Friday 30 October 2020

Friday Five: Feeble Fumblings from Tired Minds

1) I don't know how many of us spend too many brain cells on what Fantasy Actually Is. I try not to, but I had a tiny epiphany thanks to doing some academic reading and wanted to share it.

Fantasy is both the silliest and most serious of fiction genres. It is the silliest because it is unabashedly throwing aspects of reality out of the window, holding on hard to childhood passions and games, embracing the bizarre and surreal. It the most serious because it is a direct descendant of our most important stories, our sacred texts, our ancestral memory on how humans should act, updated time and time again. At this point, this dichotomy is so embedded that there's no shifting it.

And how do you define a genre that has those two tentpoles so far apart? You can't really. It's just an open invitation for some clever swine to go "Well actually" once you think you've got something. There'll always be a traditional view but the tradition will merely by the tip of the iceberg (and I'd also point out the traditional view will be informed by all media, not just the literature).

I'd love to sum this thought up in a clever and poetic way, but it's Friday. Maybe something cleverer and fuller will come along another day.

2) Malinda Lo's craft series is continuing and is well worth checking out with these posts on vision and mystery. The latter particularly appeals to me as someone who wants options other than conflict, and who frequently sees people talking about the lure of the unanswered question.

3) The finalists for the British Fantasy Society Awards have been announced. I can tell you virtually fuck all about the choices because I'm about as up to date as bleeding people as a medical cure but I know that it'll be remarkable if Jen Williams wins again, making it a win for every book in her trilogy, that RJ Barker and Tade Thompson are fantastic twitter follows, and that there's no shortage of very talented authors, creatives, and creative enablers on that list. Congratulations to everyone!

4) Hoo boy. I am really struggling to hit five this week. I do indeed plead guilty to the charge of not being particularly engaged with the community recently. As such, item four will be me sharing all the books I got ARCs of through NetGalley (please don't ask when I'm finding time to read all of them)

Look at that list! Assuming your eyes are good enough for that small image. Aha, made it bigger. I'm so fucking smart. Anyway, a lot of excitement there. So far Fallen Queen is winning my attention most, but we'll see how Mr Goldfish Brain here gets on.

5) Okay, I've run out of fantasy things, so lets talk Sci-Fi. I know, I know, spaceships are boring, but there are occasionally good things in the twin genre. One of them is the Sci-Fi Month event on twitter, hosted by DearGeekPlace and OneMore. Everyone looking to engage with others into their Sci-Fi-ish ways should check it out.

6) I lie! But I just saw this and had to include. Go. Look. Much cute. It's a lovely short about a witch and her cat.

Thursday 29 October 2020

The approach of NaNoWriMo and why to write

Here it comes again. Worldwide lots of people talk about writing month. Some do a lot and feel good, some do a little and feel bad, and others have other outcomes. I've seen a few people wonder whether to do it, mainly due to the fear of feeling bad.

Me, I will be doing it, as an extension of the writing I'm already doing and will continue to be doing after. No special project. No special participation other than talking about word counts and some projects in places that NaNo that I'm already part of. Why?

Let's go to wondering whether to do NaNo, which for me, is just wondering whether to write. There's a lot said about it, sometimes in negative tones that affect people's perceptions. For me, it boils down to the simple question of "Is your life better or worse with writing in it?" Some people find it better because they enjoy writing. Some people find it better in the same way others might find their lives better for running long distances - they don't particularly enjoy the process but really enjoy having done the process. For others it is less about enjoyment of any part and more the need to do it, and feeling bad if they don't do it. This camp is the most likely to say things like "people who can live without writing should do so" and while that's pretty negative, it's their truth. Hell, it's a bit my truth. This is the camp I'm mostly in. 

Whatever camp people are in, it has to be one where it makes life better. There's zero reason to do it if it doesn't make life better. 

That doesn't necessarily help anyone on the sideline deciding to jump in. Help clarify the question maybe, but not answer it. Of course, I can't. I do however have a few other questions that I ask myself regularly:

"Am I worried that I'll have some bad days or lose enthusiasm and stop doing this and regret wasting my time?"

Every writer will have those moments. To a certain extent being a writer is defined by coming back when others stop. However! Coming back is easy. You've just got to shrug off the bad days and want to come back, and write when you do. It works, as can be seen from the excellent Melissa Caruso's twitter thread on this. Don't let fear of the bad days rule you. Also, who says we have to regret time spent on pastimes that aren't forever? 

"Do I really have anything to say? Any stories that are different enough to the rest to be worth writing?"

The great inconvenient truth about writing is you never really know until it's written and people are looking at it. Which also equals a big opportunity to find something worth saying through the process. You don't have to have everything at the start.

Well... okay. Two. But I think they cover most of it.

Look. If you can look at NaNo and say "I'll write and talk about it as long as it's fun, and if it stops being fun I'll just drop it with no dramas, and maybe I'll come back but no regrets if I don't", then I think you're all set to go. If that's not your mindset and you've got one that works, then top bombing.

For everyone still thinking about writing who's not sure they can be easy on themselves - maybe find other ways to do it. I know one person who'll be doing NaNo, but by spacing the days out so not all fall in the month but all fall when he's ready to write. Sounds clever to me. I also know another who might be joining in to do their thesis, which is where I am with my continuation. Starting something new wouldn't make my life better, not like finishing something would. 

There's short stories for people who aren't sure about novels, flash pieces for those unsure about short stories. People could set up a chain story with their friends. Ways to write seem ever proliferating. 

And if people think their life would be better with a bit of writing in them, then hopefully they'll find a way to do so.

Wednesday 28 October 2020

The Red Wyvern by Katherine Kerr

Let me start this review, 9th of its name in the Deverry Cycle, with an admission of bias. There is a cut-off point for me where rambling, branching stories usually cease to interest. For me, it generally tends to happen when the focus shifts to Main Characters who did not emerge directly from the original Main Characters' plot arcs. Main Characters with two or more degrees of separation, you might say.

As such, when The Red Wyvern opens up with a slew of scenes and characters with two or more degrees of separation, I know I'm not the ideal reader for this book.

I shall presume at this point that all readers are familiar with Deverry from reading/previous reviews - the pseudo-Celtic setting and speech, the intricate web of reincarnations and time-shifted plot arcs, close adherence to an alien and bloody set of ethics, the blunt and ruthless politics mixed with ethereal mysticism. We get a very full dose of that in this book as most of it takes place in Deverry's civil wars, many years before The Red Wyvern's notional present day.

