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Author: Stephanie Gunn Page 4 of 26
For the last year, I have written every day.
For most of that time, I was tracking wordcount on the Magic Spreadsheet. For the last few months, I’ve stopped using the Magic Spreadsheet, but have been tracking my word counts on my own Google spreadsheet.
For the last two days, I did not write.
It felt very strange not to be getting in word count for those two days, but it also felt kind of awesome. I was feeling very, very burned out, and just generally exhausted. It’s the end of school holidays, and I’ve been sick on and off for months, and the cold weather has not been fun to the arthritis and fibromyalgia.
And so, on Saturday and Sunday, I did not write. And I’m thinking that I might go back to only writing on weekdays. Treating writing as a “real” job again.
This year has actually been a really useful experiment for me. I’ve proved that I can write every day if I need to (though probably not indefinitely). In this time, I’ve managed a draft and a half of a novel, two short stories that have been sold, and a novella that I’ve sent out. Those two short stories were actually really hard to write and took a long time (as short works tend to for me, I’m slowly accepting the fact that I’m a slow writer in terms of getting stuff to the finished stage).
But should I keep doing it just because I can? I don’t think so. At some point, I may come back to it, and I will probably end up writing some weekends, but for now, I need some time off.
Um, I actually thought this would be a light month for books (oops). I did manage to pick up a few bargains, and two of them (Hear Me Roar) are contributor’s copies, so it’s not that bad. And Afterparty was bought to counteract the “let’s all boycott” Tor day.
Needless to say, I haven’t made that much of a dent in Mount To-Be-Read this month.
- I am in serious novel writing mode, and have just cruised past the 40k mark of this draft of Never. My wonderful critique partner has looked over the first 35k or so, and I’m feeling good about this draft. I feel in general like I’ve levelled up with novel writing, but I guess we’ll see once I start shopping it around (after some more editing, of course).
- The table of contents of Bloodlines was announced, including my story The Flowers That Bloom Where Blood Touches Earth.
Reading and Reviewing
- Hugo reading (pauses to shudder). I made it through the novel category without getting too disheartened – there are three good best novel candidates (The Goblin Emperor just squeaks in above The Three-Body Problem and Ancillary Sword for me, but only just, and I may change my mind before the end of voting). As for the short fiction categories, let’s just say that I have exercised my right to vote No Award a lot. And yes, I read (or attempted to read) everything. Thankfully, the graphic novels were also mostly awesome. I’m trying to psych myself up to read the packet entries for the other categories.
- One review written for the Australian Women Writers Challenge: Cranky Ladies of History (spoiler: I loved it).
- One Netgalley review: Elizabeth Hand’s Wylding Hall (spoiler again: I also loved this).
- Healthwise, this has been a month of wins and losses. Win: the new medication I’m on is working with minimal side effects (which never happens) and I’m starting to have more energy. Loss: both my husband and myself have had the head cold from hell, resulting in a lot of sinus headaches. Unfun.
- The cat has not tried to escape from the house again. She seems very happy to be back home, and doesn’t even linger at doors much now. I think she learned a big lesson.
- School holidays start at the end of this week. I’m looking forward to not having to rush around in the mornings for a few weeks, even if it will probably mean reduced word counts.
Warriors, pirates, murderers and queens…
Throughout history, women from all walks of life have had good reason to be cranky. Some of our most memorable historical figures were outspoken, dramatic, brave, feisty, rebellious and downright ornery.
Cranky Ladies of History is a celebration of 22 women who challenged conventional wisdom about appropriate female behaviour, from the ancient world all the way through to the twentieth century. Some of our protagonists are infamous and iconic, while others have been all but forgotten under the heavy weight of history.
Sometimes you have to break the rules before the rules break you.
This review is presented as part of my commitment to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015. I was a contributor to the Pozible campaign that partially funded the production of this book.
Cranky Ladies of History is an anthology edited by Tansy Rayner Roberts and Tehani Wessley, published by Fablecroft Publishing. Publication of the anthology was supported by a crowdfunding campaign on Pozible and by a Tasmanian Arts Crowbar Grant.
