Barb Caffrey's Blog

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Timing, and Jason Cordova’s DARKLING

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I read Jason Cordova’s hotly awaited new novel, DARKLING, over the course of three weeks. (Normally I would’ve devoured it in one sitting, but the fact that I had a crisis going on with a family member’s health made me put it to the side for a time.) It is absorbing, intelligent, fast-paced, dark, depressing, menacing, and in its way a damned good read — but the timing of my life and reading this book were not fully aligned.

Darkling

I submitted a review to Amazon, as per usual, but because I am much more scattered/distracted than usual, I didn’t make a copy of it before I left their page. (Edited to add: After waiting for nearly a full day, I gave up and reviewed the book at Goodreads.) Because of that, I can’t quote the review I’ve already written; all I can do is tell you to go read DARKLING, as it’s very good dark military SF with some absorbing political machinations. (Yes, you should read WRAITHKIN, the first book of Jason’s “Kin Wars” series, first. But you’ll easily understand DARKLING whether you do or not, providing you’ve read any military SF or dark SF at all.)

The rest of this blog is going to talk about aspects of the book that were tough for me to handle, due to the timing. If you don’t want your reading spoiled (though I will try to avoid the worst of spoilers), go do something else and return for the next blog, will you? (I won’t be offended. Promise.)

We have three brothers in DARKLING: Gabriel Espinoza, a Darkling soldier and second-class citizen dealing with dehumanizing treatment due to all soldiers of this type being recruited from the Imperfect class (meaning they could develop cancer, or have some other “genetic defect” that’s been rooted out by the galactic civilization they live in); Andrew Espinoza, a spy (a damned good one) who’s acted in many regards as a chameleon mole; Kevin Espinoza, a politician and born diplomat. Gabriel is a brooding hot mess from an emotional standpoint (it’s understandable, though; the love of his life is dead, he had to give up his daughter due to his line of work and because he didn’t want her tainted by the knowledge of his “imperfect” father, and he’s cut off from his family due to various considerations, even though his family wanted nothing of the sort. I can’t explain this fully because of spoilers, and also because much of it is explained at the very end of WRAITHKIN as I have written before, so I hope you can take this as read.) Andrew, as a chameleon mole, has other issues with trying to maintain his inner self, and also has been cut off from his family due to completely other concerns (again, his family certainly doesn’t want this, but with his job, there’s no other way). And finally, Kevin is a good guy, the only brother attuned to his emotions and fighting hard for the Imperfects as he views his society as closed-minded and hypocritical (and rightfully so). But he’s mostly there as a foil, to explain what the other two brothers should’ve been if not for the circumstances that led them to fight a war in their disparate ways…and that’s a conscious author’s decision that I can’t fault Jason for, as he needed that foil desperately due to the darkness of everything else.

Now, as to the circumstances of my life, and how it applies to how I saw DARKLING.

First, I was reading along, and enjoying the book immensely despite its darkness. (I knew what I was getting in for, as I read and enjoyed WRAITHKIN, and I really wanted to see what would happen next to the Espinoza clan.) Then, my family member’s health crisis arose, and suddenly the world stopped meaning much. I had to put DARKLING down, and deal with immediate realities; my blogs dried up for a bit (which I’ve already explained); I went to “work, sleep, go to hospital/rehab center” mode, rinse and repeat.

Finally, I was able to get back to DARKLING and realized two things; one, I hadn’t forgotten anything in the intervening time since I’d last been able to read and concentrate on anything. (This is the sign of a good writing and an absorbing read, that you don’t forget anything even in the midst of a crisis like this.) And two, the fact that these brothers are put through the emotional and physical wringer was all of a sudden more visceral, more immediate, than before, due to the circumstances of what was going on all around me.

See, writers are observers by nature. We have to be, or we can’t explain or show any of the stories we tell with any verisimilitude at all.

