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Archie Greene and the Magician’s Secret by D. D. Everest takes you into a world where bookshelves are enchanted, librarians have magical powers, and spells aren’t just something to read about in dusty tomes. It’s ideal for kids around the age of 10 who perhaps enjoyed the magic of Harry Potter, but it can also can be enjoyed as a family read with younger children who’ll be excited by mysterious apparitions and strange goings-on.
Various Archie Green covers – from L-R: UK paperback, UK hardback, US
Archie Greene receives a curious birthday present; an old wooden box containing a book written in a language he can’t read, along with the command to return this book to its rightful place on the shelves in the Secret Library. This is the first step on Archie’s journey to meet the family he never knew he had and a band of people dedicated to finding and saving magic books.
Atmospheric and exciting, I enjoyed this book so much I’ve since recommended it to several children in my 8-12 bookgroup. With a paperback edition hitting bookshelves early in June I took the opportunity to interview D.D. Everest about this book.
Playing by the book: Archie Greene and the Magician’s Secret is a wonderful fantasy novel. What is it about fantasy as a genre that appeals to you? I’m especially curious because of your background as a journalist and non-fiction writer, both of which seem to be about as distant as you can get from fantasy… which is maybe part of the answer?
D. D. Everest
D. D. Everest: You’re right. One of the (many) reasons I love the fantasy genre is that it is so far removed from my other work as a journalist. When you deal with dry facts all day it is such a treat to escape to another world of magic and adventure.
But I have always loved magical fantasy. My favourite books growing up were the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. What I love most about those books is the depth and detail that Tolkien gives to the world he creates, the layering of the stories and the myths and the cultures that he describes.
Playing by the book: I love books where true facts coincide with the story and this very much happens in Archie Greene and the Magician’s Secret; John Dee really did exist and was Elizabeth 1’s adviser, and there was indeed a Library of Alexandria which was destroyed by fire. What other truths have you smuggled in to your story? (What other truths did you discover during your research which you would like to have included in your story)
D. D. Everest: I think including real facts and places grounds a story. It connects it to the real world so it feels like you can almost touch it. It’s something I really wanted to do with the Archie books. Using history is a great way to give the story some of that depth that I mentioned before.
John Dee, who is in the first Archie book, was a real person. He was described as Queen Elizabeth I’s court magician. He really did collect books about magic and he did think he could talk to angels. The Great Library of Alexandria is also historically accurate, although the part about Alexander the Great’s magical book collection being kept there is just wishful thinking!
Another historical detail I included in the book is the Great Fire of London. In Archie’s world, the fire was started by a magical experiment that went wrong. That plays a big part in the second book Archie Greene and the Alchemists’ Secret.
Playing by the book: With another hat on you’ve written several non-fiction books. How has writing fiction compared? What’s been more difficult about writing fiction? And what has been more enjoyable? Do you still write non-fiction?
D. D. Everest: Writing fiction is much harder, especially fantasy because you are creating a whole world from your imagination. That world has to be plausible enough for people to believe in it and exciting enough for them to want to read about it.
Writing children’s books is the most challenging of all. Having said that, I don’t write for children as such. I write what I’d like to read. But I hope children will enjoy it.
The best thing about writing for children is that they have such rich imaginations that you have lots of licence to be creative. So, you have a big canvas. But the other side of that is they have very high expectations. They question everything in a way that adults don’t, which means they could get ahead of the plot or find holes in the logic. So you have to work really hard at that.
Playing by the book: Can you share a little of the research you did for Archie Greene and the Magician’s Secret – I imagine you spent time exploring the back streets of Oxford and visiting atmospheric libraries, perhaps even learning some bookbinding skills?
D. D. Everest: Luckily, I was doing some work at the university when I was writing the first book so I was in Oxford quite a lot. I wandered around at night taking lots of photos with my phone. I sometimes show the pictures when I do school events. Again, it grounds the story and makes it feel real.
For example, there is a description of when Archie first goes to the magical bookshop and he crosses a cobbled square and goes into some narrow lanes. If you go to Oxford it is very easy to find that cobbled square!
Playing by the book: Libraries play an important role in Archie Greene and the Magician’s Secret. Can you share a memory/experience of libraries and the role they’ve played in your life?
D. D. Everest: Most of my memories of libraries are of being told to be quiet because I was talking too loudly! That’s probably why I wanted the Museum of Magical Miscellany to be a noisy place, full of children laughing. Books should be exciting and fun. And magical books should be even more exciting and fun, so that’s how I imagined the Museum.
I have been lucky to see some famous libraries like the British Library, which are fabulous places. I’ve always wanted to have my own library – with revolving bookcases and secret passages. Perhaps I will one day!
Playing by the book: Did you always want to be a writer? If you weren’t a writer, would you rather be? (A professional football coach, perhaps?)
D. D. Everest: I have always wanted to be a writer ever since I was very young. I didn’t really know it at the time but looking back I can see it now. I was the kid who wrote pages and pages when the teacher asked us to write a story. My stories were always too long and complicated to finish in the lesson time. I still do that!
When I’m not writing I manage a junior football team. Most of them have been with me since they were about six – they are now 17. They are a great bunch. I’m not sure how good a manager I would be but I do enjoy it, especially on match days.
Playing by the book: What’s the most magical (in any sense) book you’ve read recently?
D. D. Everest: I really enjoyed Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell. It is very imaginative and beautifully written. The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman, is so original. The other really clever book I’ve just read is Lockwood & Co. The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud. He’s a great writer – I loved his Bartimaeus series.
One of many interior illustrations by James de la Rue ffor the hardback edition of Archie Greene and the Magician’s Secret
Playing by the book: What magic trick would you most like to be able to perform?
D. D. Everest: I’d like to be able to vanish, so I could avoid people I don’t want to talk to. I’d love to have a permission wall around my study, too, like the one that protects the Museum of Magical Miscellany so that only people with the secret mark could come in. But best of all I’d love to be able to talk to magical books like Archie!
Playing by the book: Oh, yes I’m with you on that one! Here’s keeping our fingers crossed that such magic comes our way!
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Over the past couple months I’ve looked at both of Satoshi Mizukami’s works that are available in English, Spirit Circle and Hoshi no Samidare: The Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer, and my feelings on Biscuit Hammer were rather lukewarm. I felt like Spirit Circle improved on all of the problems I had with the story but that was expected, ... Read more
Leigh Goff is a talented Young Adult author who blends fantasy and romance into her remarkable stories. Her latest book Disenchanted releases through Mirror World Publishing in print and eBook on June 1. The kitchen is all yours, Leigh!
