Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

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Friday Free-For-All (AKA News, Round-up, Etc.)

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Folks, I have a bit of news for you.

ALittleElfyinBigTrouble_medFirst, as you know, I wrote about “the story behind A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE” and it was posted yesterday over at the Opinionated Man’s blog. I tried to discuss, for readers new to me, a little bit about why I do what I do — and why I’ve fought so hard to keep the Elfyverse alive.

But then, I thought a little more. And realized that readers who have been with me every step of the way deserved a better answer. So, after much struggling, here it is.

The main reason I kept trying, with the Elfyverse, was because the stories interested me. In that, I’m no different from any other writer.

But the secondary reason was because it made me laugh, even in the darkest hours…and I figured if it could make me laugh, it could make anyone laugh.

Look, folks. We all have days where we wonder why we’re still here. (I can’t be the only one who’s ever wondered this.) Work doesn’t go well, the traffic on the Interstate is bad, family members get sick, you ran out of money before you ran out of month…the list of things that go wrong is seemingly endless, and there’s almost no relief in sight.

But there are books that make you laugh, or make you think, or maybe take you out of yourself.

This, in a nutshell, is why I started writing in the first place. And it’s why I fought so hard for my Elfy duology, because I hope AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE and A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE might be able to do that for you — if it can’t, it’s not for lack of trying.

Anyway, I did say “round-up,” didn’t I?

Realms of Darkover cover FB sizedLast week, I pointed out that REALMS OF DARKOVER will be out in May, and is available for pre-order. Editor Deborah J. Ross has interviewed all the writers, with Shariann Lewitt being the first up last week. But this week, it’s Rosemary Edghill’s turn…and she has some very interesting things to say about Darkover, about writing, and about why she enjoys doing both.

Do go take a look at her interview, will you? (Rosemary Edghill is a fantastic writer. You could learn a lot from her.)

Happy Friday, folks!

Right Under the Wire, Barb Does the #SinCBlogHop!

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Folks, lately I’ve been getting tagged — informally or otherwise — by a number of wonderful writers in the hopes that people who otherwise have never heard of me, or my writing, might be interested enough to take a gander at my comic YA urban fantasy/mystery/romance novel, AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE.

In this case, I was informally tagged by author Dora Machado, author of THE CURSE GIVER (a great fantasy/mystery in its own right). She told me about the Sisters in Crime Blog Hop (which is abbreviated as it’s shown above: #SinCBlogHop, presumably for Twitter purposes), and that she planned to do it if she could find the time . . . but that whether she did it or not, she felt I definitely should.

After our discussion, I went to the Sisters in Crime page that explains the blog hop, and decided for extra grins and giggles that I’d answer all of the questions — not just some.

So ready or not, here we go!

Question One: Which authors have inspired you?

Oh, that’s easy. The ones who have actively helped and inspired my work include Michael B. Caffrey, my late husband, my mentors Rosemary Edghill, Stephanie Osborn, and Katharine Eliska Kimbriel, and friend and writing buddy Jason Cordova.

Or do you mean the writers I loved to read when I was growing up, who inspired me to tell my own stories? Those include Andre Norton, Poul Anderson, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, Elizabeth Moon, and Lois McMaster Bujold.

Those are just some of the many wonderful writers who’ve inspired me in one form or another along the way.

Question Two: Which male authors write great female characters? Which female authors write great male characters?

The female author question is easier for me to answer, because it contains most of the same people I listed above: Andre Norton. Lois McMaster Bujold. Rosemary Edghill. Katharine Eliska Kimbriel. Stephanie Osborn. And Elizabeth Moon. All of them have written outstanding male characters as well as wonderful female characters.

Male authors writing female characters. Hm. Well, in military science fiction, the biggest example of that is David Weber, who has sold a boatload of books in his Honor Harrington series. (So he must be doing something right.)

However, another of my writer-friends, Christopher Nuttall, is also very, very good at writing female characters. His fantasy novels, in particular, are centered around strong, talented young women with heart and spirit, and are a joy to read. (Check out SCHOOLED IN MAGIC or BOOKWORM if you don’t believe me.)

Finally, Michael Z. Williamson has written a number of novels from a female perspective, and he gets the issues right. (For example, in FREEHOLD, his female character Kendra must find a brassiere with excellent support once she goes to the Freehold of Grainne, as Grainne has higher gravity than Earth and thus poses more of a challenge for a busty woman. Not every male author would think about that, much less understand what the problem was; kudos to “Mad Mike” for getting it right.)

