A Month of Books: April

 

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison: This was an absolute delight. Yet another book from about four, five years ago that I managed to somehow miss (and I have no excuse, I was at the Nebulas the year this book was nominated). The story is a fantastic inversion of the classic “scion to the throne becomes king/emperor and everyone lives happily ever after” trope, depicting the sudden ascension to the throne in a far more realistic (and challenging, and baffling) way. Poor Maia. I’d never really considered how much a loss of privacy being emperor would be. I adore the world-building, and I love that the elves/goblins’ ears flick and move with their emotions, and how Katherine Addison approached the whole informal/formal speech modes. There are, however, a massive cast of characters, many of which with similar sounding names, and due to me having read the e-book, it wasn’t easy to flip back and consult the cast list, though for the most part, my confusion was momentary and sorted itself out by the end of the paragraph. And I read somewhere there’s a sequel in the works, and it’s a mystery, and I love the combination of fantasy and mystery…

Knife Children by Lois McMaster Bujold: A reread, but mostly because the first time I read it, I’d woken up at four in the morning, discovered that she’d released a new novella, and proceeded to devour it in one sitting (so to speak). This time, I went slower and savored it. For me, it’s the epilogue, with the conversation between Barr and his father, that resonates the most. The rest of the story is classic Bujold, delivering everything I’ve come to want and anticipate in her work, and is delightful. The epilogue, though, has this one, brief section that touches on the concept that in bringing/creating a life, one also inevitably creates a death, and the phrasing of that idea… it left me mulling over it for days after.

The Kingdom of Copper by S.A. Chakraborty: If you have not read The City of Brass, reeeeead it. And then come back here. Though I try not to have too much in the way of spoilers in these mini-reviews, this being book two of a series I adore, I can’t guarantee there won’t be a spoiler or two. This trilogy is one of those hard-to-define, cross-genre creations that’s superb in its combination and the execution of its elements and story (it’s a fantasy, historical fantasy, portal fantasy, with a hint of urban fantasy, combining it with Middle Eastern culture and history and tradition and it’s, gah! It’s amazing. Read The City of Brass, read The Kingdom of Copper, and join me in fan-girling over this author ’cause this is just  incredible stuff). More than that, Chakraborty routinely takes me by surprise. Whenever I think I see where the story is going, recognize the tropes and patterns in the storytelling, it jinks sideways and that fills me with such delight. I love the feeling of getting to the end of a book, and things are slotting together, but in a way that’s both inevitable yet, at the same time, completely unexpected, and I start cackling under my breath, and when I finally turn the last page, close the book, I drum my fists on the table demanding “More! More!” The Kingdom of Copper is precisely that sort of book, and I absolutely can’t wait to see how everything comes together in The Empire of Gold. Sadly, I must wait until January 2020, but part of me is grateful I didn’t read The Kingdom of Copper the moment it was delivered to my doorstep. Now, the wait is only… *does math* eight and half-ish months instead of a full year.

The Trouble With Vampires by Lynsay Sands: Ah, book 29. Isn’t that a lovely thing to be able to say? Book 29 of a series? Anyway, I do like that many of these have that mystery element. They usually catch me totally by surprise ’cause I’m too busy watching the romance to kick my analytical brain in gear and start looking at suspects. And, oh, I so love the humor in these. They make me snicker so much. I make a happy squee noise whenever I hear there’s a new one coming out soon, and the new installment fulfills all expectations with a nice mix of romance, humor, and mystery, though this one delivers a twist. The usual explanation-spiel about the history of immortals (often mistakenly called vampires), the lost city of Atlantis, and nanos gets truncated in this one, but a new possible threat from a group called the Brass Circle is introduced, so I’m curious to see where the next one goes. We’re running out of singles! By my count, there’s only Zanipolo from the Notte branch of the family and maybe the new girl introduced at the end, and after that…? Will the series jink like it did with that Enforcers trilogy? Or will the next book introduce more characters? Or *gasp* could it possibly be drawing to a close? (Noooooo! I need my vampires from Atlantis fix!)


Not as many books this month as I may have hoped; I got distracted by binge-watching the first four seasons of Grimm. It devoured a lot of my reading time.

Neon Druid Interview

Read on Mt. Misery Press’ blog.

Question 1. What inspired you to write your Neon Druid story? (e.g. A tall tale told by an intoxicated uncle? A summer spent abroad on the Emerald Isle? A chance encounter with some creepy creature?)

li-hh-
Specifically, this image by Li HH.