The main thrust of that is the tale of Lilli (short for Lillorigga, a horrendous name to call anyone), a nascent sorcerous talent and scared daughter of the nefarious Boar clan. Her journey will bring her close to Nevyn, the irascible sorcerer currently advising the True King Maryn as he seeks to actually become king. The result is a lot of focus on dweomer rituals and their effects on the world, and a lot of politics. The politics are of a rather dismal kind too, a dampener on some of the glory filled exploits that brought them to their current situation that feels deliberate. Adrenaline soaked rides to seize power can be frightening, traumatic, a cause of a bad case of the deads, but they're adrenaline soaked (I know), glorious, and clean. All's fair in love and war. The business of working out how much influence and power to give to self-serving but competent men, when you've got very few competent types, is none of those things. It feels a rather deliberate move from Kerr, who has repeatedly made a point of showing the ugliness that accompanies the glamour.

In many ways, this is the darkest Deverry book in spirit. I've seen a few people suggest newer readers read this as a starting point. I don't think I'd agree but I think it'd be possible, and maybe this would appeal more to readers who came into the genre with Abercrombie or Jemisin, rather than Gemmell and Jordan. If anyone can find me some guinea pigs, that'd be great.

And I can certainly see how someone reading it alone might enjoy the savage mix of statescraft and sorcery more than someone thinking "yes, yes, this is all very well, but can we please get back to Rhodry's onwards trip to locoland". We do get some Rhodry and Dalla in the last quarter or so of the book, but it feels very much like a transition for the next book. Which isn't a huge amount of fun. (Also might be confusing for anyone who does start here). I don't know at what point in their career authors can start winning battles with editors, but I would love to know what the editor said here. Maybe they assumed people were that invested in the series.

The Red Wyvern is a more than passable piece of entertainment and I don't regret reading it twice, but there are too many things to be frustrated by here to call it actively great. And when it comes to my bias? The Red Wyvern doesn't half confirm it. This isn't the same story as that of Rhodry and Jill, not to me, and it isn't as fun.

Tuesday 27 October 2020

The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold

By way of introductory remarks, I'd like to provide a dictionary definition (Cambridge English for those who care) that should give some pointer as to where my mind is going with this review.

Perfect (adj): Complete and correct in every way, of the best possible type, or without fault.

Now, one of the things I like about the first definition is it means there can be no perfect fantasy books, for the list of things expected in a fantasy book is so large and at points mutually exclusive that no book can be complete and correct in every way. But there can be perfect examples of particular types of fantasy books, and books that are perfect by our own internal demands.

The Curse of Chalion is not a particularly standard fantasy book. It has many standard conceits; the pseudo-Medieval world (here vaguely-Spain), the intervention of the magical/supernatural/divine into a world seemingly following the same rules as our own, kings and queens, knights and knaves, and so on. The foundational conceits are used to tell a different type of story though. This is no coming of age, or discovery of an incredible hidden world, of tale of a great war.

This is, first and foremost, the story of Lupe dy Cazaril, a noble and soldier who has been hurt in body and spirit by a spell as a galley slave. He returns to Valenda, where he once served as a page, seeking some minor role or charity from its ruler. Cazaril is somewhat alarmed when the Dowager Provincara instead makes him Secretary-Tutor to her granddaughter, Iselle dy Chalion, a quick-witted and headstrong teenager who is half-sister to Chalion's current Roya of Chalion. He laments that he'd rather be under siege again. But he accepts and gives himself whole-heartedly to the service of the Princess.

This is a story of healing, of guidance and friendship, of ethics and resilience. There is also court intrigue, swordsmanship, and magic, but they are garnishes and sauces upon the dish. The greatest use of the fantastic here is in examining the relationship between the divine and man, and of the idea of sainthood. In that respect, The Curse of Chalion lies in similar company as Discworld thematically, and perhaps claim ties of kinship with Kushiel's Dart and The Golem and the Jinni; The Goblin Emperor might be it's closest relation in the genre in a lot of ways, but lacks that trace of providence and faith in its make-up that so distinguishes Bujold's work here. The Curse of Chalion isn't particularly standard, but it's not wildly different; the scion of a minor but well-famed family.

A very, very distinguished scion. This is perfect by the standards of the internal demands of Peat Long, a complete and correct blueprint of what fantasy novels of healing should look like. It is a virtuoso display of writing, for Bujold excels at everything she sets her mind to here. The prose is the first thing to be noticed here; very lucid, evocative without getting bogged down in detail, full of Cazaril's narrative voice and at its best when describing his emotions:

"He was laughing. And crying. Teetering on the ragged edge of . . . something that frightened him more than the outraged bath man."

Through that voice, and the keenness of Cazaril's eye, we meet the characters of Chalion and a compelling cast they are indeed. The Dowager Provincara is Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey without the cattiness; Iselle's brother Teidez an interesting study in manhood blooming frustrated and without direction. Perhaps the most compelling of the characters (other than Cazaril himself) is Martou dy Jironal, the austere and ruthless villain of the piece. This is a cast of stock types but all given little touches of humanity that makes them jump off the page and into the imagination. What allows that to happen is the strength of Bujold's observational powers, her ability to notice the details of how we interact and place it in her characters.

The plot here is a slow burning one, ceding the limelight as it must to Cazaril's regenerating sense of self, humanity, and place, and his friendship with Iselle and her companion Betriz dy Ferrej. However, I think that is only to its betterment as there is no need to rush, no need to fill it with extraneous details. We simply get to enjoy the slow probing and dissection of Chalion's corruption through Cazaril and his brilliant, passionate charges. Make no mistake - this book could have been written very well from Iselle's or Betriz's PoV, for they are intelligent and sympathetic heroines in their own right, and Bujold frequently has them pushing the action with Cazaril scrambling after them. As it should be, really. 

Is there anything I consider less than perfect here? The worldbuilding doesn't spark the same joy as everything else here, leaving a sense of leading actors delivering career performances on a painted stage. Nothing wrong with it, and the pivotal points in the history and theology are well-drawn, but I don't think Bujold gives the minor details the love needed to make them shine. Cazaril's romance is sweet, but I'd have vaguely preferred it to be with someone nearer his age. The ending invites charges of being too neat (although, ultimately, I only consider this charge). And I wouldn't have objected to this book having another two hundred odd pages so I could have spent more time with it.

Then again, I was up until three in the morning in the need to finish this, so perhaps better not. I also struggle to see how one could have added those pages without making this a worse story, given how compact and neatly put together. There is nothing wasted in The Curse of Chalion. It is part of what makes me love it so much. Ultimately though, the perfection of The Curse of Chalion lies in the power of its journey, the joy of its victories over the petty and evil. I can't imagine enjoying a book more than The Curse of Chalion and that's what makes it perfect to me.