So, I was observing everything that happened around me, as per usual, whether I was picking up on that observation consciously or not. And all of that — all — hit me as I restarted my read of DARKLING. The injuries these men suffered were almost overpowering in their intensity, in this context, and it was difficult for me to keep reading despite the quality of the writing. (Jason keeps getting better and better, and tells a damned absorbing story, as I have said before.)

To my mind, DEVASTATOR is more my cup of tea (as I wrote here). I like Tori so much as a character, and her relationship with Dylan (the shy, almost innocent love she has for him) helps to enliven even the darkest of moments.

But DARKLING is quite good. Quite, quite good, in fact.

I just had a hard time reading it due to what’s been going on. So I tried to say that, without getting into personal details, in the review at Amazon (that still isn’t up as I type this, though if it does go up anytime soon I’ll add a link to the review so you can read it directly).

I do think Jason’s created a new genre, or at least fused a few, in DARKLING. I call this “grim-dark military SF.” (If you read it, you’ll understand why.) There is a palpable sense of menace in even its quieter moments; everyone is on edge, everyone is waiting for the next shoe to drop (or axe to fall, depending), and Gabriel in particular seems like a bomb waiting for a place to go off.

The writing is stellar, though, and if you know going in — as you should, providing you’ve read WRAITHKIN — that it’s going to be grim, you should be able to handle DARKLING just fine.

Just don’t read it before going to sleep if you have a weak stomach or are prone to nightmares. As this book will give you more than a few, else.

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Written by Barb Caffrey

April 13, 2018 at 9:59 am

Language, Editing, and THUNDER AND LIGHTNING

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Folks, my most recently edited book is Chris Nuttall and Leo Champion’s THUNDER AND LIGHTNING, about first contact with aliens gone spectacularly wrong. I was very happy with this book, because I thought it showcased Chris’s gift for political machinations of the interplanetary sort plus Leo’s gift for the nuts and bolts of warfare. Putting them together in one book was a worthwhile challenge for me as an editor, and one I welcomed.

Both of these men did what they did best, and did it superbly. And I was not disappointed.

thunder and lightning cover

But, you must be sitting there asking yourselves, “Barb, what is this about language? Why are you talking about that with regards to editing and THUNDER AND LIGHTNING?”

Some of what I’m going to say is blindingly obvious, but here goes: When you’re writing about soldiers, you cannot take the high road all the time. And you certainly can’t use what I derisively call “sparkly language,” in that you dumb-down what soldiers say during a war.

Chris and Leo’s soldiers start off in a nasty fight in Africa against terrorists they call “the Wreckers.” These Wreckers are abysmal human beings who, like others in the past, have corrupted a holy book — in this case, the Koran — for their own purposes. The soldiers call them “radical Islamicists,” which is not that dissimilar to what is said overseas now in the Middle East or in other war zones.

And there’s a reason they do this. The reason is very simple. They are fighting a war. They cannot afford to see these people as worthy of redemption, for the most part, and they have many reasons not to see them that way either as the behavior of the Wreckers is truly abhorrent. (Hell, they even take female slaves.)

So, when I saw that, as an editor, I left it alone. I’ve heard from my own cousin, who’s served overseas any number of times in the Middle East as a member of the Armed Services, that what’s said about those we’re fighting (ISIS now, Al Qaeda earlier) is far worse than that.

But will some people be offended by this term? Probably.**

My job, though, as an editor, is not to dumb down what anyone says or feels even if I think it’s something someone out there will dislike. My job is to make that soldier sound and feel real. So you can get caught up in the story. And keep going.

If that soldier says some things you don’t like, well…I urge you to read James Clavell’s KING RAT. There’s lots of stuff that’s not said in “sparkly language,” but if it were, you’d never buy into it.

And you shouldn’t.

