Eastern Gods on Kindle Scout!

Hey Everyone,

Apologies from being away from the blog for so many weeks. My life has been super crazy wrapping up projects and job hunting BUT exciting news!

Eastern Gods, book one of new YA Fantasy series Western Wars, is up on a Kindle Scout campaign for your view and vote! I’m crazy excited about this one. It would be really good for fans who enjoyed Sarah J Maas’ Throne of Glass series or MTV’s Shannara Chronicles.

This series is the first lot of books I wrote as a teenager. I finished the whopping, originally titled,  Eastern Gods and Western Wars when I was about nineteen. It landed at 180k words. I believed in the story, I wanted it out there, and so it has been through a massive reworking and editing for the passed year. Its now split into two books, Eastern Gods and The Golden Queen and I can’t wait for you to read them.

I love this series. It helped me survive a really dark period in my life and taught me so much about storytelling, craft and helped create a safe place in my mind where I could hang out. I was reading a lot of fantasy as a teen; loads of Lord of the Rings, Stephen Lawhead and Ian Irvine’s View from the Mirror Quartet (please check it out – its so freaking great) and it is these writers and stories that shaped my passion for writing epic fantasy.

This series is a big one, twisted up with family, war, love, faith and magic. It’s a hero quest and a coming of age and the secrets that you discover about your family as you grow older. It’s about sacrifice and blood and forgiveness at it’s most brutal.

Please check it out here, there is a huge sample on the site for you to read too so bonus!

Eastern Gods

Description

Enter a world of forgotten magic, kings, gods and the woman who will dare to defy them.

Prince Haldirian’s safe world is shattered when he captures a spy from the silent and forgotten Eastlands. There is only one scholar of the East who could stop the fear of war spreading, Aláenor of Silandáe.

The first female heir in history, highly intelligent and carrying a warrior swagger Aláenor isn’t what Haldirian has learned to expect from royal princesses.

The eastern spy Hilkiah reveals that he was sent by Mordecai, Emperor of the East and powerful dark magician residing in the city of Rotech. The West has turned their back on magic for centuries and fearing that war is imminent, a spying party is sent back to the East to discover the truth.

Mordecai is burning for payback on the western king who destroyed his life. He needs Aláenor to fulfill his revenge, and he will have her…even if he has to kill the man she loves and destroy her soul to do it.

 

WYLT Preview – An Origin Faerie Tale

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For the first Wylt preview I thought I would share a faerie tale, found in an ancient book in the library of the Gwaed Lyn estate….

During the beginning of the world, the Great Creator God of the Aos Si fashioned night with a moon and stars to brighten the dark sky, forming the Guardians of the Night and naming them the Unseelie. All things must balance, so Day was created, and the sun was born with a brightness and a warmth to illuminate and nourish all of the Aos Si, and the Guardians of the Light were called Seelie. In Day, the Creator also crafted shade, dark places that could hold the balance.

It was foretold the world would move in four great seasons and that the rule of these seasons would fall to the Guardians accordingly. Summer would be ruled by the warm light of the Seelie, and the dark, cold winter would be ruled by the Unseelie. During the time of the autumn, the Seelie would slowly relinquish its power to the rule of the Unseelie, just as with the coming of the spring the Unseelie would relinquish its power back to the Seelie. This was the Great Accord, and during the First Cycle of Summer the Seelie thrived becoming stronger, more beautiful and their magic powerful. But with power also came corruption, and as the summer began to wane the Seelie Court started to despair at the weakening of their magic. It was not long before their voices were shouting their distrust and discontentment at having to relinquish their rule to their Unseelie brethren.

Autumn began to move through the lands, the green that the Seelie cherished so dearly began to turn to gold, red and brown. Furious that the Unseelie were taking their power a great war ensued breaking the land and soaking it in the blood of both sides of the Fae.

In the final days of the Last Battle, with both sides nearing extinction, the Seelie Queen created a spell that would have the power to hold the remaining power in her court forever. She convinced her King to hold a court with the Unseelie with the promise of a peaceful discussion to try and come to a new accord. Then, as the two kings sat down together, the Queen of the Seelie took her husband’s sword and slew them.

The Queen knew that all things must be balanced and mixing the power of the two kings, she cast her curse over all of the Aos Si. The seasons within the lands would move no longer, sealing it into an eternal autumn, making it so she would never have to relinquish her power to Unseelie kind.