Monday 26 October 2020

If Fantasy Characters Had Football Chants

G'day and welcome to the latest run-off from the more dysfunctional parts of my brain-meats.

This one was inspired by people talking about V.E. Schwaab's The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue.

"Hmm, Addie LaRue would scan well in a number of football chants," says some part of my subconscious. "Shame the automatic rhyme I can think of is doing a poo."

Yes, that is how my brain works, thanks for asking.

Now, football chants are one of the great underappreciated art forms of our times. I presume most people are familiar with the idea that football fans like to sing songs as a form of support, tribal belonging, and sometimes boredom relief. I would submit that nowhere in the world is this artform practised better than in the UK, where each club has an ever revolving repertoire of chants, tunes pulled from pop music and words pulled from a hive mind of wit and cruelty. The best are born mid-game, a sort of primitive one-sided rap battle with the poor sods on the pitch.

Now, an example of how this works. Let me dig out a very old classic -

There's only one Dougie Freedman
There's only one Dougie Freedman
Walking along
Singing a song
Walking in a Freedman wonder land

Which goes decently enough as 

There's only one Frodo Baggins,
There's only one Frodo Baggins
Walking along
Singing a song
Walking in a Mordor nightmare land

I asked for some help and inspiration from the Fantasy Inn Discord (where the spark for this came from) and got the following from Hiu there

Old Gandalf is magic, he wears a magic hat,
He could have left poor Bilbo, but he said "no, fuck that".
He fought that fucking balrog,
Was grey but now he's white,
But never say "good morning", or he'll start talking shite!

Grade A effort there. Middle Earth is fertile ground for this sort of thing - here's one for everyone's favourite sidekick/real hero

Sam Gamgee, Gamgee
Likes a tater or three
He might even cook one for thee
Sam Gamgee, Gamgee

In similar vein I adopted a pair of Palace favourites (although I'm sure every team has their own variations on this) for the more general milieu very handily

Oh Middle Earth (oh Middle Earth)
Is Wonderful (is wonderful)
Oh Middle Earth is Wonderful
It's full of Ents, Wizards, and Hobbits,
Oh Middle Earth is Wonderful

Oh Mordor (Oh Mordor)
Is Full of Shit (full of shit)
It's full of shit, shit, and more shit,
Oh Mordor is full of shit

Rumours that the Rohirrim were actually singing the latter one at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields are completely true. At least in my head.

We can't let Middle Earth have all the fun though. I did get one request when I mentioned that idea, and that was a chant for Nyneave Al'Meara, so to Randland we go for this classic

Al'Meara-ra-ra, pulls her braid looks snooty
Al'Meara-ra-ra, pulls her braid smacks booty
To the left to the right, and her braid hangs down to her knees
Tugs on it every time she's feeling kinda pissy

I stand by everything I wrote here. I have to, I looked up Agadoo lyrics for this. And since we're in Randland, got to go for a tribute to the main man (and also a certain Scottish goalie of long ago)

Two Dragon Reborns,
There's only two Dragon Reborns,
Two Dragon Reborns

Cruel, somewhat inaccurate, and right to the soft spot - perfect football chant material.

In a similar vein, I wanted to celebrate Liverpool's tribute to Djimi Traore, cult hero of yore. I had to go with a book I didn't know too well to find a good-ish rhyme and lack of control, but I think this works. If it does, I blame it on the people who told me it does. From NK Jemisin's The Fifth Season:

Don't blame it on the commless,
Don't blame it on the strongbacks,
Don't blame it on the breeders
Blame the oregone

They just can't, they just can't, they just can't control their fear

Keeping things mean spirited and personal (I make no bones about that being my favourite type of football chant)

Jaime, where ever you may be,
Your sister's had your babies,
But it could be worse, you could be Ned,
Married to her until he's dead

Let's try a few nice supportive ones now.

Singing Ai Yi Yippie Nanny Ogg
Singing Ai Yi Yippie Nanny Ogg
She likes a drop of brandy
She'll beat you using candy
Singing Ai Yi Yippie Nanny Ogg


When the Don's get rich scheme
Has become a bad dream
That's Lamora

Of course, you can reuse tunes more or less endlessly i.e.

Oh El-Sha’arawi's magic, she wears a magic suit
And when she finds a dead djinn, she knows just where to scoot
She solves crimes with her left hand
She solves them with her right
And when there's fucking angels, she solves all fucking night


Oh Thuan, Thuan,
He has the gift of the gab
His husband likes to stab
Oh Thuan, Thuan

However, on this at least, I'd like to end on a negative note

You're just a Greyjoy, a dirty Greyjoy
You're only happy on raiding day
Your dad's out thieving, your sister's appealing
Please don't take my brothers away

If you made it this far, I'm impressed and horrified. Any further requests, please leave in the comments.

Thursday 22 October 2020

If I ran an imprint

I saw a thing on Twitter t'other day asking what your own personal imprint would look like. I like that idea so here's my in detail take on this - and it even fits a Writing Thursday post, as a lot of these ideas are me being very specific about what I want to write. In the unlikely event anyone out there sees this and would be interested in giving me the financial backing to make it happen, then please do.

With no further ado

The It's All Gone Peat Long Imprint Manifesto

I would like to start with authors from groups that have not traditionally gotten the fairest shake of things. I'd want to be able to say I at least gave them a fair shake. One book a year from that group minimum, minimum rising depending on how many the imprint can do. That's not a particularly radical goal. It's not meant to be. It's simply a fair place to start and see how it goes.

While I'm very much of the "bring me your ideas and wow me" school, there are a few things this imprint would look for (because this is what I want to read)

1) Tales of joy. You've all heard the criticisms of how the publishing industry is much more more interested in terms of X pain because that's what sells. Well, I prefer tales of happiness and joy. Sometimes happiness comes through being put through the wringer but I don't want all wringer. That's the first thing to look at.

2) Urban Fantasy Set in London. Yes, I know there's a ton of stuff set in London. But not a whole bunch that really digs into London identities and belonging. To me, a Londoner, believing I belong to one of the most diverse and magical and historically significant cities in the world

3) Joint Authored Projects from Different Backgrounds. This is just a logical extension to me of the joint push for authenticity and diversity. Very few authors can give that 100% authentic feel for multiple backgrounds, and if there's no multiple backgrounds you just get strands of "this is our thing" side by side with no overlap, so why not seek to have authors teaming up to give both authenticity and diversity? 

