There And Draft Again

A Fellowship of Fantasy Writers

Review: The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski May 21, 2014

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At the urging of many a book blogger, I pre-ordered The Winner’s Curse long before release, received the gorgeous hardcover, and somehow managed to squish in reading it. I’m typically terrible about finding the time to joy read, but HOLY COW THIS BOOK. It gripped me. I stayed up way too late and ignored friends and simply basked in this masterpiece. (Also had a happy panic attack when this happened.) I have a hundred and one things to say about it, but I’ll do my best to narrow it down to four or five. First off, the writing. I loved some of the unusual descriptions that many people wouldn’t be able to get away with, but somehow the author was able to make them totally work. Those lines that I’m always afraid are a little too ironic or a little too intense? She puts them in there, guys! And not just anywhere. They are chapter endings. THE ACTUAL ENDING, ZOMG. This is what prompted me to gush all over Twitter that I think I have a kindred spirit, to run out and buy all her other books pronto. I’m now a crazy fan, thank you very much.

Okay, now that I’ve gotten my adoration for the writing off of my chest, there’s Kestrel. I haven’t liked a main character this much in years. She’s smart and cunning, and she knows how to use her intelligence without rubbing everybody’s face in it. Her personality was realistic and deep. I loved that she didn’t go around earning respect by being as tough or attractive as others. Instead, she was very much her own person, with her own tastes and friends and qualities and weaknesses. I love a character with a passionate streak, or deeply wounded with complicated motivations, and even some who are harsh and unforgiving, but I also love a character with downright sense. Kestrel is sensible while still managing to feel things deeply, and she knows how to strategize around life crap that gets thrown at her. Basically, I adore her.

Arin, the Herrani slave Kestrel wins at auction at the beginning of the story (thus invoking the “Winner’s Curse”) was expertly layered in every sense. His entire race has been conquered and made slaves — and that alone is enough to justify the bitterness he shows toward his purchaser — but he’s not whiny at all, and that made me literally want to hug him. He is displeased and incensed by his circumstances, so he sets out to change them, and he does so in a smoldering cloud of awesome. The conflict between him and Kestrel was crackling, and I liked it even more than their romance. There’s nothing quite like two honorable characters, equal of mind and soul, going at each other with words [knives, swords, poison, chains…ahem].

The secondary characters do not disappoint — Kestrel’s friends, Jess and Ronan (especially Ronan); an opponent of hers, Irex; and perhaps my favorite, Kestrel’s father, a general in the Valorian army — are all interesting, complex, and real in their own right.

Oh wait, General Trajan totally deserves his own paragraph because the father/daughter relationship is so freaking flawless. Kestrel’s father sometimes seems too unemotional and commanding, yet the way his wife died gives him cause to pull away AND cause to want his daughter to be as rugged and logical as possible. Also? He treats her as an equal. So much of the Young Adult genre eloquently reflects how idiotic parents can seem to a teenager, but I LOVE that someone decided to portray a teen that is actually pretty good at putting herself in her parent’s shoes and understanding him as a person (teens can be sympathetic and observant too, y’know). Trajan, although rather emotionally challenged, does everything he can to give her equal parts privilege and responsibility. And although she finds herself disagreeing entirely with his political views, Kestrel manages to never personally betray him — which, you know, just made me ❤ ❤ ❤ her all the more.

I love that Rutkoski doesn’t shy away from showing many sides of mortality. There are slimy characters, people we think are well-meaning who turn out to be douchy, and there are beautiful, sacrificial souls that might have seemed shallow until the surface was scratched. (I AM rather bitter that we didn’t see enough Ronan in this book. I want more Ronan.) Nothing in the story was overtly magical, and that made me love it ten times more. Kestrel’s world is layered in history and humanity instead of symbolism and supernatural powers. I’ve always been drawn toward the more realistic/historical worlds in the fantasy genre, especially where the greatest emphasis is on the characters. The Winner’s Curse is the first in a trilogy, so there’s more coming, YAY!

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{ I’m giving away a hardcover of The Winner’s Curse over on my blog. Enter here! }

–Rachel O’Laughlin

 

 

A Bad Review: One Person’s Opinion… May 1, 2014

I must admit I’m pretty jaded by Amazon reviews. I’m sorry to say a five star review won’t induce me to part with my hard-earned cash, any more than a one star soul-stomping-hatred-fest will put me off something that really appeals.