The Unseelie King was survived by three sons; Bleddyn the eldest and the heir to the title of Seren Du, the Black Star, Trahaearn and Gwaen. Taken by the Seelie, they were made hostage slaves to the Autumn Queen. Unlike the other Unseelie kindred, the princes were fair to look upon, and as they grew their pale white skin, soft black hair and bright eyes became admired by the court and the Autumn Queen.

To all, the three seemed compliant and content in their situation. They never flinched at the sneers and insults dealt to them by their enemies or fought back when they were abused by the Queens consort, Ryn Eurion.

Deep in their hearts, the princes were dreaming of escape and none more so than the eldest, Bleddyn Seren Du. In their chambers at night, he would tell his young brothers stories of their kingdom and of the great land through the portals, a land where there was no war against them, where the Autumn Queen had no power or influence. Bleddyn practiced his father’s magic in secret, teaching his younger brothers the secret powers of their kind, how best to fight the Seelie, and all the while, he planned their escape.

Knowing that the only way to protect his brothers was to be above suspicion, Bleddyn set about earning the favor of the Autumn Queen. There had long been whispers around the court that the Queen’s appetites had become insatiable and distorted in her proclivities since the death of the King, many fearing to become the object of her desire. Bleddyn began to pay the Queen attention until at a ball, Ryn had men hold him down, and they beat him. Through the heavy blows, Bleddyn continued to watch the Queen, his eyes burning with an unspoken promise.

“Why do you not look away though you are beaten for it, insolent slave?” she asked on the fourth day.

“My glorious, Queen, how could my eyes look at anything else?” he replied. That night, instead of being dragged back to a cell, Bleddyn was taken to the Queen’s chambers. Dismissing her attendants, the Autumn Queen took the Unseelie prince into her milk baths and gently tended to his wounds. He watched her silently with the same intensity that he wore during his beatings.

“You do not fear me,” she said, “You do not fear pain or retribution.”

“No, my lady,” he answered as she ladled the healing milk over his battered body. Her white fingers dug into the bruises on his arms. His breath sucked in sharply but he did flinch or pull away from her. Her red lips curled.

“Do you find the pain exciting, Unseelie?” she asked lifting herself up so that he could see the beads of milk dripping down the sloping curves of her breasts. Bleddyn grabbed the Queen by her long white neck, pinning her to the stone wall of the bath.

“Do you?” he demanded.

The Autumn Queen’s eyes flashed in anger, and she struck him, her nails opening his pale skin. He did not move as the crimson drops of blood fell to mar the white milk. Bleddyn watched her, his body towering over hers and the anger in her eyes melted under the heat of her own desire. She kissed him, biting his lips in her eagerness. Bleddyn allowed it only a few moments until he held her back firmly.

“No.”

The Queen was shocked, her fury growing inside of her. “I am your queen. I own the very breath in your body.”

“But you do not own my heart or soul,” Bleddyn whispered in her ear. “And if you take me unwillingly you will never know the secret to the greatest pleasure that only the Unseelie can give you. It is dark magic, and it has never been given to a Seelie before. It is not something you can take like you took our lands. It must be given.”

Bleddyn walked from the pool, leaving the Queen wondering what the secret magic could be, for the only thing she really loved was power.

From that night the Autumn Queen forbid any of the Court from touching the Unseelie princes. They no longer had to wear the chains and slave collars around their necks and hands in the ballrooms. Bleddyn acted no differently from this special allowance only to bow to her in silent thanks on behalf of his brothers.

This act sparked malcontent in many subjects for the Unseelie princes were beautiful, unusual creatures that they had enjoyed using for whatever pleasure they saw fit. All were afraid of the older prince, but the Queen’s edict had robbed them of their treasured entertainment.

As he knew she would, the Queen summoned Bleddyn two nights later. She was wearing a fine gossamer shift that accentuated, rather than hid the nakedness underneath it. Her attendants were dismissed, leaving her alone with him once more.

“Come sit beside me,” she commanded.

“I would rather stand, my queen,” answered Bleddyn politely.

The Queen’s eyes flared. “You would deny me this one small thing after the great favor I have shown you?”

“I am grateful, my queen, but the chambers that Lord Ryn has locked us in are very cramped. We enjoy being able to stand properly when we can.”