Question Three: If someone said “Nothing against women writers, but all of my favorite crime fiction authors happen to be men,” how would you respond?

Oh, boy.

First, I’d bite back an expletive of some sort. (I’m sure of this.)

Then I’d say, “Wow. You’re really missing out on a lot, then.” And I’d point to Rosemary Edghill’s work (again), this time to her three novels included in the BELL, BOOK, AND MURDER omnibus. Or maybe to her short-story collection FAILURE OF MOONLIGHT.

Or perhaps I’d ask this person if he’s read any of Sarah A. Hoyt’s work, as I’m definitely a SF&F genre writer. Most of her stories have some elements of mystery in there, and there’s a ton of action — guys who love shoot ’em up thrill-rides should be ecstatic with A FEW GOOD MEN or DARKSHIP THIEVES.

I mean, seriously. There are so many wonderful writers, why must anyone stay with only male authors? Must gender always win out? Can’t we see words for what they are, irrespective of the author’s gender?

Question Four: What’s the best part of the writing process for you? What’s the most challenging?

The best part of the writing process is actually writing. When I have a story and am fully involved in it, the world is a better place — or at least it seems that way while I’m writing.

The most challenging part is coming up with ways to market my writing after the book is done and out. (No, this isn’t part of the writing process, and it’s just as well it’s not. But it’s still so very difficult that I felt I’d mention it anyway. I can see why big-name authors hire publicists.)

Question Five: Do you listen to music while writing? What’s on your playlist?

Yes, I listen to music while writing. It helps me attain “alpha state,” or whatever/wherever it is that I go when I’m writing.

What’s on my playlist? Usually a little Alice in Chains, a little Nirvana, a little Soundgarden . . . and a whole lot of Stabbing Westward. (What can I say? I like 1990s rock. A lot.)

Question Six: What books are on your nightstand right now?

(Note that this doesn’t count all the half-finished e-books on the figurative pile, or we’d be here all night.)

Question Seven: If you were to mentor a new writer, what would you tell her about the writing business?

I’d tell her that publishing is a very difficult and frustrating business, but not to give up. She needs to believe in herself and what she’s doing, and keep doing it as long as it takes . . . push until it gives, and then some.

Because the name of the game in publishing — and in life itself — is persistence. So do not give up.

Don’t ever give up.

This concludes my first-ever Sisters in Crime Blog Hop! And I do hope you enjoyed it! (Normally, I’d tag someone else — as that’s what a blog hop is all about — but as it’s the 30th already, please go check out some of the work of the fine authors I’ve mentioned above instead!)

 

Deborah J. Ross Interviewed Me Regarding My “Stars of Darkover” Story…and It’s Up

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Folks, a while back, Deborah J. Ross asked me — and all the other writers with stories included in the newest Darkover anthology, STARS OF DARKOVER, which will be out in June — a series of questions. I sent them back to her, and she told me the interview would be up sometime in May.

Late last week, she wrote to me and said the interview was scheduled, and could I please spread the news far and wide?

Of course, I told her. I’ll be glad to do it.

Now, the interview is up over at her blog . . . and I do hope you’ll read it. I discussed a little bit about my story, “At the Crossroads,” and the story’s main character, Judge Fiona n’ha Gorsali, along with the three ways Marion Zimmer Bradley influenced me — one was through her writing, one was because my late husband Michael knew one of Ms. Bradley”s sons (I’m not sure which one, but I’m guessing it was probably her eldest due to the time-frame) and Michael told me that Ms. Bradley had been very encouraging to him when she didn’t have to be, and finally, the last way is because Rosemary Edghill has been my mentor for a few years now…and Rosemary worked with MZB on the Light series (WITCHLIGHT, GRAVELIGHT, GHOSTLIGHT, and HEARTLIGHT).

I haven’t ever been interviewed before. I’ve always been the one doing the interviewing, actually . . . so this was a brand-new experience.

Let me know what you think of my first-ever interview, will you?

By the way, in other news, the second half of ELFY — which I’m sure will be re-titled soon, one way or another — has been turned in to my publisher, Lida Quillen of Twilight Times Books.

What does this mean in practical terms?

Well, it means I’ve done everything I possibly can do. Now it’ll go to my editor. In a few weeks, I’ll probably have the file back and will make any changes required.

This means I still have a shot to get the second half of ELFY out by late October, if all goes well. So that’s a good thing.

Aside from that, I continue to write, edit, and comment . . . and watch the Milwaukee Brewers play baseball games, of course. (I’ll probably be writing about them again soon. But time is short and it’s had to go toward other things.)