Anyway, THUNDER AND LIGHTNING isn’t just about soldiers. It’s about an idealistic woman scientist, Samra, who first finds evidence of aliens we later come to know as Oghaldzon (kind of like three-legged deer), and believes that any aliens coming must be peaceful. (She’s wrong, but you can see why she’d believe otherwise.) And what happens when she finds out the Oghaldzon are almost completely incomprehensible to humans, and humans to the Oghaldzon in terms, is scary, difficult to read, and sometimes incredibly sad, in turns.

We see her in lighter days, when she’s just a scientist at work. We see her finding the aliens’ signal (a fleet) in space, the scientific high point of her career.

And then, we see her disastrous fall, and with her fall, the attempted subjugation of Earth.

We also see a cyborg commando soldier, who saves Samra and stays by her side as they try, somehow, to stay alive and hope for better days. (Perhaps the commando is hedging his bets. Or waiting for a better opportunity. But it’s important to know that without him being there, Samra likely wouldn’t have a reason to fight so hard.)

Along the way, we meet numerous others. Some are politicians. Some are just average Joes. Some are Rockrats — that is, asteroid miners, extremely isolationist in outlook and incredibly hard-headed, to boot.

We need every last one of them to come together, in whatever ways they can, or we cannot save our own solar system from the Oghaldzon.

And along the way, the Oghaldzon are found to be, oddly enough, a different type of idealist entirely. But their idealism doesn’t match ours by any standard, and that is part of why we end up in a protracted war.

I don’t want to spoil the outcome of the book. So I will stop there.

Just know that as an editor, I maximized everything I could for the sake of realism, verisimilitude, and dammit all, for the sake of a damned good read. That is my job.

And if you read the book, and you like the book, do tell Leo and Chris that you enjoyed it. (You can come tell me, too. I’d enjoy that, also.) Reviews matter.

(I know that from personal experience. But I digress.)

In other words, when I edit, I try to find the authors’ voices. And I believe I did exactly what I should, to make THUNDER AND LIGHTNING the best it could be, in the hopes that people would feel, think, and enjoy the book and tell others.

Or in shorter form: Sparkly language, get lost.

—–

**Note that I, myself, have a Koran and have read it many times. My late husband admired the Sufi Muslims, and often called himself a “Zen Sufi Pagan.” And Chris Nuttall himself was exposed to all sorts of different religions when he lived in Malaysia, certainly including Islam, and knows, as I do, that people come in all flavors in all religions: that is, followers of the prophet Mohammad are mainly very good people.

Those who’d chain and enslave women, though, are hardly that. And if they’re using Islam as a way to make that palatable to their (mostly male) believers, that is disgusting.

There are bad apples in any bunch. These Wreckers definitely fit the bill for the type of people who’d try to turn religion to their own ends, rather than live in loving kindness and generosity, as I believe Mohammad truly wanted.

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 19, 2018 at 6:45 am

Thinking, Writing, and Illness

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Most of us have to deal with illness, and somehow get things done. But when you’re sick (as I am right now), and you are an independent writer and editor, what are you supposed to do about it?

That sounds ridiculous to say, doesn’t it? Because we all struggle with illness. Very few people have charmed lives, and even they have to deal with the illnesses of beloved family and friends (or, sometimes, four-footed companions).

Still, when you’re in my position, and need your mind to do your work, but your mind isn’t at its best, and your body definitely isn’t either…what’s to do?

I’ve been trying to plot a book. This isn’t normally what I do, as I take an idea and run with it; I’m a pantser, not a plotter (that is, I sit down and write whatever it is, and then fix it on the fly). But plotting can’t hurt me, and thus, I’m trying to do that now and see where I get.

This is an exercise given to me by my friend Chris Nuttall (and if you don’t know Chris’s work already, go to Amazon and put his name in there; that’ll give you an idea). I often edit Chris’s work (my latest for him include THE ZERO EQUATION and THUNDER AND LIGHTNING, co-written by Leo Champion; I intend to talk more about both books in upcoming days, once I’ve regained a bit of my energy), and I know how he tends to work; he comes up with plots first, then writes, then tweaks (sometimes, if warranted), then sends to me (or another editor), then fixes, then I (or another editor) may see it one last time if the changes warrant it — otherwise, it goes up for sale. (This is for Chris’s independent work. The work he does through Twilight Times Books, Elsewhen Press, and 47North is a different story.)