The Queen’s red brow furrowed as she got to her feet and walked slowly about him. She snapped her fingers and his threadbare shirt melted away. Bleddyn did not move as she scraped her long nails down his back.

“Why do you resist me so much, dark one? Why do you hold yourself back from the pleasure I offer you?”

“I mean no disrespect but it is my awe of you that I must control myself. The Unseelie lovemaking is far more passionate than the Seelie and I would not wish to harm the queen for fear her wrath would turn to my brothers. It is a far better thing to resist what you offer.”

“I will not harm your brothers if you lay with me,” she said as she put her hand in his long, black hair, pulling it hard as she kissed him. His hands gripped her hips roughly, lifting her up. He carried her over to her bed of red silks, pushing her down onto it. Gripping the front of her shift, he tore it in half. He bit her breast hard enough for her to cry out in sudden pain. Bleddyn let her go and got back to his feet. A bruise was already blossoming like a purple autumn flower on her pale skin.

“I am sorry, my queen, but I cannot come to you as I am. You are the greatest queen in the entire world. I will not touch you with my soiled hands and body. It would be insulting to you.”

“You insult me by denying me,” the Queen said, touching the bruise, “but this last request I will grant you.”

The Unseelie princes were moved that very night to one of the finest chambers in her court. There they had servants bring them hot water for baths and new clothes of the finest silks and velvets. An elaborate meal was brought to them, and the princes ate well before hiding their knives in the folds of their clothes, listening as Bleddyn laid out his plans to them.

The next night, they went to the ball, the younger princes given free rights to roam where they pleased. Bleddyn danced with the Autumn Queen and made her laugh with his observances of the dour-faced courtiers. When she retired, she took Bleddyn’s hand openly in front of her advisors and led him to her chambers.

“I have given what you asked for, Unseelie, now give yourself to me as promised,” the Autumn Queen demanded.

Bleddyn took the knife he had stolen from the banquet dinner and held it against her chest. The Queen gasped as he ran the flat side of the cool blade down her skin.

“You mean to kill me, Unseelie?” the Queen asked, laughter bubbling out of her.

With a steady hand, he slid the blade down the front of her jeweled bodice and cut the ties one by one until her body spilled free from it. She tried to move, but he held the blade to her throat, stilling her as he kissed her breast through her thin undergarment. Two quick flicks of his hand and the shoulders of her gown tore away. A thin line of blood welled up where the blade had caught her, and he quickly put his mouth over it, drinking a drop of her blood before it healed. The Queen kissed him, viciously.

“Tell me what the Unseelie magic is,” she demanded breathlessly.

“Can you not feel the spell beginning to move through you?” Bleddyn asked as he ran the blade between her breasts, shredding the fabric and leaving a line of welling blood. Her back arched as he licked it, her eyes clouding, unseeing of the small cuts he was making in her. He cut the skirt of her dress to shreds, the Queen trembling with fear and excitement to be in the hands of her armed enemy. Wherever she felt the cold touch of the blade was followed by the sensation of his tongue until she was dizzy with need.

Bleddyn felt strength returning to his limbs, the magic in the blood filling him. With every cut, he grew stronger, and the Queen, caught up in her own desire, grew weaker.

Every moment he spent with her, his brothers were making their way to their agreed meeting place. Taking strips of her ruined dress, he tied her arms above her head, her legs to the posts of her bed.

“You mean to make a prisoner of me, Unseelie? I could burn these bonds with a thought,” she mocked.

“I would never want to imprison you, my Queen. My power is no match for yours,” he said as he ran his long body along hers, making her shudder with anticipation. He gripped her hair in his hands, lifting her pale white neck up toward him.

“Do you want to know want to know the secret magic of the Unseelie, my Queen?” he whispered against her skin.

“Yes…yes, my prince, tell me,” she whispered, her eyes gleaming.

“Then you shall have it,” Bleddyn watched her face change in fear as his teeth lengthened. Before she could cry out, he bit hard into her exposed throat, sucking the scream from it.

In her blood, he saw all the wards, the guards and the ways to escape their underground prison. He saw the spells she had cast, felt her magic in every drop. He saw memories and drew the one of the night of his father’s death to him. He saw how Ryn Eurion had killed his mother and delivered the heart to the queen. He watched as she ate it, stealing all of his mother’s magic into her.

He bit harder, his urge to kill more potent than anything he felt before but he saw the magical ties she had within the palace itself. If she died, it would turn against them and he and his brothers would never escape.

