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posted by Neil Gaiman
My friends Sxip Shirey and Coco Karol were married yesterday.  I wrote and read something for them at the wedding party.


Afterwards a few people found me and asked me what I'd read and where they could find it, and I explained I had written it for Sxip and Coco that morning, and then they asked if they could read it again.

"I have a blog," I told them. "And it is dusty there and really, I should put it up. So look on my blog." (And now I'm blogging I realise I need to do blog about the TV series we are making of Good Omens.)

This is what I read.

...

This is everything I have to tell you about love: nothing.
This is everything I've learned about marriage: nothing.

Only that the world out there is complicated,
and there are beasts in the night, and delight and pain,
and the only thing that makes it okay, sometimes,
is to reach out a hand in the darkness and find another hand to squeeze,
and not to be alone.

It's not the kisses, or never just the kisses: it's what they mean.
Somebody's got your back.
Somebody knows your worst self and somehow doesn't want to rescue you
or send for the army to rescue them.

It's not two broken halves becoming one.
It's the light from a distant lighthouse bringing you both safely home
because home is wherever you are both together.

So this is everything I have to tell you about love and marriage: nothing,
like a book without pages or a forest without trees.

Because there are things you cannot know before you experience them.
Because no study can prepare you for the joys or the trials.
Because nobody else's love, nobody else's marriage, is like yours,
and it's a road you can only learn by walking it,
a dance you cannot be taught,
a song that did not exist before you began, together, to sing.

And because in the darkness you will reach out a hand,
not knowing for certain if someone else is even there.
And your hands will meet, 
and then neither of you will ever need to be alone again.


And that's all I know about love.


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Murdered Gods

Oct. 22nd, 2017 01:50 pm
marycatelli: (Golden Hair)
[personal profile] marycatelli posting in [community profile] books
Murdered Gods by Marina Finlayson

Book #2. Spoilers ahead for Stolen Magic

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Posted by Amanda

Roar

Roar by Cora Carmack is $2.99! This is a YA fantasy with romance, royalty, and magic. This is also a Kindle Daily Deal that is being price-matched. Do check out the other deals today, as Poldark is also on sale, as well as subsequent books. I think there’s a bit of a cliffhanger, though I’m not 100% positive.

New York Times bestselling author Cora Carmack’s young adult debut: Roar.

In a land ruled and shaped by violent magical storms, power lies with those who control them.

Aurora Pavan comes from one of the oldest Stormling families in existence. Long ago, the ungifted pledged fealty and service to her family in exchange for safe haven, and a kingdom was carved out from the wildlands and sustained by magic capable of repelling the world’s deadliest foes. As the sole heir of Pavan, Aurora’s been groomed to be the perfect queen. She’s intelligent and brave and honorable. But she’s yet to show any trace of the magic she’ll need to protect her people.

To keep her secret and save her crown, Aurora’s mother arranges for her to marry a dark and brooding Stormling prince from another kingdom. At first, the prince seems like the perfect solution to all her problems. He’ll guarantee her spot as the next queen and be the champion her people need to remain safe. But the more secrets Aurora uncovers about him, the more a future with him frightens her. When she dons a disguise and sneaks out of the palace one night to spy on him, she stumbles upon a black market dealing in the very thing she lacks—storm magic. And the people selling it? They’re not Stormlings. They’re storm hunters.

Legend says that her ancestors first gained their magic by facing a storm and stealing part of its essence. And when a handsome young storm hunter reveals he was born without magic, but possesses it now, Aurora realizes there’s a third option for her future besides ruin or marriage.

She might not have magic now, but she can steal it if she’s brave enough.

Challenge a tempest. Survive it. And you become its master.

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Sunshine

Sunshine by Robin McKinley is $1.99! McKinley has been recommended several times at SBTB HQ. Some readers label this as young adult and, for the most part, I’d agree with that sentiment. According to reviews on Goodreads, there were complaints about the balance of narrative to action, but many loved this different take on the vampire story. I know many of you have read this one, so let us know in the comments whether you loved it or hated it!

“Her feet are already bleeding – if you like feet…”

There are places in the world where darkness rules, where it’s unwise to walk. Sunshine knew that. But there hadn’t been any trouble out at the lake for years, and she needed a place to be alone for a while.

Unfortunately, she wasn’t alone. She never heard them coming. Of course you don’t, when they’re vampires.

They took her clothes and sneakers. They dressed her in a long red gown. And they shackled her to the wall of an abandoned mansion – within easy reach of a figure stirring in the moonlight.

She knows that he is a vampire. She knows that she’s to be his dinner, and that when he is finished with her, she will be dead. Yet, as dawn breaks, she finds that he has not attempted to harm her. And now it is he who needs her to help him survive the day…

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Keepsake

Keepsake by Sarina Bowen is 99c! This is the third book in the True North series, which comes highly recommended. Though be warned, this book does seem to have two characters who have experienced serious forms of trauma. Also, some reviews mention the hero a beta hero and a virgin. CATNIP! For those familiar with the series, what do you think?

There’s a first time for everything.