When I first heard about the crowdfunding campaign for Cranky Ladies of History, I rushed to fund it. Not only was I going to be on board with any anthology edited by Roberts and Wessley, but the theme had me at “cranky ladies”. I opted to fund at the level which gave me the hardcover edition, which is a truly beautiful book. Kathleen Jennings has created yet another utterly gorgeous cover, not to mention the internal illustrations in the book, which are all amazing.
I have to admit upfront that I am not the most thoroughly read in terms of history or historical fiction, and as such, many of the cranky ladies depicted in the stories were unknown to me. As I started to read, I found myself wishing that each story had been prefaced by a small biography of the woman in question, but as I read more, I found myself glad that none had been provided. There was a small thrill of recognition in seeing the women I recognised, and it was quite lovely to come to the ones I wasn’t familiar with without any prior assumptions. Every one of the women was fascinating, and I suspect that there is going to be a lot of reading about their histories in my future.
I went into this anthology expecting a particular kind of woman to be represented: the woman who fought for good, and perhaps broke social norms in order to do so. I was pleasantly surprised that there was, in fact, a wide range of “cranky ladies” presented (and honestly, I shouldn’t have been, given the editors and authors involved). The fighter for good and breaker of social norms was there, as well as the warrior, but there were also darker levels of “crankiness” presented, for example, Countess Bathory, who can in no terms be described as good, but was certainly a cranky lady of her time.
I’m not going to talk about all of the stories in depth, but don’t take this to mean that they’re not all worthy of your time. These are simply the stories that have particular resonance for me in terms of my reading taste.
Partway through reading, I tweeted that Kirstyn McDermott’s “Mary, Mary” had instantly become one of my favourite short stories of all time. Now, having finished reading the anthology, I stand by this. Mary Woolstonecroft, feminist, writer, and mother of Mary Shelley (she died ten days after giving birth to the second Mary) is the focus of this story. McDermott’s prose is gorgeous and lush as always, and there is a clear empathy for both Marys and for the plight of all women of the time. I loved the inclusion of the possibly-supernatural Grey Lady in this, too. I think this is possibly one of McDermott’s strongest short stories to date.
Deborah Biancotti’s “Look How Cold My Hands Are” concerns the aforementioned Countess Bathory. Bathory is said to have been one of the most prolific serial killers in history, who tortured and abused hundreds of young women. Her punishment was being immured in her castle, and she remained walled up for the last four years of her life. Biancotti, as to be expected from her body of work, does not shy away from any of the horror of Bathory’s actions, and renders the Countess a very believeable and truly horrible figure. There is no redemption for Bathory, and yet Biancotti manages to convey a sense of the Countess’ belief that her actions were just.
The third story I’m going to mention is Amanda Pillar’s “Neter, Nefer”. A brief caveat: I’ve worked with Pillar as my editor, a role at which she is brilliant. Here, we get to see that she’s also a brilliant writer. I’ve always been fascinated by Ancient Egypt, so it’s little surprise that I was drawn to this story on that basis alone, but I utterly loved the way Pillar approached the story of the female pharaoh Hatshephut. The story is told from the perspective of Hatshephut’s daughter Neferure, and reveals so much about women in Ancient Egypt, and describes a fascinating mother-daughter relationship at the same time. I would throw great wads of money at Pillar to have this expanded into a full novel.
It would have been very easy for editors to fall into the trap of choosing stories and protagonists who came only from a Eurocentric background in developing an anthology like this. Wessley and Roberts–as I would expect from them–do not fall into this trap. The collection is cleverly bookmarked by stories that reference Anne Boleyn, but we travel much of the world in between these two. We have stories about cranky women from Central Asia (Foz Meadows writing about Khutulan, warrior who challenged any man who wished to marry her to defeat her in wrestling; loss meant forfeiting horses to her. She is said to have won 10,000 horses in this fashion), China (Joyce Chng writing about Leizu, the Chinese empress who discovered silk), Australia (Sylvia Kelso, writing about Lilian Cooper, first female doctor registered in Queensland) and Iceland (Lisa L. Hannett, writing about Hallgerðr Höskuldsdóttir, Viking woman who suffers from terrible luck), as well as many more, including a great many awesome female pirates (and I would also pay money for a Cranky Lady Pirates sequel!).