My favourite fantasy author of the moment is Patrick Rothfuss. I devoured The Name of the Wind, and Wise Man’s Fear, the first two books in the Kingkiller Chronicles, loving the world, the characters, the glorious plot tangles and even the narrative structure. And I’m desperately awaiting the next instalment Doors of Stone.

And I’m not the only one to enjoy the books either. They have a 4.5 star rating on Amazon. So it was with much surprise I stumbled across my first scathing review of the book:

Kvothe makes me wanna gouge my eyes out. He’s that annoying. I know fantasy is attractive because it diverts us from the humdrum of our normal, uninteresting lives, and I’m aware that a heroic character should be more powerful and awesome than your regular joe. But seriously, if Kvothe excels beyond the realm of understanding in one more thing, I’ll scream.
I’d list all the achievements young Kvothe has earned himself but I just don’t have enough room. And I honestly cant swallow another list covering All That Is Supremely Awesome About Kvothe.

Wow. The reviewer J.J. Maken (read the whole review here) hated with a passion the very things that I really enjoyed about the books. Kvothe and his ridiculous giftedness was something I enjoyed about the story, particularly because he could be so good at some things and then completely clueless in other areas (like pretty much any interaction with women).

However rather than being upset on behalf of my own opinion, it reminded me that people have different tastes – and I thought J.J. Maken was at least able to articulate why the story didn’t work for her, instead of bashing the intelligence of the author or other readers who did like the book.

I prefer to like my protagonist as I’m reading, not secretly pray he dies a painful, drawn out death. I really loathed this book. I wish there had been more negative reviews available before I bought it.

I wish there were more negative reviews as interesting as this one.

My advice is read the reviews if you find they help. But the best person to judge whether a book is going to suit you, is you. Read the blurb, check out a sample, and try your luck.

What are your thoughts on Amazon reviews? Or any form of creative review?

– by Raewyn Hewitt

 

Review: Meet the Wizarding World of Destruction by Sharon Bayliss April 26, 2014

Filed under: Reading — thereanddraftagain @ 11:34 pm
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December people banner

Sharon Bayliss is a huge fan of Harry Potter, but her wizards are definitely something different from JK Rowling’s magical world. And in the best way. As a fellow Potter fan, I’ve been looking for a new take on the wizarding world for awhile, but a fresh one. Maybe even an adult one that also happens to put me through an absolute emotional roller coaster. Sharon Bayliss’s Destruction, the first book in the December People series, definitely fits the bill.

 

David Vandergraff wants to be a good man. He goes to church every Sunday, keeps his lawn trim and green, and loves his wife and kids more than anything. Unfortunately, being a dark wizard isn’t a choice.

Eleven years ago, David’s secret second family went missing. When his two lost children are finally found, he learns they suffered years of unthinkable abuse. Ready to make things right, David brings the kids home even though it could mean losing the wife he can’t imagine living without. 

Keeping his life together becomes harder when the new children claim to be dark wizards. David believes they use this fantasy to cope with their trauma. Until, David’s wife admits a secret of her own—she is a dark wizard too, as is David, and all of their children. 

Now, David must parent two hurting children from a dark world he doesn’t understand and keep his family from falling apart. All while dealing with the realization that everyone he loves, including himself, may be evil.

Add it on Goodreads or pick up your copy from Amazon or Barnes & Noble

For more from Sharon Bayliss, check out her website or follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads

Like the December People on Facebook to keep up to date with this series

 

Imagine the problems a dysfunctional family might encounter. Now imagine those problems on magic. The result? A really great book. Here’s my review:

This book is a whirlwind of emotions right from the start, and continues to build intensity with each chapter. The story starts with a bang as David Vandergraff gets the phone call he has been waiting for and dreading for eleven years–the call that tells him what happened to his missing children.

His secret missing children that his wife knows nothing about.

His secret missing children that also happen to be wizards. 

As David’s world begins to unravel, he discovers that he wasn’t the only one in his marriage with secrets. His wife Amanda has her fair share as well. And not just that she is also a dark wizard. 

This book might have wizards and magic, but the story is in this family and the problems they have, which are very rooted in reality. Their dysfunction makes them feel so normal, but when you add magic to the mix, dysfunction doesn’t cover it. The characters are beautifully flawed, and sometimes do unforgivable things, but you still find yourself rooting for them. The Vandergraff kids aren’t just accessories to David and Amanda’s story, but are integral parts of the whole, and have their own enriching plots that will tug at your heart. The demons they are all facing are more within themselves than some evil wizard out to get them. They are their own villains, which makes the face off with the real villain so much more intense. Even if they win, will they truly win? Or will they be their own defeat? 