He drained her until all of the youth shriveled out of her and her true age was revealed. Red hair turned to white, her plump lips and body shriveling underneath him. A single drop of blood he left in her before he let the body go.

Upon the wall hung the sword of this dead father and Bleddyn held out his hands, whispered a word and Widow’s Fury flew from its bonds and into his hand. He heard it call out to him for Seelie blood but he silenced it and placed a glamour spell upon it so none of his enemies could see it. He did not spare the Queen a glance as he left her chambers.

“The Queen asked not to be disturbed for the rest of the evening,” he instructed her guards and they shared a knowing smile.

Under the gaze of the Seelie courtiers and warriors, Bleddyn walked through the halls of the court and he and his brothers escaped through the supply tunnels. Using the Queen’s magic, he passed through the wards until they ran out into the crystal night. So overwhelmed they were to see the sky and stars again that they stood in awe.

“Come, my brothers, our new world awaits,” Bleddyn said and they ran through forests to a doorway between the worlds. Not knowing where they were going or what lay before them the three brothers took each other’s hands and walked through the spaces of the world until they found the land of the creatures called Man.

They were free from the rule of the Autumn Queen but she did not die as Bleddyn had hoped. She recovered her strength and sent warriors in between the worlds to hunt and kill the Unseelie that evaded her and the prince that tricked her.

She hunts them to this day in her relentless pursuit to try to reclaim what was stolen from her: her pride, her dignity and her heart.

Liked this preview? Pre-order Wylt here 

Down Station- Simon Morden

 I’ve been reading a lot of great fantasy lately after a relatively dry spell and discovering Simon Morden has been an absolute treat. I actually found his great blog first and was blown away by his thought provoking essay Sex, Death and Christian Fiction that mirrored so many of my own thoughts and feelings.

I saw an ad for Down Station and three sentences into the description I knew it was a book for me:

A small group of commuters and tube workers witness a fiery apocalypse overtaking London. They make their escape through a service tunnel. Reaching a door they step through…and find themselves on a wild shore backed by cliffs and rolling grassland. The way back is blocked. Making their way inland they meet a man dressed in a wolf’s cloak and with wolves by his side. He speaks English and has heard of a place called London – other people have arrived here down the ages – all escaping from a London that is burning. None of them have returned. Except one – who travels between the two worlds at will. The group begin a quest to find this one survivor; the one who holds the key to their return and to the safety of London. 

And as they travel this world, meeting mythical and legendary creatures, split between North and South by a mighty river and bordered by The White City and The Crystal Palace they realize they are in a world defined by all the London’s there have ever been. 

It would be really hard to give this story a proper review without spoiling it for everyone so apologies if I seem a little vague. There is a lot that I really enjoyed about this book. One, you guys know how I feel about doors to other worlds so when a gateway opens to another world as workers try and flee a burning London Underground I was giddy with anticipation. Into the world of Down stumbles a rag tag group of strong personalities who are torn between trying to find a way back home and accepting there’s no home to go back to.

The world building in the story is magnificently in flux as the land manifests what it’s occupants need and desire. It is also a place that heightens what ever you are deep down inside. For example the character of Stanislav hides a deep rooted anger and violence that grows and changes him, while Mary, a street kid trying to go straight, has the ability to use a magic that has always been inside of her. Down feeds off its inhabitants, shaping itself as it needs to.

My favourite character in the book is Crows, a Myrddin Wylt type mad magician that hordes maps of Down and can travel between worlds. His motivations are guarded and ambiguous and you never really know what side he is on. Despite that you can’t help but like him. He’s an enigma.

The book also doesn’t seek to over explain magic – something I always appreciate. Magic in Down just IS. The writer could have spent hundreds of words describing the complex mechanics of how the magic and Down fit together but he hasn’t. There is a mention of magic being stronger on ley lines and thats about it. Magic in Down is as common as dirt. You accept that its apart of the scenery.

The writing itself is very clear and concise and to a not so well trained eye could almost seem a simplistic style of storytelling. Writers reading it will quietly marvel (as this writer did) because they know such writing is extremely difficult to execute with any kind of narrative success. Each sentence is carefully selected. There are no unnecessary flourishes, no fatty bits that could be done away with. Its lean and more powerful because of it.

