Dark Parables: Rise of the Snow Queen

Quick mini-review: The gameplay kind of annoyed me: one of the repeating puzzles I really disliked, and I spent a lot of time wandering around trying to figure out what to do next. Possibly my own fault for playing with some of the clue sparkles turned off. But still.

On the other hand, the Dark Parables sequence is really, really growing on me. They all link together! In the previous game about the Frog Prince, you learn one of his four wives, Snow White, divorced him. She went home with her sick child to the Mountain Kingdom and became the Snow Queen. The magic mirror from Snow White figures in, as well as Kai and Gerda, and I suspect her wicked stepmother is a significant antagonist in one or more future games. It’s a really neat weaving together of many fairy tales.

The art was gorgeous, the voice acting was minimal and functional. Overall I’m reasonably happy with it.

MATCHBOX GIRLS sale!

Hey there! Matchbox Girls is 99 cents at Amazon/Nook/Kobo. It’s also available for the same price and DRM-free at my publisher, Candlemark & Gleam.

Soon we’ll be doing a cover reveal (and hopefully a Goodreads entry) for WOLF INTERVAL, which is Book #3 of the SENYAZA SERIES. It’s due out in October!

For those new to this urban fantasy series, each of the three SENYAZA books follows a different heroine (two of them costar in #4, which is currently being written) as they face angels, faeries and monsters. This sale is a great time to give it a try, or if you’re already a reader, let a friend know!

This Crumbling Pageant

I pick up books primarily based on premise. Even my favorite authors have to catch my attention with the premise and if a beloved author wanders into territory that doesn’t excite me I may never pick up the books in question.

Luckily, my premise hooks are broad. I like angels and goddesses. I like Regencies and other interesting, non-contemporary settings. I like women with powerful magic. I like dark romances. I like stories about fighting destiny and I even like a bit of Arthuriana. And when This Crumbling Pageant was pitched to me, I knew that I had to read it.

It’s set in a shadow world that lies alongside the historical Regency-era England we know. The shadow world—Magi England– seems to be made up of bubbles of magical geography that rest on the foundation of Ordinary England, and likewise, the culture of Magi England and the story rest upon the foundations of a mundane world— although most of the time the foundations are so deeply buried you don’t notice them and the book might as well be in an entirely different world. But, as foundations do, the foundations matter.

In Magi England, the indigenous people are called the Earthborn, and their invaders and conquerors are the Fireborn. They worship Greco-Roman gods and take their names from Greco-Roman culture. The ancestor of the current Fury family is credited with creating Magi England as it now exists: enthroning its King, suggesting its laws and warding its ways. Once the Magi were safe from Ordinary England, the Fury family took up a retired life: focusing on elegancies and their enchanting music. At least until Our Story Begins, when a King is dying without a blood heir, and their eldest daughter marries the Duke Regent.

The story isn’t about her. This Crumbling Pageant is about her little sister, youngest daughter of the Fury family: born to dark rumors and uncomfortable, strange magic.

(One of my favorite parts of this book: This is a fantasy novel, right? Sort of pitched as an upper YA thing? You’d think the young lady’s dark birth and strange magic would make her family draw away. What’s a YA novel without a heroine estranged from her family, right? But Persephone’s family absolutely cherishes her despite her problems. She has a sister and three brothers (including a twin she supposedly stole the magic from) and she has a warm individual relationship with each of them. Even her parents, who supposedly travel abroad for years at a time, are _her parents_. The author doesn’t spend a ton of time detailing this but the warmth of her family ties infuses every scene with them and I love it.)

We meet Persephone Fury at age 13 as she goes on an adventure and is first introduced to her destiny. After introducing all of the major characters, we’re whisked forward a few years, to the point where Persephone is preparing for her social debut while drinking a tisane to suppress her magic, and the story really gets started.