I think his thought is interesting. And what I’m trying to do now is figure out who my characters are, what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and just what’s going to happen along the way. (I also know, me being me, that some of this is subject to change. But it gives me a starting point, and it makes me feel a whole lot better to have work to do along with my editing. Which, by the way, I can still do — I just need a bit more time to do it right now, that’s all.)**

So, there’s thought behind this. Reasoning, purpose, function, and my hope is that it’ll flow into a form that is sensible, logical, and yet feels lifelike and real, like my “pantser” (seat of the pants, natch) novels do. (Or at least I hope they do.)

I’m glad to be able to continue to edit, though a bit slower than usual. I’m also glad that my friends, including Chris, came up with something for me to do of a writing nature so I wouldn’t feel stir-crazy while I’m not at my best. (Writing takes more out of me than editing, just as playing music takes more out of me, physically, than composing it. Though all of them require a goodly amount of mental and physical energy, some are easier to do while ill than others. I hope this makes some sense.)

Now for the big question: What do you do when you feel lousy, but are a creative person and need to express yourself? I’d appreciate hearing any tips you might have in the comments.

———-

**I suppose this is a good time to explain what I’m dealing with: exacerbation of asthma/bronchitis, an ear infection, plus a particularly wicked sinus infection. (I have two antibiotics, a steroid, and have to use my rescue inhaler four times a day until this is gone. When I get sick, I guess it’s go big, or go home. Except I am home…)

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 12, 2018 at 6:44 am

Posted in Books, Informational Stuff, Writing

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Mourning Ursula LeGuin

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Earlier this week, well-known science fiction and fantasy author Ursula K. LeGuin died at age 88. While this was a very long and well-honored life, most of the SF&F community is in some degree of mourning due to how influential LeGuin was on the entire field of SF&F.

Most people who have read any SF&F at all are aware of her best works, which include the Earthsea Trilogy, THE LATHE OF HEAVEN, THE DISPOSSESSED, and the gender-bending THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS, that deals with a planet where traditional gender roles do not apply and people can become male or female as the situation arises due to a type of estrus. But LeGuin also wrote poetry, short stories (in and out of SF&F), and any number of other things…and in some ways, she was primed from birth to become a writer.

Now, why do I say that? Well, her mother was a writer. Her father was an anthropologist. And she came from a well-read, well-educated household, with three siblings; all of them were expected from a very early age to reason and explain their reasoning to their intelligent parents, along with reading widely and being able to research nearly any subject.

All of these things — reading widely, being able to research, and being able to reason and better yet, explain your own reasoning — are important to writing. If you don’t read widely, you’re only rarely going to be able to produce anything of worth; if you can’t research new things, you can’t possibly explain them; if you can’t explain your reasoning, you can’t tell a story, because the story would ramble, meander, and perhaps wander off on tangents as it would not be properly set up in the first place.

LeGuin could and did all of those things. But her style, even from the first, was unusual. She wrote in a way that was both moving but also passive; she let the words speak precisely because of how they were stated, and let the reader interpolate a lot as to how people felt about whatever was going on in whatever story.

For example, in my favorite of all her works, THE LATHE OF HEAVEN, George Orr has a gift: He can dream true, and thus change his world through his dreams. But he doesn’t know what to do with it, and is afraid of it, so he refuses to use it.

Enter a corrupt psychiatrist, William Haber, who believes he can control Orr’s gifts. (Orr has no choice to see the man, either, as Orr was abusing drugs to keep himself from dreaming true and thus altering the world.) And over time, Orr loses nearly everything — his world, his girlfriend, even his psyche — until he realizes he must stand up to Haber once and for all.