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.

Reviewed “Failure of Moonlight,” “Ideality” at SBR on Thursday

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Folks, sometimes I don’t get a chance after reviewing a book to come over here and write a quick blog about it in a timely manner.

I’m not sure why this is, except that the pace of my life seems to be accelerating the longer I’m on this planet. (Weird thing to say, I know. But it’s four a.m., so maybe that accounts for it.)

At any rate, I’m pleased to report that I reviewed two works by Rosemary Edghill at Shiny Book Review (SBR for short, as always) on Thursday afternoon, these being IDEALITY: VENGEANCE OF MASKS and the short-story collection FAILURE OF MOONLIGHT, which features Ms. Edghill’s popular Bast character (a Wiccan detective who takes no nonsense from anyone, not even herself).

Because IDEALITY is a new name for an older title, I mostly just wrote a quick few lines about it and pointed people at the earlier review. I spent most of my time on the six stories and essays comprising FAILURE OF MOONLIGHT.

At any rate, if you are in the mood for some interesting, intelligent stories that will keep your attention long after you’ve turned the final page, please take a gander at these two works. IDEALITY is a fantasy/horror hybrid that’s original, complex, and sometimes shocking — that’s one of the reasons I liked it so much — while FAILURE OF MOONLIGHT is set in our present-day world (albeit slightly in the past, now, as the stories range from the early 1970s to probably the mid-1990s) and features murder mysteries (and Bast; have I mentioned Bast yet?)

Note that IDEALITY is more of an adult read (mind you, if anyone had told me that a book is more of an adult read when I was thirteen or fourteen, that’s the first book I’d have grabbed off the shelf, so it feels really strange to say that), while there’s a mix of age-ranges in FAILURE OF MOONLIGHT.

So please do take a gander at my review, then go read the books.

 

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 28, 2014 at 5:17 am

Just Reviewed Four Romances at SBR

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Folks, it had been a while since I did a Romance Saturday review over at Shiny Book Review (SBR for short, as always), I thought I’d do more than one.

This time, I reviewed four.

And, because I was feeling a little puckish, I decided to call it a Romance Saturday “Four-Play.” (Pardon the pun. Or don’t. I’m not going to change it, so there. Nyah.)

The best of the lot beyond a shadow of a doubt is Rosemary Edghill’s excellent time-travel romance MET BY MOONLIGHT, recently re-released as an independent e-book. It is outstanding in just about every way there is, but if you are of the pagan persuasion, you probably will like it even better.  (Even if you aren’t, though, you should adore this book. Truly.)

I also reviewed a nice debut Regency by Giselle Marks, THE FENCING MASTER’S DAUGHTER. I agonized over this one, as there are some glaring weaknesses mixed in with some strong strengths, but ultimately decided that the couple of big laughs and the excellent historicity was enough to give it a B.

As THE FENCING MASTER’S DAUGHTER would be much better if Ms. Marks had somehow won access to a top-notch editor, I had to say that. (I also said whoever edited for her did a competent job. He or she presented the romance nicely, and it was grammatical and with few typos. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s not as much work as most of the really good editors I’ve been around would do if they’d seen a manuscript like this one land on their desks.)

Then I was presented with two romances by Sherry Thomas, one a YA fantasy romance called THE BURNING SKY and the other a 19th Century English historical romance, THE LUCKIEST LADY IN LONDON. I really like Ms. Thomas’s writing style, and think she’s one of the best younger romance novelists around (by “younger” in this context, I mean “under forty”).

I liked THE BURNING SKY, but did not love it. I thought it had some nice touches, believed in the romance between the two principals, and the magical system was acceptable to better. I didn’t find it ground-breaking, though, as some reviews have called it, mostly because Mercedes Lackey has been doing books about Elemental Magic for years — also set in England, many of them set in late 19th Century England at that — and while Lackey’s Elemental mages aren’t exactly like Thomas’s, they’re close enough for government work.

As for THE LUCKIEST LADY IN LONDON . . . how can I say that I was completely underwhelmed without being a complete and utter boor? (Oops, I just said it anyway.)

Look. Ms. Thomas writes well, so even a C-level romance (which is exactly what I adjudged THE LUCKIEST LADY IN LONDON to be) is probably worth your time, especially if you’ve read nothing else by her before.

But considering the level of her other books — her excellent debut, PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS, her excellent war romance, NOT QUITE A HUSBAND, or even the recent TEMPTING THE BRIDE — this just was not up to Ms. Thomas’s standards. At all.