These cookies are just what a white witch like sixteen-year-old Sophie Greensmith from my debut YA fantasy, Disenchanted, would bake after a long day of concocting potions with exotic flowers from her aunt’s enchanted garden. Disenchanted takes place in Wethersfield, Connecticut, the home of the first American witch trials (not Salem!). As descendants of the original witches, Sophie and her aunt practice white magic and work in a little shop called Scents and Scentsabilities. Their organic bath and body products like Tulips to Kiss Stick to lushify lips and Forever First Love Lip Balm to lock in that true love are crafted to benefit the ordinaries in town. However, not all of the ordinaries approve and when danger catches up to Sophie, she’s left with an impossible choice—turning to black magic, a forever choice, to save the life of her forbidden first love. Will her true love still want her when her heart is touched by darkness?
This yummy recipe from the Foothill House B&B in California includes ginger to soothe the stomach, cinnamon to reduce puffiness, and walnuts to help you deal with stress.
1 cup unsalted butter 1½ cups light brown sugar, firmly packed 1 egg, room temperature 1 tsp. vanilla 2 cups unbleached flour 1 tsp. baking soda 1 tsp. cinnamon 1 tsp. ground ginger ½ tsp. salt 12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips 1 cup chopped walnuts 1 cup powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 375ºF.
Cream butter and mix in brown sugar, egg, and vanilla in a medium-sized bowl.
Combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger and salt and blend into butter mixture.
Fold in chocolate chips and walnuts (Sometimes I leave these out or substitute pecans.).
Refrigerate until dough is firm.
Lightly grease baking sheets.
Break off small pieces of dough and roll into 1" rounds. Dredge in powdered sugar.
Arrange on prepared baking sheets at least 2" apart.
Bake 10 minutes.
Cool 5 minutes on the sheets before transferring to racks to cool completely.
Store in airtight container. Yields 6 dozen cookies
Here is a brief intro to my novel that appeals to people of all ages. I hope you like it, too.
A forbidden love. A dark curse. An impossible choice...
Descended from a powerful Wethersfield witch, sixteen-year-old Sophie is struggling to hide her awkwardly emerging magic, but that’s the least of her worries. When a dangerous thief tries to steal her mysterious heirloom necklace, she is rescued by the one person she’s forbidden to fall for, a descendant of the man who condemned her ancestor to hang. He carries a dark secret that could destroy them both unless Sophie learns how to tap into the mysterious power of her diamond bloodcharm. She will have to uncover dark secrets from both of their families' wicked pasts and risk everything, including her soul to save them from a witch's true love curse, but it will take much more than that.
Leigh Goff loves writing young adult fiction with elements of magic and romance because it's also what she liked to read. Born and raised on the East Coast, she now lives in Maryland where she enjoys the area's great history and culture.
Leigh is a graduate of the University of Maryland, University College and a member of the Maryland Writers' Association and Romance Writers of America. She is also an approved artist with the Maryland State Arts Council. Her debut novel, Disenchanted, was inspired by the Wethersfield witches of Connecticut and was released by Musa Publishing in December 2014. Leigh is currently working on her next novel, The Witch's Ring which is set in Annapolis.
Forest Queen is the first tales fantastic story where you can listen to the story as well as read it. The audio version of the story is posted above in the youtube video. The video is called the Tales Fantastic Podcast but it’s not actually a podcast yet. In order for me to host the audio file so you can download it as a subscription on itunes and other podcast platforms it costs money. Currently I’m only $8 away from my goal on patreon that will pay for the media host. If you want to listen to the stories at a podcast I hope you’ll check out Patreon.com/manelleoliphant so see how you can make it so.
The day started out like any other. I broke my fast in the dim light of dawn and headed into the forest with my cart in tow. Throughout the morning I chopped a large tree, which had been my project during the previous few days. It’s wood only filled my cart halfway. I had a few hours before the market closed and wanted enough wood to sell, as well as keep my own family warm. So, I wandered southward instead of toward town. I’d never been that direction, but the trees looked old. Experience told me older trees meant more fallen branches, and I looked forward to an easy afternoon of work.
As I traveled the trees grew larger. The occasional bits of sun breaking through the forest canopy echoed off the plants below and gave the whole scene a green glow. The fresh smell of wild flowers hung in the air. Squirrels, deer, and rabbits watched me without fear. There were no predatory animals among them. There were many birds as well. They flitted through the trees singing. I never saw a fallen branch or log. The lack of forest litter had me second-guessing my decision to go that way, but the forest looked so old. I reasoned I’d find what I needed before long. I felt safe there, and wanted to linger. I pulled out my lunch and made myself comfortable on a tree’s root.
While I ate I took a closer look at the forest around me. There were still no fallen leaves or dead branches, and the day was wearing on. I realized if I was going to have enough wood by the day’s end I’d have to start from scratch. I looked around at the huge straight trunks. Most of these trees were too big for me to harvest alone. In the distance though, I saw a smaller tree. I could chop it down on my own, and still fill my cart for the next few days.
I pulled my cart over to it’s base. I examined the tree and the surrounding area with my well-trained eye. I saw where to hit, and how the tree would fall. With the plan in place, I raised my ax.
A strong wind blew in circles around me and the bird’s chirped louder. I heard the chatter of other animals too. I lowered my ax. The animals silenced and the wind calmed. The hush after such commotion made the forest feel hollow. I shuttered, but raised my ax again. The animal’s chatter started up at a greater volume than before and a gust of wind blew me against the tree. I shook my head to clear it. Feeling spooked I resolved to leave. As I leaned to pick up my ax from where I’d dropped it, another blast of wind slammed my head against the trunk.
When I woke, I lay on the mossy ground. My head swam as I sat up. I rolled to hands and knees and looked around. An eerie red light had replaced the dancing green one from before, and a thick fog rolled over the ground. Deer, raccoons, rabbits, and every kind of forest beast stood in a circle around me. I saw with dismay wolves, bears, and other predatory animals stood next to their gentler counterparts. I used the tree to help me stand.
“Woodcutter,” said a clear voice from behind me, “why do you enter my forest and attempt to break the pact I made with humans in eons past?”
I turned around. A beautiful woman sat before me on an ancient stone throne. She seemed larger than life; her dark hair fell wild, and branches grew from her head. She looked exactly as the forest queen is described in all our stories. She even held the staff of life with an unbroken egg affixed to it’s top. Powerful forces emanated from it, giving the forest life.
I flung myself at her feet. “Great Lady, I ask your pardon, and plead ignorance. I did not know you protected this part of the forest.”
“All the signs were there for you to see. I even commanded my wolves and bears to leave you alone. They could have eaten you, but I bid them not, as I felt you respected the forest and it’s kind.”
“I’m sorry. In my thoughts for my family’s welfare I neglected to see the signs. My only thought was for the food and warmth more wood could provide.”