Primarily, the open call. I stumbled across the posting on Duotrope calling for submissions for a Celtic urban fantasy anthology. I’d just finished writing the first Clay Atwater story which was, unfortunately, a novella and far too long, so I sat on it. A few days before the deadline, I’d been browsing fantasy images on Pinterest, looking for future inspiration, and I’d come across an image of a guy holding a glowing sword in one hand and a cell phone in the other. Somehow in my brain, this connected with the Clay story and premise of being challenged to find random objects by an ankou (seriously, it’s the most episodically designed story and world I’ve ever written so far and it came about by total accident). I Googled mythical swords in Irish mythology (not quite sure why I chose Irish, but I did) and—well, boom. I started writing and it just kept flowing.

Much to my shock, I managed to finish it before the deadline.

Question 2. What’s something that always seems to pop up in the stories you write? — something that is representative of your unique brand of writing (e.g. A whiskey-sipping protagonist? An invisible antagonist? A plot twist or big reveal that catches readers by surprise?)

This is… a level of self-reflection I rarely (if ever) contemplate. Um. Hm. There’s almost always a speculative fiction element—for some reason, I just struggle to find stories without one interesting enough to motivate me to write them. Lately, a lot of my writing has a lot of dead people in it—ghosts, vampires, zombies, sometimes just… people who’ve died. Or been murdered. I have a surprising amount of murder going on…

51KaAz4fJbLQuestion 3. If you had to pick a single book/story that has had the biggest influence on your own writing, which would it be? And why/how did it influence your writing? What did you learn?

*long slow whistle* Just one?

Because I read a lot, and I’ve been sitting on this question now for well over a month, unsure how I could possibly answer it, I’m going to narrow this to just “biggest influence on the writing of this story.” Kate Griffin’s A Madness of Angels. Urban fantasy at its finest (in my humble opinion).

Question 5. Excluding your Neon Druid story, what piece of writing are you most proud of, and why? And, if applicable, where can readers find it? (Include a link!)

For simplicity’s sake, let’s go with what I’m most proud of that’s published, since my honest answer would have to be “whatever it was I just finished.” I’d have to say the honor would go to the first story I sold, “Jack Monohan, P.I. (Deceased)” which had a very strange journey to publication. I’d assumed it was, by far, the most unpublishable story for oh-so-many reasons and yet… it found a home. It’s rather old at this point but it’s still the first story someone else paid me for and the first time my writing was ever in an actual book. (Unearthly Sleuths)

Neon Druid: An Anthology of Urban Celtic FantasyQuestion 8. What do you do when you’re NOT writing? Tell us about your other hobbies and passions, your day job, your pet cat (meow), whatever you want! We want to learn more about YOU.

Other than reading, I (casually) game (PC is my console of choice). I’m also an illustrator; my preferred medium is digital painting (though I often doodle with pen, pencil, and copier paper, usually in the margins of manuscripts and work documents). Oh, and occasionally the baking-bug infects me, usually after binge-watching the newest season of The Great British Baking Show, and I try my hand at pastries, pies, and chocolate, the spoils of which are given as (friendly) sacrifice to my coworkers at the library.

Question 9. What writing project(s) are you currently working on? Tell us about them and when/where readers will be able to find them.

 In the long term, I’m trudging my way through a secondary-world fantasy, buddy-cop murder-mystery novel (say that five times fast!) with magic, gangsters, pseudo-gods, and memory-hoarding dragons. I’m also actively querying my last novel, an urban fantasy noir set in Chicago about immortal draugr, secret societies, assassination plots, political back-stabbery, and some really awful superpowers (truth-dowsing via migraines! What fun!).

Phyl and Lou

So I decided to do some minor revisions to the beginning of the book I’m currently querying and in doing so, I was suddenly possessed by my illustration muse, so doodled two of the characters from the book.

Both Phyl (the woman on the right) and Lou (the guy on the left) are the bodyguards of my draugr mob boss character, Jehan, and I’ve never actually drawn either of them. Not a proper illustration, just some little doodles here and there. So *hand wave* ta-da!

Phyl and Lou sm

Phyllis and Lou sitting on a concrete barrier. And with their human-faces; I tried a version with their scary draugr-faces, but as line art, it came out looking bizarre, so switched back. I’m starting to think the draugr-faces really only work when in color.

Phyl gets introduced in the first chapter; Lou gets stage time a little farther on. Phyl’s so much fun, perhaps partially because I’m just tickled by the idea of a bad-ass assassin/bodyguard named Phyllis (I mean, she is a hundred and twenty or so; period names and all that).

