AWW2013: Prickle Moon by Juliet Marillier

pricklemoon

Prickle Moon is a collection of Juliet Marillier’s best short fiction. It contains eleven previously published stores and five new ones. Included are the Sevenwaters novella, ’Twixt Firelight and Water, the epic Nordic story, Otherling, and In Coed Celyddon, a tale of the young man who would one day become King Arthur.

The title story, especially written for the collection, concerns an old Scottish wise woman facing an impossible moral dilemma. Other new stories in the book include By Bone-Light, a contemporary retelling of the Russian fairy tale Vasilissa the Wise, and The Angel of Death, a dark story about a puppy mill rescue.

 

 

 

Note: I happily purchased the signed limited edition hardcover of “Prickle Moon”. For one, Marillier is one of my favourite authors, and an instant-buy. And for two, the cover was illustrated by my friend Pia Ravenari, and is just utterly gorgeous. So, yes, I have a bias for this book. But even without that bias, I always feel that Ticonderoga limited edition copies are always worth the outlay – they are beautiful objects, and “Prickle Moon” is no different.

Marillier is an author who clearly prefers to write novels instead of short stories, and this does show a little in this collection. There are a few amazing stories included (which are well worth the cover price of any version), but some of the others are a little uneven. There is, however, true beauty and wonder in all of them, even in some of the most wrenching ones to read.

The titular story, “Prickle Moon”, begins the collection and is new in print. The voice in this piece is just amazing, and you can feel the love that Marillier has for her subject matter in every line. “Otherling” is a reprint, but pairs well with “Prickle Moon”, with both heavily featuring nature and nature magic, with a good dose of historical feel.

Some pure fairy tale follows, with “Let Down Your Hair”, a gorgeous retelling of Rapunzel, and “Poppy Seeds”. There is Arthurian mythos in “In Coed Cellydon”, and a story of hope in “Juggling Silver”.

The longest story in the book is “‘Twixt Firelight and Water”, which fills in part of Marillier’s epic historical Sevenwaters series. Like the Sevenwaters books, this draws on myth and magic and history to create something amazing.

The next stories that follow are where some of the unevenness of the collection shows. It’s not that any of the stories are bad – and reading through Marillier’s afterward which explains the target of some of these stories, it’s understandable that they don’t fit quite perfectly into the magic of the other stories in the collection. Overall, they feel more like they were written for a specific publication, and didn’t spark from some deep magic, as the other tales do.

At the end of the collection, however, come some of the best stories. “Back and Beyond” perhaps filters some of Marillier’s own experiences with cancer, and is beautiful and hopeful and heart-wrenching at the same time. “Angel of Death” takes place in a puppy mill, and Marillier’s love of animals (and for her own rescue dogs) shines clear.

For me, the best story in “Prickle Moon” is the last, “By Bone-Light”, a retelling of Vasilissa the Fair, complete with Baba Yaga lurking in the basement of an apartment building. Everything in this story lives and breathes pure magic, and highlights Marillier at her mythic best. This story is original to the collection.

Overall, “Prickle Moon” is highly recommended, if you’re a fan of Marillier in general, if you love fairy tales, if you love myth and truly amazing storytelling. And if you haven’t read Marillier before, then this is a great place to start before diving into her larger books.

AWW2012 #2: Power and Majesty by Tansy Rayner Roberts

She almost missed the sight of a naked youth falling out of the sky. He was long and lean and muscled … He was also completely off his face.

A war is being fought in the skies over the city of Aufleur. No one sees the battles. No one knows how close they come to destruction every time the sun sets.

During daylight, all is well, but when nox falls and the sky turns bright, someone has to step up and lead the Creature Court into battle.

Twelve years ago, Garnet kissed Velody and stole her magic. Five years ago, he betrayed Ashiol, and took his powers by force. But now the Creature Court is at a crossroads … they need a Power and Majesty who won′t give up or lose themselves in madness …

 

 

I am a huge fan of Tansy Rayner Roberts, both in respects to her fiction and the work she does outside of fiction (reviewing, podcasting as a member of the Hugo-nominated Galactic Suburbia.)  When she announced that she was going to writing her own version of an urban fantasy series, I was pretty excited.  And when I saw the beautiful cover for the first book, Power and Majesty, I was even more so.  Seriously, check out that gorgeous cover!  It reminds me very much of the original covers of Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels books (which may have been deliberate on the part of the publisher, since I believe that fans of the Black Jewels books would very much enjoy Roberts’ Creature Court trilogy).

I pre-ordered this book before it was released, and have picked up copies of both books two and three (The Shattered City and Reign of Beasts respectively; reviews of both will be forthcoming).  I have read books one and two previously, and have embarked upon a reread before I read the recently released third book.

Upon rereading, I’ve found myself even more in love with the world of the Creature Court than before.  Roberts’ worldbuilding is subtle but extremely powerful.  There are no rambling, florid descriptions of the city of Aufleur, and yet the city lives and breathes and completely real.  It is almost a character itself, as the daylight people celebrate a seemingly never-ending cycle of festivals (one gets the impression that all the work done by the people in the city is undertaken only to sustain these festivals) and during the nox (night), a different kind of people come out – the Creature Court themselves, shapeshifters who fight a war unseen by the people of the day.

We are introduced to both worlds through Velody, a girl who has come to Aufleur with the ambition of becoming a dressmaker.  She secures her apprenticeship and is well on track to the career she desires when, abruptly, the Creature Court intervenes in her life.

