less money than I want to spend on them. Somewhere there exists a happy medium, but I haven’t found it. I finally got around to it last week, and I’m pretty glad I did.

Trent Hawkins is the so-called Luckiest Man Alive. After surviving a horrific plane crash, he goes on to capitalize on his luck in Vegas. Not unexpectedly, casino bosses and the Gaming Commission take a dim view before long. He and his wife leave Vegas, broke and blacklisted. That’s where we come in. Trent and his wife are headed back to Vegas so she can take a dream job. Things immediately begin to get weird.

A rain of fish and a hail storm herald the couple’s arrival in Las Vegas. Odd things are happening in the shop of an old friend of the family. And when a vagrant preacher comes to the children’s hospital where Susan works to try to capture a girl to whom he has no connection, the ride really begins.

Along the way, questions are answered, like “why is Trent so lucky?.” Others are raised. We’re left with a sense of closure on the current story, but an impression of what else may be to come. The Devil’s Hand is the first book in a series called Drawing Thin, and I plan to keep reading.

The writing in Devil’s Hand is evocative and sturdy. The storyline is face paced and stays interesting. The forces moving behind the scenes turn out to be familiar fare for urban fantasy and horror readers, but in an interesting permutation that’s similar to but not quite the same as many others I’ve read.

The book’s big stumbling block, like many other indy offerings is in editing. There were a few places where misspellings and the like made it into the final version of the book, and one notable instance where the declared outcome of an important hand of poker was different from that described by the action. To Patterson’s credit, when I mentioned this on Twitter he owned up to it and sent me a link to the material that had been erroneously cut, and which will be added back in the second edition.

All told, I give The Devil’s Hand 4 out of 5 stars for engaging action, well realized characters, and a refreshing take on familiar supernatural elements.

The Devil’s Hand at drawingthin.net

M.E. Patterson on Twitter

Indie Author Review – “Fox Bride” by A. E. Marling

I reviewed this earlier in the month on Goodreads, before I had decided when or if to post reviews here. Marling has been one of my favorite indie finds this year, so I decided not to let Fox Bride pass without a review.

The second story of Hiresha the enchantress lives up to its predecessor and then some.

This book takes us to a new city, Oasis, the capital of the empire that contains the Enchantresses’ academy.

While attending a party there, Hiresha is singled out by the Golden Scoundrel, an ancient god/king believed reincarnated into the body of a fennec fox. Due to his attentions, she is told she must marry him.

Hiresha’s attempts to escape this fate are complicated by a vindictive theft plot against the priests and the fennec. In addition, Tethiel the Lord of the Feast is also in the city, and believes they have a Soultrapper to contend with.

I felt that this book was better than the first (which I also enjoyed) due in large part to the maturation of Hiresha’s character. Her interactions with Maid Janny come off more as affectionate exasperation than Brood of Bones‘ prudish peevishness. She treats her Spellsword as a person more often than before. She’s far less concerned with appearances and propriety than she was in BoB as well.

As well as her personal growth, the enchantress takes her fate in her own hands a bit more this time around. I won’t spoil it, but it does include a new wrinkle in the use of her powers that I felt was well done.

The people and city of Oasis are an excellent example of taking a real world environment and modifying it for your own purposes, and making it truly complex instead of a pale veneer of stereotypes.

An excellent sophomore outing from Marling. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Fox Bride at Amazon.com ($2.99 or free w/Kindle Lending Library)
A. E. Marling’s Blog

My New Halloween Short Story, “Rap Once For Yes” is now up at WattPad

I didn’t think anything would really happen when Joey suggested we have a seance. I mean, who hasn’t seen that kind of thing in the movies? It’s all old ladies rapping on tables and weird lights in crystal balls.

So when Joey suggested we go to the local cemetery on Halloween and try to talk to the dead, I played along. I figured it was just an opportunity for the two of us to spook the others with our special abilities.

“I think it sounds fun,” I said. “We can wear our costumes and bring candy and stuff. And if anyone else comes lurking in the cemetery, we’ll scare the pants off of them.”

 What the rest of the group didn’t know is that Joey and I didn’t just study at R. Bradbury Middle School. We had classes after school and on the weekends. We were honest to goodness wizard’s apprentices. My mom was a healer and a seer, so I was learning plenty about how to keep people in good working order and find things that are hidden. Joey also lived with his master, but it wasn’t one of his parents. All the other adults just called him Joey’s “guardian.” Joey’s master was a necromancer.

Continue reading at WattPad. There are zombies!

Indie Author Review – “The Black God’s War” by Moses Siregar III

It’s my intent to review books here from independents and small press. I also only intend to review books I enjoyed. If you’re interested in a more complete idea of my reading habits and opinions, check out my Goodreads profile. For the first, I give you a Greek/Indian inspired secondary world fantasy.

The Black God’s War by Moses Siregar III

As the title suggests, Black God’s War includes involvement from Gods. I don’t generally go for books like that. They’re heavy on predestination and the like.

This book was quite different. The story focuses around a war between the countries of Rezzia and Pawhelon. The gods of Rezzia have told them it’s their holy duty to spread knowledge of the Lux Lucis, their ten gods, to the rest of the world. Rezzia has chosen to do this by conquest. Pawhelon is a country focused on internal spiritualism, and their sages (wizard/monks) say there are no gods, and that Lux Lucis are just projections created by the Rezzians. Their war has been going on for 10 years, and the heirs of each country are coming of age and getting involved.

The older daughter of the Rezzian king has been visited by the eponymous Black God since her mother died in birth with her younger brother. She blames him for the death of her mother, and for most of the bad things in her life. The younger brother was born with markings that make him an important religious feature of Rezzian life.

The cosmology of the book is interesting. Both sides’ magic seems to depend on their concepts of what is beyond humanity to be correct, but both work. The Pawhelons see the Rezzian gods just like the Rezzians do, on more than one occasion. However, the Pawhelons are also able to counter and even overcome the power of the Rezzian gods as well. We are left with the certainty that the gods exist, but no certainty about their godhood, their motivations, or the worthiness of their goals.

I found the characters to be well conceived and well written. I didn’t find any particular side in the war to be clearly “the good guys” or “the villains.” There were likable characters on each side, as well as people worthy of dislike.

I felt that the work bore the stamp of classic myths and religious texts, such as the Mahabarata and the Illiad.

All told an excellent start to a series, that also ends with the conclusion of a smaller story within the larger arc.

Moses’ Blog: Science Fiction & Fantasy Books
Black God’s War at Amazon.com (Just $1. Go get it!)