4) Translations. Translations is the tricky one because they really do cost. But it is my solemn belief that, without belittling any of the obstacles like race or class or gender or ethnicity, there is no bigger obstacle in the Anglosphere than language. Point in case - how many fantasy authors have sold more than Jin Yong? How many are better known? The difference between those two numbers is considerable. There's so many opportunities to let very talented authors shine there.

5) Tales that have absolutely nothing to do with the author's identity. Don't get me wrong here. I love stories full of people's love for their heritage and that have little details I'd otherwise know. I'm all about them. I just think fairness also involves giving authors from marginalised identities a chance to write whatever the hell they want rather than having to tick an own voice quota too.

Beyond this, here's the other things I think are pretty darn cool

1) Good People in Shitty Worlds. I'm not deadset against antiheroes, or very shiny worlds like Valdemar, but my favourite is where mostly Good People band together against worlds that have a lot of issues. I love a good noble king who genuinely does care but even when you do get that, they are steering a course through opposing storms and you can't always rely on them. And there's plenty of non-noble leaders too. So many.

2) The mix of violence and non-violence. Look, I love reading about violence. It's fun to read about. I also do not think it's necessity as the last gasp deterrence is going away anytime soon. I especially don't think the transcendent high of primitive dominance is going away anytime soon. This combination only increases the need for stories that emphasise the power of non-violent solutions, of making peace and finding understanding. Which are also fun. I sometimes think the ideal story is somewhere between Pratchett and Gemmell on this (admittedly there's a lot of space there).

3) Resonance with the past. My favourite form of fantasy is that which builds on our heritages. It's what I took away most from Tolkien. It's what I want most from fantasy. That riffing on the genre itself, and off video games, it's cool (and hell can be combined with the above), but it's not my love.

4) While I am busy celebrating old school things, let me add that I miss touches of omniscient author voice. I miss big panoramic sweeps and the sense that I'm in a story. I think there's been some great things done with the increased prominence of close voice in modern fantasy, but I'd like to see it combined with what came before, and think that is a path to some great storytelling experiences.

5) Fantasy that borrows liberally from other genres. I love the various takes of fantasy-crime around. I'd love to see that continue. I think there's a lot of room for borrowing from thrillers and spy novels in particular. Conspiracies and mysteries are particularly great.

6) It's way too late so the rest of these points will come out quick. Acknowledge sex. Acknowledge sexiness. Be positive about it. Don't support those who seem to think it's a borderline crime (unless they're having it). Life isn't all sex, but when it is, by gods it's about sex.

7) I am very down for more soft magic, and also magic that borrows liberally from the real world, which isn't always the same thing. 

8) I'd like to see fantasy move away from being alt-history with the serial numbers filed off. Part of that's on readers to stop assuming X is Y the whole time, but parts of that's on creators too. Get a bit nuts. Very obviously make it clear this can't be X culture all the way down.

There we go. Now someone give me lots of money so this can happen.

Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson

Friends, fantasists, comrades. I am here to talk about what is probably one of the most influential books in the genre.

A big claim but consider this brief synopsis. During WW2, an engineer named Holger Carlsen joins the Danish Resistance. He is wounded while covering the escape of Niels Bohr, and awakes in a strange world where the arms and horse of a knight await him. He discovers in this world, much like that of Charlemagne's paladins, that the forces of Law and Chaos are at war. With the aid of a dwarf with a Scottish accent and the swan-maiden Alianora, Holger must discover his own role in this war, for his enemies are many and cunning.

Law and Chaos. Paladins. Scottish dwarves. These are very generic concepts today, particularly among fantasy gamers, but they weren't in 1961. It is here that these ideas, if not originated (although I suspect they did), gained prominence. They had a big influence on D&D, which in turn has influenced huge amounts of modern fantasy literature. And that's just the obvious. I wish I had the knowledge of the genre needed to make the following claim with confidence, but I think there's a case that in terms of the "vaguely historical/mythological adventures of might and magic" trad fantasy genre, this might be the most influential book not penned by Tolkien*. Bold words but I stand by them until something changes my mind.

Influential and of historic importance doesn't mean fun to read though. You don't see me recommending The Worm Ouroboros (I should probably do a review of that). Am I going to recommend 3H&3L?

Yes. This isn't a raving "you must read it" recommendation but it's good at what it does. It's a well-paced adventure with fun fight-scenes and some good glimmerings of humour. Watching Holger apply scientific explanations to the marvels he meets is strangely enjoyable - not my usual cup of tea - and there's a poignancy to his ponderings over what the rat is happening to him. I could wish the world felt more cohesive, but how was Poul Anderson meant to know there's be 50 years of willy-nilly rule of cool western European legend mash up after him?

My biggest criticism and reason I only liked, rather than loved - other than not quite gelling with the prose - this book is that none of the character dynamics really popped at me. Anderson played for that knightly romance feeling and, well, it's not a field that really serves character dynamics in this one's humble opinion. It's too fixated on the knight and the knight's experience of the unknown. Which is what happens here very well. The dynamics between Holger and Alianora, between Holger and the dwarf Hugi, they're fine, there's some fun moments, but it's not stand out. There's no sense of anything wonderful, there's only one truly memorable line (and that's a mild spoiler so I'm not repeating it). Not that there's anything uncommon to that with adventure-action fantasy.

And that's what this is. A fairly common adventure-action fantasy, for better and for worse. Anderson's ideas won't seem as wowing or fresh as they once were, and the prose has aged a little, but this is still gets the job done.

Monday 19 October 2020

As the Distant Bells Tolls by Aleksandar Žiljak

Hmm. A short story anthology. I thought you weren't a big fan of them...

Well, sort of correct there. I haven't had great experiences with them. Nevertheless when I saw an opportunity to review this pop up I went for it anyway for two reasons.

1) I should like short story anthologies damnit. There's so much goodness within them and it's one of the great traditions of writing. So I'm going to keep trying them until I like them.

2) A chance to review one of Croatia's greatest SFF writers? No, I'm not going to pretend I'm super up to date and knew all about Mr Žiljak before this. Not a bloody scooby. But I do like a chance to broaden my horizons.

So in I piled, and I got an ARC courtesy of Wizard's Tower Press and here I am with my review of the anthology only three weeks or so after publication. Oops. But this does mean you can go out and buy it now.

Maybe if you got to the point where you let people know if they want to do so?

