Posts Tagged ‘Novel’

Warning: spoilers for both books.

Without question, Daughter of Smoke and Bone is one of the best books I’ve ever read in any genre, not just because it’s heart-stoppingly original, exquisitely written, gorgeously characterised, perfectly structured and amazingly worldbuilt, but because it defies easy categorisation – at least on the surface. On first perusal, it reads as YA urban fantasy right up until you realise it’s somehow transmuted into adult epic fantasy, and when the hell did that happen? Which is less confusing than it is brilliant, Taylor’s skill at successive big reveals being consummate; the point being, though, that it’s really both and neither. What Daughter is – what the series is, as Days of Blood and Starlight makes clear – is an epic portal fantasy, and once you come to that realisation, the whole starts to become… well, not clear, because the story was never unclear, but better contextualised.

Because whether we mean to or not, we all as readers – as audiences – rely on narrative signposting to tell us what kind of story we’re in. If we misread those signs, then it’s easy to trick ourselves into thinking that the story itself is somehow at fault for failing to meet our expectations, when more often than not, the fault is ours for assuming they were valid to begin with. And I say this now because, in reading other reviews of Starlight – many of which are mixed – the single common thread seems to be a species of bewilderment, or complaint, or uncertainty, or surprise at the very least, that the book wasn’t what the reviewer thought it should be. And prior to having read it, that worried me a little, because Daughter was so incredible that obviously – obviously! – it was always going to be a difficult act to follow, which is so often true of impressive first installments. But now, it seems that, at least in some cases, the problem isn’t with the book, but with the expectations of the audience: or, more specifically, the expectation that a story which has as its starting point the genocide of the heroine’s people by her former lover would be anything other than a war story.

Days of Blood and Starlight is a dark, heartbreaking exploration of the consequences of terrorism, empire, slavery, dehumanisation, power and sacrifice, and the myriad ugly ways in which violence and retribution are self-perpetuating. It is also – quite naturally, given the scope of the worldbuilding, but perhaps jarringly to anyone who took the urban fantasy elements at the start of Daughter to be thematically integral to the series rather than a skillfully executed smokescreen – epic. Literally: the bulk of the story takes place in the world of Eretz, which is at war, and so employs multiple POV characters – many new, and some of them one-shots – to give us an all-over view of the conflict. As any habitual, critical reader of epic works will tell you, this is an easy gambit to get wrong: too many new characters can bog the narrative, drive it off track, or otherwise detract from the central, pivotal struggle. But in the case of Starlight, Taylor has managed this potentially hazardous structure with a rare graceful economy – in large part, I suspect, because her native writing style is so uniquely beautiful. In all respects, Taylor’s prose is like the musculature of a hunting cat: glossy, gorgeous, evocative and a form of poetry in its own right, but perfectly balanced, powerful and with not an ounce of flesh wasted. All of which – Taylor’s literary skill and Starlight’s martial themes both – can be summed up in a single, encompassing sentence:

“What can a soldier do when mercy is treason, and he is alone in it?”

This question, ultimately, cuts to the heart of the novel. Akiva’s actions in bringing about the fall of Loramendi – and, as a direct consequence, the effective genocide and enslavement of the chimaera – are unforgivable. Akiva knows this, Karou knows this, the narrative knows this; and yet, because this is a hard, dark story, both the reader and Akiva are still forced to confront the reality of what comes next – or rather, the fact that something does come next. The world doesn’t stop nor the clock turn back: Akiva isn’t trying for redemption, but still he has to move forwards, all the while dragging the weight of what he’s done, because there isn’t any alternative. A new world still needs to be fought for, even by people like him. But Akiva isn’t alone in having blood on his hands: as Thiago’s new resurrectionist, Karou effectively enables his campaign of terrorism – the slaughter of innocent civilians, mothers and children – by building him a new and brutal army. Akiva’s betrayal has broken her; she is grieving, pained both physically and mentally by the strains of her task, and tortured by shame and guilt at the thought of her role in what happened at Loramendi. And yet, this doesn’t excuse her ignorance, the length of time it takes her to understand the use to which her gifts are being put – the bleak and utter darkness of Thiago’s revenge. Just as Akiva is culpable for the massacre of chimaera, so is Karou made culpable for the slaughter of angels.