I like books that make me question things and you can’t help but self reflect by the end: If I went to Down…what would I become?

Dreaming of Magic

 

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“Above all remember this: That magic belongs much to the heart as to the head and everything which is done, should be done from love or joy or righteous anger. And if we honour this principal we shall discover that our magic is much greater than all the sum of all the spells that were ever taught. Then magic is to us as flight is to the birds, because then our magic comes from the dark and dreaming heart.”

Susanna Clarke

Defending YA: Round 3

Apologies everyone for not blogging as much as I should be at the moment, with the release of a book comes all sorts of interesting delays…but that doesn’t matter because today boys and girls we are going to talk about the gorgeous Leigh Bardugo.

I really struggled with this blog because these are meant to be broad recommendations and not reviews and I want nothing more than to disseminate these amazing stories, write essays and find all the tricks used. It’s the writer in me to want to pull a book apart that I love and see how it all works underneath.

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For those who’ve read my Firebird Fairytales  (hi guys!) it’s pretty obvious how I feel about Russian fairytales so you can imagine my reaction when I stumbled on Leigh Bardugo, someone who feels as intensely about them as I do.

I have a really incredible partner who understands my interesting ways (crazy) so when I read my first Bardugo story The Witch of Duva, he was very understanding when I freaked the fuck out with excitement. I know I went a bit backwards with my first reading choice but I was a hardcore fan from that moment. Not only was it different enough to be a new fairytale but it’s structure was familiar enough that it feels like it could slot into a canon of the original. It’s ending was horrific and haunting in a way that only a good Russian fairytale can achieve.

The next day I went to Dymocks and cleared out their entire stock of Leigh books with enough enthusiasm and gesticulation that it was almost interpretive dance, much to the amusement of the sales staff.

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Look at those covers…damn, I had no chance to resist them.

Okay so the first series I annihilated was the Grisha Trilogy. It draws you into the fascinating world of Ravka that Bardugo has created. There is a stark difference between the war ravaged lands and the lush Little Palace but the world building in this series is intense and in equal parts Russian derivative and original creation. The structure of the magic wielding Grisha is fascinating and I could’ve happily read a whole book all about magic lessons.

Our story begins with Alina, orphan and apprentice cartographer in the Ravkan Army. She saves her childhood friend Mal (more on him later) when a dormant magic deep inside of her flares to life in his defence. This rare gift is instantly scrutinised by the Leader of the Grisha, The Darkling. Here is, in my opinion, one of the greatest characters I’ve seen in a long time. The Darkling is magic incarnate with the ability to summon darkness as Alina’s rare gift is to summon light, earning her the title of The Sun Summoner. Alina is taken back to the Little Palace in order to learn about her gift and the pale orphan that’s always been overlooked is suddenly seen as the Saviour of Ravka.

The books move through a series of betrayals, love’s and losses as Alina struggles with her power, her heart and her duty to bring peace to Ravka. It’s really difficult for me to keep my mouth closed and not spoil the whole series for you but if you love fairytales I can’t recommend it enough. Bardugo has created a world so rich that it almost outshines her protagonist. The stories are laced with symbology and theres iconic elements that give it its fairytale quality. What it also does really well is question the concept of power and magic and what it costs to claim both. Alina herself is not your typical likeable character either; I could’ve punched her in the face on more than one occasion. She can be a real whinger but rallies when she needs to, like a lot of people. She’s not perfect, she has shit self esteem right to the end despite the things she achieves. There are a few things I really took issue with in the series so I’ve added a spoiler section at the bottom of this blog for those who’ve read the series and want to hear my rant.

This brings me to Bardugo’s newest (and my favourite) Six Of Crows. 

six-of-crows-2015.02.13-315 Part heist, part adventure, part street war – this two part series based in the Grisha world has everything.

The story starts with criminal protege, Kaz (I’m so in love with this guy) putting together a team to break into the Ice Court and retrieve a hostage, the creator of a drug that can enhance a Grisha’s power but also ends with their death as the magic and addiction eats away at them.

The characters in Kaz’s crew are all vivid and individual. They have a incredible chemistry in their interactions and the scenes between Nina and Matthias had me laughing uncontrollable.

As a writer Bardugo levelled up in this series. It seems easier, like she’s more confident in her own magical ability of story telling. It carries less of the epic fairytale and more of the fantasy. It’s written so visually that you could see it transposing easily into a tv series (a movie would not do it justice- seriously get onto it Netflix).