It bears repeating that all of the stories in this book are excellent, not just the ones I’ve singled out above. Reading this anthology, it made me realise just how many of the female stories are left out of traditional history as its taught, women most often relegated to the margins as daughters and wives, their own stories forgotten. I’d like to think that somewhere in the past, these women are looking up and thanking the authors and editors for shining a light on them in all of their glorious crankiness.
Highly recommended, even if you don’t usually enjoy historical fiction.
I’m happy to be able to announce that my story, The Flowers That Bloom Where Blood Touches Earth will be appearing in the anthology Bloodlines, edited by Amanda Pillar and forthcoming from Ticonderoga Publications.
I’m super excited that this story found a home. It grew out of reading about spiritualism, and expanded into something strange and hopefully good.
I’ve copied the full announcement below, which you can also find at Ticonderoga Publications.
We’re excited to announce the contents for Bloodlines, the new non-traditional dark urban fantasy anthology edited by the award-winning Amanda Pillar. These 16 incredible stories are:
- Joanne Anderton “Unnamed Children”
- Alan Baxter “Old Promise New Blood”
- Nathan Burrage “The Ties of Blood, Hair and Bone”
- Dirk Flinthart “In The Blood”
- Rebecca Fung “In the Heart of the City”
- Stephanie Gunn “The Flowers That Bloom Where Blood Touches Earth”
- Kelly Hoolihan “The Stone and the Sheath”
- Kathleen Jennings “The Tangled Streets”
- Pete Kempshall “Azimuth”
- Martin Livings “A Red Mist”
- Seanan McGuire “Into the Green”
- Anthony Panegyres “Lady Killer”
- Jane Percival “The Mysterious Mr Montague”
- Paul Starkey “The Tenderness of Monsters”
- Lyn Thorne-Adder “Lifeblood of the City”
- S. Zanne “Seeing Red”
We’ll have more details soon, such as information on pre-ordering. Bloodlines will be available in October, in hardcover, tradepaperback and ebook formats.
– See more at: http://ticonderogapublications.com/web/#sthash.uAd43mUg.dpuf
This has been a month where it really feels as though I haven’t accomplished much. I’ve been adjusting to a new medication (the joys of chronic illness) and have been dealing with more brain fog than usual as a result. The good news is that that particular side effect has started to ease, so I hope to get back into being more productive again soon.
Not many books this month, mostly because I’ve been trying to limit how many I buy, just to keep the to-be-read mountain from getting even more out of control.
- Finally finished the short story that I’ve been working on for far too long, and submitted it yesterday. No idea if it’ll end up fitting the anthology, but I won’t know unless I submit it. This particular story took eight drafts. Yes, you read that right.
- I am now turning back to novel writing, namely working on what I hope is going to be submittable draft of Never.
- I’ve actually stopped using the Magic Spreadsheet this month, and started keeping a personal spreadsheet instead. I feel like the MS really helped me in developing writing as a daily habit, but it’s not giving me that I want right now, which is to start looking at things in more detail. I don’t plan on giving up my daily habit, though I may ease back a little on what I do on the weekends.
- One review written for the Australian Women Writers Challenge: Stormbringer by Alis Franklin (which was also a Netgalley review.
- One Netgalley review: The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi
- It’s been a generally stressful month around here. Among other things, our cat did a runner from the house and was missing for several days. Intrepid and awesome husband was out for hours searching every night, we posted flyers, and we eventually managed to find her and bring her back home. Not an experience that I want to repeat.
- Apart from that, it’s been a quietish month. I celebrated my birthday, and we celebrated Mother’s Day.
Ragnarok—aka the end of the world—was supposed to doom the gods as well. Instead, it was a cosmic rebooting. Now low-level IT tech and comic-book geek Sigmund Sussman finds himself an avatar of a Norse goddess. His boyfriend, the wealthy entrepreneur Lain Laufeyjarson, is channeling none other than Loki, the trickster god. His best friends, Em and Wayne, harbor the spirits of slain Valkyries. Cool, right?
The problem is, the gods who survived the apocalypse are still around—and they don’t exactly make a great welcoming committee. The children of Thor are hellbent on reclaiming their scattered birthright: the gloves, belt, and hammer of the Thunder God. Meanwhile, the dwarves are scheming, the giants are pissed, and the goddess of the dead is demanding sanctuary for herself and her entire realm.