She stared down at me. “I know humans often make mistakes. I also know you use wood to survive in your mortal bodies. That is why you are allowed your own portion of forest to do with what you will, but you may not mar the trees in my realm. Many years have made them wise and removing them from this world would be an irreversible mistake. Today you may go, but if you enter my woods a second time you will not live to come out.”
I nodded. “Thank you, I understand.”
As I spoke a soft breeze put me back to sleep. I woke up in a more familiar part of the forest. Pine needles littered the ground and the air felt crisp and empty, unlike the cozy feel of theair in the queen’s realm. My belongings sat next to me. I fingered the bump where I’d hit my head and groaned. A headache already pounded in my brain. The sun set as I trudged home, and told my wife what had happened.
She examined the bump on my head. “Do you think it was a dream?”
“I’m not sure, but I’ll never head into that part of the forest again.”
Since then I am more careful how I get my wood. I seek the ground harder for trees and branches felled by nature. Sometimes, when I pay attention, the wind blows me one way or another. When I follow it, I always find what I am looking for. I believe it’s the Forest Queen helping me keep my family fed, and protecting her forest at the same time.
The Wrath and the Dawn is a retelling of A Thousand and One Nights. I was curious to read it, because how do you make a guy who kills a young girl before dawn breaks a sympathetic character? And why does a young woman with her whole life ahead of her volunteer to be one of the Caliph’s doomed brides? When I first started reading this, it did not hold my attention, and I thought that Shazi’s stories weren’t compelling enough to save her from her ghastly fate. But once Shazi and Khalid started doing something other than staring warily at each other in Shazi’s quarters, the plot took off. Both characters were given depth and faults and reasons for their behavior. After a romantic interlude in the market, I couldn’t put it down.
Shazi has volunteered to become Khalid’s latest bride. She knows that she probably won’t live to see the dawn, since he has been murdering scores of young brides for weeks. Her best friend was one of his victims, and Shazi wants revenge. She gives up her old life, and her old love, in an attempt to find out why Khalid is killing his wives. She wants to stop him, so no one else will have to suffer the fate of those innocent girls. During her wedding night, she begins to tell her murderous husband a story, stopping at a cliffhanger and refusing to speak any further until the next evening. Her ploy works, and Khalid doesn’t have her killed. Score one for the clever Shazi.
Khalid has been cursed, and he frets that if he doesn’t take a new life every dawn, his people will suffer. There is something about Shazi that stays his hand, however, and makes him tempt fate. She proves to be incredibly clever and brave, and she is everything that the Caliph’s spouse should be. She cares about the welfare of his subjects, and as she gets to know Khalid, she begins to care about him. It did drive me crazy that they both kept so many secrets from each other, and that it took until almost the end of the book for him to tell her why he was killing the girls, but I am not known for my patience.
While Shazi is attempting to solve the mystery behind Khalid’s behavior and put a stop to it, her task is complicated by her childhood friend, Tareq. At first I was afraid there would be a love-triangle, but thankfully it was more one-sided. Shazi was too intent on obtaining her revenge to spare romantic thoughts for Tareq. Yes, she felt guilty once she was drawn to Khalid, and yes, she was torn by her loyalty to Tareq, but once he shows up on the scene, he only seems to get in the way of Shazi’s plans. He keeps interfering, and she just wants him to go back home. What she doesn’t know is that he has started a rebellion against the Caliph. There are many people upset by the murders, as well as power hungry individuals just waiting for their chance to make a power grab.
I liked Shazi because she doesn’t just sit around waiting for someone else to solve her problems. She’s courageous and willing to put her life on the line to stop Khalid from killing again. I liked Khalid, too, because it’s obvious that he’s suffering horribly from the things he’s done, but he doesn’t know how to put things to rights. Add in some action, lots of angst, and a couple who come to care for each other despite all of the challenges facing them, and you have a book that is hard to put down. Fair warning: this doesn’t end so much as it just stops. If I had realized it was a series, I probably would have waited until it was finished before I started it.
Grade: B / B+
Review copy provided by publisher
A sumptuous and epically told love story inspired by A Thousand and One Nights
Every dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. So it is a suspicious surprise when sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid. But she does so with a clever plan to stay alive and exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and countless other girls. Shazi’s wit and will, indeed, get her through to the dawn that no others have seen, but with a catch . . . she’s falling in love with the very boy who killed her dearest friend.
She discovers that the murderous boy-king is not all that he seems and neither are the deaths of so many girls. Shazi is determined to uncover the reason for the murders and to break the cycle once and for all.
Top Ten Tuesday is a meme created by The Broke and the Bookish. This week was a “choose your own topic” week so, me being me, I chose Top Ten Girl Power Fantasies. Graceling by Kristin Cashore Katsa’s grace is killing and in many ways she personifies the “Strong Female Character” trope. But the presence of romance is nearly always a must in my fantasy books and I love Katsa’s journey because she learns that having love and having independence are not mutually exclusive. You can be a traditional bad ass and also be invested in the traditionally feminine. Plus, I sure would love to have her with me in a zombie apocalypse. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine The first fantasy novel I read and I adored it! This also remains one of my favorite works of feminist fiction to this day (and what a great intro... Read more »
Last night's episode was a real downer. My first reaction was, "Well, that was depressing," but as I think about and process it, I have some different thoughts. There will spoilers here, so if you haven't watched the episode yet, I recommend you leave now.
As a clarification, I've only read the first two books in A Song of Ice and Fire, so I can't discuss this episode in relation to the books. However, since the showrunners have made it clear that they aren't strictly following the books anymore, I don't think it's overly relevant.
I think the key to understanding this episode is the title, "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken." While of course that's the motto of House Martell, I think the producers are also telling us something. (And often the GoT episode titles seem to have more than one meaning.)
As I said to my husband immediately afterwards, "For an episode called Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken, there sure were a lot of bowed, bent, and broken people." However, on further consideration, I'm not sure that's true.
Tyrion and Ser Jorah are captured by slavers. However, Tyrion works his magic with a little help from Ser Jorah in the right places, and the two of them are now headed where they wanted to go anyway. Jaime and Bronn end up captured, but Bronn takes it in stride with usual Bronn-ness: "You fight pretty good for a little girl." And I hope that Jaime learned his lesson from the last time he was a prisoner and won't lose another hand.
A quick aside on the sand snakes: I haven't got far enough in the books to read about the sand snakes, but I had heard about them, and as a former martial artists and a fan of women warriors, I was very much looking forward to seeing them. So far, though, I have to say I'm disappointed. Although it's clear they can fight, they've been pretty ineffective so far, and there's not even enough character development for me to tell them apart.
