Archive for the ‘Fantasy’ Category

A More Complete Plan (and Tournament Follow-up)

Okay, so first things first–I did end up playing in my Among Us tournament final. Two of the original top ten couldn’t play, so I got moved up. And I came in 8th overall, which is, like, a million times better than I thought I was going to do.

Now I can never play in another tournament again to maintain my streak. >_>

In writing land, I’ve finished my readthrough of Book One. And I, uh, also read through Book Two. Meaning I’ve read the whole trilogy over the past few weeks, except I remembered I didn’t start at the beginning of Book Three, so I may go and read the part I skipped, just because.

The beginning is definitely 90% of the problem on Book One. I’ve got it sent out to two betas now as well, with hopes that they’ll get back to me by the end of the week with their thoughts (and hopefully some suggestions).

The other 10% is filtering and crutch words and general clean-up. I’m considering looking at a service like ProWritingAid or other basic editor, where it will yell at me when I do lazy writing. Do you have one you use and like?

(Book Two is a whole ‘nother can of worms, but I finished the most recent draft in 2011, so it’s old writing style-wise and because it’s working off of plot points that no longer exist. But we’ll worry about it more when Book One is done.)

Anyway, I think all three of the options we talked about last time are still on the table, plus my spouse suggested starting with a later scene and then going back to the beginning. Which is a totally viable strategy, so I’ll give it a try. He suggested a scene near the end of Book Two (hence why I re-read Book Two) but I don’t think that will work (he may be remembering an earlier version of the scene), plus I don’t know about using a scene from a different book. That may be too far in the future.

Have you ever seen that? A multi-book series that starts with a scene that doesn’t show up until a later book?

Hmm, decisions, decisions.

My plan of attack going forward is to go through my beta comments and consolidate them (to see if I’ve missed any options or spots that other people think are problems), then to write a couple of alternative first scenes to see if they work any better. And then hopefully I’ll hear from my betas and we can discuss things.

And then, perhaps, the path forward will be clear.

How are you guys doing? Projects going well?

Well, I’m Going to Do It

We talked a few weeks back about Shannara and the TV show and how it was the series that got me into epic fantasy, and how the series is complete now so I could, if so inclined, go back and read the series in chronological order.

I thought very hard about this.

The first story, chronologically, is a short story called “Imaginary Friends,” originally published in 1991 and re-published in 2013.

So I hunted down the anthology from 2013, and not only is it included, but it’s the first story. Mission accomplished!

(I am, now, however, faced with a decision. This is a very large book. Do I read the whole thing? There’s not really any reason not to, except that I had to go through the library loan program to get it, which means I am limited in the amount of times I can renew it.)

(The other thing is there is another Shannara short story, later in the book, which is 25th in the chronology. Do I read it now and then read it again when I get to it? Do I skip it? I am aware that this is a stupid problem, yet here we are.)

It was a cute little story, more urban fantasy than anything. I don’t quite see how it connects in, and even in the intro Terry Brooks notes that it was written before he’d really solidified the ideas that would become the Word and the Void trilogy, which comes next chronologically. The first book of those is Running with the Demon, which I am 90% sure I own somewhere. Just got to find it now.

Anyway, apparently I’m doing this. I imagine it will not be fast, but I’ll check in with you guys from time to time.

Now, to go find that book.

Back to My Roots

I think I’ve told you guys this before, but the very first adult high fantasy book I ever read was Wishsong of Shannara, by Terry Brooks. I was 12 at the time, and I got the book out of my elementary school library. It seems like kind of a weird choice for an elementary school library–while it’s not Game of Thrones or Wheel of Time-sized fantasy, it’s still sizeable–but, then, I have run into people who think all fantasy is for children, so who knows.

I’ve read a lot of the Shannara books over the years, though not all of them. Terry Brooks has trucked on, through the years, and I have fallen behind. I read all three of the original trilogy (Sword, Elfstones, Wishsong) and the four books that make up the “Heritage” (Scions, Druid, Elf Queen, Talismans). I have and have read the graphic novel Dark Wraith of Shannara, which goes after Wishsong chronologically, and I read First King of Shannara shortly after it came out in 1996. I’ve also read Ilse Witch and Antrax, and someday I hope to read the third book of that particular trilogy.

That all means nothing if you have not read the Shannara books yourself, but basically I’m about 20 years behind on the series.

From what I understand, the last book planned for the world came out in October, so I could, in theory, read all gazillion books now. Perhaps in chronological order instead of publication order, since I’m so far behind.

ANYWAY. Shannara was my gateway into high fantasy, and even while I haven’t read the books over the years, I’ve never forgotten it.

