Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Posts Tagged ‘young adult (YA)

Redemption, Tonya Harding, and Chris Nuttall’s newest novel, THE FAMILY SHAME

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Redemption. It’s one of the strongest words in the English language, or at least it should be. It means to be saved from sin, evil, or error. Or to save yourself from the past consequences of bad or immoral actions…or, perhaps, it means this:

Living. Learning. And improving yourself, because you can’t live with the person you used to be.

My friend Chris Nuttall wrote a book recently based around this theme called THE FAMILY SHAME, set in his Zero Enigma universe. (I was one of his editors, so I got to see the book early and often.) In it, young Isabella Rubén has lost everything she once had, all because she trusted the wrong person. She’s only twelve, but the person she trusted plotted treason against the powers-that-be, and Isabella knew about it — and didn’t say anything to her father, or anyone else. Worse yet, she actively collaborated with this person to commit treason, mostly because she saw it as her only reasonable way to obtain political power due to what amounts to her family’s benign neglect of her talents (she’s a female magician and her particular family can only be led by male magicians).

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See, Isabella, in any other family, probably wouldn’t have done this. Every other family in the city of Shallot (where she’s from) picks their leader from everyone, male and female alike, based on a combination of magical and political ability. But her family, the Rubéns, don’t.

But she did it. She feels terrible about it, but she did it, and she can’t take that combination of deliberate non-action (in not telling her father or any of her teachers) plus actively aiding and abetting the treasonous older “friend” along the way.

And she is paying the price, as she has been exiled to Kirkhaven, an old, ramshackle estate about as far away from Shallot as you can get by horse. She’s also been told not to send letters to her father, mother, or brother, as she’s now “the family shame.”

So, not only has she lost everything — family, friends, wealth, schooling, political standing (which she did care about, even though she was only twelve as she was quite precocious in some ways) — she now has to deal with this ramshackle manor. Two adult magicians live there, Morag Rubén and Ira Rubén. (No, they’re not married to each other.) Morag is a cook, while Ira is a type of experimenter who admits he wants to find ways to make Dark-inflected spells work for good. And both of them, too, are exiles…

Did they want young Isabella around? The answer is a resounding “no.” But there she is, and now she has to figure out how to deal with them (not easy), how she’s going to continue her schooling independently (definitely not easy), and how she’s going to deal with the loneliness of this deserted, remote place (almost impossible). All while wrestling with the problems that brought her to this place, which she knows she created and cannot change.

When she manages to befriend a boy around her own age, Callam, her life starts to improve a little. But she has to keep the friendship secret, as she’s not supposed to leave the grounds, nor is he supposed to be on the grounds himself. (It’s a very innocent friendship, as is befitting for their respective ages.)

It’s getting to know Callam that helps to slowly but surely make Isabella realize just how badly she behaved before, and avow that she will find a way to do better.

I don’t want to give away the plot, so I’ll stop there with a plot summary. But I’ve given you this much because I wanted you to think about just how hard it’s going to be for Isabella to redeem herself in the eyes of society — and worse, how hard it’s going to be for Isabella, herself, to redeem herself in her own eyes.

Redemption, you see, is hard. People judge you by your past actions, and no matter what you do, no matter what you say, no matter how much you might apologize, and no matter how much you’ve actually changed, there are still going to be some people who will hate you, and not give the new version of you — the better version, the one tested in the fire — the time of day.

We see that in contemporary life every day.

One of the most current examples is that of figure skater Tonya Harding, who’s now nearly forty-eight years old. But when she was only twenty-four — in 1994 — she somehow failed to stop an attack on fellow figure skater Nancy Kerrigan, then not quite twenty-five. Kerrigan was hit on the knee by thugs sent by Harding’s then-husband, and one of those thugs was Harding’s bodyguard. Harding, herself, was sentenced to probation, given community service, and ended up being banned for life by the United States Figure Skating Association.

