Skip to content

Monthly Archives: March 2010

Debut Review – Master of None by Sonya Bateman


Master of None

by Sonya Bateman
Pocket Books

Read the First Chapter (pdf)

Regular readers know that I don’t usually read urban fantasies. However, this urban fantasy I couldn’t put down.

Gavyn Donatti is a professional thief who knows that some men are dangerous to work for. But still, he agrees — or is perhaps coerced into agreeing — to steal a daggar for Trevor. Except once he steals the dagger, he loses it, and Trevor is really angry. So angry that he sends is thugs to kill Gavyn for revenge. However, Ian unexpectedly shows up, dispatches Gavyn’s foes, and announces that he is a djinn (“a diji-what?”), come to help Gavyn fulfill his purpose in life.

It turns out that Ian is full of it.

The first chapter was unputdownable.When Gayvn’s girlfriend Jazz turns up with a young son, it becomes even more so. I read this book in January, even though I knew it wasn’t “due” until April. I hate doing that. I tweeted about my annoyance with Ms. Bateman, who was thrilled. And I still read on, finishing the book in a matter of days.

The reasons I enjoyed this book are obvious to me. It’s funny. It avoids the usual tropes of urban fantasy. And the narrator is not a kick-ass protagonist. I enjoy a funny kick-ass protagonist as well as anyone else, but a kind of clueless guy narrator was a nice change of pace.

Everyone has connections to everyone else, which also made it interesting. Gavyn must look up his old enemy — the one he put in a wheelchair — and ask for his help. He turns out to have a very interesting friend. Who has a connection to Ian. Who has an unexpected connection to Gavyn. Trevor is trying to take advantage of everyone’s connection to everyone else, which made him an excellent villain. Even the dagger has unexpected connections.

And then there’s the mannerly bounty hunter, Quaid. His job is to get the dagger back for his boss. Guess who is boss is? Quaid is extremely stubborn, extremely polite, and extremely thick-headed. I loved him.

As for crits? I ain’t got any. And that’s why this review is so short. One can only gush so much.

(Oops, I did think of one thing. There is a torture scene that got to be a bit much. No gouged eyeballs, but I did have to skim for a few pages. You have been warned.)

There was a reason I wanted to do a conversational interview with Ms. Bateman. I loved her novel. It’s fun, touching and exciting, and I can’t wait to read the next book. You should buy this one. It deserves to be a huge hit.

One More Week of Light Posting

There will be one more week of light posting before I resume my regular Sunday to Thursday schedule. I will divulge the reasons for this after next week.

But I do want to congratulate frequent commenter and awesome blogger Carolyn Crane — of The Thrillionth Page — for the publication of her novel, Mind Games. I’ll do a full write-up of it in my next Debut Showcase, but in the meantime, be sure to visit her blog and site and check out her novel. It interests me because it features a non-kick-ass protagonist, and who can resist a group called the disillusionists? One can tell right away that this is no typical urban fantasy.

In fact, I’m liking a lot more of the urban fantasies that various publishers have sent my way. Fewer vampires and demons, more imaginative plots on other subjects. I even have a zombie novel — Empire by David Dunwoody — that intrigues me almost in spite of myself. (Oh, that’s why. This is actually a science fiction novel. Which is still good!)

Oh! And next week I still plan on putting up a few posts, including my review of Master of None by Sonya Bateman, and my review of a TV series that my husband has been renting (and which partially explains my distraction from my blog). In general, I don’t watch TV — I lost interest in TV when I got my first computer — but who can resist a husband who wants to watch a good show with you. Well, at least they started out good, but . . . but then, I’ll save that for my review.

And I must indulge in a brag. My daughter, who was a year behind at the start of the school season, has done an entire year of coursework in all her courses except one! At this rate, she’ll be caught up by the end of next year and after that, there will be no holding her back.

Interview with Sonya Bateman!

Sonya Bateman is the author of the very fun urban fantasy, Master of None, which comes out next week. I thought I’d try out a conversational email interview on her, and she agreed to be experimented upon.  We had lots of fun with this. Enjoy!

I thought I’d start this conversational interview with a pretty standard question — your path to publication. Can you tell us how MASTER OF NONE came to be a published novel, how long the publication journey was for you, and about any bumps or detours along the way?

Ah, the Big Question! Here’s where I decide whether to give you the long answer or the short answer… 🙂 I’ll start with the long one.