The problem is, by this time, Haber has figured out how Orr’s managing to do what Orr’s done. And Haber’s version of a utopia is far worse than anything Orr has dreamed up, all unwittingly…so almost all of the pulse is internal, dealing with how Orr feels (which I like quite a bit), rather than external, though there is some of the latter (in particular, what will this horrible guy Haber do with the power Orr refuses to use?)

THE LATHE OF HEAVEN is the most deeply romantic novel LeGuin ever wrote. The romance between Orr and Heather Lelache (later Andrews, as in different worlds she married, or didn’t, thus changing her last name) is halting but real. Orr is enriched by his love for her, and she is given an unusual type of dignity along with the ability to realize that being soft does not make you weak by her love for him. And thus, they become better, wiser, kinder people…that is, until Haber interferes with the relationship. (Which for those who have read this, and are going, “Barb, you are misstating this,” is exactly what Haber does. Haber doesn’t like Heather at all. And he’s just as happy once Heather’s out of the picture, because Haber realizes instinctively that Heather is the main reason Orr will oppose him, due to Orr’s innate passivity.)

See, what I think LeGuin was saying is that we all deserve to find love. Whether we’re more passive than not, whether we’ve made mistakes (as both Orr and Heather have definitely done more than a little of that), whether we’ve done everything right all the time is immaterial. What matters is that we do our best, and stand up for what’s right, even when it’s difficult — and even when the best solution seems to be passive, rather than active, everything will find a way to work itself out over time if you just keep making your best effort.

That’s why I enjoyed THE LATHE OF HEAVEN so very, very much. I could see myself in Heather, for sure. I even saw a little of myself in George Orr, even though I’ve never been considered a passive sort of person…still, having gifts that you don’t always feel comfortable in using is a theme most people recognize instinctively, as we all have talents we’re sometimes afraid to use for various reasons. (Granted, not everyone wants to admit this. But it is the verimost truth.)

So if LeGuin had only written that one, very fine novel, I’d have remembered her and have mourned her craftsmanship and humanity, both of which shone through as a writer.

But as I said, she wrote many other things. And in nearly everything she ever wrote, I found value and worth…which is all you can ask of any writer, really.

And for those who want entertainment and just that in their stories, well, LeGuin could do that, too. Witness the Earthsea trilogy, TEHANU — the fourth book of Earthsea, and THE OTHER WIND, the fifth book. These are all ripping good reads, with heart and pluck and adventures, and kids of all ages enjoy them to this day.

(To clarify, TEHANU is about an older woman as she finds love, all unlooked for, with the former Archmage, Ged from the first three books. But there’s still a great deal of stuff there that younger kids will like, and the romance is certainly not a graphic one.)

So, here’s to you, Ursula LeGuin. I’m glad you lived. I’m glad you left behind excellent novels and stories and essays and poetry. And I hope your family — which includes, effectively, the vast majority of the SF&F community — will find comfort in your memory.

Jason Cordova’s DEVASTATOR Is Out — And It Is Good…

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Folks, this is the review I just tried to post on Amazon for Jason Cordova’s DEVASTATOR, and couldn’t manage to get it there. (With my luck, though, it’ll post after I put this up here at my blog.)

Mind, I discussed DEVASTATOR, along with Kayelle Allen’s Bringer of Chaos series, last week here at the Elfyverse. So if you haven’t read that post yet, it might be nice to start there…ahem.

(Thus ends today’s try at self-promotion. I’d rather promote someone else anyway!)

So, without further ado, I figured I’d post it here, and I do hope you’ll go read Jason’s newest as soon as you can if you like YA, S/F, or any stories having to do with near-future virtual reality simulations. (Or if you just like Jason’s writing. I mean, really…what’s not to like?)