The big thing I like about Aleksandar Žiljak's style here is the sense of undiscovered legend. They're all set in our own world's history with just a few supernatural twists - twists that frequently result in bloody carnage that even Conan would be pleased with. In fact, Žiljak's work here reminds me quite a bit of Robert E. Howard's both in terms of structure and tone, only updated. There's a lot of adventures into bleak situations, a lot of savage splendour, only here these are the result of strange things happening to our heroes and heroines rather than sheer lust for the unknown, love for others is glorified above the lone hero, and there are attempts at resolving matters peacefully. I think one or two even work! 

The anthology tends to hop around the place a bit too in terms of time and place - from early China to Eastern Europe at the time of the Mongols, and from airships striking against Spanish treasure galleons to artists spying on dragons. Whether that's bug or feature depends on the individual - personally I found it both.


For the first half of the book, I enjoyed the variety. It kept things fresh. Every day a new little nugget! But after a while it palled. Maybe that was me wishing I had something to cling to as a throughline. Maybe that was me simply eventually reaching the short story ideas I didn't like. 

Let's just go through this story by story, shall we?

A Unicorn and a Warrior Girl is set in the time of Qin Shi Huang in Ancient China (so sometime in the 200s BC), and features a warrior girl forced into a repugnant task. The build of the tension is expertly timed and the ending is epic.

The Divine She-Wolf is a humdinger of revenge, action, superstition, and love, in which a werewolf (of sorts) does not take kindly to her son being kidnapped by Mongols. 

The Nekomata is set in feudal Japan when a warlord's order to kill the head of a ninja clan leads to a monster and a refugee clashing. It's another really fun story, full of heart and hope and awareness this is a dark world.

Elsebet and the Book of Dragons is a charming fairy tale-esque take on a wizard employing an artist to illustrate his Book of Dragons, a task that involves getting a lot closer to dragons than is strictly wise. Unfortunately the ending lost me a little.

The Law of the Sea was one where nothing grabbed me at all however. Not the setting, not the characters, not the dilemma. They're on a Spanish ship headed to the New World when a sea serpent strikes; the short story opens with them on the shipwreck, in sight of land but unable to get there due to sharks. And while nothing grabbed me, the sexual violence took me by my surprise and felt unnecessary.

The Aeolomancer featured airship pirates attacking Spanish galleons. The sexual violence here did make more sense story wise and was less explicit, but between it jarring with the tone built up in the first stories and my lack of investment in the characters, I didn't get into this one.

Rumiko snared me a little more but the steampunk/Victoriana aesthetics and mannerisms placed it in a genre I have little love for. It is a fun adventure story but, well, this is the downside of world/time hopping.

As the Distant Bells Toll is an interesting one, an Urban Fantasy set in Zagreb. I didn't love it but I would re-read it.

And I'd definitely re-read the first three stories. I might re-read Elsbet. I won't be re-reading the next three.

A Curate's Egg, huh?

That is the most succinct description, yes. I do really like aspects of this anthology. Others leave me very cold. If I was a rating guy, I'd struggle to give a rating.

Fortunately, I simply concern myself with whether people will like this or not. I think a lot of people will like some of it. I'd definitely be interested in more work from Žiljak. The question is whether you'll like enough of it. Hopefully many people will. This deserves to be successful.

Thank you again to Wizard's Tower Press for the ARC, given free in exchange for an honest review. This is book is out now, so go fill your boots.

Saturday 17 October 2020

Friday Five: Only One Day Late

 1) My timeline was recently taken up with the Time 100 Best Fantasy of All Time list... until I muted it. I muted it with extreme prejudice. It's not because of what's on the list - I don't agree with it but whatevs - but because of how the list is presented. Now, I know these lists mainly exist to stir up conversation, but the type of the conversation comes down to the presentation. It is presented as a statement of fact made with authority. That presentation immediately turns the conversation sour. There's also the All Time part of this. Now, All Time is a nebulous thing - which in itself I dislike for this - but when I see it, I at the very least take an implication that the books of yesteryear will be judged equal to the books of today. That straight up didn't happen. Which is another souring of the conversation. And something that made me angry, which means my conversation would have got even sourer... and ultimately, there's only one thing that'd have been left; controversy for the sake of controversy. So mute mute mute I went.

If Time had presented Time's 100 Favourite Fantasy Books of Today, there'd have been something interesting to discuss. But they didn't. Presentation matters. Communication matters. An acknowledgment that this is just our truth and it's intended to invite others should come before the bickering starts and not after.

2) Speaking of bickering over the presentation of objectivity where things are clearly subjective, I think it's time to talk about the Fantasy Community and how it's changed. That is to say, the community is now a collection of overlapping communities with no single true mainstream. I don't think it was that long ago you could say there was a mainstream built around trad vaguely-swords&castles Europeanish fantasy - Middle Earth, Westeros, Baldur's Gate - but it no longer seems to be the case. There's a bunch of fantasy fans who - will appreciating the odd dip in that on their terms - are mainly here for Urban Fantasy, or Victoriana, or outside of Europe, or just the whole smorgasbord of what's available as long as they don't see the same thing again and again. Which is all fine and the natural fate of successful genres but it does mean we have less commonality. I'm not saying we need to be extra considerate as a result because the thing can clearly run on flame wars and pretty tribalism, but I don't know why anyone would prefer that route, and the way clear of it probably does need that consideration - and in some cases, self-restraint on avoiding the communities we have major issues with. Completely avoiding arguments is probably a bad thing, but they should at least be over something major

3) My visions of The Shape Of Fantasy To Come aside, I saw a couple of really cool twitter threads. One was a really good writing technique thread by David Dalglish on how he addresses transition between scenes in order to get books done well.

4) The other was this small collection of short story outlets from LP Kindred - I often feel like the information for those looking to break into this isn't well put together, so it was great to see this.

5) Finally, two wee gems courtesy of Adri Joy. The first is this What LotR Poem Are You quiz that she linked to on twitter and it's just a wonderful way to spend five minutes, full of little nuggets from the book that'll make you think. The other gem is here Nerds on Tour Bingo Card. I am normally against such things as I believe in saying no to organized fun (or, in fact, any type of fun, but particularly organized) but I just think this one is a great idea. The Anglosphere will always look to itself first and foremost but there is a huge amount of world out there beyond it, with huge amounts of good stories for us, and taking a moment to get in amongst it is to our benefit. So I will be filling this card out and thoroughly recommend others do so too.

Thursday 15 October 2020

1:14 AM thoughts on writing

Let me start this in a strange place, as befits sleepy ramblings.