Blinded by rage and pain and grief, both characters have lent themselves to the execution of terrible deeds and the support of monsters. Akiva’s might be the greater crime, but in either case, there’s no coming back from what they’ve done. What happens next isn’t a question of balancing the scales – there can be no balance – but finding a way to live in what remains of their world, and somehow, maybe, to remake it. And as both find themselves serving under commanders without mercy – Joram and Jael for Akiva, with their dreams of conquest; Thiago for Karou, with his bloody revenge against innocents – both, as Starlight progresses, find the strength for mercy where mercy means treason, building their rebellious hopes in secret. And there is hope: in Sveva, the Dama girl freed from captivity by the rebels; in the true love shared by Zuzana and Mik. Though seemingly incongruous at times, the latter’s inclusion is vital: a bodily reminder – to Karou, to the reader, to the chimaera – of what, in all this blood and catastrophe, the fighting is actually *for*. A simple thing, perhaps; but without the presence of Mik and Zuzana to counterbalance the horror and remind Karou of her human self, Starlight would be an altogether bleaker, more desolate novel.

Even so, the finale is harrowing. This being a war story, Taylor hasn’t spared us the threat of sexual violence against women; or rather, has acknowledged its existence in Liraz’s fears, not of the enemy, but the appetites of her own commander, and her fury at the whole awful system of soldier-bastards fathered on unwilling concubines that underpins Joram’s reign. “These are our mothers,” she fumes at one point – and just like that, we realise her loyalty to the empire is broken (if, indeed, it ever really existed). But at the end, it’s Karou who finds herself facing Thiago’s appetites – the same angry, violent, possessive lust which, when thwarted originally, lead him to torture Akiva and behead Madrigal. Starlight is not an easy read, but in a book brimming with ugliness and torture, the final few chapters are the hardest to read of all.

And yet somehow, despite all the horror, Taylor still manages to end on a note of courage, with just enough stray threads left purposefully dangling to ensure that, whatever the next book brings, it’s bound to be nuanced and complex. Days of Blood and Starlight is a powerful, purposeful novel that subverts our expectations even as it builds them, forcing its characters through darkness only so that they might relearn hope. A truly worthy successor to Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and easily one of the best books I’ve read this year.

The castle of Starveldt is waiting. Having escaped once from Sanguisidera, Solace and her friends are in desperate need of guidance. Seeking to unravel a cryptic prophecy, they travel to the Rookery, an otherworldly place governed by the enigmatic Liluye. Magical and wild, the Rookery tests them all in preparation for the crossing to Starveldt. But the group is starting to fracture. The threat of Lord Grief continues to grow; old betrayals, lies and secrets boil to the surface – with startling consequences. As danger closes in, can they make their peace before everything falls apart? Or will the Bloodkin triumph?

Last Saturday on October 1, The Key to Starveldt hit shelves, officially confirming it as my second published novel. The largest part of my brain still cannot process the idea that this is A Thing That Has Happened, as opposed to A Thing I Have Daydreamed About And Which Would Never Happen, Ever, which is possibly why it’s taken me so long to blog my celebration. But! That time has now come, and so I say unto the world at large, SQUEE! The Key to Starveldt is out! Reviewer Jenny Mounfield says:

“With its shades of Alice in Wonderland, Misfits, Supernatural—and others—this series will delight the Twilight generation. Meadows has handled her large cast of characters with ease; each is as multi-layered and complex as the plot—which really is a slippery thing: easy enough to grasp, but not so easy to hold onto. It twists, squirms and folds back on itself, all the while keeping readers guessing.

The Rare isn’t just a story of good and evil, it’s about friendship, loyalty, belonging and dealing with difference. As Solace tries to resist the lust for human blood encoded in her genes—traits her dark brother has embraced—questions of nature versus nurture, not to mention our ability to choose our own fate, are brought to the fore.

I was bowled over by Meadows’ story-telling skill in book one, and book two has not disappointed.”

Which, frankly, fills me with glee. But in case you need a little more inducement, I offer you this reading from Chapter 3: The Rookery.

Expect more Cool Things to come, but for the moment: whee!

It’s still in rough at this point, but for those of you who are interested, behold: The Key to Starveldt!

(Apologies for the tiny graphic – the other images I have are all Adobe PDFs, and I can’t figure out how to make them into JPEGs for ease of use.)

As I type this, the edited pages for TKTS are sitting just to my left, and I am anticipating that a fully updated manuscript will be sent back to Ford Street  - who now have a shiny new website – by the end of this weekend. I can’t give you a concrete release date yet, but right now, it’s looking to be sometime in August/September 2011. Apart from all the work involved in sending final edits back and forth, printing the actual books and organising promotions, the fact that I now live in Scotland means that physically getting myself to the launch has become a much more involved process than it was for Solace & Grief. However, while it would be nice to be on hand when the book hits shelves, I understand that certain of you are keen to see what’s been happening to Solace, Sharpsoft and the rest, so regardless of what happens with my travel plans, I’ll do my best to ensure the book comes out as soon as it reasonably can.