Lark Wainright used to be fearless. Her life was a series of adventures, each one more exhilarating than the last. But her recent overseas adventure was one too many. Now she’s home and in one piece. Mostly. But her nights are filled with terror.

When her best friend offers her a stay at the orchard in exchange for help at the farmers’ markets, Lark jumps at the chance to spend fall in Vermont. But her nightmares don’t stop. Desperate to keep her fragile state a secret, she relies on the most soft-spoken resident of the Shipley Farm to soothe her when her dreams prove too much.

Zachariah is a survivor, too. It’s been four years since he was tossed aside by the polygamist cult where he grew up. He’s found a peaceful existence on the Shipley’s farm, picking apples and fixing machinery. But getting thrown away by your own people at nineteen leaves a mark on a guy. He doesn’t always know what to make of a world where movie quotes are the primary means of communication. Before hitchhiking to Vermont, he’d never watched TV or spoken on the phone.

Actually, there are a lot of things he’s never done.

Zach and Lark slowly grow to trust one another. One night they become even closer than they’d planned. But Lark may still be too broken to trust anyone. When she pushes Zach away, he will have to prove to himself that he’s good for much more than farm labor.

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Wild & Sweet

Wild & Sweet by Rhenna Morgan is 99c! This is the second book in the Haven Brotherhood series and has a blue collar, mechanic heroine, which is something you don’t see too often! Readers said this was a great new-to-them author and that the main characters had great chemistry. However, some took issue with the doctor hero’s ambiguous behavior.

Live hard, f*ck harder and make their own rules. Those are the cornerstones the six Men of Haven bleed by: taking what they want, always watching each other’s backs, and loving the women they claim with unyielding tenderness and fierce passion.  

Zeke Dugan is not a man who walks the straight and narrow. He may have sworn an oath as a trauma doc, but he has zero problem leveraging his medical skills outside a hospital if it means giving his family an advantage. Blood before business. All that changes when shy Gabrielle stumbles into his life.

Mechanic Gabrielle Parker prefers the complexities of an engine over men. Her life wasn’t always quiet and well-ordered, but now that it is, she finds peace in the solitude. When a robbery in her neighborhood forces her out of her safe bubble, she never fathoms that a dangerous, cocky trauma doctor will fix more than her injuries.

Zeke doesn’t play by the rules but is exactly what Gabrielle needs in her life. He’ll show her the fierce and uncompromising protection that comes from belonging to a man like him. No one will hurt his woman, even if it means putting the very men who saved his life at risk.

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Prompt for 2017-10-22

Oct. 22nd, 2017 11:36 am
brewsternorth: Electric-blue stylized teapot, captioned "Brewster North". (Default)
[personal profile] brewsternorth posting in [community profile] dailyprompt
Today's prompt is "a disturbed night".
[syndicated profile] smartbitches_feed

Posted by Elyse

Duke of Desire
A | BN | K | iB
 When people come to me for historical recommendations I always tell them about the Maiden Lane series by Elizabeth Hoyt. Honestly, it’s my favorite historical series out there, and while the books are connected, they can easily be read as stand-alones, which makes it perfect for binge reading. Hold that thought because we’ve got a chance for one lucky winner to do just that.

I love this series because it’s got a breathless pace. I would categorize it as historical action/ adventure. It’s also got some of the best anti-heroes (Lazarus Huntington, anyone?) and tough-as-nails heroines I’ve ever read. Add masked vigilantes, some light bondage, a Beauty and the Beast novel, set to low for 8 hours, stir before serving, and you have a recipe for all of Elyse’s catnip.

After twelve books, the series is wrapping up, which is giving me all the bittersweet feels. Author Elizabeth Hoyt agreed to answer a few of my questions about the Maiden Lane world.

Elyse: First of all, thanks for being super cool at RT in Dallas when I showed up in the lobby in my pajamas to meet you. I’m pretty sure my PJs had cats in astronaut gear on them, I was holding a glass of champagne, and you didn’t bat an eyelash.

Elizabeth Hoyt: Ha! I think that was after another looong RITAs program…. PJs sounded like a good idea.

Elyse: One of the things I love so much about the Maiden Lane series is that it has such a strong action/ adventure element to it. We have masked vigilantes, river pirates, and dukes working to bring down cults. The characters are always moving, always doing, and often in danger. How do you incorporate all these different elements into your world? As a writer, is it difficult to maintain that kind of pace?

Wicked Intentions
A | BN | K | iB
Elizabeth Hoyt: You know, I didn’t consciously set out to write action-y romances when I first started writing. But a lot of what I like in romances — swordfights! Concealed identities! People being saved from death and maiming! — are a byproduct of action. Also, it turns out that I’m easily bored, which may be part of the reason there’s always new, exciting things going on in my books. What sometimes becomes problematic is keeping the level of intensity consistent from book to book in a series.

Elyse: This series has a very distinct sense of time and place. You write in the Georgian era around the 1730’s and 1740’s, well before the Regency. What made you want to write about this specific period in English history?