She’s infuriatingly chipper; he’s more taciturn. She likes little fast cars; he prefers large sedans or SUVs. She’s prone to brute-forcing things into submission; he goes tactical and has contingencies for contingencies. She has memory issues (due to a brain injury from before she was made a draugr); he forgets nothing, especially not favors owed or grudges. They’ve been working together as bodyguards for, eeeeeh, eighty years, give or take. Their dynamic is just so damn interesting (and enjoyable) to write.

One day, I might do a spin-off focusing on just them, since they’re both secondary, non-viewpoint characters and though they have lives outside of the main plot, said lives only get mentions here and there. True, I’d need something for them to do, seeing that a lot of their daily job is following Jehan around and looking menacing.

In other news, no bites for the query. I realize I’m setting myself up for failure by querying a 140,000 word urban fantasy but… *sigh* I just love reading (and, therefore, writing) big books so much.

The new revamped query will be going out for the next batch of ten. It’s much, much shorter and I’m hoping that the conciseness of the query might allay concerns about the word count. It might backfire on me and leave agents questioning why such a short query has such a long book. But we shall see.

A Month of Books: March

Stalking Darkness by Lynn Flewelling: Technically a reread, but it’s been almost ten years since I read the series originally, so things have kinda blurred. In some ways, it still holds up well. In others, it shows its age (published 1997!). Still, it’s fun, and very classic sword & sorcery. And I hadn’t realized it took two books for Alec and Seregil to kiss! In my memory, they were together much sooner, and I hadn’t realized how much of a slow-burn romance it was between the two. I also had a sort of perverse fun trying to spot the seams, since I know the first book (Luck in the Shadows) and the second (Stalking Darkness) were originally one long book that was split and reworked as two books, and sections were expanded in both.

Written in Red by Anne Bishop: How have I not read this series yet? How has it flown beneath my radar for so long? It’s on the shelves at the library I work at! Aaaah! I have been looking for an urban fantasy/high fantasy fusion, which has the feel/elements of an urban fantasy but with high fantasy pacing and world-building approach. This is… this fills a whole in my reading-life I didn’t know I had. That said, it’s not paced like your typical urban fantasy novel, which can be off-putting if you’re expecting the more thriller-esque approach that’s common. This is a slower story, with longer pauses and moments that linger on the everyday. I love, love, love how the shifters are portrayed, where behaviors that are associated with their animal forms bleed over into when they’re human (and occasionally vise-versa). They’re not, say, just humans that turn into wolves. Being a Wolf informs how they view the world in almost every aspect. It’s refreshing and different and lends itself to some moments of humor. BUT the monsters of this world are still monsters; their choice meat is human. Also, an alternate history where the supernatural isn’t just known to the world, it’s shaped the world.

Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop: Squeezing this one in ’cause it’s still technically March and I finished it this morning. More of all the stuff I enjoyed in Written in Red, with more world-building and development, and after that conclusion, I’m curious to see where it goes next. Spoilers, but certain influential people have been robbed of their future-seeing victims, the Humans First and Last movement is gaining momentum and there’s an awful lot of discontent between the terre indigene and the humans, Simon is becoming more human, Meg is becoming more Wolf, and I’m very concerned for Monty’s daughter. Oh, and every time I think this series has revealed the ultimate antagonist, I’m surprised to find it isn’t, and I’m starting to suspect that each book’s end will set up the central antagonist of the next.

Prisoner of Midnight by Barbara Hambly: I’ve been waiting for this one for a few months. It does exactly what I want from a James Asher Vampire novel: mystery, spies, sleuthing in bank records, vampires, and WWI. The vampires in this one are definitely monstrous. They are no longer *quite* human, don’t pretend to be human, and are horrifyingly self-absorbed, selfish, and narcissistic, with little care for anyone but themselves (’cause that’s what makes a good vampire, seeing that  they have to murder someone every few nights to maintain their existence). There’s a mystery element in this one that I’d been expecting to come full circle and… didn’t, but I’m not sure if it was meant to be a red herring or a dropped plot point. The end… the end looks suspiciously like a series end. Totally did not see that coming, but I’m left wondering, where could this possibly go next? In some ways there’s closure but in others… we still have a little over a year till the end of WWI, and at least one character is still marooned on the Front.

The Devil You Know by P.N. Elrod: Also technically a reread, but after the unpleasant, scary vampires of Prisoner of Midnight, I wanted some fun, butt-kicking vamps instead (though there’s not much butt-kicking till the end). The contrast between Jack and Barrett is just so darn fun to read. This is one of those series with characters I could watch sitting in a room doing nothing except talk about the weather, and I’d still be entertained.