I’ve had to give other writers whose work I generally find to be exceptional C-ratings before, and probably will again. Most of the time, I try not to agonize over this, especially if the novelist in question has put out a number of books (by my count, Ms. Thomas has now put out eight full-length romance novels, one fantasy romance novel, and at least one novella, so she’s put out ten books). I figure that someone with a track record, as Ms. Thomas now has, should have to be held to a higher standard than someone who’s just starting out — because really, don’t you want to top yourself?

That’s why I admire the work of Ms. Edghill so much, and Katharine Eliska Kimbriel, too. Those two writers do not settle, ever. They put out top-notch efforts, their books are memorable and lively, and even something that I don’t find to be quite at an A-minus or better is still well worth my time.

More to the point, I never forget what those two write about. Never.

Whereas with THE LUCKIEST LADY IN LONDON, I put the book down for a week and a half. I forgot everything about it. I had to go back and re-read, then I saw a few really good, sparkling passages that reminded me of how good Ms. Thomas can be when she puts her mind to it — and a bunch of passages where the editing was not there (something rare in a mass-market romance, where the editing is usually outstanding), or the focus was not there, or something just was a bit off.

Worse yet, even in THE BURNING SKY, I put the book down for a week and a half and wasn’t really inclined to finish it excepting I’d already said I’d review the thing. I was pleasantly surprised by it, as it picked up considerably after a very slow start, and I think Ms. Thomas shows promise as a fantasy novelist.

That’s the main reason why the latter book got a B from me, while the first one only received a C. A book that’s uneven, poorly edited, and unfocused — no matter how good the writing is at its best — can only garner a C.

But a book that gets significantly better as time goes on, and holds my interest despite putting it down for a week-plus at a lull, can still get a B or maybe even better, depending.

Look, folks. My own novel isn’t yet out. I know people could be coming after me with pitchforks, for all I know, because I’m willing to tell it like it is when it comes to some of my otherwise-favorite novelists.

I also know that sometimes the demands of contemporary publishing schedules means that the quality of books will sometimes be lacking.

My view is simple: Ms. Thomas can ascend to the same level of storytelling as seen by Ms. Kimbriel and Ms. Edghill, but Ms. Thomas needs to demand more. Whether she needs to get her agent to buy her more time to turn something in so she can polish it up, whether she needs to just write fantasy romances for the time being as that seems to be where her heart is, I don’t know — but whatever it is, she needs to do that.

I don’t care how many places, some of which are very well-known, give these last two books high ratings or say that they’re up to the standards of Ms. Thomas’s other books. The plain and simple fact of the matter is, they aren’t.

Anyway, this is why I wrote these particular reviews — my “after-action report,” as it were.  I hope you found it of interest.

Now I’d best get back to editing, as I have an author eagerly awaiting my latest comments . . . and who am I to make him wait?

Just Reviewed Lackey and Edghill’s “Sacrifices” at SBR

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Folks, if you don’t regularly read my book reviews, I’d be really astonished.  (Well, those who aren’t following me simply for my insights, often trenchant, on the Milwaukee Brewers, that is.)  That’s the main reason I try to post something here when I write a new one.

Anyway, I’m very short on time right now, but I did get up a book review this evening for the excellent young adult urban fantasy by Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill, SACRIFICES.  This is book three in their Shadow Grail series, which deals with Arthurian myth (I called it “neo-Arthurian” as this series fuses the best of what’s great about urban fantasy and the best of historicity, in case anyone’s wondering how I came up with that) along with self-sacrifice and a whole lot of other interesting concepts.

If you love urban fantasy, mystery, Arthurian legend/history, or just admire the writing of Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill, you want to read this book, soonest.  (Trust me.)  Not your typical “middle series” book by any means, this book is a non-stop thrill-ride (unfortunately, as I’d already used that term for another of their books, DEAD RECKONING, I didn’t think I should use it in the review, variety being the spice of life and all that) that will keep you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end.

So I figured that before I went off to tonight’s rehearsal with the Racine Concert Band (for Sunday’s free concert at the Racine Zoo; I’m playing alto saxophone), I’d get something up for the review, then write a very quick blog post about it.

Anyway, go read my review, then go grab the book!

Just Reviewed “Arcanum 101” at SBR

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Folks, if you’re looking for a short, but really good, urban fantasy novel — better yet, one written by such masters of the craft as Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill — look no further than Arcanum 101: Welcome New Students.  (My review over at SBR is available here.)  This is a fun, fast read that does many good things — it introduces two good characters, Tomas Torres, a fifteen-year-old pyrokinetic (read: fire-starter) from the barrio, and teenaged techno-shaman Valeria Victrix Langenfeld (always called “VeeVee”), who’s been raised with magic, accepts it as her due, and has more talents than she knows what to do with.  Both end up at St. Rhiannon’s School for Gifted and Exceptional Students — St. Rhia’s, for short — and both are attracted to each other within moments of their first meeting.