In 2016 MTV started a television series called The Shannara Chronicles, which lasted a sad two seasons. It’s always been on my radar, so when my husband last week said, “We should watch this show I found,” I was totally on board.

We’ve only watched the first two-part episode but, man, everything has rushed back. When people show up on screen, I’m like “I bet that’s X.” I keep up a fairly constant commentary (“Oh, we’re jumping right into the post-apocalyptic setting. It took me a few books to figure that out.”) and talk about plot choices (“I always thought it was weird that they decided to start with Elfstones”). My husband didn’t know what he was getting himself into.

Isn’t that always how it goes, though? I can’t necessarily tell you the plot of a book I read last year, but even though I haven’t read a Shannara book in probably at least ten years, if not fifteen, they definitely left an impression.

Have you ever run into that, squiders? Something you read or watched when you were little (or younger at least) that has lingered even without you revisiting it?

Also, while we’re on the subject, have you watched The Shannara Chronicles? What did you think?

(As kind of a funny story, I went to a book signing by Terry Brooks at some point. Well, I think I’ve seen him a few times, but I think this most recent time had to be in the early 2010s, because the television show had been optioned. And there I learned that I had been pronouncing Shannara wrong for the fifteen-ish years I’d been reading the series. Good times.)

Library Book Sale Finds: The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman

Is it just me or does it feel like September is going super fast?

This is another out of last November or December’s library book sale, all of which were hard cover and within a few years of publication. I’ve been having trouble figuring out why the library would withdraw and sell practically new books (this one came out in April and was being sold about six months later) but I have a theory.

Said theory is that libraries probably buy a bunch of copies of new books that they predict will be popular. This allows them to get through the release rush. Then, when the stream dies off, they keep a smaller amount for long-term use and sell off the extras.

Best I’ve got. Any librarians out there know?

Title: The Devouring Gray
Author: Christine Lynn Herman
Genre: YA Fantasy
Publication Year: 2019

Pros: Intriguing plot, great characters
Cons: Middle is a little boggy

I actually really enjoyed this one (though I can hear my spouse mocking me for reading YA fantasy again). It was one of those books where I’d sit down, intending to read for 15 or 20 minutes, and still find myself going an hour later. The plot really pulls you along, but not in a way that I found anxiety-inducing.

I believe this is the first book in a duology. At least Goodreads leads me to believe the second book, The Deck of Omens, is the conclusion. The story takes place in Four Paths, New York, and follows four teenagers, each a member of the town’s four founding families. But Four Paths is not a normal town, and the founding families are not normal, either–each has a special talent, used to protect the town from the Gray and the Beast within.

Each of the four main characters is different and complex, not quite the protagonists you would expect. Only three of them have viewpoints in this book (I guess the fourth has one in the epilogue) but I enjoyed all of them. And I enjoyed learning more about the secrets of Four Paths and the Gray.

My one complaint, minor really, is that the middle is slightly bogged down by characters going over what feels like the same ground a few times. But it’s minor, and the story picks up again with new information pretty quickly after that.

So, hey, if you missed this one and you like YA contemporary fantasy, I’d give it a look.

(But, seriously, where has September gone?)

Library Book Sale Finds: The Sword of the Spirits by John Christopher

Hey, hey, sneaking in under the wire, two months in a row!

This book had a lot of telling right at the beginning, and it took me about halfway through before I realized I was reading the last book of a trilogy.

Title: The Sword of the Spirits
Author: John Christopher
Genre: Science Fantasy
Publication Year: 1972

Pros: Impressive wordsmithing
Cons: A lot of telling, unlikable main character

Wikipedia tells me that this is the last book of a young adult trilogy. I would not have considered it young adult before that, but apparently the main character is considerably younger in the first two books.

The beginning, as I said above, has a lot of telling–recounting what the main character had done at what must have been the end of the second book, explaining how the world works, etc.–but it was very pretty telling. I’m always a little annoyed when I read a book and the telling is pretty and interesting. I think I’m just annoyed that someone had broken the cardinal rule of writing and done it in a way I can’t even be grumpy about.

(Eye of the Dragon by Stephen King is like that too.)

This series takes place in a post-apocalyptic United Kingdom (mostly England) where things have reverted to a medieval level of technology and the people live in individual city states. (I’m not clear what exactly happened…something with some sort of radiation, I suppose, since there are classes of humans called dwarves and polymufs which have various physical differences from “true” men. Also some sort of overall cooling of the planet.)

Do you remember when we read the Finnbranch trilogy? This felt like that, and is of about the same era of fantasy. It’s not true fantasy, of course, because it’s Earth in the future, but most of its tropes and elements come from fantasy rather than science fiction.