Crooked-Kingdom-Cover-GalleyCatI can’t wait for the second book (left) that cover alone! I’m loving what she’s doing with the series and the extra layering of awesome world building.

Honestly, I think Leigh Bardugo is just getting going and if she ever decided to write for adults she would redefine whatever genre she decided to choose.

Also, I’m about 98% sure she washes her hair in virgin tears because it’s kind of magical. Yeah, I got hair envy AND writer envy. In the best possible way. She seems like a really kick ass, scarily clever person and if she ever comes to Melbourne I’ll be first in line with an offering of cake and cocktails. Read her. Buy her books here.

Keep reading ONLY if you have read the Grisha series…here there be spoilers:

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Oh hi there, so glad you’re still with me to read about the major issue I had with the Grisha trilogy. I’ve talked about this with a few people (my understanding partner had to pull me up because I was in full blown rant mode after book 3 was done) and before I begin I want to make something really clear….writing books is fucking hard. It’s a long and involved process for a writer and decisions made in books, even if YOU, the reader, think they are wrong, have still been considered long and hard by the author. It’s their story and ultimately your opinion doesn’t really matter.

The following is purely my opinion as a reader. As you can tell I’m a huge fan of Leigh Bardugo and I respect her immensely so this one thing I take issue with doesn’t diminish my over all love of the series.

As stated above I’m really blown away by the character of the Darkling. He’s the rare type on antagonist that I could fear, love and respect. He is someone that has lived for hundreds of years, the only one of his kind, awaiting his opposite that can summon light to balance to his darkness.

Alina is that person, that balance and when she appears there is a relief in the Darkling that he doesn’t have to be alone anymore. Alina is very young, immature and still holds a flame for her childhood friend and crush Mal.

I take MASSIVE issue with Mal as a character. I know this is the unpopular opinion and many ship him and Alina from the start but he made me grind my teeth in fury. Mal is that guy that you are mates with as kids who you have always been there for and then becomes the popular boy in high school that all the girls throw themselves at. As the best friend you have to put up with his womanising crap and be the mate and shoulder to cry on when it doesn’t work out. You are the only girl that stands by him and he doesn’t know you exist UNTIL suddenly someone else (in this case the Darkling) starts to treat you like you are special and important and then for the first time, the boy you have been waiting on, realises that you’re desirable and only then decides you’re worth his time. This is Mal in a nutshell. Until he goes to the Little Palace during a celebration and see’s Alina, blossoming with power and beauty from her months away, standing with the Darkling, her equal in power, that he realises his epic mistake of not giving her the time of day. It was only when Alina is cut off from the sun that is Mal that she learns of her own value and starts to shine. I know, I know..they grew up together, Alina’s always loved him, he’s a good guy in many ways…all true but I don’t think he’s good for HER. She’s been not worth his time until she’s suddenly worth someone elses.

This is not to say that the Darkling doesnt treat her badly, he does but they are the only ones of their kind, they actually do belong together and its obvious (especially in the later books) that Alina has considerable influence over him. She’s meant to be the light to his darkness, the only person that could (if she’d wanted to) sway him because they are equals, that could teach him another path. He actually says this in his comments about her being the one that could make him into a better man. But she chooses NOT to.

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(Image courtesy of artist warika on Pinterest)

From a writing perspective the scenes between the Darkling and Alina are so charged that it hurts. They have a chemistry together that goes beyond physicality and beyond magic. Scenes between Alina and Mal are not like this. They are filled with guilt and regrets and hurt. Mal doesnt, will not, ever understand Alina the way the Darkling will- that’s actually explained in the books.

Mal treats Alina like shit, especially in the second book. She reaches out to the Darkling because Mal being a selfish, self absorbed git, isolates her when she needs him the most. His actions are not the ones of a conflicted man in love. They are the actions of a man who is jealous that he’s no longer the sole focus of Alina’s world.

The Darkling, for all of his faults, is only really acting the way I imagine a hundreds year old person would act. There is a coldness, a focus on his goals and the lives he takes don’t matter to him because a human life is a flickering candle flame to him because he’s been so isolated and disconnected. He acts in many ways they way I imagine a vampire would act after hundreds of years (yeah a teenage girl wouldn’t hold their attention, sorry but no). He’s waited for Alina to appear and he needs her on a fundamental level. They are the only ones of their kind and he finally has a chance to alleviate his loneliness. The way Alina responds to him is intense as you imagine it would be. She tries to deny it for the rest of the series but he is the only one that doesn’t make her feel alone. He even chooses to become her villain (‘Fine, make me your villain’) because he would be anything she needed him to be. He never wants her to hide her power, who she really is, unlike Mal who just wants her to ‘normal’ so he can be the special one again.