I think that Ser Loras and Queen Margaery fared the worst in this episode. You might say Sansa fared worst, but more on that in a minute. Lady Olenna will use her considerable personal and House resources do what she can (although it is somewhat worrisome that Cercei sent Mace off right before implementing this plot) and while Tommen may be the Most Ineffective King Ever, he's pretty besotted with Margaery, so maybe this will wake him up. However, I fear for Loras. As the show's token gay character, he's been treated pretty poorly by the showrunners. I fear that Loras won't survive this, but even if he does, will the showrunners let him become, as the article I linked above says, “a knight and a son of House Tyrell, who happens to be gay" or will he continue to just be "the gay character"?
Finally, I want to talk about the most talked about scene of the episode: Ramsey Bolton's wedding night rape of Sansa. The scene was vile and repulsive, and like everyone else, I was hoping that Stannis would arrive in time to stop the travesty. Viscerally and emotionally I hate it. But on thinking about it, I don't believe that Sansa was as much a victim as she appeared to be. As awful as it was, Sansa made the choice to go through with this wedding. While Littlefinger may be using her for his own ends, his talk with her about using the situation to regain her birthright seems to have resonated with her.
Remember that this isn't Sansa's first experience with a sadist. This is not the young Sansa with dreams of a fairy tale wedding. This is an older, wiser, more experienced Sansa who has survived Joffrey and Cercei and knows the worst that humans are capable of. This Sansa is a survivor. And thanks to Myranda's attempts at manipulation, she has some idea of what she's getting into. She has options - she knows she could have lit a candle at the top of the broken tower. But she chooses to go through with it for the sake of her birthright, her people, and hopefully for a chance to avenge her family. And Sansa knows as well as anyone that an unconsummated marriage can be annulled, so she endures the rape - with a witness even - to cement her place at Winterfell. When Sansa tells Myranda, "I'm Sansa Stark of Winterfell and you don't frighten me," I have to think that in her mind she was saying that to Ramsey as well. I hope that somewhere not to far down the road, Sansa will stick a dagger in Ramsey. I also think that alternating Sansa's scenes with Arya's was intentional. Even though their roads are very different, they are both in the process of becoming someone else.
Was the scene gratuitous and unnecessary? Maybe, I'm not sure. It does seem like GoT has a disturbing pattern of violence against women, but then GoT has plenty of disturbing violence overall, and yet I still watch it. I'm not sure if this scene was any worse than what the rest of Sansa's family has been subjected to, not to mention many other characters. You want to talk about horrifying? One of the most horrifying things to me was Theon's killing and burning the miller's sons as stand-ins for Bran and Rickon. Theon in turn was the victim of horrifying violence by Ramsey. It broke Theon, but I don't think that Ramsey will break Sansa in the same way.
Personally, I hate the prison that most women in Westeros are forced into. For most, with some notable exceptions, marriage is their only option, most likely a marriage not of their own choosing. As much as we hate Cersei, Queen of Manipulators, we also have to remember that as a young woman she was forced into marriage with Robert Baratheon. But although I hate it, it's also a reflection of the life that many, if not most, women throughout history have been forced to lead. Violence against women is a reality; should we pretend that it doesn't exist?
When we talk about strong female characters in books and movies, we're usually talking about women warriors or leaders of some type. But I think it takes a particular strength to endure rape, forced marriage, or other violences perpetrated against women and to survive, to live, and to move forward. In our outrage and our disgust, in characterizing Sansa merely as a victim, I fear that we are missing the point that Sansa Stark is one of the strongest characters on the show.
Paperback: 360 pages Publisher: Two Harbors Press Language: English ISBN-10: 937293645
Genre: fantasy, action and adventure
The Kingdom on the Edge of Reality
The Kingdom on the Edge of Reality takes the shape of a fantasy story full of action and adventure. There is a small kingdom set aside in time and space, saintly king, evil duke, prophecy and unlikely hero. The book is about a real kingdom set up in the present day by a wealthy eccentric in the Canadian wilderness; there is no magic, no bizarre weapons or fantastic creatures. Everything that takes place is the story is possible and plausible. Among other things it’s a serious book about the human predicament and lies across several genres, or maybe falls through the cracks between several genres, and that's what makes it unique.
When Gahan started writing The Kingdom on the Edge of Reality,it had a different title, certain characters, which were present in early project ideas, didn’t make it into the final work. Several scenes took place in locales that disappeared. Gahan was not afraid to just mess around and try all sorts of different approaches because that is the magic brew that what you are looking for will arise out of. He recommended that other authors work on paper with a ballpoint pen. Writing involves many changes, scratching out and writing between the lines before you ever try to type it out on the computer. Whatever you do have fun and be patient with your creation.
He had created living characters the same way he used to create characters as a ‘method’ actor in his previous career in the theatre. Through the characters own ingenuity and perseverance, chapter-by-chapter the new story unfolded. Some of them lost their lives solving the problem, and he regretted he was not being able to save them, but they made their own decisions. The only veto power he exercised was if they decided to sit down to eat and talk things over and the action began to drag, he would send in a messenger with some bad news to bring them to their feet again.
There was also a time during which he had to set the whole project aside. This made the story ten times better.
Teenagers and adults who enjoy King Arthur-like stories, castles, battles and life-threatening quests will enjoy this Arthurian saga. The Kingdom on the Edge of Reality is not only an escapist adventure but at times creates cultural controversy.
Gahan Hanmer's creativity and gift for storytelling came from his background in theatre. Creativity ran in the family, Gahan mother and uncle were well known actors. He developed his talent exclusively as a theater artist, working with many inspired teachers and directors
The result was the following:
What Readers are Saying... "The mark of a modern classic is a story line handled with such originality that it cannot be imitated. Like Lord of the Flies or The Last Unicorn, The Kingdom on the Edge of Reality is in a class by itself; it is one of a kind. --- Diane K. Stevenson, PhD "
About Gahan Hanmer
Gahan speaks French and Spanish and has a Master of Fine Arts degree from Columbia University. He unintentionally became a grown-up raising two beloved daughters and now lives in the high chaparral desert of California. The Kingdom on the Edge of Reality is available at: Amazon, and on his website. Ask Gahan Hanmer questions by visiting his website at http://thekingdomontheedgeofreality.com/contact.htm.
Sir Leo was glad to see me and shook my hand warmly. I had caught up with him in the field outside the walls where he was practicing with a bow and arrow. “Do you shoot?” he asked me.
“I haven’t since I was a boy.”
He handed me his bow and quiver and watched me put two arrows in the target and scatter five or six others in the grass beyond it.
“That was not too good,” he said, holding out his hand for the bow. In one fluid motion he nocked and drew and loosed and that arrow sprang into the bullseye like it couldn’t wait to do anything he wanted it to.
“That’s fantastic, Leo,” I said, and he grinned with pleasure. “How did you learn to do that?”
“Well, I taught myself. Or you could say I learned it from the birds. Have you ever wished you could fly?”
“I made myself miserable with envy watching the birds when I was a boy. But when I discovered archery, I realized there was more than one way to ride the wind. If my body couldn’t do it, my spirit could. Here, take this arrow and throw it at the target.”