Velody is an amazing protagonist – she grows and discovers her strengths, but never loses her essential humanity and practicality.  She manages to balance two lives, but never loses sight of the fact that she needs and wants to work.  She also never evolves/devolves (depending on your point of view) into the typical heroine seen in a lot of urban fantasy – we see her developing some harsher edges, but there’s no hard talking or butt-kicking in a physical sense.

Velody’s friends Delphine and Rhian are also fascinating characters – they are both well-defined, and one gets the impression that this book has only just barely begun to explore them.  They are both strong in their own ways – and both highlight the many different kinds of strength that can be had.  Nurturing is strength, as is the ability to conquer one’s fears when needed.

The Creature Court itself is made up from an array of characters, all of them at turns witty, frightening and fragile.  One of the fascinating thing Roberts has done with her shapeshifters is considering pure mass – a human body can transform into a flock of birds, several cats or dozens of mice.  Their magic is unique – they have abilities other than the simple ability to shapeshift (including, for those powerful enough, the seriously disturbing chimera form).  As with some of the exploration of character, there is a definite impression that the magic system is just barely explored here, and there is much to be learned still about the Creature Court and the city of Aufleur.

Roberts has an exceptionally deft hand when it comes to dialogue, and her characters really live when they are speaking.  Some will also appreciate the detailed descriptions of dresses (which makes sense, since Velody is a dressmaker).   There is a good balance of quieter, more introspective moments with scenes that are pure, hectic action, with the pacing guaranteed to keep you turning pages once you’re hooked into the story.  There is also a decent amount of sex and violence, should these be issues you wish to stay away from.

One other thing I have to note is the thought that’s gone into a lot of the plotting.  There’s the aforementioned mass of shapeshifters, but there are also other nice little details – like a character actually noting that his arm would get tired holding a sword to someone’s throat for a long period of time, and adjusting accordingly.  Velody also takes into account what she will be doing when she dresses, so we don’t get to see her running around on rooftops in high heels.  It’s all very refreshing, and gives the book a feeling of realness.

I set down this book and immediately picked up the second to read.  I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this series to anyone who enjoys urban fantasy or dark fantasy like Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels books and Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel books.

The Creature Court books are available in Australian bookstores and have recently been released on the Kindle.  You can purchase the Kindle version of Power and Majesty at Amazon.

 

In which I am a bundle of squee

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Loot! Everything but the bottom three books from the con bag.

This morning I woke up to see the Hugo nominations have been announced.  I am full of fangirl squee to see so many awesome people and books and publications on there.  So happy to see awesome podcasts like Galactic Suburbia and SF Squeecast, and Cat Valente and Among Others and Mur Lafferty and and and!

And I have promptly gone and bought myself a supporting membership so I can vote 🙂

And in even more squee, I went to Swancon yesterday!  And for once didn’t come away with a ridiculous amount of books.  I did splurge a little and buy the limited hardcover of Kim Wilkins’ The Infernal from Ticonderoga, as well as Damnation and Dames, which was the one book I’d gone intending to buy.  I also indulged in buying some books for other people, including completing a friend’s set of Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Creature Court trilogy and buying another friend Joanne Anderton’s Debris.  I so love buying books for other people, especially when I know they’re in situations where they can’t indulge.

(And in an interlude of cute, the husband just opened his collection of Dr Who minifigs for the two-year old to see, and the kidlet is now playing with the ninth doctor and eleventh doctor.  We start them young here.)

Swancon was awesome, mostly because the wonderful Ju introduced me around a lot.  I got to have an awesome chat with Marianne de Pierres, who is just amazing and wonderful.  And I managed to attend only one panel, and only because I was on it 😉  And it was tremendous fun, and I kind of want to do more panels now.

I will likely try to make some more coherent blog posts this week, but I am proud of myself for going, since social anxiety has kept me away from things like this for so long.  And though I am tired and sore and need some serious introvert recharging time, I am very, very glad that I went.

How to be sick

How to Be Sick by Toni Bernhard

 

Here’s a thing: coming up in March it will be ten years since I first fell ill.  At first, we thought it was a simple flu.  And then I ended up with severe post-viral fatigue.  And then everything else – the headaches, the joint pain, the sleep disturbances.  Cue two years of struggling through, with the eventual diagnosis of lupus/rheumatoid arthritis (depending on who you’re talking to; for me, the treatment is the same) and fibromyalgia.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost a decade.  This illness was part of the reason that I didn’t pursue a career in science.  This illness put me on a disability pension after I finished my PhD.  This illness has limited my life, but thankfully, has been treated well enough that I’ve been able to put my life back together, albeit not in the fashion I always thought I’d live.  Despite it, I have continued to write, and run a household.  Thanks to the support of my husband and family, I’ve been able to have a son.

And yet.  Despite all of this, despite getting the right treatment, despite therapy, despite everything, I’ve still found in myself a lot of anger about being ill in the first place.  This book is the  first thing that I’ve discovered that has given me some peace with that illness.

I owe a great debt to an online friend who pointed me towards this book (as well as the facebook group that was created to help people work through the book).  I am not a Buddhist, and I thought at first that would be a problem with working through the book and implementing work from it.  And yet, I didn’t ever find that to be a problem,  Bernhard’s style is so open and easy to read, integrating some of her own Buddhist practice in easy ways to help find some peace.  I’ve found myself incorporating several of the practices into my life since finishing it, and have found that they’ve given me a lot of peace.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is dealing with a chronic illness, or to anyone supporting someone with a chronic illness.  I don’t believe that anyone should stop fighting to find a way past illness, but there is a lot of peace in acceptance of it at the worst times.