I’d been writing for ten years before I managed to sign with an agent, and piled up hundreds of rejections for eight or nine different novels, and a lot of mistakes along the way. I also managed, apparently, to drive one publisher insane and one agent into a nervous breakdown.

Things didn’t really start working for me until I decided to write urban fantasy. When I finished the manuscript, a funny thing happened – agents actually requested partials and fulls. There was a blurred period of a couple weeks, and I ended up signing with Cameron McClure, who works in my “dream agency” – the Donald Maass Agency, home of Jim Butcher. Bliss!

Two months later, the bliss evaporated when it became apparent the book wasn’t going to sell. It was not quite YA and not quite adult, and no one knew which shelf it should go on. So I could give up and get a job as someone’s secretary (and how very tempting that option was, because it had been such a long slog), or I could write another book.

Somehow I talked myself into writing another book. I still wanted to do something different, so I ran with the djinn. I finished the manuscript, my agent and I did some revisions and decided on the title MASTER OF NONE, and out it went on submission.

Fast forward about a year and a half. There had been a few editor requests for the manuscript, but no bites. I was looking at the strong possibility that this one wouldn’t sell, either, and I’d have to go again – another year writing and revising, another year or two waiting. I didn’t think I could face it all over again.

It was after the holiday season, the middle of winter, and I was working three part-time jobs and treading water. One of them was at the local McDonalds. One Thursday, I reported just before noon for a four-hour shift, and I got a phone call. No one ever called me at work with good news.

It was my husband. He said, “You have to call your agent. Right now.” I was eating a jelly donut that one of my co-workers brought in, and my hands started shaking so bad that I smeared it all over myself. We couldn’t make long-distance calls from the office phone, and I don’t own a cell phone, so I ran out of the office with red jelly all over my hands, screaming, “A phone! I need a phone, right now!” The grill manager thought I was bleeding to death. There was a long moment of confusion before someone finally gave me a phone.

I called my agent. I didn’t hear much beyond “two-book deal with Pocket Books”. I was shaking and crying, and I called my husband back and shouted something unintelligible, which he miraculously understood. Then I washed the jelly off my hands, and proceeded to spend the next four hours making double cheeseburgers.

So – twelve years, eleven novels, and a boatload of angst, and here I am about to become a debut author. At least I don’t work at McDonalds any more.

That’s the long answer. 🙂 Let me know if you’d rather have the short version for space reasons – I do love that bleeding-to-death story, though. It was the funniest thing!

Are you kidding? That was hilarious!

So it sounds like going outside the box worked for you.  Tell us a little about MASTER OF NONE – a little about what it’s about and your inspirations.

Also, is there any interest in your unsold novels now that you’ve made a sale?

Thanks! That was a great day, bleeding to death and all.

MASTER OF NONE started out, like most of my novels, with a character: an unlucky thief with an unlikely name. Gavyn Donatti doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue – nor is it culturally correct – but it fits him. I knew I wanted to write urban fantasy, and I wanted to base things around djinn rather than vampires or werewolves. I began the book with the idea that it would be something like a modern-day Aladdin (the Disney version, with lots of humor), only Donatti’s djinn wasn’t going to be the cooperative wish-granting type.

Of course, it didn’t turn out exactly like I’d planned. The book still has a few things in common with Aladdin – there’s a thief and a genie, and a Jasmine (Jazz – my naming her Jasmine was completely subconscious, I swear!), but the similarities end there. Basically, Donatti has to work with Ian (the djinn), who hates his guts, in order to save the the family he never knew he had, not to mention the world. And everything bad that can possibly happen to him along the way, does.

My other novels (at least the ones that didn’t suck too much) are currently available or being released under my pen name through a couple of great small presses. So, those didn’t turn out to be a complete waste of time. 🙂

Do any parts of MASTER OF NONE stand out as your favorite scenes, or scenes that were particularly hard to write?

The car chase sequence was tough. There was a point where I thought I’d never get it right! My agent had problems with parts of it – I rewrote it, and after it sold, my editor had different problems with it. I ended up including parts of the original scenes, parts of the revised scenes, and some new stuff. Ultimately, I think the sequence is stronger because of their input.

I think my favorite moments are the early interactions between Donatti and Ian. They hate each other so much in the beginning – it was just a blast to write.