Our main character is Luke Perry (which is a thoroughly modern name and for some reason very distracting to me), Prince of the city-state of Winchester. He’s apparently prophecized by the Seers (basically scientists pretending to be holy men since machines are considered to have been the reason everything fell apart in the past) to be the one that will unite all the city-states again.

And he’s a pompous idiot.

There, I said it.

Luke is very headstrong and doesn’t take advice well, and he doesn’t take well to people challenging his decisions. Everything that goes wrong–and things go horribly wrong–is his own fault. I guess that’s kind of the author’s trademark, writing flawed protagonists. But it does make it hard to root for him.

And I won’t spoil the end, but I felt like it was unfulfilling, that everything Luke had worked for throughout the book was worthless in the long run. Also, it was depressing, and not in a way that was satisfying. Almost like the story was bored of itself and wanted to be done.

Now, it’s possible that if I had read the whole trilogy it would have been better, but maybe not. I’ve read enough 70s trilogies followed “chosen ones” of whatever ilk, and I’m kind of bored of the whole thing, since they’re almost always depressing and make you wonder why you bothered.

Would I recommend this? No. But the book does have a 3.8 on Goodreads, which is decent, so your mileage may vary.

Read any less depressing fantasy trilogies from the ’70s? Have any book recommendations in general?

Library Book Sale Finds: The Door into Fire by Diane Duane

Finally! I’ve been reading this book for two months. There’s not even any reason why it’s taken so long except I can’t focus at all right now and so am in the middle of four books (and have six more out from the library like an idiot). Is that one of the stages for dealing with trauma? Inability to focus? It’s driving me mad.

I have high respect for Diane Duane. I found her, I suspect, like a lot of people do: from her Star Trek novels. Two in particular were very influential on me: My Enemy, My Ally; and The Romulan Way. Because of those books, the Romulans are my favorite Trek species to this day, and, when I did Star Trek roleplaying as a teenager, I often played Romulans, either as my main characters, or when side characters were needed.

(You can see me geek out about Star Trek: Picard having them speak Rihannsu–the Romulan language Ms. Duane created–onscreen here.)

That being said, I’d never read any of her original work, just her Star Trek work, so when I came across her very first book at a library book sale, well, it was mine.

Title: The Door into Fire
Author: Diane Duane
Genre: Fantasy
Publication Year: 1979

Pros: Extensive mythology, Sunspark
Cons: Sometimes gets a bit infodumpy

I’m kind of in awe of this book, to be honest. I mean, it reads very much of its time, using conventions that you (unfortunately) can’t get away with in modern fantasy, but the amount of care that went into the worldbuilding, character arcs, and the setting is impressive no matter what.

This is the first book in her Middle Kingdoms series. There are three books and more shorter works; she has a whole website for it. The story takes place in a somewhat standard alternative Europe fantasy setting, and follows Hereweiss, the first man in a thousand years to possess a magic called the Flame, though he cannot access or use said magic.

(I will note that there is a complicated relationship system set up, and that this book features characters of various orientations without calling out any of them as strange or different. I know some people like to look for books that specifically feature non-cishet relationships, so here you are.)

Hereweiss’s quest to access his Flame has consumed him, but no matter what he tries, he seems to be getting no closer to an answer. However, he’s distracted from that because his loved, who is the exiled king of a neighboring country, has gotten into trouble and needs rescuing. (Apparently again.)

The story’s strength is very much in the depths of the world creation. This feels like a fully formed world, with mythology and history and the works. It doesn’t read all too differently in places than some of the other late 70s/early 80s fantasy we’ve discussed here on the blog that tends to be more real-mythology based.

Also, there is Sunspark, who is my favorite in every way. You’ll have to read the book to learn more about it.

So! I enjoyed this and would recommend it. I find first novels to be very interesting, especially from authors who had published a lot of books and have been publishing for a while. And Ms. Duane obviously has a talent for worldbuilding–probably why the Romulans spoke to me so much in those later books.

How are you, squiders? I am still behind on everything, but at least I am catching up.

Promo: Ashes and Blood by Katie Zaber



This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. The author will award a $25 Amazon/BN gift card to a randomly drawn commenter. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

“I’ll start at the beginning. Long ago, before roads, before we built structures, before medicine was discovered, before the government was created, before man gained any knowledge, there were The Five. Independent from each other, The Five had a mutual respect for one another. They knew their roles in the world and their duty. They were gods…”

An adventure begins when an otherworldly tree captures the attention of Megan and her friends. The environment morphs around them, transferring them to an exotic planet. Stuck in a rural town still maimed by the plague, a chance encounter with a familiar face gives Megan and her friends some security during their adjustment period.