Caught in the coils of the Wyrd, the ancient force that governs gods and mortals alike, Sigmund and his crew are suddenly facing a second Ragnarok that threatens to finish what the first one started. And all that stands in the way are four nerds bound by courage, love, divine powers, and an encyclopedic knowledge of gaming lore.
An eARC of this book was received from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
This review is presented as part of my commitment to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015.
Stormbringer is the sequel to Alis Franklin’s debut novel, Liesmith (which I reviewed here), and the second book in the urban fantasy series The Wyrd.
Liesmith focused very much as an introduction to the world of The Wyrd, seen through Sigmund’s eyes as a newcomer (of sorts) and human (of sorts) as well as those of Loki/Lain. I loved this book. I loved the relationship between Sigmund and Lain, I loved Franklin’s spin on the Norse sagas. I actually went back and reread Liesmith before reading Stormbringer for review, and loved it just as damn much.
Which is to say, if you haven’t read Liesmith, you should. And then you should make haste to pick up Stormbringer.
Liesmith was a book fairly tightly focused on the Sigmund/Lain relationship, as well as Sigmund coming to grips with the strange new world he finds himself part of (finding out that you’re basically the reincarnation of a Norse goddess will do that to you). Stormbringer expands out from this focus – Sigmund and Lain spend much of the book apart, and each takes the reader into new parts of the world.
Major kudos are due to Franklin for how she deals with the whole reincarnated goddess bit, too. Other writers would have chosen to go down a path of fate/instalove with Loki/Sigyn, but she always makes Sigmund and Lain their own people, much more than anything fate could manipulate. It’s always clear that both of them are with the other because they choose to be, and their love for each other admirably never falters. No fear of love triangles here (and thank the Gods, because that trope has been so, so overdone). It’s very clear that the relationship between Sigmund and Lain is a new and unsteady thing, and all the more compelling because of that. Seriously, I think I may have actually cheered when Lain and Sigmund met again near the end of the book.
The female characters that Franklin writes continue to be awesome. Wayne and Em, both once-Valkyries, are unfortunately sidelined by events a little (but are, nonetheless, extremely important to how the events of this book unravel). To make up for this, we have three (!) new female characters: the goddess Nanna, Hel (Loki’s daughter, ruled of Helheim, and oh, I am in love with how Franklin writes her) and more prominently, Thor’s daughter, Þrúðr. All of these women are amazing, and even when they are squashed into more traditional female roles (such as being married off by others for their gain) they find a strength and power in it. Each of the characters, male and female both, are complex and all are fascinating and unique enough to carry off a book on their own. Which is to say, this is an awesome cast.
The nerd/geek/gaming humour and references continue through this book (as befitting the characters, especially Sigmund, Wayne and Em, who are all gamers and general awesome geeks). There is also some fantastic interrogation over what it means to be monstrous (and just what defines being monstrous).
And here’s a little personal confession: rereading Liesmith and reading Stormbringer got me through a particularly awful week. I am so, so glad that there is at least another book in this series coming.
If you’re burned out on urban fantasy, I can highly recommend Stormbringer (as I can also recommend Liesmith). And even if you’re not, go and read these books now. Franklin has pretty much cemented herself in my virtual buy-everything-they-release headspace.
This has been an odd month. I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished much of anything – school holidays ate two weeks of the month, for one thing, and my health has been a bit wobblier than usual, meaning that the fatigue has been extra bad. I’m glad that I’ve started writing this series of posts, since it’ll let me look objectively at what I’ve done.
And yes, there is a shiny stack of books (though I honestly thought I hadn’t bought many until I came to take the photo). I’m especially chuffed with Rupetta, since I managed to chase down a second-hand copy of the lovely signed limited hardback.
- This is where I feel like I haven’t accomplished much, mostly because I’ve been bashing my head against the same damn short story all month. I am not a fast writer of short stories – it takes me a few drafts to figure out what the hell the story is about usually, and this one in particular is being quite evasive. I’m having to write to a strict word count, too, which is a learning process in and of itself. No idea if I’m going to have something that’ll sell at the end of it, but we’ll see.
- Two reviews written for the Australian Women Writers Challenge – Rupetta and The Hunt for Valamon.
- Two reviews of eARCs received via Netgalley – Signal to Noise and The Pause.