I believe every writer should, if only for the sake of their own development, give writing advice. I'm not saying others should take it, but if writers want to think deeply and specifically about what they are doing and how it helps them succeed, then being forced to think about what they believe in as good writing practice until they can expound it clearly is helpful. Is this mandatory? No. People succeed at doing things without doing what I think they should all the time. Is this a good idea for certain people? I'm sure there are some very instinctive people who'd overthink doing this. Nevertheless, I will put it out the way it is. It's a rule that is made to be broken, but also maybe to challenge some people who mightn't otherwise believe in themselves. That's why I'm making it absolute, then not.

In my version of advice, I am actually writing my own list. I don't know at what point (if ever) I'll share it (although obviously the feedback given on *your* advice is sometimes the best advice *you* can receive, so I should share it). Something that will be on it is -

If at all possible, form a routine. 

It doesn't have to be 1,500 words a day. It doesn't have to be writing for 30 minutes, and stopping exactly at 30. Whatever works, works. But I can't think of a skill on earth where routine doesn't help. 

Which is why I'm writing this on Thursday. This is when I talk about writing. Even if it is late and I have nothing to say. Because the routine matters. 

However, I will try and milk some thoughts.

In the last week, I've mainly been skipping between projects. It's been a fun way to keep it fresh and get back into difficult projects, like the manuscript that's been stuck on final draft forever. I told my friends I was just going to scrap the redraft and stick with the original and... I didn't. Because I like the redrafted chapter one more. Because there's some vital additions in this new draft that I think need to be there. So I'm stuck weaving them together and making new transition scenes on Chapter Five. But I'm nearly there!

I think it's when you're doing this sort of editing that the advantages of routine really kick in. The initial burst of joy from creation is 'easy'. Plodding through the same words for the nth time, obsessed with the need for them to be perfect, is a long fucking way from it. Here, kinda outta nowhere, I'm reminded of the cafe scene in Heat.

Vincent: So, if you spot me around the gonna walk out on this woman? Not even say goodbye?
Neil: That's the discipline.
Vincent: That's pretty vacant.
Neil: It is what it is. Either that, or we better go do something else, pal.

Now, we ain't armed robbers or homicide detectives, but we do have something in common with De Niro and Pacino's characters here - and to a certain extent them too. Writers don't always have a regular type life. We're busy tormenting ourselves alone in rooms while everyone else is off socialising. Not that writers don't drink! But we make sacrifices. We make ourselves do things we don't want to do, maybe turn down things we'd like to do, because we want to write that damn story. Like them, many of us don't really know how to live a life where we don't write, and many of us don't want to. I'm thinking of a friend who's speculating that his fatigue condition is linked with his writing, and wondered what choice he'd make if he worked out it was definitely linked. That's a brutal choice. I don't ever want to make it.

But, in making the choice to write - and not just for myself, but in the hope this is seen and appreciated and lives - I have to commit to a discipline. A routine. Do the vacant, painful work. Because it's that or do something else.

There's a lot of stuff out there about how writers should be easy on ourselves. It's not wrong. But it's the flipside of a coin and on that other side it says "because sooner or later we have to be hard". We can't punish ourselves for having lives other than writing, for not always having the energy to do that, because that is self-destructive. That needs to be shouted over and over. But at some point, if you want to be pro, you have to do that murky middle, that last edit, and all the stuff writers hate. And I haven't mentioned query letters yet!

But it is what it is. Either that, or we better go do something else. 

Read As Thou Wilt: Kushiel's Dart Readalong, Part Six

Let us finish this.

Phèdre risks everything yet again on a chance to finish what she started, and keep her word to Ysandre. Joscelin does the same trying to thwart Selig, if not stop him. What were your thoughts about their last confrontation with the Skaldi warlord, and what it means for their relationship?

I think the big thing, looking back, is that everything 
Phèdre and Joscelin had done for each other and everyone else up to that point, mostly had to be done. The situations they'd got themselves into left little room for thought. But in these moments in the book, the threat is not face to face. They could say "someone else". Instead, they say "this is my task" even at the cost of seemingly certain self-destruction.

And I think that experience of knowing again, and now with complete certainty, just how far each other will go breaks certain barriers between them. They knew, but but now they *know*. 

Isidore d'Aiglemort turns out to be the hero that Terre D'Ange needs, if not the one they want. Do you think Phèdre made the right call, making him that offer? What do you think of his final act, and the reasons that drive him to it? Is he a hero, or was he ultimately still only a tool in the hands of others?

Yes. Hero and tool both, at least for a given value of tool. I would in fact advance the theory that any true hero is acting in service to someone - or at least something - else. Joscelin is 
Phèdre's tool, Phèdre is Anafiel's tool and then Ysandre's, and Ysandre is the tool of her people. That's how it should be. A person with the attributes of a hero and no drive beyond their own desires is a villain in the making. Here endeth the pontificating.

And yes, I think Phèdre absolutely made the right call. Isidore holds the balance of power and more over, the reasons why he acted were always things that could be redirected back to the service of Terre D'Ange.

Melisande faces the consequences of her actions, though it seems her 'deep game' is not over. Do you think she was prepared for her plan to fail, or was she seizing any opportunity to save herself with that escape? What are your thoughts on her after her last conversation with Phèdre?

I don't know. I feel like we know a lot about Melisande, but not whether she's the sort of person that is planning for the worst even when the best seems to be happening. Which is arguably a hole in the characterisation.

As for who she is after that last conversation... she's charismatic, even magnetic, but there's nothing of worth underneath.

Finally, everyone gets a chance to rest and recover, and Phèdre is richly rewarded for her deeds - in a few senses. How do you feel about her (double-edged) Happily Ever After with Joscelin? And do you think she's doing the right thing, choosing to find the traitor who freed Melisande in her own way?

Anafiel Delaunay's pupil to the last.

As for the edges on her happily ever after... well, when it's as happy as happily ever after gets, I don't think there's too much worth to considering the edges. And it does look very happy, at least for the while.

And as always, please do share any other thoughts you had on this finale! Were there any particular moments that stood out for you?

It irks me that nobody stops to count Drustant's tiny army of, what, 3,500, vs the 7,000 soldiers Isidore D'Aiglemort has. Love as thou wilt, and there are some bad precedents in giving guys like Isidore exactly what they want, but the author has done little to convince me that in terms of pure practicality it shouldn't have been Isidore next to Ysandre. Better story? No. But better story if it's made clearer that's not the case? I think so.

This is still a very good story. Phèdre's arc and character is just great, and the characters are compelling. This probably won't be the last time I read this story. However, with my writer's hat on, I have to ask myself why this book isn't in the genre's major canon (correctly imo - more asking why it missed than perception) and I have three answers

1) A book full of kinky and taboo sex scenes will always faces a struggle to be mainstream
2) Luck
3) The world isn't given enough coherent logic and specialness to be remembered as well as Phèdre

Which is no big. The story of Phèdre no Delaunay is prize enough.