While powerful and more educated than most of her peers, Persephone also carries the full weight of her entire culture’s flaws. She’s both sheltered and privileged: gossip and her strange magic are pretty much the worst she’s had to deal with by the time she’s seventeen, and she has never been given any reason to question anything about her world. She’s in love with a man who only wants to shelter and protect her, and if she had her way, she’d be happy with him for the rest of her life.

Unfortunately for her, the antagonist has other plans. She has both the power and skills he needs. She’s hated him her whole life, but he’s not exactly a stranger to hardship. Worse, he’s a master of the same strange magic she can only control through drugs and he has other secrets she craves. And sadly for both of them, they’re the chosen chew toys of a goddess with an agenda of her own.

For the reader, this isn’t as bad as it is for the poor characters: Vespasian Jones is as expertly drawn as Persephone Fury. He’s very much the protagonist of his own story; he is _interesting_ on the page in ways that I’m sure surprise some readers— and there’s a lot in-between the lines of his sections. I was not disappointed by the final convergence of their arcs (and I’d love to talk about them more with anybody who finishes the book!)

The story moves fast, with layers of hinted secrets, foreshadowing, setting development, character development and plot. Very little is laid out easily for us: some things referred to in the first third of the book aren’t fully explained until near the end and other things introduced halfway through are still unexplained at the end (because this is a trilogy). It doesn’t, claims a Barnes & Noble review, end on a cliffhanger, which I suppose is technically true: it has a strong plot arc that resolves in exciting and _mostly_ satisfying ways. It just leaves a lot of wild possibilities in the ‘pending’ queue and I’m feeling a bit intense about some of them still, two days later.

Patricia Burroughs is new to high fantasy (as far as I can tell), but not new to writing; she’s been a romance author and a screenwriter for over twenty years and it shows in her storytelling. The book is expertly crafted. She knows what she’s doing. It’s not _perfect_: sometimes the world building is a bit too in media res; sometimes explanations promised are interrupted or never come; occasionally small details are skimmed over where I would have liked to have seen them explained; sometimes (like me) you get a crazy idea and fly with it for too long.

The plot takes a few twists that — for me — meant I rushed through the second half quickly. Some really dreadful things were foreshadowed and I wanted to get them over with as quickly as possible. But dreadful events are never throwaway events. They matter. Because our heroine is going to change the world, one way or another, though perhaps not in the ways the entities steering her would like…

(Can you see why I like this book so much?)

And I hope if you’ve been reading this far, you’ll give the book a try so I’m not alone in anticipating the second volume.

THE HUGOS drama!

OK, friends who only know anything about the Hugos because I insist on sharing it with you. THE STORY SO FAR. IT IS HILARIOUS.

(Quick rules overview. The Hugos are chosen through ranked voting: you rank the final nominees in the order you prefer, and can include No Award in there if you like. Then through something complicated and Australian, a winner is chosen. In a tradition dating back at least five years, the Hugo voter’s packet contains all non-televised nominated works.)

So. Wheel of Time, in its entirety was nominated for Best Novel, due to a rules loophole. The same rules loophole that let entire seasons of TV shows win, I think! Tor confirms WoT will be available in the packet. There is brisk dialog over whether this is fair or right, with many people saying they think it’s totally wrong it was nominated, etc etc. Many more people declare They Will Not Vote For WoT Because They Can’t Possibly Read It All And Voting Without Reading It All Is Wrong. Well, it is apparently 3.3 million words long…

HOWEVER this dialog is barely anything compared to:
the ALSO NOMINATED set of works (including a Best Novel nom) associated with a set of politically conservative trolls and bigots– nominated as a trolling attempt, in fact. Some people got upset about this. “We Shall Not Vote For It Because We Have To Take A Stand,” or “Because Nominating A Whole Ticket Is Wrong,” or a number of other reasons. Fair enough, given the voters and the bigots in question.

(Here a humorous sideplot emerges, in which another Conservative Bigot Author– he’s too earnest in his fedora to be a troll– resigns from the SFWA over the unaffiliated Hugo nomination _reaction_ from fans. This is somebody who once wrote a serious post about how Strong Female Characters were ruining SFF.)