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Edie knew this was the end of the line. One step off the bridge would take her from the misery her current life to a world of nothingness. But someone else has another plan for Edie…
Going to a private school, Edie Kramer knows the difference between her and the Teflon crew – those gorgeous and popular students everyone loves and wants to be like. But one day would change Edie’s life. What they did to her was unforgivable and if Edie could teach them a lesson she would. But really, what kind of lesson could she, Edith Kramer, science nerd extraordinaire, do to Cameron, Allie and rest of the crew? Riddled with pain and a sense of complete loneliness Edie has made her decision to jump, until Kian guides her down and gives her an intriguing option.
Edie can’t believe a guy like Kian would even care about her. He was one of those guys who turns girls, and even, women’s heads because of his unbelievable looks. Why would he be so interested in her? When he tells her why he’s there, she can’t believe it’s real. She gets three favors to use within five years and in return…she will owe three favors. After going through every possible situation trying to debunk Kian’s offer, Edie realizes he’s offering her the truth and once she agrees, a sign is burned onto her wrist. She now belongs to the firm of Wedderburn, Mawer & Graf. And revenge is fresh in her mind…
Going through a complete physical transformation, Edie returns to Blackbriar with a different mindset and agenda. Beyond beautiful, she starts a new year at high school slowly working her way into the Teflon crew to make them pay. But horrible things begin to happen to them – coincidence or not? On top of it all, she begins to see horrible things…crazy who want to grab her only to disappear; three dark creatures who watch her from the street. And then Kian tells her the other truth. Edie is now a pawn between two evil entities, but why? And what’s the outcome for them both when there isn't a good side to help?
Ann Aguirre delivers a dark novel of love, revenge and survival in her latest. She fills the pages with fantastically evil creatures the reader must guess if they’re human, chimeras, or real monsters; what a shift in paradigm or reality. The strength of the main character, Edie, derives from the fact that although her façade changes, who she is doesn't, which put her and the plot into a juxtaposition. Part reality, part fantasy, this book is full-on amazing and will read fast. Recommended for high school.
Sometimes I wonder what on earth is wrong with me. Is it the expectation? I don't think so. There are plenty of books that are super-hyped that I end up loving right along with everyone else. But every once in awhile, everyone I know absolutely adores a book, and I just don't get it at all.
Such is the case with a recent UBER-HYPED releases.
Ugh. Here it goes...
Yep. The infamous ACOTAR. Let
This is a series I would have completely missed out on if I hadn’t received an email from the publicist about it. Since I’m going through a fantasy phase, I thought I’d give it a shot, and I’m so glad I did. It’s a very fast read, I liked the protagonists immensely, and there’s enough court intrigue that it kept me guessing.
Celine and Amelie Fawe are trying to eke out a living in their little village, which has been impoverished by the noble in control of it. After Celine’s mother died, Celine did her best to run their apothecary shop, and while selling herbs brings in some cash, and she enjoys that aspect of the business, the big money is in fortunetelling. Her mother was a gifted seer, and with her gone, Celine pretends to be one. Clever and observant, she asks leading questions and gives vague enough answers that her customers are satisfied. When a young man asks her advice about who he should marry, she has no way of knowing that her response will cause so much grief for both herself and the young man.
When she’s ordered to advise a young woman to marry Sub-Prince Damek, and paid handsomely to do so, Celine experiences her first real vision. Much to her horror, it reveals a ghastly end for the noblewoman if she does marry the cruel Damek, the man responsible for so much of the misery afflicting her village. Unable to live with herself if she does as she’s ordered, she advises the young woman to reject the offer. Later that evening, the sisters’ shop is set on fire, and assassins attempt to kill them.
Unknown to Damek’s people or Celine and Amelie, Sub-Prince Anton has been spying on his cruel older brother. Anton’s soldiers save the girls and take them to Anton’s castle. Under his safekeeping, Anton has a proposition for them; if they can solve the mysterious deaths plaguing young women in his city, he’ll allow them to take over operation of the apothecary shop in town, which has been abandoned since the apothecary died the previous summer. Tempted by both the prosperity of Anton’s holdings, and by the shop itself, Celine agrees to help him. If word of his inability to protect his subjects reaches his father, he’s afraid that he will not be named heir, and that his awful brother Damek will instead.
Celine’s dishonesty from that seeing years ago is back to bite her in the butt. Anton was the lad she advised, and things did not turn out well for him. His young bride died, and he’s been a train wreak since. He looks weak willed and emotionally distraught, and I thought he needed to worry more about his personal image than catching the mysterious murderer. Everyone thought he was on the edge of a breakdown, and he wasn’t exactly my idea of the guy I’d want in charge of a kingdom. While he’s a wise leader and compassionate, he’s also sickly and more an object to pity than one to follow.
The Mist-Torn Witches worked for me because I liked Celine and Amelie so much. They are both smart and independent, and they empower each other. They also have different strengths and weaknesses, and both play a huge part in solving the mystery plaguing Anton’s court. As Celine has visions of death after death, she becomes frantic trying to save the girls from their horrible fates. This drives a wedge between Celine and Amelie, and then between Celine and almost everyone else in the story. She wonders what good her visions are if she can’t change the future to save one innocent life.
I polished this off in two sittings, and if I have any complaint, it’s with the ending. The story just kind of peters out, which made me immediately borrow the next book, Witches in Red, from the library (so I guess it served it’s purpose!). I like a little more closure than I got here, but I loved this book anyway. If you liked A Dreamer’s Pool by Juliet Marillier, I think you will enjoy The Mist-Torn Witches, too. While the story isn’t as heavy or as dark, there is a similar feeling to both.
Review copy provided by publisher
National bestselling author Barb Hendee presents a dark, fascinating new world and the story of two sisters who will discover they have far more power than they ever envisioned….
In a small village in the nation of Droevinka, orphaned sisters Céline and Amelie Fawe scrape out a living selling herbal medicines in their apothecary shop. Céline earns additional money by posing as a seer and pretending to read people’s futures.
But they exist in a land of great noble houses, all vying for power, and when the sisters refuse the orders of a warlord prince, they must flee and are forced to depend on the warlord prince’s brother, Anton, for a temporary haven.
A series of bizarre deaths of pretty young girls is plaguing the village surrounding Prince Anton’s castle. He offers Céline and Amelie permanent protection if they can use their “skills” to find the killer.
With little choice, the sisters enter a world unknown to them—of fine gowns and banquets and advances from powerful men. Their survival depends on catching a murderer who appears to walk through walls and vanish without a trace—and the danger grows with each passing night.