Did the fact that they resolved their differences give you any trouble for the sequels? I’m assuming this is the start of a series, of course. If it is, please also give us a hint of what is to come. Will we see Quaid again?

It’s definitely a series! And as far as resolving things… well, they haven’t, exactly. They solved one set of differences, only to run into a few more. I’m not sure Donatti and Ian will ever truly get along. 🙂

The next book, Djinn’s Apprentice, features a cult, a curse, a kidnapping, and some serious blurring of clan lines among the djinn on Earth. Donatti discovers he’s more powerful than he thinks, and Ian learns a thing or two about trust, and why blind revenge isn’t always the answer.

Unfortunately, Quaid didn’t make it into the next one. But I have a feeling he’ll be back in a future installment.

Oooh, learning about trust? Blind revenge not being the answer? I’m intrigued already! Do you have any idea of the release schedule for the next few books?

And does it surprise you when minor characters like Quaid turn out to be a big hit? I just love his whole mannerly bounty hunter demeanor.

Thanks! I don’t have a definite release schedule, but somewhere during the contract stage, the phrase “every ten months” was mentioned. Djinn’s Apprentice is written and awaiting revisions, so if that schedule is used, it may be out around January 2011.

I’m thrilled that you like Quaid – I’ve got a soft spot for him, myself. 🙂 My minor characters always surprise me. I never plan them. They just kind of show up and say, “Here I am! Do something with me.” Lark and Tory were also a complete surprise – both their existence, and their relationship. But it definitely made sense once I figured them out, and they made it into the next book.

It’s cool that their relationship was a surprise to you because it did make sense to me. I also think Jazz is a wonderful character — tough, but a mom, with that necessary soft mom side.

Gah! It’s hard to think of questions that aren’t spoilers!

Sometimes it’s hard to keep the romantic tension going between characters who have worked out their problems. Some authors have resolved this by setting up love triangles (Janet Evanovich, Kimberly Frost), other authors draw the romance out over many books (Victoria Thompson, Anne Perry). However, some authors, such as Alexander McCall Smith (No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series), manage to keep the reader’s interest in a committed couple’s relationship. Since we know by now you have already written at least one of your sequels, can you tell us if this has been a challenge for you, and perhaps give us a little teaser on how you solved this?

I hear ya – it’s hard to think of non-spoilery answers! 🙂

The thing I love about relationships is that they’re rarely static, even in real life. I think committed relationships can be just as interesting and tense, especially in urban fantasy, where there can be a great contrast between the ordinary problems in a relationship and the fantastic things that happen to the characters.

Jazz and Donatti started off on rocky ground, and they’re probably going to be there for a while. This helps in keeping up the tension. I’ve also given Jazz a few surprises of her own in the second book, so she’s going to be able to grow and evolve as a character within the dynamics of the core series group.

The first-person POV is probably my biggest challenge as far as showing their relationship – I never get into Jazz’s head! Fortunately, she speaks her mind and doesn’t pull punches.

Yes, that’s one of the limitations of first person . . . but I still love reading first person novels because it’s the best way to get into a character’s head.

Do you have any advice for the many aspiring writers who haunt this blog, which they may not have seen before?

And, is there any question you wish I had asked?

I’m glad you like first person! I’ve seen a lot of anti-first-person sentiments tooling around the Internet, and it surprises me – but I suppose it shouldn’t, since I’m anti-present-tense myself. Gives me hives, present tense does.

Hmm, advice. I always have a tough time with writing advice, because I remember what I was like while I was still trying to break in. Nobody could tell me anything. I was convinced, like many writers, that agents and editors were all out to get me. The problem wasn’t my writing, it was the Evil Industry. Fortunately, I got over that (only took me ten years!).

So, I guess I’d say this: never think you’re amazing. Not even the most successful authors ever are amazing to everyone – and if you believe you’re already fantastic, you’ll never try to improve. Also, if you have an idea for a series, that’s great…but don’t write the whole series. Write the first one, start querying, and then write something completely different while you’re waiting. I wasted a lot of time (many, many years) writing sequels to a book I couldn’t sell in the first place, and while the volume of writing helped improve my craft, it didn’t get me any closer to published, because I didn’t have anything else to sell.

~*~

Want a taste of Master of None? Here’s the first chapter. Be sure to let us know what you thought. You’ll find out what I thought of the entire novel when it comes out next week.