And now we come to today’s twist. There are three books remaining that don’t have some black mark against them against as a nominee yet. (Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross, Parasite by Mira Grant, Ancilliary Justice by Ann Leckie, fwiw.) These books are all published by Orbit.

Orbit has just announced that they’re going to buck tradition and NOT include the full books in the Voter’s Packet. The reason given in their statement is ludicrous doublespeak– you’d think a publishing company would be better at lying– but fine, as long as they include significant excerpts, right?

OH NO! No, now all three of these books are also stricken with the Black Mark. People are already declaring that because Orbit is being so stupid and greedy they’re going to put all three books below No Award. Because they can’t judge unless they read the FULL BOOK and they can’t be bothered to acquire the FULL BOOK if it isn’t handed to them on a platter. Oh, and they’ll NEVER buy Orbit books again!

This is better than reality TV, guys. And it doesn’t even have a producer and weird cuts!

Twitter Advertising, Prologue

I’ve come into possession of some Twitter advertising credits and I’m totally going to use them and report back. Stay tuned!

I’m poking at the configuration system right now and I’m really impressed at the targeting options. I could feed in a list of Twitter accounts/email addresses. I could target the users ‘like’ the followers of another Twitter account. This is in addition to the more general ‘target by interests/location/gender’ stuff I’ve found on Goodreads, Facebook and Project Wonderful.

I also have to decide if I want to target ‘get more followers’ or ‘get clicks/retweets’. Unless the pricing is insane, I’ll probably do both, but just running into that decision point is a little bit paralyzing. Obviously the long-term goal is growing my audience (which is directly related to selling books and eventually buying a new roof for my house) but what’s the best way to do that?

Let’s Talk About Sailor Moon

I think a lot about girls saving the world.

When I was a child, I was one of those irritating girls who had trouble identifying with all the boy protagonists dominating my fantasy. I was aware that I was a girl and I noticed that a girl’s role in the books I loved was to be the love interest or the mother.  It bothered me.

So at age twenty or so, I dropped out of college, moved to California, and eventually started writing a book. This book was my first stab at trying to equalize the scales by producing an epic fantasy about a chosen girl, and I used a whole bunch of ideas inspired by Final Fantasy games to get there.*

Meanwhile, I was hearing about Sailor Moon in the background. Some weird online friends were into it. I didn’t pay that much attention because anime = sex, tentacles and Robotech, right? But one thing led to another and I learned just enough to think my teenage sister might enjoy Sailor Moon, so I got some fan subs for her. By the way, this was back in the day when you sent $4 per VHS cassette to a fansubber and she manually ran you a copy, then shipped it priority mail. Hardcore.

I don’t think I ever gave those fansubs to my sister. I loaned them to her, oh yes, but I watched them first as any good big sister would, and— and—

I started with the third season, which everybody agreed was the best season. And holy crap.

Look, Sailor Moon was a monster-of-the-week show about some teenage girls who used magic cosmetics to transform into superheroes. It wasn’t high art. It wasn’t Puella Magi Madoka Magica.

But it was about a girl who, with her friends, saved the world. Who did it more than once, who learned and grew from those efforts and made new decisions. Who was funny and silly and childish and intensely feminine and compassionate and strong and heroic. Who was able to draw lines in the sand and say ‘not this time’, in a badly animated show directed with enough charm that you hung on through all the cheese and silliness and repetition. It was full of stories about friendship, and how real human relationships could provide a lifeline for those lost in darkness. And season 3 had lesbians and sacrifice and innocence and ruin and love, and I lost my own heart.

I devoured seasons 3-5 and then I started converting others. I knew the right episodes to use and oh, I used them. Sailor Moon mattered to me. I don’t do cosplay or fan art, I don’t do fan fiction or any of that. I’m not a fandom kind of person. But I internalized it and I evangelized. Yet at the time I’m not sure I could have identified why it was so important to me that everybody I cared about developed a healthy respect for Sailor Moon.