Long before the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon, Anne Rice was writing a raunchy series of erotic novels in the 1980s under the pseudonym A.N. Roquelaure. The Sleeping Beauty series contained the following three novels: The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty, Beauty’s Punishment and Beauty’s Release. The trilogy has been very successful for Anne Rice, and in the 1990s, […]
I want to thank and welcome wonderful and prolific middle grade and young adult author, Kai Strand for sharing her personal experiences on writing a book series and showcasing her YA fantasy/speculative series Super Villain Academy series with us on my blog today. So let’s get this interview with Kai rolling…KAPOW!
Where did you get your idea and inspiration to writeSuper Villain Academy series, Kai?
The inspiration started with the first book only. It was early on November 1st. I was sitting down to start my NaNoWriMo novel (write a novel in one month – nuts!). For the first time I’d outlined so I could be more prepared for fast drafting. Well…yeah. When I sat down I was struck with the thought, “Who trains the bad guys?” and Super Villain Academy was born. It turned into a series when the ending refused to change from a set up of a second book. So I decided I’d call the series Super Villain Academy and changed the name of the first book, King of Bad.
It’s amazing where authors get their ideas! How many books are you planning to write in this young adult fantasy/speculative fiction series?
There are three in the series. Polar Opposites is the second. Super Bad (releasing May 6th) is the final book.
Looking forward to it! What sets Super Villain Academyapart from other series in the same genre?
So many of the super hero/villain books are set in a middle grade setting, but these are definitely written for young adult readers. I like to call them PG-13. Also, my supers are born with their powers, not made into supers with a shot of gamma radiation. They discover them at different times in their lives, so some kids have been going to SVA (and other academies) since they were as young as twelve and others don’t join until they are sixteen or older.
You seem to have books for every age group, Kai! How long did it take for you to start and finish each book from Super Villain Academy?
King of Bad took the longest. Turns out when you write an entire novel in one month, it can be pretty messy! It took me five years to clean it up and get it under contract. Though, I wasn’t working on it exclusively. I don’t write only one book at a time. The other books took less than a year each to get them written, revised, and through the publishing channel.
Wow, I admire your stamina. What are some of your favorite book series, Kai?
·Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments and Infernal Devices series
·Maggie Stiefvater’s Wolves of Mercy Falls
·Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus series
·I’m really enjoying Brigid Kremmerer’s Elementals series. Close to teens with superpowers like my SVA series, without the super hero/villain aspect.
Great picks! Do you have any advice for other writers striving to write a series?
One of the benefits to writing a series is you really get to know your characters. Truly understanding them like that allows you to write them into and out of some crazy situations. It was very hard for me to finish the last book in the series because I loved writing those teenagers so much!
On the flipside, writing a series can feel limiting when you want to branch out. As I mentioned, I don’t write one book at a time, but even so, at the beginning of last year, I found myself plotting out the year’s writing projects and there wasn’t one new world or main character I was going to be attacking and I said to myself, “Whose idea was it to write series, anyway?” So be sure to throw a standalone into the mix now and again to keep yourself sane.
LOL! I’ll remember that sage advice. What’s next for Kai Strand the author?
Ha ha. A standalone. Currently titled EVERYTHING. YA romance. I loved writing Save the Lemmings (MG contemporary) and Finding Thor (YA romantic suspense). And because I don’t like to do the same thing twice, I’ve decided to change the way I write this newest one and really take some time with it. I don’t know what I expect to get out of a slower pace, but I suspect it will be different.
You certainly are an author of many talents, Kai, and I really admire that about you. Okay, here’s one for me, since I’m writing a time travel series—IF you could time travel into Earth’s past, WHO would you love to meet, and WHY?
I would become Mozart’s scribe. Oh my gosh, how much I would love to watch him compose. His mind must have been a marvel and I have always wanted to know how he got all of the layered, complicated music out of his head and onto paper. Plus, I’m pretty sure I’m taller than him – doesn’t happen often for me, so YAY!
Thanks for having me, Sharon!
You’re very welcome, Kai! And congrats on completing your awesome series! Bravo!
Super Villain Academy Books:
King of Bad (Super Villain Academy Bk 1)- Jeff Mean would rather set fires than follow rules. He wears his bad boy image like a favorite old hoodie; until he learns he has superpowers and is recruited by Super Villain Academy – where you learn to be good at being bad. Is Jeff bad enough for SVA?
Polar Opposites(Super Villain Academy Bk 2) - Heroes and villains are balanced. After Oceanus is kidnapped, Jeff learns the supers are so balanced, they no longer care to get involved. Ironically Jeff’s superpowers are spiraling out of control. Will they find Oci before he looses it completely, and will they find her alive?
Super Bad(Super Villain Academy Bk3) - The world is in chaos. Violence and thievery reign. And with the supers still balanced, it’s only getting worse. Without good versus evil, the supers care less and less. In order to restore purpose, the world needs its super heroes and its super villains, but the one who balanced them in the first place is missing.
When her children were young and the electricity winked out, Kai Strand gathered her family around the fireplace and they told stories, one sentence at a time. Her boys were rather fond of the ending, “And then everybody died. The end.” Now an award winning children’s author, Kai crafts fiction for kids and teens to provide an escape hatch from their reality. With a selection of novels for young adult and middle grade readers and short stories for the younger ones, Kai entertains children of all ages, and their adults. Learn more about Kai and her books on her website, www.kaistrand.com.
End of the week, and believe it or not, this is when things get real busy. Our weekends are usually socially full with friends, family, and yard work. So on Friday I try to get one more big push to paint or draw.
Everything else typically gets pushed to Monday. Because of our weekend schedules working on Saturday or Sunday nights becomes quite difficult, so it becomes easier to just not work and give my loved ones my attention.
It was mentioned on Twitter that I create a fairy delivering coffee. I couldn't let it go, being a big coffee person myself, and on a weekly basis wish there was a coffee delivery service here in Des Moines. At that, I just got started and let other projects go to the side. When you feel it, you must go with it. That's how you know it's from the heart. :)
It wasn't raining either, so Norah and I did some errands to Hobby Lobby, Target, then some weeding out back to get some vitamin D. Loved watching her play in the dirt (helping mom weed) and pick dandelions.