Winner of Spellwright Giveaway, Plus Stuff

The winner of the Spellwright giveaway is Julio! Thanks to everyone for entering, and thanks to Tor for sponsoring this giveaway.

~*~

I have been reading a very LONG book called Angelology by Danielle Trussoni. This is my first foray into Dan Brown-style supernatural thrillers. Except, it isn’t really a thriller, because the plot is not driven by fear. Maybe you could call it a supernatural suspense? Anyway, it’s quite gripping and very unusual. It’s based on a literal interpretation of the Bible — especially the events before and after the Flood — but I would not classify it as a Christian novel. Not that it’s anti-Christian, but it just doesn’t seem to fit into the Christian genre. There’s no way I’ll be done any time before Friday, at the soonest.

BUT, I will have stuff for you anyway, because long ago, I read Master of None by Sonya Bateman, and I finally get to review it. PLUS we have done my first-ever Conversational Interview, and I’ll be posting that too.

~*~

Do you guys have any opinions on reading prayers? I was reading another novel — nameless for now — and I was starting to have problems with the plot when the character started preparing to pray. Generally speaking, I think it’s hard to do prayer well. Probably the best author I’ve read who managed it was T. H. White in The Once and Future King. Holly Lisle tackled it with Hawkspar and I found it difficult. Lest you think I have anything against invented mythologies, I’ll add that I was ok with some of the prayers in Dragonlance (not all — mostly Sturm’s. Goldmoon’s were ack-worthy). I found the prayers in The Deed of Paksenarrion awkward as well. The prayers in the popular movie Facing the Giants were a mixed bag — some good (the wife’s) some meh (the husband’s). In Would-be Witch, the prayers were hilarious.

In general, I think it’s hard for an author to pull off a really good prayer.

I doubt I’ve sent this novel aside forever, and besides, I really need to finish Angelology. But what do you think? What are the best and worst examples of prayers in some of the books and movies you’ve read and watched.

Congratulations, Interesting Post, and One Other Thing

First, I’d like to offer a rather delayed congratulations to Deborah Blake, frequent commenter and occasional reviewer here, for signing with an agent! We have a lot of aspiring authors hanging out here, and it’s wonderful to see when they hit a milestone like this. It makes the rest of us think, yes, we can do it!

Also, the ubercool Jim Hines has posted the long-awaited results of his Novel Survey, and he has made it worth the wait. Charts and graphs abound! He plans additional posts with more extrapolations (spelled right on second try) in the days (weeks?) ahead.

Don’t forget I have a contest going! The giveaway for the copy of Spellwright by Blake Charlton (always have to double-check the spelling on his last name) is open until Sunday. I’ll post the winner on Sunday afternoon sometime. Don’t enter the giveaway here. Enter here.

I’ll stop now before I really do spell something wrong.

Elder Scrolls Matchup: Morrowind vs. Oblivion

Elder Scrolls
Morrowind and Oblivion
Bethesda Softworks

I’ve been a fan of the Elder Scrolls computer game series since the days of Daggarfall. I love the single-player role playing game because it seems like in multiplayer games, you’re limited to games like Diablo, which to me seem nothing but hack and slash.

My husband and I both loved Morrowind and we both bought a copy. When I heard that Oblivion came out, I bought a copy only to find that my graphics card lacked the horsepower to run it. So I set it aside. A few weeks ago, we bought my husband a new laptop computer, so of course I installed Oblivion, inserted a mouse, and gave it a try.

When I play games of this nature, I don’t hope to ever reach the end. I don’t have that kind of time. What I’m looking for is open-ended gameplay that gives me smaller goals than the overarching quest. That’s why games like Ultima (not the online version, and I dearly wish they still issued single-player games), Fallout, Arcanum, and the Elder Scrolls appeal to me. I can keep them installed on my hard drive for years, playing every once in a while, and not feeling too pressured to get to the end.

These days, when I buy a game, I also buy the strategy guide. I buy these not to cheat, but to figure out the storylines that I would enjoy the most. With Morrowind, I have a cornucopia of storylines to choose from. I can play a pilgrim picking mushrooms off the road and thus advance through the temple ranks. I can play a knight rising through the ranks of the Imperial Legion. I can play a fighter, a mage, or a thief and rise through the guild ranks. There are no fewer than ten factions to choose from, and you’re not limited to one faction. With my favorite character, I was mainly interested in rising through the Imperial Legion quests and House Redoran. With a House quest, you can eventually win yourself a dwelling. But my character was also a member of the Fighters and Mages guilds.