- I started listening to a brand new podcast – The Worried Writer, link via Stephanie Burgis (who is also interviewed on the second episode – I really, really enjoyed this interview and can recommend listening to it because Stephanie is gorgeous). Really liking the podcast so far.
- Swancon happened! I happily sat on a short story writing panel (seriously, give me a place where I can spruik awesome publishers and writers and I am Happy) and bought some books and only caught up with a few of the people I’d wanted to, but that’s okay.
When Prince Valamon is impossibly taken from the heart of Algaris Castle, the only clue as to motive or culprit is the use of unknown sorcery.
Reclusive cleric Seris is happily tending to his book-infested temple when he finds himself recruited to the politically compromised rescue mission. His sole companion on the journey is Elhan, a cheerfully disturbed vagrant girl with terrifying combat skills and her own enigmatic reasons for seeking the prince.
Venturing into the wild, unconquered lands, Seris has no fighting prowess, no survival skills, and no charisma, as Elhan keeps pointing out. Armed only with a stubborn streak and creative diplomacy, he must find a way to survive outlaw towns, enchanted tropical isles, and incendiary masquerades, all without breaking his vow to do no harm.
Chasing rumours of rising warlords and the return of the vanished sorcerers, Seris and Elhan soon discover a web of treachery and long-buried secrets that go far beyond a kidnapped prince.
As enemies rise from beyond the empire and within it, Seris and Elhan realise that the key to saving Valamon and averting a war may lie in their own bloody pasts, and the fate of their fragile friendship.
I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
This review is presented as part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015.
The Hunt for Valamon is Australian author D.K. Mok’s second novel (Her first novel, The Other Tree, I also reviewed.) The Hunt for Valamon is high/epic fantasy, a departure from The Other Tree’s urban fantasy.
First of all, I have to comment on that incredible cover art. Mok’s books (both published by Spence City) have had the most gorgeous covers. Huge kudos to the cover artist.
Let me tell you a story of teenage and young adult me. I loved epic fantasy. In high school, I would walk through the aisle looking for the distinctive fat paperbacks (preferably a series, since it lasted longer) that would give me an escape from the world. I devoured Raymond E. Feist’s books, and waited impatiently through university for each Wheel of Time book to be released. I loved fantasy, and for a while read fairly indiscriminately. Wizards and magic and dragons? I was there.
And then I read a lot more, and started seeing the same old tired tropes being trotted out again and again. Farmboy who goes on a journey and saves the kingdom and becomes a prince? Princess who is little more than a pretty trophy to be won? There were always exceptions, of course, but the old tropes were still there far too often, and I drifted away from the genre.
Now, I’m slowly coming back to reading epic fantasy, mostly because of some of the incredible authors who are breaking those old tropes and breathing life back into fantasy. Kameron Hurley’s The Mirror Empire is pretty much a must-read, especially if, like me, you were burned out on a lot of the same-old same-old.
Now, I’m a fan of Mok’s work in general, but I will admit to some trepidation in reading The Hunt for Valamon. And honestly, I shouldn’t have had any. Mok brings a particular uniqueness to the genre with this book: there’s a good dose of modernity and originality in this book, and honestly, it’s just plain fun. There are no trophy princesses, not a farmboy-turned-prince in sight.
The book begins when Prince Valamon, heir to the throne, vanishes mysteriously from his room in the castle. A tournament is held to find a champion to be sent on the titular hunt. Elhan, a mysterious warrior who is followed by a curse, enters and wins. She sets out on her quest with Seris, a cleric with healing abilities.
Sounds pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? There’s a quest, someone to be rescued. But in every aspect of this book, Mok brings something new. It’s a prince who needs to be rescued, for one. Said prince, Valamon, is seen by others as being vague, and quite frankly, not a suitable heir to the throne. As the book progresses, we have chapters from Valamon’s point of view in captivity, and we learn more and more about him (also, there are scenes where he attempts to break out of his cell using straw and hessian, which are kind of awesome).
The female characters in this book are incredible. There are women in positions of power – Elhan is an accomplished warrior, despite being cursed to bring death and destruction everywhere she goes, and rightly feared because of it. We also have Qara, childhood friend of the princes who has grown up to become a royal adviser, and Haska, who had a hand in Valamon’s kidnapping. The reader sees chapters from all of their points of view, allowing Mok to flesh out all of the characters fully. There are no cackling two-dimensional villains here, just real people, all of whom believe that their actions are right.
