Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Book Discussion: “Schooled in Magic,” “Kindred Rites,” and More

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What makes a book interesting enough that you want to pick it up immediately and start reading? Or, for those of you who exclusively read e-books, what makes you willing to sit down and read the sample pages?

While no one’s quite sure of the answers to the above questions, one thing’s for certain: Books aren’t written in a vacuum, and it’s hard for them to gain traction if no one knows about them.

Even if you’re an author with a following, as is the case with Christopher G. “Chris” Nuttall, Katharine Eliska Kimbriel, and Rosemary Edghill, it’s unclear what makes someone decide to read one of your books as opposed to another. Sure, there’s genre preference and all — some people just enjoy reading, say, fantasy-romances, and if your book falls into that category, you’re more likely to be read. But a book that’s so good that people are willing to fall all over themselves recommending it is rare . . . unless you’re a regular book reviewer, as I am.

Then, perhaps, it’s not so rare.

At any rate, Chris Nuttall’s newest novel is SCHOOLED IN MAGIC, the first in a series about Emily, a girl from our Earth who’s transported to another world and finds she can do magic . . . but only if she can get away from the necromancer who transported her there, first.

I’ve read SCHOOLED IN MAGIC and found it to be an interesting take on the old “fish out of water” tale . . . what Emily does in this brand-new world is often life-affirming, but she can’t help but make mistake after mistake due to being unfamiliar with this world and its environs. (Note that this new world is never named; it’s simply “the world.” That’s done for a reason, as the people of this world are decidedly backward by Earthly standards, being roughly at a feudal level.)

A sample chapter is available here for your perusal . . . if you like what you see, please follow the links from that page (there are many) and get yourself your own copy (’cause I’m not sharing mine).

I recently reviewed two of Rosemary Edghill’s books over at Shiny Book Review, IDEALITY: VENGEANCE OF MASKS and FAILURE OF MOONLIGHT. The former is a dark fantasy with elements of SF and horror (tough to quantify, very interesting to read, and extremely thought provoking), while the latter is a series of short stories about Ms. Edghill’s popular character Bast, a Wiccan detective who has only her wits and her faith to help her solve crimes. Bast is extremely intelligent, makes many witty asides, and can be exceedingly trenchant in her opinions . . . which is one of the reasons I enjoy reading about her so much.

FAILURE OF MOONLIGHT is one of those books that you just can’t stop thinking about once you’ve finished reading it. While the one-liners are great and well worth the price of admission, it’s Bast’s mind, thoughts and opinions that call me back again and again. Bast is moral, ethical, and principled, and while she mostly walks apart from others due to her Wiccan faith being profoundly misunderstood (even by other NeoPagans), she’s someone many people would want to befriend if they ever met someone like her outside of a story.

Best of all, if you enjoy these stories, there are three excellent novels about Bast available in BELL, BOOK AND MURDER. These, too, are well worth reading, and are books I return to again and again as I ponder various thoughts and wonder just how Bast managed to come up with the answers this time . . .

Finally, what can I say about the incomparable Katharine Eliska Kimbriel that I haven’t said before? Her work in both hard science fiction with her Chronicles of Nuala series and now in dark fantasy/frontier fantasy with her Night Calls series is outstanding; best of all, she’s currently working on the third book of the latter series even as I write this.

Her most recent release is KINDRED RITES, book two in the Night Calls series; I reviewed it over at SBR back in January. It features Alfreda “Allie” Sorensson. Allie is now thirteen, a burgeoning magician with unusually strong powers, and is studying with her Aunt Marta as she must learn self-control. Fortunately, Allie is a good-hearted young lady who has no wish to coerce others; she only wishes to live her life unmolested, and help others as need be.

In other hands, Allie could easily have turned into a Mary Sue-type of character. Instead, Ms. Kimbriel wisely shows Allie struggling with the things any young girl struggles with — boys. How other girls treat boys. Puberty (or at least the fact of it, as inexorable as the sun coming up in the morning). Learning her craft, which includes birthing babies, digging for herbs in foul weather, and many other unpleasant things . . . and dealing with the effects of magical “hangovers” when too much magic is expended, no doubt. (This is more sketched than shown, but is there nonetheless.)

And, of course, because Allie is so powerful, other people want to steal her away before she can fully come into her own, magical birthright.

In other words, there’s many practical elements to both of Allie’s stories, NIGHT CALLS and KINDRED RITES, plus many speculative elements, and both add immeasurably to the richness of these tales. Allie’s innate goodness is refreshing, while her natural curiosity and wisdom also appeal . . . in short, if you’re looking for YA fantasy done right, look no further than Katharine Eliska Kimbriel.

So there you have it — three fine works of fiction by three disparate writers, all different, each with something interesting and special to offer. I consider all of them “comfort books” for different reasons, and enjoyed them all immensely.

Your next assignment, Dear Reader, is to figure out which one you want to devour first . . . then have at.

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