As this is a young adult story, their romance is PG-rated.  I appreciated this, because it seems most unlikely that a young romance needs to become explicit right away — especially while in a school setting.

Overall, I enjoyed Arcanum 101 thoroughly, and think if you enjoy urban fantasy, anything written by Mercedes Lackey and/or Rosemary Edghill, or better yet, all of the above, you will enjoy it as much as I did.

So what are you waiting for?  Go read my review — then go grab the e-book!

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 21, 2012 at 12:25 am

Just Reviewed Rosemary Edghill’s “Vengeance of Masks” at SBR

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Folks, if you haven’t read Rosemary Edghill’s writing yet, you should.  She’s one of the best writers working in any genre, and her books never disappoint.

That’s why I find it so hard to believe that she had to self-publish the entirety of her interesting, surprising, different SF/F hybrid novel THE VENGEANCE OF MASKS, especially as this novel contains many elements that are traditional in dark fantasy epics — which means there are cognates out there (in other words, if you’ve read any of Cathrynne M. Valente’s dark fantasy, or Michaele Jordan’s, or Jane Lindskold’s, or most especially Jacqueline Carey’s, you will enjoy THE VENGEANCE OF MASKS.)

I’ll tell you what — if you aren’t reading every single thing Rosemary Edghill writes, if only to figure out why and how she puts stories together, you are missing out.  (Big-time.)  And when you consider that she writes cracking-good adventure stories, great and realistic romances (even under uneasy and often off-putting situations), and that she never disappoints, it is beyond me why she doesn’t have a far greater readership.

That said, her novel THE VENGEANCE OF MASKS  is excellent, as I said in my review tonight at Shiny Book Review (SBR).  Constantly surprising, always engaging, and compulsively readable, this is one novel that should be bought, read, and re-read as it is excellent in every particular.

Seriously.  Go to Lulu right now and buy THE VENGEANCE OF MASKS.  Then read it, enjoy it, and recommend it to your friends — because trust me: if you like dark fantasy and/or sword and sorcery epics and/or science fiction/fantasy romance, you will love THE VENGEANCE OF MASKS.

Just Reviewed Kowal’s Alternate Regencies; Fun Stuff

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Folks, as it’s July 5, 2012, and I’d promised the Shiny Book Review faithful a new review or two, I just reviewed both of Mary Robinette Kowal’s alternate Regencies, SHADES OF MILK AND HONEY and GLAMOUR IN GLASS.  Check out my review of both books here.

Now, what is it about the Regency period that makes for such great fantasy material?  In addition to Kowal’s two novels, I’ve seen several other really fine writers do some interesting things with either the Austen canon (not merely PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES, which I viewed as kitsch, but Sarah A. Hoyt and Sofie Skapski’s excellent A TOUCH OF NIGHT, which incorporates Weres — shapechanging into animals — into PRIDE AND PREJUDICE without a hitch) or with the milieu itself (the two books by André Norton and Rosemary Edghill that comprise CAROLUS REX, THE SHADOW OF ALBION and LEOPARD IN EXILE, are both excellent).

I think the main reason novelists in and out of the romance genre have returned to this milieu is because of how unusual it seems to us in modern-day society.  The Regency era was much more formal in its speech than present-day English-speaking society, at least when it comes to middle class people and above.  The fashions people wore were much different.  The way people thought then has diverged just enough from today that it makes for fascinating reading . . . yet it’s not so far in the past that we have no referents whatsoever.

So my guess is, there’s a mixture of familiarity in what we see in the Regency period — comfort, if you will — and unfamiliarity, and that’s what these excellent novelists see in it.  Because if you’re writing fantasy, and you can come up with a great way to incorporate a fantasy element into this interesting, turbulent time, why not do it?

At any rate, if you love Jane Austen, love Austen pastiches, love Austen-inspired works, or simply love the Regency Era with fantasy idea as a whole, you’ll get a kick out of Kowal’s two alternate Regencies as they’re fun, fast, faithful reads that don’t cheat the reader.  But do yourself a favor, please:  read these other great books I’ve referenced, too, even if you have to go to the library to read the Norton-Edghill collaborations.  (You’ll be glad you did.)