I worked on the coffee fairy during her morning nap (2.5 hours) and in the evening (2 hrs). Brian and I finished the night off with an episode of Dr. Who. ^_^
Well, it’s the end of an era isn’t it? I wasn’t even a little bit nervous that this book would fail to deliver on all the promise of its predecessors and I am so happy to tell you that I was right in my confidence. If you are looking for heart pounding action, a fierce but all too human heroine, the swooniest of swoons and, of course, intense creepiness you will find it, and more, in End of Days. Like World After, End of Days picks up almost immediately where its predecessor left off. Penryn is reunited with both Raffe and Paige, but they are still plagued with problems. The world is still a mess, overrun with angels, humans, and other monsters. Raffe still needs his wings back and Paige needs help steering back to humanity. As is to be expected this book is super creepy. You thought you’ve... Read more »
Series: The Luck Uglies (#2) Written by Paul Durham Illustrated by Pétur Antonsson HarperCollins Children’s Books 3/17/2015 978-0-06-227153-2 416 pages Age 9—14 X X “It’s not easy being the daughter of the High Chieftain of the Luck Uglies. Now an insidious new lawman in Drowning has declared Rye an outlaw from her own village, and she’s been exiled to the strange and remote Isle of Pest. But the island quickly feels much less remote when the battle to control the future of the Luck Uglies moves to its shores. To defeat the Luck Uglies’ bitterest rivals, Rye must defy a deranged earl, survive a test meant to judge the grit of the fiercest of men—and uncover some long-buried family secrets. And when Rye leads the charge to defend t island, she and her friends will meet an eerily familiar enemy . . . “ [book jacket]
Review In The Luck Uglies, Rye O’Chanter came to realize her family had been lying to her all her life. Nothing has changed. Rye learns there are many more family secrets. Rye also learned in The Luck Uglies that those she lives with, and around, are not who they appear to be. This, too, continues as new people enter Rye’s life. And the classic theme of good versus evil continues with a slight variation. This time, it’s good versus evil and evil versus evil, making the lines blurrier than ever.
The Luck Uglies
At the start of Fork-Tongue Charmers, Rye and her friends are anxiously awaiting Silvermas, and anticipating shoes overflowing with candy. On the eve of Silvermas, three strange, masked men knock on the O’Chanter door with a message: Harmless wants Rye to join him posthaste. Soon, the magical Silvermas Mud Sleigh arrives for Rye, but something is amiss. Meanwhile, Earl Longchance hires a new constable, Valant, who has a violent, vindictive reputation and fears no one. He immediately implements new rules and laws. Villagers who seemingly violate Valant’s strict and often unfair laws receive public humiliation and severe punishment at the Shaming Pole. Abby and Lottie move out of their home (and into the notorious Dead Fish Inn), after Valant burns down the Willow’s Wares. Once the Mud Sleigh is ravaged on Silvermas—with Rye aboard—Valant posts a new decree.
“PROCLAMATION OF EARL MORNINGWIG LONGCHANCE! Generous Rewards Offered for the Capture of Abigail O’Chanter and her Two Offspring! Wanted for Crimes Against the Shale!”
Once more, the relatively peaceful lives of Abby, Rye, and Lottie O’Chanter are disrupted as they, Folly, and Quinn are thrust into situations few could survive. Sent to the Isle of Pest—Abby’s childhood home—via the Slumgullion, a rickety pirating vessel navigated by an over-the-top Captain Dent, calm returns but questions continue. Refusing to cease when so close to victory, Earl Longchance follows the Slumgullion to Pest, and wages a surprise war against a group of peaceful people.
Where is Harmless? How far will Valant and Earl Longchance push the people of Drowning? What new secrets will Rye uncover? Will she ever get off the small Isle of Grit? OH, I’ve forgotten one important thing, who are the Fork-Tongue Charmers? These men are easy to identify, if they will open their mouths. They have willingly split their tongues like a snake. Slinister, the group’s aptly named leader, seeks revenge against Harmless, having no qualms about using a child in his scheme. One last piece of vital information; these Fork-Tongue Charmers are Luck Uglies.
Rye Crossing Barnacle-Covered Rocks
Durham’s second novel will lull you on a nice countryside filled with sheep and eccentric personalities. He gets you all snug and cozy then, just as you are enjoying the oddness, BAM, the worlds of Drowning and Pest collide, tossing you like the sea back into an adventurous fantasy only Durham could handle with such precision. The Fork-Tongue Charmers are not so charming, but Dunham’s story will keep you glued, wondering whom these men really are and what Slinister really wants. He (Slinister), abandons Rye, alone, on the Isle of Grit, in the open sea, doomed. The final chapter gripped me tight as I waited for the impossible to occur. But can all end well that starts badly?
Dunham’s writing has improved. Pushing the envelope in children’s literature while taking kids—and adults—into an unforgiving medieval world, where princes dress like commoners and heroes are villains, each book of The Luck Uglies series amazingly can stand on its own. Fork-Tongue Charmers belts readers into the first car of a roller-coaster ride with intriguing, often eccentric, characters with unlikely stories belted in behind them. The lure of impressive and imaginative writing made me a loyal fan who believes in Dunham’s brilliant creativity. If his writing continues to improve, as I suspect it will, book 3 (as yet un-named), will shoot readers into the stratosphere of kidlit, glad to remain there as long as Dunham will have us.
Bree Despain's INTO THE DARK series is based on two of her favorite Greek myths: Persephone and Hades, and Orpheus and Eurydice. Both are stories about people who ventured into the dark (or the unknown) for the sake of love. Most people are more familiar with the Persephone myth than they are with the story of Orpheus and Eurydice so Bree decided to to make a little 4 minute movie version of
I couldn’t put Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes down. This is a statement of fact: I picked it up late at night when I couldn’t sleep, started reading, and had to force myself to go to bed approximately 300 pages later. (Wendy can vouch for me here as the lucky recipient of some early morning “OH MY GOD THIS IS SO GOOD” texts.) I can’t remember the last time this happened and it was excellent. It reminded me of how I felt about reading as a teenager, which is to say that I was engrossed in Sabaa Tahir’s imaginary world. And that is basically what I want to reiterate, now that An Ember in the Ashes is out and ready and waiting to keep you up at night. Oh my God, you guys. This book is so good. It’s not a perfect book (more on that later) but it is... Read more »
In the deepest winter forest an arrow is shot in desperation. The quarrel finds its target, but the consequences are far reaching and unexpected. Feyre, youngest daughter of an impoverished nobleman, has unintentionally killed one of the Fae and broken the treaty between humans and Fae. Now she must trade her life for that of her slain foe. Caught between death or handing herself over to live in the lands of the Fae, never to return to her family, Feyre surrenders. This is a totally new fantasy world, completely separate from that of Throne of Glass. Feyre lives on an island resembling Great Britain that is divided among human ruled lands and the realms of the Fae (many blessings upon Bloomsbury for including a map for those of us “constant flippers”). The humans live in constant fear of the Fae, and the Fae live in constant fear of the ever... Read more »
I was intrigued when I read a review of The Cottage in the Woods by Katherine Coville and snatched the book off the shelf when I saw it at my local library. I mention this to make the point that sometimes reviews actually do get readers. Or, in this case, a reader.