While settling into new, promising lives, they are attacked and stalked by planet Dalya’s humanoid inhabitants, who focus on Megan. One dark night, after an epic, magical attack, the Fae King’s knight is sent to fetch Megan. When she wakes up a prisoner, she learns that there is much more to this strange world, and it is oddly more like her own than she ever would have expected.


Read an Excerpt

Megan

It gives me chills to stand in front of the forest that morphed in front of my very eyes. I’m hesitant to walk through the tree line and down the path. The last time I walked down a path for leisure was a week ago. We had planned a picnic. Something simple, always easy to organize and do. It wasn’t hard planning our walk to Brynjar’s cabin today. What could go wrong?

I try hard not to think of all the possible outcomes—from returning to Earth to traveling to a completely new world.

Sarah and Dana were able to walk by without stopping to take notice or reflect. Ciara paused for a moment and then smiled gleefully, saying she had a good feeling.

I don’t. I feel dizzy, angry, and like I need to vomit. I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to go into the woods that changed my life, I don’t want to meet Brynjar, and I don’t want to go back where it all started.

I don’t.

About the Author
Katie Zaber writes new adult fiction. With multiple projects spanning from being transported to an alternate universe, to past lives, reincarnation, and trapped souls, to prophesied pregnancies—there are more stories to tell. She lives in North New Jersey with her boyfriend.

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Dalya-Series-110665970357251
Website: https://zaberbooks.com/

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Ashes-Blood-Dalya-Book-1-ebook/dp/B087YJ8W87/ref=sr_1_1

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Foundational Books: The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

So, if you remember, oh, last summer, I went through some of the books that have made me who I am today, as a writer, but also in general.

(Apologies for being late AGAIN, I can’t even blame the quarantine this time. I did a push to finally get my new SkillShare class live–I always forget how long it takes to edit the videos, and my new microphone is so sensitive I had to get up at 5 am to avoid noise from the small, mobile ones and the neighbors.)

(It’s here, if you’re interested. It’s about setting goals in your writing and sticking with them.)

But I realized I forgot perhaps the most important book at all. The one that I’ve read the most times over the years. The one that I turn to when I need comfort, or I need to sleep after I read/watch something too scary. The one I used for my senior quote in high school. The one I used scenes from to try out for plays. The one I can still quote bits of from memory.

Phantom Tollbooth cover
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

I don’t remember who recommended the book to me, but I first read it back in middle school (my copy is the 35th anniversary edition, and we’re coming up on the 60th anniversary, so that tells you how long it’s been in my life). And who knows how many times I read it over in middle and high school. As an adult, I’ve read it less often, but I still do re-read it periodically (I’m currently reading it to the small, mobile ones).

The entire book is a masterful play on words and concepts. Even as an adult I really appreciate the pure mastery of the idea. (I perhaps understand the Humbug better now than I did as a kid.) We have Milo, our bored main character who doesn’t see why anything is worth the bother. When he receives a toy tollbooth from who knows where, he decides to play with it, because he doesn’t have anything better to do. But it allows him access to a world where knowledge is more literal than in real life.

It’s hard to put the book into words, really. This is a book that I have loved so much and so long that I find my tendency is to wax poetic about its many fine features and scenes, and sometimes I get a bit spoiler-y and we can’t have that.

I highly recommend it to anyone, anyone who’s loved learning at any point in their lives, anyone who likes puns, anyone who likes a rewarding story about friendship and what’s possible if you decide to try.

But I will leave you with my favorite quote from the book, from the Whether Man in Chapter 2:

Whether or not you find your own way, you’re bound to find some way. If you happen to find my way, please return it, as it was lost years ago. I imagine by now it’s quite rusty.

The Phantom Tollbooth

Read The Phantom Tollbooth, squiders? Favorite character? (I am partial to Tock.) Other related thoughts?

Foundational Books: Harry Potter Series

Happy Friday, squiders! This week we’re going to talk about the Harry Potter series. Like LOTR, this is perhaps a bit obvious, but hey, it’s still true.

(We’ve discussed Harry Potter here before–I think the first readalong we ever did was HP. Waaaaaay back in 2011. First post for that is here. We had discussion questions back then.)

I am not one of those people who grew up with Harry. I came into the series a few months before Goblet of Fire came out (so 2000) when I was 17. My mom (an middle school English teacher) passed the first three books along and the rest, as they say, is history.

But HP is perhaps more foundational not because of the books themselves (though I am a great fan of the books) but because of the fandom that sprung up around them.