Right when the plot heads in one direction, Sharon Bayliss throws you for a loop. Predictable is not in her vocabulary, that’s for sure. Definitely a must read, and can’t wait for more. 

Pick up your copy now and tell me what you think! Oh, and don’t forget to take the quiz to see what kind of wizard you are, and let me know in the comments. As for me?

You can pick your badge here. I will be sure to keep you guys posted on what I am certain is going to be another amazing fantasy series as it continues.

❤ Mara Valderran

 

Book Recommendation: The Queen’s Thief series by M. Whalen Turner March 22, 2014

Filed under: Reading — thereanddraftagain @ 9:12 pm
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QueensThief

It’s no secret THE QUEEN’S THIEF series by Megan Whalen Turner is my favourite YA Fantasy series of all time. If you haven’t read these books yet, I’d like to convince you to do so today.

What is this series?

There are 6 books planned in THE QUEEN’S THIEF series and four of them are already out: THE THIEF (published in 1996 and awarded a Newbery Honor in 1997), THE QUEEN OF ATTOLIA (published in 2000), THE KING OF ATTOLIA (published in 2006) and A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS (published in 2010). Additionally, two short stories have also been published as extra content: EDDIS (2007) and DESTRUCTION (2011).

What is it about?

Eugenides (or Gen) is the main character of this series, although he isn’t always its focus or its narrator. He is “The Thief” from Book 1 and we follow his journey from the prison of Sounis to the court of Attolia.

Who are the other characters?

One of the strenghts of this series is its cast of characters: the mysterious, oh-so-clever and beautiful Queen of Attolia, Sophos, the young heir of Sounis and the focus point of Book 3, the always helpful Queen of Eddis, the indispensable Magus… the reader never knows who to trust and who to like, for everyone is ultimately so very flawd and human in these books.

Where does it take place?

Attolia, Sounis and Eddis are three small kingdoms at war with each other. Megan Whalen Turner drew from Ancient Greece, the Byzantine Empire and 16th Century Italy to create them. Somewhere beyond the sea, the Mede Empire (inspired by the Persian Empire) is ready to conquer them. Unless they can unite under one banner – or rather, behind one ruler.

What’s so special about it?

 As you may have noticed, Megan Whalen Turner isn’t in a hurry to publish these books. She takes between 4 and 6 years to carefully craft each installment, which results in beautiful writing, incredibly clever plots, wonderful world building and complex characters. Each book is a little masterpiece of YA Fantasy fiction.

So go ahead and read them!

EM Castellan

 

Judging Books By Their Covers March 15, 2014

Filed under: Publishing,Reading — thereanddraftagain @ 7:08 pm
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Covers are really on my mind right now as I try to figure out what I would want on the cover of my dystopian, which has led me to think about what makes a really great cover. I know what my personal tastes are, but I also know if I had judged some of my favorite books by cover alone instead of the blurb or hearsay, I would have missed out on some amazing stories. These are just a few that have beautiful covers and are amazing stories, but not the kind of cover that would draw my eye:

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There’s absolutely nothing wrong with these covers, and they are some of my favorite books. In fact, after reading Faith of the Fallen, it became my favorite fantasy cover. If you’ve read the books, you know the impact the statues Richard made had on the story and on Nicci in particular, and I love that Richard stands so tall in front of their glory but looks so small in comparison. It is all very moving once you read the story, but wouldn’t have evoked the same reaction out of me if I had no idea what was going on.

I’m not sure why, but covers that look like paintings don’t draw me in. I prefer covers that have a cinematic, move poster-type feel to them, with the characters front and center and the action surrounding them.

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And yet, some of the best fantasy series out there have covers that are more artistic and classic. If you look at the most well-known and best-selling names in fantasy (Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson, Mercedes Lackey, Robin Hobb, Neil Gaiman, etc) and you will find their covers match that description: artistic and classic (urban fantasy best sellers tend to be a different story with more cinematic and action-packed covers like Patricia Briggs and Kim Harrison). There are exceptions to every rule, of course, but these are the generalizations I’ve seen.

So what makes a great cover in your eyes? What draws you in? And what are some favorite books you would have missed out on if you had only judged the book by its cover?