What Harding did back then was awful. That she had a rotten childhood (she truly did), that she came from abject poverty (she did), that her husband was mean and abusive to her as far as the public could discern, and that figure skating was her one gift (she was the first American woman to land a triple axel in competition, and was known for her athleticism, her jumps, and her footwork passages) may ameliorate things slightly, but the fact remains that she could’ve apparently done something to keep Kerrigan from being harmed. (I must say “apparently” because the facts are not completely in evidence. What we know is that Harding took a plea deal.)

But did she deserve to be ostracized the rest of her life for this?

Is the assumption going to be that Harding can’t learn, can’t find a way to be a good person, and that it’s supposedly OK for her to never use her one, true gift ever again, even to teach young kids how to skate?

See, that’s the quandary my friend Chris’s protagonist Isabella is in, too. Isabella is a gifted magician, but she misused her magic and hurt people. She knows it was wrong. She has apologized (as Harding, back in 1994, 1995, and 1996, apologized multiple times to the best of my recollection). But she was ostracized, cast out, exiled.

Isabella does find redemption, or at least finds a way toward redemption.

I would like to think that Harding also has found some sort of redemption, too. (Being on TV’s Dancing with the Stars surely has given her an athletic outlet, and may help pay for her son’s education down the line for all I know.)

But what’s sad about the quest for redemption, and what’s sad in both cases I’ve discussed here, is that some people will never forgive you no matter what good you might do. And no matter how much you might’ve changed. And no matter how much you might want them to forgive you…they just won’t, and you have to learn to live with it.

That Harding still has people, even to this day, leave feces (yes, actual feces) on her doorstep or rude messages on her phone or random people on the street swearing a blue streak at her, twenty-four years later, illustrates just how hard it is to seek redemption, even if you do it privately and out of the public eye.

You pay a heavy price, when you do something wrong, bad, or something that society judges immoral or flat-out evil.

But you still have to learn to live with yourself and your talents, and use them to the best of your ability. Which is what I think Harding is trying to do, as the older, presumably wiser version of herself…and it assuredly is what the young Isabella Rubén is trying to do in THE FAMILY SHAME.

I’m proud to have edited Chris’s new novel, and I hope you will find it a fun read, as well as an instructive one.

And personally? I think redemption is definitely possible. I just wish people would learn to see others for who they are today, not for how they hurt them yesterday, or how bad they behaved the day before that (or twenty-four years ago). Don’t forget it, no, as that’s revisionist history and unnecessary. But do forgive, if you can, at least as far as to say, “If I lived that person’s life, I can’t say for certain I wouldn’t have done the same things.”

That is the best way to be a decent human being, bar none.

…and Today’s Blog Exchange Continues at Lyndi Lamont’s Site

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Folks, I hope you will not mind traveling today, as I am guesting at Lyndi Lamont’s blog for today’s “blog exchange.” (Lyndi is also known as Linda McLaughlin, and by either name is an excellent writer. Her site is LindaLyndi.com, and she has all sorts of interesting articles over there. Do make a note of it.)

ALittleElfyinBigTrouble_medI’ve been thinking a lot lately about the differences between writing a romance for teens — or at least stories that contain romance as an important element such as in my Elfyverse — and a more mature love. And as Lyndi and I both have stories in Exquisite Christmas, I decided to use examples drawn from the second of my stories there, “To Hunt the Hunter.”

So, you have Bruno and Sarah on the one hand. They are innocent, young, involved in their first (and only) serious romance, and are feeling their way. They don’t yet know what they want, but they do know they want something.

ExquisiteChristmasAd3(1)And then you have Marja and Tomas, the protagonists of “Marja’s Victory” and “To Hunt the Hunter” (both included in Exquisite Christmas). They are not young. Marja in particular is not beautiful and does not care to be, even though she’s a shapeshifter so she obviously could be if she wished. Tomas is a telepathic mountain Troll, so he’s used to people lying to him and values someone who’s being truthful above all others.

After I put up a couple of excerpts (you need to go to Lyndi/Linda’s blog to check them out), I said this:

First, Bruno and Sarah are obviously young. This is their first and only serious relationship, and they are both respectful of one another and innocent, to boot. (They both like to think they’re not, of course. But that comes with the territory.)