I was not new to fandom–I grew up a Trekkie, went to my first Star Trek convention at the age of 12 (where, in the middle of a panel on the Dominion War, the panel was invaded by a bunch of Klingons wielding a Cardassian skull) and had fully integrated my friend group into the madness by 16 (when my high school boyfriend and I were finalists in the dance contest at the Federation Ball while dressed like Vulcans), and did a ton of online roleplaying online between the ages of 14 and 19.

But the HP fandom was different and new. For once I was surrounded by people my own age (Trekkies skewed older at the time, though I think that is no longer true with the advent of the newer movies), and it was huge. It was the first fandom I ever read fanfiction for, looked at fanart for, joined fan communities for.

(I even made a Gryffindor uniform in…2003? I don’t remember which book release it went along with. I still have my tie just in case I ever need it again. And my Slytherin tie. Both of which are somewhat amusing, because if I am honest with myself, I am neither a Gryffindor or a Slytherin.)

(I am Ravenclaw.)

Between books six and seven I even ran a LiveJournal community dedicated to exploring a new theory every week until Book 7 came out. I couldn’t tell you what it was called anymore, but even though I was some random person on the fringe of the community, people were more than willing to engage with me.

But the weird thing about being so involved in the community and so involved in the fandom is that, when Deathly Hallows came out–it read like fanfiction.

There were theories that I had brought up in my community that turned out to be true, and I’d read fics that had correctly predicted portions of the book. It was surreal.

And after Deathly Hallows came out–the whole thing kind of died. Oh, not that there isn’t a Harry Potter fandom, or that there still isn’t great fanfiction or fanart being put out for it, but there was a fever pitch in there for a while that I’ve never seen matched since.

Fandom is a bit cyclical anyway–they rise and fall, based on if/when new material comes out, and while I still do occasionally read new HP fanfic or favorite a fanart piece on tumblr, I’ve never really gone back to it. But man, for those seven years (2000-2007, when Deathly Hallows came out), it was really something.

And to actually talk about the books, I do admire the pure amount of characters JK Rowling manages to juggle and make feel alive, and the way she introduces plot points books before they’re actually relevant. It’s pretty damn amazing, from a plotting and worldbuilding standpoint. And while we can argue all day about the weak and strong points of the series (and, believe me, I have), you can’t deny that they, perhaps more than any pop culture phenomenon since, made an impact.

Thoughts on Harry Potter, squiders? Favorite character? What’s your house?

Foundational Books: The Lord of the Rings

I know this one sounds a little stereotypical, but bear with me, squiders.

Somewhere in my early teens I received a box set of the Lord of the Rings trilogy (and The Hobbit). I still have the books, though not the box. Okay, to be fair, I loaned The Two Towers to a friend in high school, who never gave it back (TODD), but I found an identical copy at a thrift store so it’s fine.

My dad read The Hobbit to me as a child, but I didn’t pick the rest of the books up until I was in late high school, when I was going through some emotional turmoil (my sister and my best friend were dating, and had hidden the relationship from me for some months before I found out, so I was feeling betrayed that they hadn’t told me and lonely because it felt like I’d lost my relationship with both in one fell swoop).

And there was something very comforting in that story at the moment in my life. Maybe it was the way that Sam stuck by Frodo through thick and thin, or Aragorn, or how Legolas and Gimli overcame centuries of racial hate to become the best of friends. Whatever it was, reading through those books, appendices and all, really helped me, and I will be forever grateful, even though re-reading them has never had anywhere near the same impact.

These were not my first foray into epic fantasy (I’d found the Shannara books by Terry Brooks when I was 12), so I didn’t personally run into the whole fact that a lot of epic fantasy is just LOTR rip-offs thing (and by the early 2000s epic fantasy was changing enough that it wasn’t necessarily true).

A few years ago I took an excellent course through Coursera, called Online Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative, offered through Vanderbilt University. It’s honestly one of the best courses I’ve ever taken. In it, we used the Lord of the Rings to explore differences in narrative between different forms of media. Each week we’d watch part of the movies, read part of the books, and play a section of Lord of the Rings Online (excellent game, little bit addictive, plus you can turn into a chicken and try out a chicken run, which is where you try to get from the Shire to somewhere else without getting eaten by anything). We also read a lot of romantic (the time period, not like, modern romance) poems and stories, which were the start of modern fantasy.

(I almost made it to Rivendell as a chicken once. It was in sight when I was killed by a giant bug.)

So, I appreciate the books for being there when I needed them. I appreciate the characters, who, for the most part, are good people and willing to help their friends and family, no matter what. I appreciate the movies, even though they are very long, and I appreciate the source material for being there to teach me really cool things years later.

Thoughts on the Lord of the Rings, squiders?