 

That’s How It’s Done: Siege and Storm March 12, 2014

This past month I finished reading the fabulous Leigh Bardugo‘s second installment in the Grisha Trilogy, Siege and Storm. I actually didn’t enjoy it as much as the first book, Shadow and Bone (for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which is that the first book is pretty hard to top), but the fact that I wasn’t thoroughly engrossed gave me the chance to read it slowly and really parse the writing style as a whole.

There are certain things we are told are against the rules of writing, and usually they’re fairly good points. But sometimes these rules of thumb are based on what’s in style, so it’s a good idea to know why and to what you are conforming. Don’t just take advice because it’s thrown out there as advice — always determine whether or not it’s right for your novel, and keep aware of the reasons these trends are circulating and to what audience[s] they apply.

As I read Siege and Storm, I noticed a bunch of things that broke *sacred* rules, and yet worked well for this novel, and I felt I just had to point them out.

— Telling v. Showing
We’re always told, “Show, don’t tell,” and generally speaking it’s a wonderful rule. But guys, there’s boatloads of telling in Siege and Storm. BOATLOADS. Whenever there’s a folk tale or history that needs to be explained, it’s usually done right there in the middle of the narrative instead of in the voice of a character or in relation to the stakes. Sometimes the description is so dry that you could swear Alina isn’t observing it herself (as we might assume she must be, since the entire series is in her first person narrative). Sometimes characters’ powers and attributes are described in a drifty, blank, who-the-frig-is-talking voice instead of Alina’s. But somehow, it works. It feels very classic, old school, and large scale.

— Lots of Action, followed by lots of Nothing
Usually pacing is a huge concern for us writers. We want to be sure our action is interspersed with reflection and dialogue in a thoughtful manner so that the crescendo at the end of the book can hit the reader with maximum force. Siege and Storm opened with seven solid chapters of pure action, then slowed to a lilting, description-heavy pace for almost the entire novel until the very, very end, where we again encountered intense action just in time for the story to wrap up. I’m a huge fan of tension throughout an entire story, so this unusual pacing should have left a bitter taste in my mouth. Yet it felt unique and truly endearing. I was pleased that the book hadn’t unfolded as I expected. Surprise is nice. Very nice.

— Passive Voice
This one is the kicker. Passive voice, passive voice, passive voice. Everyone hates passive voice. We all do. It feels lazy when we find it in our own manuscripts, and it looks lazy when we see it in others. If we could make it die finally and forever, we would. But it always creeps back up on us and lurks in the shadows whenever we’re having an off-day. To be completely honest, when I first encountered passive voice in Siege and Storm, I switched into critique mode and was tempted to take out a red pen. “Passive! Kill it with fire!” But I couldn’t. I was reading the novel of an author I admire, the second in a series I was breathless to hear the end of. So I kept reading. After awhile, I started to realize the passive had a gorgeous part to play in the story. Alina is going through some really unusual struggles with her own psyche in this middle novel. She often isn’t sure who she is or what she wants, and she starts to view others with a detached lack of empathy. The Passive Voice is just that — detached, lacking the full experience. It’s very Alina, it’s very true (in this case), and it’s very freaking brave of Ms. Bardugo to put it out there right now.

This book reads like a classic, and I love classics. I have to admire it to pieces for being able to pull a Crazy Ivan on some of our modern writing rules and still be a huge success in today’s market.

Rachel O’Laughlin

 

Forever Neverland March 8, 2014

Filed under: Inspiration,Reading — thereanddraftagain @ 7:54 pm
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As a child, Neverland was my ultimate vacation destination. I remember wanting to go so bad my chest actually ached from it. I dreamed of Neverland on a regular basis, and watched the Disney movie until the tape (yeah, VHS all the way) wore out and we had to buy a new one.

And Peter…Well, my childhood crush hasn’t ever really faded, from my heart or my mind.

So, here I am, all grown up with children of my own, and still I dream of Neverland. Anything to do with it, whether a movie or clever re-telling, grabs my attention.

Finding Neverland is brilliant and heartwarming, and reminds me of the power of imagination.

findingneverland

My absolute favorite re-telling is THE CHILD THIEF by Brom. Dark and twisted, this beautifully gruesome book is not for the faint of heart.

the child thief

And I can’t wait to add this to my collection: HOOK’S REVENGE by Heidi Schulz.

hooks revenge

One day I’ll visit Neverland, and hopefully I’ll see one or two of you while I’m there.

Kate