The Cottage in the Woods has been described as Jane Eyre meets Goldilocks and the Three Bears. It certainly is. Jane Eyre fans can have a fantastic time picking out the connections. A young, powerless, single female enters a large house as the employee of a wealthy man. This is a wealthy, married man with a family, which is one of the ways this book is different from Jane Eyre. But he's also a bear, as is the young female, Ursula. (Relating to ursine, I'm guessing.) Ursula is there to act as a governess to the bear's son, Teddy. (Oh, my gosh. Teddy Bear!!! No, actually his last name is Vaughn.) Ursula has a love interest, and, shades of Mr. Rochester, he's not free to love her. There is a mystery in this house, as there is in Jane Eyre. And it's related to a female, as is the mystery in Jane Eyre. This female, though, is young, with golden hair.
However, there is a whole nonJane plot involving human bigotry toward enchanted animals like Ursula and the Vaughns. I've read that some reviewers found that aspect of the book didactic. To me it was distracting, because it wasn't part of the Jane Eyre/Three Bears premise. It seemed unnecessary. What was going on with Goldilocks was so clever and unique that I would have liked a plot sticking much closer to that, which could have been closer to the Jane Eyre source material.
But, then, I know Jane Eyre. Readers who don't could feel differently. Since this is a middle grade novel, there will be many readers who don't know Jane.
While reading this, I wondered what Ms. Yingling would think of it. Sure enough, she read The Cottage in the Woods and weighs in on the subject. I agree that while I enjoyed it, it may have trouble finding an audience.
This morning I have a giveaway for Witches with the Enemy by Barb Hendee. I just started Mist-Torn Witches, the first book in the series, and I love it so far! Check out the info below, and then fill out the Rafflecopter for your chance to win! US addresses only, please.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
When seers Céline and Amelie Fawe fled Shetâna under threat of death, they vowed never to return. Yet, less than a year later, they are summoned back—to aid the man who once tried to kill them.…
The cruel prince Damek is on the verge of closing marriage negotiations with the powerful family of a young noblewoman when his intended’s sister is murdered. To keep the engagement from falling through, Damek must expose the killer quickly—and he needs the seers’ powers to do so. Though the Fawes’ patron, Prince Anton, fears that bringing Céline and Amelie to Shetâna places them in grave danger, he is honor-bound to help his brother Damek.
Only none of them is prepared for the peril that awaits them at Castle Kimovesk—for someone in the court is determined to prevent the marriage from happening, no matter how deadly the cost.…
PRAISE FOR THE MIST-TORN WITCHES
“Hendee has a gift for intricate psychological plots, and her characters are some of the best in current fantasy.”
“[An] engaging fantasy novel…Clues as to the sisters’ magical heritage, hints of romance, threats both supernatural and human, and courtly intrigue combine for a fun fantasy mystery.”
“The murder mystery at the core of this book…will hold readers spellbound.”
—RT Book Reviews
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Barb Hendee is the author of the Novels of the Mist-Torn Witches, including Witches in Red and The Mist-Torn Witches. She lives in a quirky little town near Portland, Oregon, with her husband J.C. Hendee, with whom she writes the Noble Dead Saga. Barb’s short fiction has appeared in numerous genre magazines and anthologies. She is also the author of the Vampire Memories series.
Told in alternating stories of two main characters on opposite sides, An Amber in the Ashes is a suspenseful exploration of the effects of violence on both the conquered and the conquerors. Set in a Rome-like fantasy world, the Scholars are a subjugated people under the rule of the Martials. Laia is a Scholar living with her brother and grandparents. When her brother is arrested on suspicion of being a member of the resistance, and her grandparents are killed violently by Martial soldiers, Laia runs away in fear. To atone for her cowardice, Laia sets out to save her brother, and goes undercover as a slave to the cruel and sadistic commander of the elite military academy Blackcliff.
Elias is a student at Blackcliff, training to become a Mask, the most elite of Martial soldiers. Although he has lived most of his life as a student under the harsh discipline at Blackcliff, Elias still sees things differently than his peers because he spent the first six years of his life outside the Martial society. Elias is determined to escape the violent society and his role as an enforcer as soon as he graduates. Then a visit from the Augurs — the Martial's version of oracles — puts a difficult choice before Elias. But can he trust the prophecy, or is he being manipulated by the Augurs?
Sabaa Tahir was inspired to write An Ember in the Ashes during her time at the Washington Post's foreign desk, when she was exposed to horrifying stories of the effects of violence on people around the world. An Ember in the Ashes is an exciting dystopian story that shows how a violent society affects everyone, from the slaves to the highest levels. Even the resistance is divided by the question of whether they have an obligation to help those of their people in need, or whether such aid detracts from their mission of fighting back against the Martials.
I had some minor credibility problems, and the plot development was occasionally awkward. I thought that the addition of supernatural characters like djinn was an unnecessary device that muddies the waters. The augurs were fine and really drive the plot in many ways, but the djinn and other spirits made it start to feel like everything was thrown in, including the kitchen sink.
This isn't a subtle book: the message about the effects of violence is hammered pretty hard. However, as I write this in a Baltimore (and a nation) trying to figure out how to police our communities without unnecessary violence by police against the people they are supposed to protect, the message really resonates.
In spite of the minor issues, I found An Ember in the Ashes to be a thrilling and highly engaging plot-driven story with loads of teen appeal, especially for fans of dystopian fiction like the Hunger Games. I can understand why it's been optioned for film already.
Elias is described as having golden-brown skin. The identity of Elias' father is unknown, but it's likely that his skin color came from his father, since his mother is described as having pale skin. Other than that, skin color doesn't seem to play a role, although one of the more despicable characters is also described as having dark skin. The Martial empire appears to be generally diverse, with various ethnicities of people coming from the different conquered nations, although it's not significant to the plot.
Although the empire appears to be fairly patriarchal, female characters play a significant role. Besides Laia, there's Helene, who is also a student at Blackcliff and Elias' best friend. Helen is one tough cookie, in some ways one of the toughest students there. In spite of that, though, she's mostly relegated to the traditional female support role, and a subplot about an attraction leaves her acting "like a girl." There's also the female commander of Blackcliff, and several minor female characters including a cook who used to be an explosives expert.
The author is a woman of color.
Who would like this book?
Anyone who enjoys a thrilling, suspenseful plot-driven story, particularly fans of The Hunger Games and other dystopian fiction. In keeping with the theme, An Ember in the Ashes is fairly dark and violent, so sensitive readers may want to take a pass.
FTC required disclosure: Review copy sent by the publisher to enable me to write this review. The bookstore links above are affiliate links, and I earn a very small percentage of any sales made through the links. Neither of these things influenced my review.
Teen Review by Reagan
THE ISLE OF THE LOST
A Descendants Novel
by Melissa De La Cruz
Age Range: 9 - 12 years
Grade Level: 4 - 7
Series: The Descendants
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion (May 5, 2015)
Twenty years ago, all the evil villains were banished from the kingdom of Auradon and made to live in virtual imprisonment on the Isle of the Lost. The island is surrounded by