Monday 12 October 2020

Why Sam Vimes has the greatest arc in fantasy

Due to a strange blip in reality, Sir Terry Pratchett's City Watch series is more in my mind than usual. As a result of this, I wanted to share my thoughts on - my celebration of, my argument for the relevance and proper treatment of - the character arc of Sir Samuel Vimes and why it is the single greatest one in the fantasy genre.

Now, this is spoiler-tastic. I wouldn't read it if I intended to read the books myself. But for those who have read it and are perhaps reliving a few of our memories of the real thing right now, or who are wondering what all the fuss is about when they've read a little and have no particular inclination to read more, I hope this is an enjoyable read.

This is here a) as a half-arsed measure to let people try and avoid spoilers b) because I really like cats

We first meet Vimes in Guards!Guards! where he's mid to late 30s loser. Yes, he's a loser. Captain of the Night Watch might sound like success but it simply makes him the least pink piece of raw chicken. He's poor, he's doing a job that people despise and won't let him do seriously - there's legal guilds of thieves and assassins in Ankh-Morpok for crying out loud. How can you successfully keep the law when it's like that? He's a drunk with nobody else in his life and whose ideals are like a guttering light in the darkness, visible in bursts and about to die.

By Night Watch and Thud!, Vimes is very definitively not a loser. He's a Duke and Commander of the City Watch, fabulously wealthy thanks to his wife, and has a wonderful son who's become his world. More than that though, he has kept his ideals, strengthened them, and found ways to actually implement them. Vimes isn't just more successful, he's better.

How does this happen? Let me take us through his journey.

The most important thing about Vimes in Guards!Guards! is he just won't quit. Vetinari tells him to ignore the dragon. Lupine tells him to ignore the dragon. He's thrown in a prison. His own common sense tells him to ignore it - they've only just got a new member of the Watch because Leggy Gaskin would go and show why there's no fast old guards. Vimes' refusal to quit being himself is why he is where he is and he knows it but for once, it breaks his way. They save the city. He gets the girl - the marvellous Sybil Ramkin. 

And that should have been it. He should have retired on marrying Ramkin. Become a gentleman of leisure. Left the hard times of long nights and damp boots to others and have a proper life. He would have, if not for the events of Men At Arms. Another plot against the Patrician and city is foiled thanks to Vimes' tenacity.  Vimes nearly disgraces himself at the last under the influence of the Gonne but thanks to Carrot, he sticks to his ideals. You can't kill people just because you've got the chance, even if they absolutely deserve it. Because of that, and because of Carrot's charismatic leadership and loyalty, and because of Vetinari's realisation of how much he needs someone with Vimes' qualities, he is made Commander of the Watch. The Watch is given a purpose. Vimes is given a chance to put what he believes into practice.

Over the next few books - Feet of Clay, Jingo, The Fifth Elephant - we see him do so. We see him grow in cunning and audacity. He outwits the Assassins' Guild and hungry werewolves. He arrests armies, dictates to kings, and even drags in his own boss. Most of all though, he demonstrates his humanity, both good and bad. The odd occasional harmless lapse in enforcement of the law. The frequent moments of bigotry and insensitivity. Putting his job ahead of his wife.  

He'd also rather risk an international incident than let people be burned. Everytime he sees people in danger, he hurtles in, regardless of the sense of it. Sir Samuel Vimes isn't the sharpest tool in the box but once he grasps the problem, he finds solutions. He's not the bravest man - after all, he survived the old Night Watch - he simply will not go down. Once he's started chasing, he's like a dog. Vetinari's terrier. Most admirable of all - he's a gentle man, a decent man. He tries to put his mistakes right and tries to be kind with those who need it. 

But he reaches his peak in Night Watch. He faces his most personal nemesis in Carcer, and his most trying circumstances in being sent back in time to face the Glorious Revolution and teaching his young self. He's alone, more alone than at any point in the series, even when he finds a position of authority and power again. And he's probably more scared, because he has the most to lose.

It's never easy to stand there with a light in the dark. But, as with most things in life, it is easier when you have friends. It is easier when you have power. It is easier when you have less to lose, or at least stood directly in front of what you have to lose. To stand there alone, on your self, unsure why you're doing it except it needs done and nobody else seems to be doing it?

To do that and, while doing so, have all your faith in the present moment taken away and to keep standing there doing what you can? Nobody will ever know. Nobody will ever thank you. The only reason to do it is to stay you. To stay Vimes. To stay the Vimes that has a family and all the good things, true, but ultimately, to stay himself.

That is heroism. 

All this came from a man who a bare six books earlier waited to see if his new recruit got his head kicked in inside The Mended Drum, and who was probably below the meanest beggar in the gutter in terms of social status.

There's no arc like it that I know of. And the best part? That could be any person. Vimes had no magic. There was no prophecy. Nobody came after him with death in their eyes to make him act. He chose to. He chose to say "this is how it should be and to hell with anything else". I love the unreality of fantasy but for all the fantastical people and things Vimes meets, his core story is as human as it gets. It's not just wonderful to read, it's inspiring.

Now that is my truth and any who know a better, tell me yours. But I hope I've demonstrated why Vimes is so important to so many, and why his story is one of the most compelling in fiction, and why he deserves better than what's going to come. 

Hopefully that'll be put right some day. After all, if Sherlock can have a million adaptations, surely Sam Vimes can have a few?

Saturday 10 October 2020

The most damning flaw in The Watch trailer

The first time I saw the trailer for The Watch, the TV show now described as "based on" Sir Pterry's books and rapidly becoming the most unpopular adaption in SFF before it is even aired, I simply asked the person posting it why they posted something that didn't exist.

Being stupid, I relented from this policy at a later date.

At this point - and mildly hypocritically as I'm writing a whole damn article about it - I'd suggest to my fellow Discworld fans that this adaption is given up for dead and we cease to talk about it. We get to cease annoying ourselves; those who are interested get to cease being annoyed by us; and the less oxygen we give it, the more likely it is to fail. I know some of us are still holding out hope and don't want it to fail but I don't think that's particularly rational, unless they are interested in it in its own right and can divorce it from all idea of Discworld and Ankh-Morpork. When you get home from the shops and discover you picked up a package saying milk chocolate rather than dark chocolate, you don't open it up in the hope it might be dark chocolate after all. We've seen the packaging for The Watch and unless they're so incredibly incompetent they can't advertise their own show correctly, we know what's inside.