I find Oblivion much more limited when it comes to factions. We have the Fighters, Mages and Thieves guilds, and the Dark Brotherhood. None of these can be said to be true “good guys”, which I want to play. (I want to be the hero in the novel, you see.) Then there’s the Daedric quests, which is basically serving demons. Um, no. We have Master Training quests, which are again, neutral-type quests. There are quests that you can get when you make offerings at the shrines of the gods. And then there’s “freeform” and “miscellaenous” quests.

None of these appeal.

Of course, I could go for the main quest, but once you start the main storyline, certain things get set into motion, which at this point, when I’m still learning the game, I’d rather not trigger. So I’m feeling kind of bored by these quests.

That’s not my only beef with Oblivion. What in the heck did they do with the persuasion system? In Morrowind, I had a great time getting my speechcraft skill up and using persuasion on everyone I came across. Sometimes I’d admire, other times a bit of intimidation worked better. With Oblivion, you appear to be locked in a cycle of admiring, coercing, joking and taunting. Huh? Why would I coerce someone I was trying to impress? And why would I admire someone I was trying to intimidate? It makes no sense to me and it took a fun part of the game and made it thoroughly annoying. Ditto for bartering, which they made unnecessarily cumbersome.

On the other hand, they improved the heck out of making potions with Alchemy. Alchemy is my favorite skill. I don’t think I’ve ever cast a spell in any of these games. Instead, I hack-n-slash, and quaff a handy potion when necessary. In Oblivion, you can make potions to poison your weapon, which is a very cool skill.

I still have not gotten the hang of combat in Oblivion. You use your right mouse button to block and your left mouse button to click. It seems more difficult than it was in Morrowind, which would have you block automatically when you made the necessary roll. However, it is kind of cool to stand there and block a bunch of thrusts while you wait for a good opening. So I’m still playing around with that.

The theft warning system in Oblivion seems to be buggy. You’re supposed to get a white icon when you can take an item and a red icon when it would be considered stealing. This is handy, but I also seem to see a lot of white icons. Can I really wander around an inn and take all the food off the tables (which all make great potion reagents) without paying for them? And why is nothing in the lighthouse of the Imperial City considered stealing?

And I really must gripe about the whole concept of starter dungeon, which Oblivion re-introduces. I’d rather not learn a tricky new game interface by hack-n-slash, thank you very much. Morrowind’s introduction was perfect. When I was ready, I went to the dungeon, and not before. Why they had to go back to starter dungeons in Oblivion is beyond me.

Overall, I still like Morrowind better. I wish I had the alchemy system from Oblivion, but I prefer it’s combat system, the way you can overlay the map and other windows over the scenery, and most of the dialog boxes. I doubt I’m finished playing with Oblivion, but right now, I think I’ll play me some Morrowind.

~*~

A cool aside — you can now download both Arena and Daggerfall — the first two titles in the series — along with the dosbox emulator and play the original games! I loved raiding crypts in Daggerfall. I think that’s all I did! Plus, maybe I can use that dosbox emulator to play some Ultima 5 (which, in my opinion, was the best Ultima ever).

Recent General Fiction Debuts

If You Follow Me: A Novel
by Malena Watrous
Harper Perennial
Trade Paperback – $14.99/$16.99 Can.
General Fiction

Hoping to outpace her grief in the wake of her father’s suicide, Marina, a recent college graduate, has come to the small, rural Japanese town of Shika to teach English for a year. But in Japan, as she soon discovers, you can never really throw away your past… or anything else, for that matter.

Alive with vibrant and unforgettable characters—from an ambitious town matchmaker to a high school student rap artist wannabe with an addiction to self-tanning lotion—it guides readers over cultural bridges even as it celebrates the awkward, unlikely triumph of the human spirit.

If You Follow Me is at once a coming-of-age, fish-out-of-water tale, a dark comedy of manners, and a strange kind of love story. It won a Michener-Copernicus award, and sections have been awarded a Glimmertrain Fiction Open award and runner-up in the Faulkner/Pirate’s Alley Contest.

Hmm. I know I’m supposed to give you guys my reaction, but I really don’t have one. I’m not convinced this was the best blurb I’ve ever read.  Way too vague. I dug deeper on the author’s website it looks to be feel-good, humorous coming-of-age novel. I do enjoy fish-out-of-water stories, and I know a lot of other people do as well.