Yesterday’s launch at Kinokuniya was, to put it simply, awesome.

There are a number of reasons for this.

1. I woke up, hopped online, and was confronted by two very shiny emails: a lovely missive from someone who’s read the book saying the kind of nice things which, did I have feathers, would cause me to preen them; and a note from my publisher alerting me very favourable review in the Sunday Age, which can hopefully be seen here. It says Solace & Grief is “a well-plotted novel…a little Scooby-Doo, a little bit Buffy, and a lot of fun for readers 15 and up.” Whee!

2. My parents went above and beyond in providing food, nibblies and service, and with the help of Helene, our Kinokuniya contact person, and her organisational magic, everything was laid out perfectly. A big thanks to the staff, who were friendly, interesting and wonderful. There’s a reason why Kinokuniya is such a fantastic store!

3. Once things got underway, Scott Westerfeld launched the book by saying a series of extremely flattering things about Solace and her friends, such that the sides of my mouth started to twitch from grinning too much. It was twelve kinds of awesome to meet Scott, not to mention Justine Larbalestier, and even though my base instinct was to lose all communictive skills in their presence, abandon myself to the squealing fangirl within and go all I’m Not Worthy a la Wayne’s World, I think I managed to actually act like a sensible adult and hold a conversation. I know, kids. I’m scared, too.

4. The people. Everyone who showed up was lovely – thank you all for coming, making yourselves known, and being generally shiny! Special mentions go to Kat from Book Thingo, who I now know in the flesh as well as via IM, and to the Capsicum Girls, who made me a gift of a yellow capsicum with a heart drawn on the stem to remember them by. (They also gave Scott a watermelon.) It took me a while to pin down why I was so wildly excited to receive a brightly coloured vegetable, but apart from the fact that all the Girls were cool and friendly and liked my Pwnies shirt, it struck me later that Ms Catalysta’s blog entry about giving Idina Menzel a pumpkin might have something to do with it. Yay for random produce!

5. After lots of signing, book-selling, photo-taking and talking with peeps both new and old, a few friends, Toby and I retired to the Edinburgh Castle pub for drinks. These went on for a while, and eventually culminated in a pizza dinner with friends-of-a-new-friend in Newtown that was both tasty and full of cool conversation. And then we walked back up King Street to  Elizabeth’s, where we bought the first Anita Blake novel and the volume one trade paperback of Angel: After The Fall, before stopping in at one of the two King Street bookshops to possess an ambient cat called Shakespeare, whom we patted, and then we caught a cab home and fell into well-earned, exhausted slumber.

So, that was Sunday. Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who made it work! By way of reward, here is another happy-making review, courtesy of Sue Bursztynski. It made me smile: I hope it has the same effect on you.

People of Earth, your attention please – as of today, being 1 March 2010, Solace & Grief is officially on shelves! Woo! Here is a nice review to celebrate! Pan Galactic Gargle-Blasters all round!

Due partly to the fact that all good things come in threes, but mostly because launches are fun, Solace & Grief is being treated to three of them. The first, as keen observers of this blog may be aware, was held on Saturday 20 Feb at the Carlton Library, and was awesome, if a little nerve-rattling, owing to the fact that I am now an Author Person and was therefore unable to persue my usual ploy of loitering near the cheese platter until rather late in the day. The second launch took place during Friday night’s portion of Continuum 6, courtesy of the wonderful Lucy Sussex, who not only said a series of very nice things indeed about the book, but also gave me a rather delicious bottle of red champagne, the subsequent lifespan of which was, as one might imagine, brief. However, there is still one launch to go, and if you are a native of Sydney or any of the surrounding burghs, it would be a thing of extreme shinyness to see you there. Thus, I give you: the details!

Where: Kinokuniya Books, Level 2, The Galeries Victoria, 500 George Street, Sydney.

When: This Sunday 7 March from 12:30 onwards.

The proceedings will be MC’d by the illustrious Scott Westerfeld. There will be little sandwiches, and things to drink, and books to buy and have signed – in short, it will be an awesome day, and more in these instances is always merrier, so come along! Bring friends, bring fun, and together we will talk vampires. Mua. Ha. Haaa.

Some more internet mentions this week, which is exciting! Danielle over at Reading Watching Living conducted this wonderful interview, while Katie over at Sophistikatied Reviews has done me the honour of a Waiting on Wednesday post prior to the appearance of the guest blog I’ve written for her, so watch this space!