I do however want to point to one brief moment that convinced me this show really is beyond all redemption as a Discworld show. We've all known it'll look utterly different from a Discworld show, with a number of character changes, but that didn't mean it couldn't get Discworld on the inside. If one can be a witch with an apple-corer rather than a runic knife, then you can have Discworld with a bunch of changes.

But consider this exchange from the trailer:

Not-Vetinari: "Vimes. You will officially cease to pursue any further inquiry."
Not-Vimes: "Is this one of those situations where you want me to do the exact opposite of what you just told me to do?"
Not-Vetinari: "I don't know Vimes. Is it?"

Now. All Discworld fans know that Vetinari does frequently forbid Vimes from doing something precisely because Vetinari wants Vimes to look into it as fully as possible. This is made most clear in Men-At-Arms, after Vimes' first wall punching:

"The last thing you needed was some Watchman blundering around upsetting things, like a loose…a loose…a loose siege catapult.


Vimes seemed in a suitable emotional state. With any luck, the orders would have the desired effect…"

However, the point of this technique is it works because Vimes doesn't know about it. The point is that Vimes fumes and gets angry, and then goes after the case with a mix of righteous anger, slight fearful knowledge that he needs results if he's disobeying direct orders, and more righteous anger.

The fact that Vimes doesn't really fully grasp Vetinari's methods - he starts getting an inkling in Jingo, the series' fourth book, and by Thud, the series' seventh, he recognises when he's been upsetting Vetinari because of something 'that felt like one of his games' - is central to Vimes' character. He's simply not that bright - a fact pointed out a few times - with his qualities as a detective being sheer bloody-minded determination fueled by anger. As Vetinari notes in Guards!Guards!, he needs Vimes and that anger as a tool, and doesn't want to tinker with it too much.

As for Vetinari's character, it is vital to his that he hardly ever acknowledges his manipulation. If challenged he acts shocked, he denies, he changes the subject, finds a weak point to ensure the subject of the manipulation accepts the manipulation. 

I've searched through the books trying to find such an open admission. Maybe I missed it, but I can't. If it happens, it's very late stage Vimes. The closest I can find is this in Thud!

“And it’ll also be to your personal satisfaction?” said Vetinari sharply.

“Is this a trick question, sir?”

“Well done, well done,” said Vetinari softly.

Therefore, to have an exchange in which the two openly acknowledge Vetinari's habit of deliberately winding him up, is to take a surface understanding of a thing but completely depart from actual understanding. It's like when an elderly relative hears you like computer games, so they buy you a game for a platform you don't have.

And to put such a departure from the heart and soul of the book at the centre of a trailer for the TV show adaption is as clear an announcement as possible that the adaption does not get it. There will not be dark chocolate in the milk chocolate box. To entertain any further hope at this point is just self-torture. And all of us interested in a Discworld adaption, but not some loose thing that's really quite different, should move on.

Friday 9 October 2020

Dragon's Blood by Jane Yolen

Strewth! A book set on a barren wasteland of a planet called Austraria 4 that's filled with people descended from convicts. I wonder what the author's inspiration was?

Good *insert time of day* to all reading this, and let me open with an apology. The very obvious riffing on 'Straya in this book has woke a dark part of my subconscious and since misery loves company, I've decided to let it take part in writing this review. You can stop reading now if you want, I won't blame you.

"Review of what" you say? Well, Dragon's Blood is a YA book from the 80s and it's about a world where the economy is based on debt slavery, with most people owned by a Master, usually an owner of dragons, with dragons being used for pit fighting and with a lot of money passing hands in the gambling on them. We follow a young slave as he steals a young dragon in the hope of earning enough money to secure his freedom. So if the world is Australia meets Pern with added pit fighting and slavery, because everything outside of real life is better with pit fighting and slavery. Apparently. 

I read part of it in an anthology on dragons long, long ago and it stuck with me, so I eventually decided to give the whole book a go.

Crikey! What's with you reading books you found when you were an ankle biter? You've not gone two slices of bread shy of a sanger have you, mate?

Call it unfinished business. I always wondered what the whole story's like and now I know. I'm as sane as the next person writing reviews in the form of a conversation with the most annoying parts of their psyche. And you made that expression up.

Good on ya mate. 

Anyway. I was a bit surprised by how this book actually is. Thanks to the small sample, I expected lots of blokes with dragons and fighting.

Most of it's actually about Jakkin, our hero, having a shit old life, mainly because the bloke in charge of him is this bitter old drongo who's always a bit weird because he loves his smoko. Sometimes its good because he's with the dragon he stole. And sometimes it's okay because he's with his mates, even if they're ribbing him because they think all the time he's sneaking off to see his dragon he's actually going down the local whorehouse, or hanging around with the one girl on the farm who's so hot she should be in a whorehouse. A friendly egalitarian society this isn't. I've seen a few people on Goodreads being all "this is a bit bloody dark for a kid's book" but kids seem to love a bit of dystopia, so I reckon that's probably all good. It's more picaresque than fight the power though.

And, well, it is a bit weird.

No wuckas on a bit weird. Good fantasy's defo meant to be a bit weird. 


I'm not sure whether this is good though. It reads fast and has some good moments but I never felt truly gripped. I think part of that is a bit of tonal confusion. Is it meant to be a feel good romp? A critique of a corrupt society? A trouble coming of age? It feels like Yolen's trying to do a lot of things here and as a result, never persuaded me that she'd done any of them. I said it's more picaresque than fight the power, but it's not really either. It's more a mostly pleasant few hours worth of passing time.

Oh - and the Australian thing? Despite the clear signal of "it's like Australia", it doesn't really feel 'Strayan. Now, I'll admit my knowledge of our dear cousins down under is based on stereotypes and all the funny stuff various Australian friends have shared with me, and half of that's stuff that probably shouldn't be in a YA book (but that YAs really want in their books), so maybe it's not totally accurate, but it felt like it could have been based off anywhere. And that's not such a bad thing, but it was a missed opportunity to add a bit more colour and "wow" to a book that doesn't quite ignite.

Hold the phono there mate. You mean this isn't true blue at all and I've been speaking funny for no reason at all? I'm devo.

You're part of my mind. You knew this. You're doing this because I've got a warped sense of humour.

Fair Dinkum.

Do any actual Australians say that?

The good news is that I have answered a small niggling curiousity. I do have a continuing small niggling curiousity as to how it all ends, but I imagine that'll keep another thirty odd years.

And that sentence really could have been the review without needing to read me going troppo. Good, but not that good.