Postcards from a Dead Girl: A Novel
by Kirk Farber
Harper Perennial
Trade Paperback – $13.99/$15.99 Can.
General Fiction

Sid is going crazy . . .

A telemarketer at a travel agency, Sid is becoming unhinged and superneurotic. Lately he’s been obsessed with car washes and mud baths. His hypochondria is driving his doctor sister mad. And it’s all because of his ex-girlfriend, Zoe, who’s sending him postcards from her European adventure, one that they were supposed to take together. It’s all quite upsetting.

A fact-finding tour of local post offices—and a new friendship with postman Gerald—followed by a solo European jaunt will do little to ease his anxiety. A long talk with his mother’s spirit in a wine bottle doesn’t help either. But what he really needs are a few more tentative dates with the chatty Candyce. Sid needs to get over Zoe and find love again—even though Zoe, apparently, has no inclination to be gotten over.

Gosh, I think the title give too much away, if poor Zoe really is dead. I hope I’m wrong. I can imagine that this will appeal to some of you.

Secret Daughter: A Novel
by Shilpi Somaya Gowda
William Morrow
Hardcover – $23.99/$31.50 Can.
General Fiction
On the eve of the monsoons, in a remote Indian village, Kavita gives birth to Asha. But in a culture that favors sons, the only way for Kavita to save her newborn daughter’s life is to give her away. It is a decision that will haunt her and her husband for the rest of their lives, even after the arrival of their cherished son.

Halfway around the globe, Somer, an American doctor, decides to adopt a child after making the wrenching discovery that she will never have one of her own. When she and her husband Krishnan see a photo of baby Asha from a Mumbai orphanage, they are overwhelmed with emotion for her. Somer knows life will change with the adoption, but is convinced that the love they already feel will overcome all obstacles.

Interweaving the stories of Kavita, Somer, and Asha, Secret Daughter poignantly explores issues of culture and belonging. Moving between two worlds and two families, one struggling to survive in the fetid slums of Mumbai, the other grappling to forge a cohesive family despite their diverging cultural identities, this powerful debut novel marks the arrival of a fresh talent poised for great success.

This is a strong hook for me. I’ve been to India, and I’ve seen the slums of Mumbai.  I’m less interested in an American couple raising the child, but the hook is still strong enough for me that I might seek it out. I’m going to need a fantasy break soon, anyway!

Balancing Acts: A Novel
by Zoe Fishman
Harper Paperbacks
Trade Paperback – $13.99/$17.99 Can.
General Fiction

Charlie seemed to have it all—beauty, brains and a high-paying Wall Street job far away from her simple Midwest upbringing. Then, in the middle of her “quarter life crisis,” she decides that the banker’s life isn’t what she wanted after all, quits her job and opens her own yoga studio in Brooklyn. But like any new business, finding customers is an uphill battle. When she hears about her college’s 10 year reunion, she straps on her best salesman smile and invades midtown—determined to drum up some business.

Unexpectedly, she reconnects with three college classmates—women who, like Charlie, haven’t ended up quite where they wanted to in life. Sabine, a romance book editor, still longs to write the novel brewing inside of her. Naomi, a child of the Upper East Side, was an up-and-coming photographer and social darling, but now is a single mom who hasn’t picked up her camera in years. Bess, a California girl trying to make it in New York, dreams of being the next Christiane Amanpour, but instead finds herself writing snarky captions for a gossip mag, which is neither satisfying nor rewarding. When Charlie, who has her own past to contend with, signs them up for a weekly beginner’s yoga class, they become all too aware of the lack of balance in their lives. Each has to dig deep and fight their inner demons to reconnect with what they truly want out of life.

With wit and sensitivity, debut author Zoe Fishman perfectly captures the poignancy, humor, and promise in these four women’s lives. Balancing Acts is a sincere look at what happens when you’re ten years out of college but feel 100 years from who you once were.

I read somewhere once that in novels that center on a group of women, there are always four of them. I can see why — with an even number, you can get two conflicting teams, or you could have a three against one. Ten years out of college means around 32, which was ten years out of the Air Force for me. I loved being 32. It’s like, the perfect age.