Marja and Tomas, on the other hand, are not young. They have been in a serious relationship for quite some time and work well together. But there is genuine love there, and genuine understanding, besides – note that Tomas says, “Those other fools who passed on you do not matter anymore.” No male of any species would ever say that to a woman if he didn’t truly and deeply love her. And no woman would smile just for him (as Marja does, though I ended the excerpt before she smiled for the sake of brevity) after hearing something like that unless there was genuine love on her part as well.

Anyway, I hope you will enjoy my guest blog over at Lyndi/Linda’s site. I know I enjoyed writing it — and I enjoyed having Lyndi here at the Elfyverse today as well. (I’m even hoping to coax her to come back in the New Year, so she can tell us more about what’s going on with her stories.)

Happy holidays, everyone — and do check out the Exquisite Christmas anthology as it’s a true “comfort 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

Reviewed E.C. Myers’ “Quantum Coin” at SBR

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Folks, as I originally wrote this on September 11, 2012 — and for some reason, it wasn’t published on that day — take it as read that I have had alternate universes on my mind all week.

To wit — what would’ve happened had Al Gore, not George W. Bush, been our 43rd President of the United States?  Would he have stayed on top of al-Qaeda, as he was well aware of the threat al-Qaeda posed to the United States?  Or would he have been distracted by the many other concerns that can’t help but keep every President awake at night (unless he’s a particularly sound sleeper, as it appeared Ronald Reagan must’ve been)?

I’d like to think that in another universe — even if it were still a universe where George W. Bush was President, but had different advisors, or maybe took a different path with regards to foreign policy — that the horrible events of our version of September 11, 2001, wouldn’t have happened.

Such is the belief of the parallel worlds theory, something many writers have dealt with in both fantasy and science fiction.  Because my own novel, ELFY (forthcoming from Twilight Times Books in 2013) has elements of parallel worlds in it, I have an affinity for other novels that use this particular theory; that’s one reason I enjoyed reading E.C. Myers’ debut novel, FAIR COIN, as it dealt with the multiverse, modern physics, string theory, and because of this couldn’t help but also talk about parallel worlds and how physicists believe they come about.

In FAIR COIN, when Ephraim Scott, Myers’s hero, figures out how parallel worlds work (because his love interest, Jena Kim, is a budding physicist and kindly explains it all to him) and then ends up enmeshed in them, it all made sense.  Ephraim sees the various ways the world could’ve unfolded; some places have no humans at all, some have constant war, some have already been burned up (nuclear winter), and just about any other possibility aside from alien contact or other types of life is explored.

This is different from what I do in my novel, ELFY — I treat the universes as a fact also, but there are many other intelligences that humans have to deal with — at least the magical humans, those who know we’re not alone in the multiverse.  But the theory being used is exactly the same.

Anyway, Myers’s sequel, QUANTUM COIN, will be out in early October of this year, which is why I reviewed it at Shiny Book Review (SBR)QUANTUM COIN takes up with the same main characters — Ephraim Scott and Jena Kim (and her alternate universe analogue, Zoe Kim) — has a similar premise dealing with alternate universes, and ups the ante in other ways due to how much Myers’s storytelling ability has improved from the previous novel.

To be blunt — QUANTUM COIN has more to it than fancy physics theories (nifty though that is).  It has action.  It has drama.  It has ethics, situational and otherwise.  It has great characterization.  And it has some nicely written low-key romance that’s based off shared experience and friendship, not just hormones and built-in stuff from expectations based off the other person’s analogue (one of the problems I had with FAIR COIN that wasn’t present here is that the romance between Zoe and Ephraim was too rushed; things are fast-paced, yes, but I had a far better sense that Zoe saw our Ephraim as an individual rather than as an archetype).

I enjoyed QUANTUM COIN thoroughly and believe that if you enjoy interesting science as well as a compelling story, you will really enjoy E.C. Myers’ latest effort.  It won’t be released until October 2, 2012, but you can pre-order it now — and really, what’s stopping you?

That way, you, too, can ponder alternate universes, and wonder — do they actually exist?  And if so, what will we do once we discover them?

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 13, 2012 at 7:41 pm