I understand now. It was what I was reaching for, in a silly, easily dismissed package. She was the chosen one, and she saved the world, and we didn’t have enough of those. She had a half dozen female friends and they were all people and they talked about things, they supported each other even when they bickered; they passed the Bechdel test with flying colors and we still don’t have enough of those.

I was never a Buffy girl. Buffy isn’t my thing. But Sailor Moon… Sailor Moon’s humor was self-aware and self-depracating. It knew exactly what it was and that it didn’t have to take itself seriously.  The klutzy teenage heroine is a thing now but with Sailor Moon, it worked. It made her human, it made her sympathetic. She was mostly adorable, which made the moments of astonishing awesome all the more breathtaking. It hit me hard.**

This July, Sailor Moon starts up again with Sailor Moon Crystal, which will restart the series and follow the manga without turning it into an afternoon monster-of-the-week show. I am breathless with anticipation.

It will be simulcast online and, oh please, I hope all the people who found something they’d been looking for in My Little Pony take a look at it. I hope the internet is flooded with wonderful fan art and Moonies (or whatever they’ll call themselves). I hope there’s ships and new fanfiction and that people who still laugh at the thought of silly Sailor Moon will see something that makes them look twice, look three times, then decide to give the show a chance. Because it’s girls saving the world in a story aimed at girls, full of feminine ideals and feminine accoutrements, and, yes, because it’s good.

*One day I’d like to go back to that setting, which was about an Industrial Revolution powered by enslaved angels.

**And Sailor Moon wasn’t even my favorite of the gang, to be honest. Ask me about my essay about SuperS and Chibi-Usa. Ask me about my painted figure of Sailor Venus. But Sailor Moon was undeniably the heart of the show.

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Some Bits Make A Post

I’ll be at Norwescon this year, as a member. No table or pamphlets or panels or anything. I should be spending part of the time in the bar and part of the time attending panels and part of the time huddled over my laptop trying to get some pages of GREEN WILD revised. And I’ll be paying attention to my phone so, hey, let me know if you’re around and want to say hi!

The Renton community garden opened on Saturday and I spent about five hours there this past weekend. It turns out I really don’t like dirt. Compost & potting soil? Those things are fine. Sunbaked tractor-plowed clod-filled dirt? Ergh. I flailed at my plot for a while and put out all of the spring starts I’ve been cultivating at home. I was so overwhelmed by the hard clods of dirt that that I was really lazy on how I set out the seeds and plants. We’ll see if any of them survive. I hope it rains today, and I should probably check in tomorrow to see if anything has withered already.

I also up-potted my tomato seedlings, putting them in their third container so far. I handled them kind of roughly but I think that’s the point: stress them so they grow up strong. They look really good; far better than the seedlings I’ve been getting from Territorial Seed the past couple of years. I’m still planning on buying some grafted tomatoes from Costco if they show up again but I have (hopefully) 10 seedlings already, far more tomatoes than I’ve ever tried growing before.

GREEN WILD, sequel to CITADEL OF THE SKY, which is due from Harlequin Digital First…. someday… goes along well. I was convinced a month ago it was the worst thing I’ve ever written. I’m no longer as certain. But I’m looking forward to getting it into submission-shape because then I’m going to move on to more SENYAZA short stories. I’ve been working on a long list of ideas about events that occur post INFINITY KEY. I should maybe make a dedicated post about this, but I’ve found that the keystone of turning an ‘idea’ into a ‘story’ is figuring out the point of view– not first or third or whatever but simply who the story is happening to and what their relationship is with the events. Once I have that, I still have to do the work of creating a story but I’m no longer flailing in the dark.

Speaking of SENYAZA, I hope to have news soon regarding WOLF INTERVAL, the third book in that series… I will say that if GREEN WILD felt like my worst book for a while, WOLF INTERVAL currently feels like my best. I may be calling in every connection I have to get it noticed by a broader audience.

That’s enough for now, I guess :-)

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