I have also – and the sheer thought of it fills me with a gleeful, tingling sensation – come face to face with my first ever book review, courtesy of Kate O’Donnell. Alas, there is no specific link to which I can direct you, as it was with Bookseller and Publisher magazine – a hardcopy publication, despite their website – who also interviewed me in the same edition. I can’t give you the whole review, but I can say that Solace & Grief was described as “a clever and funny supernatural romp, with a chilling underside to it…a smart and appealing read for the ‘Vampire Academy’ crowd.”

Which, you know. GLEE!

OMG, people – my first ever author interview is now online, courtesy of the most excellent Steph Bowe! You will find it here, along with the details of my book launch, so if anyone out there is going to be loitering in Melbourne on February 20, please drop by and say hello. There will be nibbles and fun and quite a lot of exuberant geekness on my part, or possibly just some split-the-jaw grinning, but it’s also the day before my birthday, so even if you aren’t interested in procuring yourself a copy of Solace & Grief, your salutations and raisings of the glass will be more than welcome. Although if you did want to buy yourself a copy, it would sort of be a like a birthday present to me, only you get the actual present! Everybody wins!

There are two, basically.

1. We just got back from the UK last week, and although I’m not jetlagged, I’d like to plead Temporal Disorientation While Having To Find A House And A Job And Get All Our Stuff Out Of Storage.

2. Books. Specifically, my books. Behold!

So shiny...

Squee!

As anyone unfortunate enough to be reading my Twitter/Facebook updates will vouch, I’ve been somewhat engrossed this past week in writing an Ambush Novel. By which I mean, I wrote 3,000 words of backstory last Monday, 1 December, having suddenly realised that three different ideas I’ve been toying with for the past few years were actually, in fact, one idea, and since then – that is to say, over the past six days – I’ve written a little over 18,000 words in roughly seven chapters. This is sort of unprecedented, given that I am:

(a) lazy; and

(b) easily distracted by shiny things,

most notably television, the internet, and old-school games of Tetris. On the other hand, final changes to Solace & Grief are long since done, and as I finished the first draft of its sequel, The Key to Starveldt, when we were still in Bristol, I now have to wait the regulation month-or-so before my brain is able to cope with the notion of editing it. Up until this week, therefore, I’ve been in something of a unique (for me) position, viz: being totally free to write, but having no major project. I won’t deny the break’s been nice, but clearly the tiny scrap of enthusiasm currently doing double-duty as my work ethic has grown bored with this sudden influx of free time, and decided to collaborate with my imaginative hindbrain in mixing things up. Hence, we arrive at the Rise of the Ambush Novel.

I’m not quite sure what genre it is. So far, there’s magic, weird technology, political wrangling, frustrated romance, quite a lot of swearing and – oh, yeah – some murders to be solved. It’s an absolute blast, and even though we’re talking early dawn of days, something tells me I’ll see this one through to completion.

So, side project. Squee!

Yesterday was the Pan Macmillan Winter Sales Conference – my first ever book event, which I attended as part of the Ford Street delegation. It was a long day in the Yarra Valley full of free food, speed dating with sales reps, speeches and free wine, although not necessarily in that order, and I had an absolute blast. So here, recorded for posterity, are some of the highlights:

1. Spending the day with the wonderful George Ivanoff and Meredith Costain.

2. The proliferation of tiny little custard tarts topped with glazed strawberries, of which I devoured my own bodyweight.

3. The self-help author whose pitch to a room full of publishers included the words ‘nobody reads books anymore’ and the admission that he didn’t read, either.

4. The number of sales reps/Pan Macmillian people who were not only lovely and interesting, but fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

5. The speed-dating session, wherein I repeated myself umpteen times in the pursuit of marketing my book, but nonetheless had a fabulous time. And also, it was actually timed speed-dating. With table numbers and a stopwatch.

6. The free drinks from 5:30 onwards.

7. Bradley Trevor Grieve’s speech at dinner, which included a toast in Swahili and a rousing defence of dogs, and which made reference, among other things, to Hitler, skydiving, French cinema, fevered morphine dreams, Egyptian mythology, Paris Hilton and hermaphroditism.  

8. The part where I was awarded a soft toy Siamese cat for asking a vociferous and pedantic question about undines. 

9. The fact that, due to the effects of free alcohol and the suggestions of not one, but two lovely PanMac people and also my own madness, said toy cat was promptly dubbed Selina James Grieve. Thanks, Anita and Robin!

10. And this was only my first conference.