Apologize, Apologize! by Elizabeth Kelly
Twelve (Random House)
March 30, 2010
Trade Paperback – $13.99
Literary Fiction

Welcome to the world of the fantastic Flanagans; a wildly eccentric Massachusetts clan that is both blessed and afflicted with an inexhaustible reservoir of old money, unwavering subversive charm – and a veritable chorus of dogs. At the centre of this maelstrom is sensible Collie Flanagan, first-born son and heir to his grandfather’s publishing fortune, whose easy life is shattered by the outcome of a casual afternoon outing. Affecting, funny and wise, this is a rollicking story packed with characters that are a delight to get to know, and are impossible to forget.

No author website, which I find inexplicable in this day and age. Well, I did get to the cgi-bin of elizabethkelly.com. Not helpful. Neither is this blurb. However, this novel is getting a lot of attention. While Googling in vain for the author’s website (“elizabeth kelly author”), I found numerous interviews, articles and rave reviews, one which calls her an “overnight sensation”.

Most of you are, like me, readers of speculative fiction. Any of these blow your hair back?

Debut Review – Soulless by Gail Carriger


Soulless

By Gail Carriger (website)
Orbit
Mass market paperback, $7.99

Reviewed by Raven

Soulless was a fun novel. Mix Victorian England with vampires and werewolves and a coy sense of humor, and this book is the result. I think I can safely recommend it for fans of urban fantasy and Jane Austen (I know, Jane Austen is Regency, but still).

The narrative style and characterization made the book. That coy sense of humor I mentioned? It’s front and center in the tongue-in-cheek narration. In some books the narration is invisible, but in others you want to savor the turns of phrase the writer uses. Soulless falls into the second category.

Then we have our heroine, Miss Alexia Tarabotti. She’s not your typical Englishwoman of the time. For one thing, she’s devoured all of her father’s scientific books, so she knows far more about subjects like biology and anatomy than any proper young lady should know. She’s a spinster. She can negate supernatural powers with a touch. She’s also (*gasp*) half Italian. Shocking.

She’s surrounded by a cast of fun and quirky secondary characters, and let’s not leave out her love interest, Lord Conall Maccon. He’s single, gorgeous, and an Earl, which makes him the toast of London society despite his unfortunate Scottish heritage. He’s also a werewolf employed in the intelligence community, and he leads the investigation that forms the core of the plot. Miss Tarabotti, of course, does most of the actual work.

The plot itself is serviceable, but it’s not the novel’s strongest point. In fact, I guessed who the ultimate villains would be as soon as they were mentioned. They were also flatter characters than our hero and heroine and their friends. And some of the final resolution was just a little too pat. I found it wasn’t the story that kept me turning pages, it was Miss Tarabotti and the narration.

Here and there I had a few technical quibbles. Point of view switching in the middle of a scene. Occasional misused words. However, I was having so much fun with the book that I overlooked those.

I did have one big issue with the romantic relationship, and I can’t tell you what it was because it would be a spoiler. Now, if you know me, you know romance is often not my thing, but I’m fine with it as long as everybody involved acts like a rational human being (I can’t stand storylines where our heroine mentally reverts to a 13-year-old maturity level as soon as she meets the hero). In Soulless, nobody became suddenly immature. I actually thought the romance was handled very well except for that one spoiler I can’t reveal. Sorry.

Overall, this novel was a treat. I’ve already flipped back through more than once to reread particularly delicious scenes. Soulless will be taking its rightful place on my bookshelf.

Book two in this series, Changeless, releases on March 31, 2010.

NOTE: I’m not the one who thinks there’s anything wrong with being Italian or Scottish. That’s the prevailing opinion among London socialites in the book.

Giveaway – Spellwright by Blake Charlton!

Tor has offered to give away a copy of Spellwright by Blake Charlton, which Superwench reviewed (and loved!) below. To enter, either:

  • leave a comment (making sure you enter your accurate email address), or
  • send me an email to tia dot nevitt at gmail dot com. If you email me, please also include your snail mail address. It saves a lot of time in case you win. Put as the subject “Spellwright Giveaway”.

This contest is open to residents of the United States and Canada. The publicist was kind enough to explain the reason for this restriction — it has to do with overseas publishing rights.

I’ll let this contest run all week and will post the winner next Sunday.

CONTEST CLOSED!

Debut Review: The River Kings' Road


The River Kings’ Road

by Liane Merciel
Gallery Books
Hardcover – $26

I was excited to hear about Liane Merciel’s The River Kings’ Road because it has been a while since I’ve seen any debut epic fantasies by women.