It’s great to see Tori back in action again in Jason Cordova’s newest novel, DEVASTATOR. She’s a tough customer, albeit a tough customer who’s only seventeen…she’s already had to fight her way out of an insane situation in her favorite virtual reality game known as The Warp in CORRUPTOR (book one of this series), and now been asked to re-enter The Warp to keep an eye on some anomalies no one can quite figure out.

See, things are happening in The Warp that make less sense than usual. For a fully programmed environment to do things that no one understands is just plain wrong; it’s even worse than the previous contretemps Tori defused in CORRUPTOR, as at least there once highly paid programmers were made aware of the issues, they were able to fix them. (What Tori had to do before was to defeat the bad guys wherever possible, evading the rest until she could be rescued and brought out of V/R.) And Tori is possibly the foremost expert on how The Warp actually acts, as opposed to how The Warp is supposed to act, so of course she’s asked to lend her expertise to the problem.

(Lending her expertise sounds nice, doesn’t it? But it’s code words for “murder and mayhem are about to break out here,” really…though I digress.)

Anyway, Tori gathers a bunch of others who are known to her as solid individuals (or at least solid players of The Warp) and all are made referees, more or less glorified Moderators. There’s a tourney going on that will cloak their actions, as the folks who make The Warp absolutely, positively do not want to cause trouble for themselves. And as no one can understand, much less explain, the anomalies that have been observed, discretion is of the essence…thus this subterfuge.

So, they go in there. They have a whole lot of problems. (No, I’m not going to tell you what they are. You need to read DEVASTATOR for yourself, preferably sooner rather than later.) And Tori, her boyfriend Dylan, and many others who’ve risked so much up until now will find their world spun on end, as there are a few plot twists here that I absolutely refuse to spoil.

Great things about DEVASTATOR include an age-appropriate romance (Tori’s a badass, but she’s a more or less innocent badass, which is a refreshing change), a lot of Kaiju-inspired fight scenes, an interesting V/R take on Ragnarok, and much, much more.

Tori’s a fun character, and I rooted for her the whole way. I can’t wait to read the next novel, OBLITERATOR — write quickly, Jason!

———- (Review ends here)

And then, I gave the novel five stars, said it was highly recommended, and tried to point out I’d received it as an ARC, downloaded it right away via KU and read it again, and will be making a point to buy it to put it in my permanent collection, too, down the line. (What else can I do to point out I enjoyed this book?)

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 11, 2018 at 7:11 am

An Interview from Sarah’s Perspective Is Up at Romance Lives Forever

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Folks, if you haven’t read either of my Elfy books, you’re probably wondering what in the world I’m talking about with my title. But Sarah — the heroine and love interest of POV character (and hero) Bruno the Elfy — was “interviewed” by me, and Kayelle Allen enjoyed it so much she put it up at her busy blog, Romance Lives Forever.

Now, Sarah and Bruno’s romance is a fun one to write. They’re young. They’re both badly misunderstood. He’s an orphan. She may as well be one, as her parents are useless and have hidden a great deal from her, plus they seem bent on torturing Elfys. (Bruno manages to get away, but that’s partly because his teacher, Roberto the Wise, takes his place. Long story…go read AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE for more details, hey? It’s only ninety-nine cents USD.)

So, they meet. She’s short for our culture, but very tall for his at four feet even. (Yeah. I know. But Elfys are short.) She doesn’t care that Bruno is not tall, and is short even for an Elfy at only three feet even. All she cares about is that he’s a good guy, he has a sense of humor, he genuinely cares about her, and wants to go forward with her in his life. (Yes, there’s a whole lot more to it, but I want to preserve just a little mystery so if you haven’t read A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE yet, you might just go get it as an e-book.)

And they have to defeat a Dark Elf, a nasty cuss who’s corrupted Sarah’s parents and is going to do his damnedest to sacrifice Bruno’s mentor Roberto — the only person who made any effort while Bruno was in what amounts to an orphanage (the Elfys called it “School for Scions of the Nobility and Other Unfortunates”) to care about Bruno for himself. (In other words, Roberto is like a foster father, in a way.)