I would’ve been happy if Alina and the Darkling killed each other in their final battle. I half expected it to happen. But she ends up with Mal, running the orphanage, normal with her power gone. It was an ending that I could understand but really cut me sideways. Bardugo does comment about Alina missing her power though which is something, there is a part of Alina that will never filled, satisfied or happy. Maybe, like me, she wonders if she could’ve changed the Darling’s mind and had an immortal love that shook the heavens.

I know, this is a rather intense opinion and it’s a credit to Bardugo that I had such a strong reaction to it. I don’t like it when women end up with men who make them feel less than what they are to make themselves feel better…I’ve been in that kind of relationship and so I fucking balk at it in a book.

I will read the series again, probably many times, and perhaps I will feel differently about Mal because I’m not so drawn to the Darkling. Maybe I will read the scenes between him and Alina differently, maybe I will stop feeling like she ended up with the shitty consolation prize.

Yeah, I know, I love the Darkling WAY too much. Which probably says a lot about me. It says even more about the prodigious talent of Leigh Bardugo. I wait to see what she does next with high anticipation. I hope its a book of fairytales. I know it will be stellar regardless.

 

Books Of Magic

I love reading books about magic of all stripes and stamps, the more original the better.  Over the last 12 months I’ve read some great fiction so I thought I would share my favourites that I am sure I will find time to read again and again.

The Peter Grant Series – Ben Aaronovitch

I was drinking ale in a medieval pub in Estonia (Old Hansa) when I was recommended the first of this series ‘Rivers of London.’ I love urban fantasy and this interesting mix of crime and magic was irresistible from the first page. Ben Aaronovitch’s knowledge of London streets, history and heart is impeccable. As you read it you can really tell that he deeply loves this sprawling metropolis. Newbie police officer and protagonist Peter Grant has an encounter with a witness of a crime only to learn that he had been inter61oYoZzwsdLviewing a ghost without realising. The story and world grows as he’s introduced to Nightingale (my personal favourite in the series) and inducted into the Folly, the magical crimes unit of the London police. I won’t give away spoilers but I have a tendency to gush about this series. Its sharp, clever, engaging and I really love the history that is woven into it. The Rivers are formidable characters in their own right and it’s a delight to watch as they engage with Peter throughout the entire series. Aaronovitch’s creatures are incredibly original and it really delves into using magic to kill or maim and the costs of that. There is the seduction of magic and what it can be used for, and the hands that it should stay out of at all costs. The supernatural demimonde is an incredible lesson in world building and urban fantasy writers should use this series as an example of it being done well.

I went through all of the Peter Grant books like a crack addict. One of the great things about it that is hard to do well as a writer, is that Aaronovitch’s explains the magic without robbing the joy of it. If you love crime and magic this series is worth your time and money.

The Ladies of Grace Adieu – Susanna Clarke 

I need to admit something here…I am obsessed with Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. Fiercely. Deeply. And in ways that I can’t fully explain. So when I approached this book of short stories it was with equal parts eagerness and hesitation. This is due to the fact that Susanna Clarke wipes my writer soul across the floor every time I read any of her words. They wrap themselves around my mind and fill it full of wonder and sheer joy and make me want to hide in a corner somewhere until I recover. With illustrations by Charles Vess its a beautiful book visually as well.

Okay so enough fan-girling (for now)…this is a series of short stories based in the world Clarke created for Jonathan Strange and Mr tumblr_m2s5xmSc2I1qbk98go1_500Norrell. Jonathan himself turns up in The Ladies of Grace Adieu and I couldn’t help but squeal as I’m a stone cold Strangite. These are  tales of magic, wonder and the malicious and lingering presence of the Fae. These are not the beautiful cuddly creatures of so many paranormal novels. These are established very quickly as a different breed entirely. They are a capricious species who don’t particular care what harm they can cause in the human world. They are not the kind of Fae you want to fall in love with. The only one that shows any kind of decency (in a backward manner as is their way) is Tom Brightwind when he uses magic to build a bridge in Thoresby, not to benefit the town so much as distract them while he seduces the mayor’s wife. Mary Queen of Scots makes an appearance in a way that will cause you never to look at embroidery the same way. The delight for me in the collection (there was more than one) is when Neil Gaiman’s town of Wall turns up in ‘The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse.’ As a fan of Stardust and The Duke I laughed in glee at his frustrations and ultimate solutions.