And Seris also needs to be noted. He’s a cleric who has the power of healing granted to him by the goddess he serves, and could easily have become a passive or weak character, especially when juxtaposed against so many other physically strong characters. Mok draws him finely, and gives him strength of a different fashion – he has the strength of conviction, of belief, and he always stays good and true to his beliefs.
If you’re tired of grimdark fantasy, I’d suggest that The Hunt for Valamon is a good place to start. There are serious issues at stake here, but there’s always a lightness there, too, with just enough humour to balance the darker aspects of the book.
I did feel at times that some of the modern language that Mok uses in this book jarred, but then I took a step back and thought about it. The language that we’re used to seeing with so much epic fantasy goes along with so many of the old tropes, and why shouldn’t a different kind of fantasy also use a different kind of language?
Highly recommended to anyone who loves fantasy, or, like me, has burned out on all the same old fantasy tropes.
Four hundred years ago, in a small town in rural France, a young woman creates the future in the shape of Rupetta. Part mechanical, part human, Rupetta’s consciousness is tied to the women who wind her. In the years that follow she is bought and sold, borrowed, forgotten and revered. By the twentieth century, the Rupettan four-fold law rules everyone’s lives, but Rupetta—the immortal being on whose existence and history those laws are based—is the keeper of a secret that will tear apart the world her followers have built in her name. The closeness between women is mirrored in the relationship between Henri and Miri, a woman at the college with whom she fall in love, and also between mothers and daughters and grandmothers and granddaughters – a heritage of affection that loops down over the centuries.
This review is presented as part of my commitment in the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015. I purchased this book.
In 2013, Nike Sulway won the Tiptree Award for her novel Rupetta, becoming the first Australian to win the award. Rupetta was also shortlisted for the Aurealis award for best science fiction novel, and won the Norma K. Hemming Award in 2014.
I purchased an ebook of Rupetta soon after the Tiptree win, and it was left lingering in my virtual to-be-read pile for too long (along with way too many books). This year, I’m trying to make inroads into reading through my to-be-read mountains, and Rupetta was a good place to start.
And I am now kicking myself for not reading it sooner. I actually almost wasn’t going to write a full review of this book, simply because I wasn’t certain that anything I could write would truly reflect how achingly beautiful this book is. I fell deep in love with Sulway’s extraordinary prose from the first page, and deeper still with Rupetta, Henri and their world. As soon as I finished the ebook, I hunted down a physical copy as well, just so I can have this gorgeous book on my shelf.
This book isn’t going to be for every reader. The prose is dense, oftentimes reading more like poetry than anything else, and the storyline isn’t linear. Each chapter feels very much as though it is a cog in part of a grand machine, like Rupetta herself. I feel very much that this is a book that will benefit from much reading and rereading in order to see the full pattern of that machine.
Women are the central focus of this book. Rupetta was created by a woman, and requires a psychic bond with a female Wynder in order to run. Generation through generation we follow the Wynders, each of their stories unique and compelling. Their bond to Rupetta, and Rupetta’s very existence, shapes the society around them.
The story is told in alternating chapters, one from Rupetta’s point of view following her history, and the next from Henri’s point of view. Henri longs to be an Obanite Historian like her mother, to be Transformed by having her heart replaced with a clockwork version. We follow with her as she rebels against her father’s wishes and enrols. As she delves deeper into history, she discovers more about the truth of Rupetta and the Obanites, as well as of her mother’s life.
None of the magic in this world is explained – not how Rupetta came to be, not how Rupetta bonds with her Wynders. I suspect this will frustrate some readers, but for me, the mystery of it only added to the enchantment of the book. My only real issue is that the ending didn’t quite draw together completely, but I feel that the sheer beauty of Sulway’s writing and the strength of the world and main characters more than makes up for this.
Sulway writes in an elaborate filigree which is not quite like anything else I’ve read. The closest I can come is comparing her to authors like Catherynne M. Valente and Sophia Samatar. Rupetta is fully deserving of the awards it has won, and I look forward to Sulway’s future books.