My hope is that you’ll go read the character interview for yourself over at Kayelle Allen’s Romance Lives Forever blog. I did enjoy writing it, and “interviewing” Sarah (that is, writing from Sarah’s perspective). She had some interesting insights, and her bucket list (things she wants to do before she passes from this life) is rather intriguing, if I do say so myself.

But to whet your interest…hm. How about this from the character interview?

What are two places you would like to visit before you die, and why?
I’d like to go to Paris. It’s the city of love, right? I think Bruno would enjoy the history, and I’d enjoy watching him go into paroxysms of rapture over it. (He does love his history, especially cross-species history.)
Otherwise, I think I’d like to go somewhere a bit closer: Vancouver, British Columbia. I’ve heard that’s an interesting place. We could walk around, look at the flora and fauna, and just be by ourselves for a bit. That sounds really attractive right now.
Where is a place you would never like to return, and why?
God knows, I can’t stand Bruno’s home, the Elfy Realm. (Earth in a parallel universe.) Those people frighten me. They all have magic, and most of ’em waste it. And they all wanted Bruno dead because they felt he had “too much power,” whatever that means.
Anyone who wants Bruno dead is someone I definitely don’t want to know or be around. Because he’s the best and kindest and most decent person I have ever known, by far.

So, there you have it! I hope you’ll enjoy the interview, and will check it out forthwith…go forth, and multiply. (Or something. And do read a good book today, even if it’s not one of mine. The world needs more readers.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 9, 2018 at 7:36 pm

The Zero Curse — Chris Nuttall’s Excellent Middle-Grade Sequel

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Folks, yesterday I talked about two books that I felt had beaten sequel-itis — that is, the fate of books that don’t live up to its potential after a great first book. And after I talked about Jason Cordova’s DEVASTATOR and Kayelle Allen’s BRINGER OF CHAOS: FORGED IN FIRE, one of my other good friends pointed out yet another book that beats sequel-itis, hands-down.

That book is Chris Nuttall’s THE ZERO CURSE. It takes the wonderful character of Caitlyn Aguirre (also known as Cat) from THE ZERO BLESSING and gives her new challenges, while upping the previous stakes in the process. And the fact that Cat is just twelve years old, and isn’t an idiot savant, isn’t even necessarily a genius — just a reasonably normal smart kid with an unusual ability for her world, that of having no magic at all — makes things all the more poignant.

Chris’s work just keeps getting better and better. And these particular stories are close to my heart for many reasons, most particularly because I got to see them early (as I am one of Chris’s editors), and enjoyed seeing them come to fruition.

Why? Well, I flat-out love Cat. She’s a self-sufficient girl to root for, being without magic in a magical world. And first, she has to figure out how to make her way without having any magic, while finding a way to make her lack a blessing, in THE ZERO BLESSING…before Chris ups the game entirely in THE ZERO CURSE, where Cat starts to realize that the other side of a blessing is a curse, so must start to figure out how to minimize the ways her unusual status as a “Zero” (that is, without magic) can be exploited by evildoers.

Zero Cursed Cover FOR WEB

Once you read about Cat, along with her odious sister Alana and her slightly nicer sister Bella, you’ll never forget her, her world, the school she goes to (Jude’s), her friend and fellow forger (kind of like a magical blacksmith) Akin Ruben, and her best friend, Rose, you’ll never forget it. (Cat’s great-aunt Stregharia in particular is a major piece of work, and you’ll enjoy booing and hissing whenever she shows up, guaranteed.)

So Chris’s book also beats sequel-itis, and is a great book to read on a cold day. (Or any day!) And I, for one, can’t wait until I read the third book in the Zero series, which even I haven’t seen yet. (But I will. Even if I have to find a way to tickle Chris until he says “uncle” to do it.)

Tell me about more books that beat sequel-itis in the comments! (I love hearing from y’all.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 6, 2018 at 12:05 pm