Now let us speak more softly, as respect demands it, of the Raven King. The final tale in the series, ‘John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner’ is mentioned in passing in Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell but here we have the account in its entirety. I loved the Raven King and his looming omniscient presence in Jonathan Strange so it was great to have this story added into the collection.ladiesofgraceadieu I would dearly love it if Susanna Clarke would write a story just about the Raven King but she is definitely an author who knows her own mind on these things. Her writing has no unnecessary bits. Every part has a point and a purpose. As a writer I have this compulsion to pull apart stories I love to see how they work but I have learnt to tread carefully with Clarke. Once you see the tricks your admiration just grows until you are feeling like the ultimate fraud to even try and step into the profession. It can be said that her Victorian style of writing is not for everyone but for those who love Austin and the Bronte’s and want something like it with a magical twist they should look no further than Susanna Clarke.

The Magicians- Lev Grossman 

There is an old saying of ‘Good writers borrow, great writers steal’ and going into this series I can see why many people have mentioned it after reading this trilogy. Comments and headlines often say things like ‘Hogwarts for Adults’ and ‘a sort of terrifying Narnia.’ There are definite elements of truth in both comments.

The trilogy begins when protagonist Quentin Coldwater receives an invite to attend a prestigious college of magic, Brakebills. There is the typical shenanigans of drinking and fucking and pushing boundaries that teenagers are known for but this isn’t the total focus of the first book, its only really the first third. Quentin can be a dislikable character, depressive, needy and emotional but its not hard to believe an ultra intelligent and privileged kid could act in this manner. The real story starts to kick off when he and his friends discover a way into Fillory, a magical land from a series of books Quentin loves.1408_SBR_MAGICIAN_COVER.jpg.CROP.original-original

As with the Peter Grant books I won’t give away too many spoilers but there are things that this series does really well.Firstly that magic really comes with a price and its always a personal price. Julia, one of the most excellently crafted characters I’ve seen in a long time, suffers deeply when she isn’t accepted into Brakebills. She has to live with the knowledge that not only is magic real but she’s been purposefully denied the opportunity to learn it. She forges her own path and in many ways I see this trilogy not so much about Quentin but about Julia. She isn’t about to cry over things as Quentin has a tendency to do, she is made of sterner stuff and hunts magic and learns it on her terms. She suffers great personal  costs and to me her journey was the most engaging.

Secondly, even though there are obvious Narnia overtones Grossman seriously makes Fillory, his Narnia,  100% his own. The clock trees are an original favourite of mine. This land isn’t ideal. Its damn frightening majority of the time. I also loved the libraries of history seen in the third book of the trilogy. I love a good magical library.

This series is a strange beast and for months afterward I couldn’t decide if I intensely loved it or hated it. Readers of the series seem to fall into one category or the other. I loved it, but its a complicated love. Grossman didn’t set out to write a story with a likeable protagonist, he can be a darn right piece of shit when he wants to be, but can’t everyone? I still wonder if the book is about the pointlessness of wishing for things to be better all the time instead of enjoying what you have…or that dissatisfaction comes from within yourself and not the world or wonder around you.Even with the knowledge of magic and other worlds Quentin still struggles to be happy or satisfied and that would frustrate a lot of readers. It’s jaded in its way but I still believe its worth the read because there is so much in this series that is awesome. There is terror, wonder, love, pain, suffering and magic. It’s violence is sudden and visceral. Magic is not safe and to abuse it is to court pain. Grossman has tried to be realistic in his approach to the magical, how modern teenagers would probably approach it, and in that way he is making a social commentary. I will read it again because there is much that can be overlooked with a single reading. I am looking forward to what they do with the TV series and I hope they don’t soften its edges.

So there we are folks…they are my top picks. I need to do another blog on YA, including a magic series in that category, but these are the best magic books of 2015 in my opinion. They are the ones that  have really stuck with me for a variety of ways. I hope you give them a go.