The River Kings’ Road centers around a handful of characters. Brys is a mercenary, mostly motivated by his own self-interest, but who does rescue the infant son of his lord from a horrific attack during which an entire town is stripped of its blood. He manages to get away just before the spell goes off, but the infant has little chance of survival without its mother. But then, fate puts Odosse in his path, an unwed mother who gladly accepts the task of wetnursing young Wistan, even though he is the child of her enemy.

Shortly afterward, the Blessed Knight Kelland is recruited by the local lord to investigate what happened in the town. You can think of Kelland as a sort of paladin. He is famous in the area, known as the Burnt Knight because of his black skin. His friend and companion is Bitharn, a young female archer who is in love with him. This complicates things because Kelland is sworn to chastity — and his chastity is tied to his power.

And then we have Leferic, the conflicted young uncle to the poor Wistan. Leferic is a morally gray character. In fact, all the characters are gray to some extent — except maybe Kelland — but Leferic is the grayest of them all. His only friend in the world is Albric, who was his tutor and mentor, and who would do anything for him. Anything.

The point-of-view characters are everyone except Kelland and the main villain, the Maimed Witch. One of the problems I had with this novel is the choice of POV often prevented me from getting as emotionally into the plot as I would have liked. For example, we can only see Kelland’s struggles to remain morally pure through Bitharn’s eyes. Brys is so morally ambiguous that his actions often made me wince. I did like him, anyway. We only get in his head a little bit, where we learn about a very interesting woman who does not make an appearance in this novel. Many pages in the opening chapters are given to Leferic, but I didn’t think that every scene was necessary and I kept wanting to move on to the other characters. Odosse is very likable, but she comes across as simpleminded at first. And because we are never behind Kelland’s eyeballs, we must witness the final battle through another character’s eyes.

The strengths in this novel are the difficult choices that all of the characters face. Brys struggles with his own self-interest vs. a sense of honor that he seems to want to stifle. Leferic struggles with the consequences of his actions. Albric struggles between his sense of honor and his sense of love and duty toward Leferic. Bitharn struggles with her desires. And Odosse has more than one heart-rending decision to make. Kelland was the most fascinating character. He’s a man out of place for two reasons, his race and his Blessed status. I did wish we could have spent some time in his point-of-view.

The Maimed Witch is probably one of the most evil, well-conceived and horrific villains I’ve ever come across. One both pities her and is horrified by her. And she ends up having an unexpected and intriguing (if indirect) connection to one of the other characters.

It might be easy to pigeonhole these characters into typical fantasy tropes, except they don’t fit there comfortably. Leferic isn’t your typical evil and ambitious young lord. He seems capable of redemption. There’s no trope that you could ever place Odosse in. Bitharn does seem similar to characters like Valaria from the Conan the Barbarian movie, but without the kick-assitude. Kelland can be seen as a sort of Galahad, but not really. Galahad was never tempted. Maybe he’s more like Lancelot. But not really. Brys might be seen as a warrior with a heart of gold, but I’m not sure if he has a heart of gold. And the maimed witch? Dang. I can’t pigeonhole her anywhere.

The ending took the novel in a direction I didn’t expect at all. It did make sense, but the direction of upcoming novels might swerve away from certain characters. Odosse, for example, seems quite fixed by the end of the novel, and it’s hard to see her having a large part in the next novel. Bitharn, certainly will take center stage and possibly Brys as well.  I don’t get any sense of how many books are planned in this series; it’s simply called A Novel of Ithelas.

Ultimately, I would have liked to have felt a better sense of connection to the characters. I would like to have seen more pages devoted to Kelland and Bitharn, and fewer devoted to Leferic and Albric. I’m not a big fan of the George R. R. Martin style of multiple viewpoints, and the only novel I’ve really loved that has employed this technique is David Anthony Durham’s Acacia series. The shorter length of this novel (348 pages) doesn’t seem to support the multi-viewpoint technique. Yes, I’m complaining that the novel was not long enough. Give me at equivalent time between all the characters if they are all going to have equal weight.

My problem with this novel was probably me. Given the choice between a character development epic and a multi-viewpoint epic, I’ll take the character development epic every time. If you enjoy the multi-POV storytelling style, then there is much to enjoy in The River King’s Road.