Elizabeth Hoyt: I think it’s more interesting. The time is slightly more earthy, the dresses are (in my opinion) more elegant, and the guys are wearing wigs and swords. Lots of things are happening socially and economically. London’s population is exploding, the Enlightenment is blooming, the agricultural revolution is beginning, and people are discovering real science. All the great action adventure romances in movies and books were set in this time period — Scaramouche, Captain Blood, The Scarlet Pimpernel—and my favorite as a very impressionable twelve year old—Poldark.

Elyse: My favorite Maiden Lane heroes are always the anti-heroes. When I recommend Wicked Intentions I tell people the hero was like Lucius Malfoy if he was a romance hero who was also into bondage. The Duke of Montgomery reminds me of Patrick Jane, one of my favorite TV characters. And then there’s Mickey O’Connor, an actual pirate. All of these heroes do some really dubious things, are clearly flawed, yet somehow totally work as heroes. How do you balance the anti-hero and hero out so they don’t alienate the reader? Are your heroes inspired by any historical or pop culture figures?

Elizabeth Hoyt: I think the writer has to reveal the anti-hero’s humanity to the reader to make them work. The reader has to sympathize with the character if not his actions. But I don’t worry about alienating the reader too much. I think a lot of romance writers don’t take enough risks with their villainy heroes—they’re too worried that readers won’t like the character. If a few readers don’t loathe a character, others won’t love him.

I don’t really base my characters on real or fictional figures, though I’ve certainly been inspired by them. Case in point, Lazarus’s look in Wicked Intentions was a direct result of seeing Jason Isaacs in a long, white-blond wig in the Harry Potter films, OMG.

Duke of Sin
A | BN | K | iB
I started thinking about a true villainous hero while watching 3:10 to Yuma with Russell Crowe. I was fascinated by his character in that movie—he’s the villain and he’s obviously either a sociopath or close to it, but he’s also the most enthralling character in the movie, with a weird sort of masculine ethos that’s almost heroic. That line of thought eventually (several years later) ended in Val in Duke of Sin. Val also owes quite a bit to Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal of Loki. 😉

Elyse: You also write really tough, resilient heroines. Lady Phoebe Batten from Dearest Rogue is blind, and determined to prove to her protector that it doesn’t hold her back at all. Temperance and her sister Silence are both faced with some really dire circumstances that they approach with remarkable grit. And Alf from Duke of Pleasure is basically Batman. Who is your favorite heroine? Who was the most fun to write?

Elizabeth Hoyt: I think Phoebe is my favorite heroine — she’s just so strong and cheerful — and it was a fun challenge to write her POV scenes without any visual descriptions. I really enjoyed writing Alf, not only because she’s a smartass but because swordfights! In a dress!

Elyse: As sad as I am to see this series end, I’m excited for what’s to come. Can you tell us what you’re working on next?

Elizabeth Hoyt: I’ve been dodging this question for the last several months—not because I didn’t have something I’ve been working on, but because I wasn’t ready to reveal anything about my new series.

But I think I’ve got enough of the first book to give you a tiny—exclusive!—peek:

Lady Freya de Moray has never had a season, never been courted. Due to the terrible scandal involving her brother, the Duke of Ayr, she’s been shunned. Now eight-and-twenty, she’s changed her name and found employment in London as a governess-cum-chaperone for two young girls. It’s unappreciated work, but she’s grown fond of her charges and made peace with her life.

Until, that is, she runs into Christopher “Kester” Renshaw, the Earl of Harlow, the man who helped ruin her brother and destroyed her life. Not only does the scoundrel not recognize Freya, he’s wearing the Ayr ring—a family heirloom taken off the finger of her brother the night he was disfigured. On the spot Freya decides to take back a little of what was snatched from her family…and steal that ring.

Elyse: Oh, like that’s going to be an easy book to wait for!

So if you’re thinking you’d like to try the Maiden Lane series, and you’re not sure where to start, Forever Publishing is making it very easy with a giveaway!

We have a complete set of all the paperback Maiden Lane novels, with signed bookplates, and a Forever romance tote bag for one lucky winner! 

YES. The ENTIRE paperback series, including:

That’s a lot of books – and it’s perfect for binge reading. To enter, just leave a comment and tell us what essentials you’ll have with you for this binge-reading extravaganza! 

Standard disclaimers apply: Open to US and Canadian readers. Fighting over your favorite Hoyt hero in the comments is definitely encouraged. Please acquire a chaperone for any Maiden Lane outings, and if you plan to binge read the series, make sure you have a significant amount of PTO or sick time at work! Comments will close Friday 27 October and a winner announced shortly afterward.

Good luck, and thank you to Elizabeth Hoyt and Grand Central/Forever!

A Dragon of a Different Color

Oct. 21st, 2017 09:04 pm
marycatelli: (Golden Hair)
[personal profile] marycatelli posting in [community profile] books
A Dragon of a Different Color by Rachel Aaron

Book 4, picking up speed so that the volumes are more like divisions in a single story. Serious spoilers ahead.
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HP Recs: RSG Rec Post #2

Oct. 21st, 2017 02:05 pm
theemdash: (HP Remus/Sirius Kisses)
[personal profile] theemdash
Oh fanfic, how lovely it is to roll around in you.

If you stop in to read any of these [community profile] rs_games entries, please remember to vote! Thanks ever so much.

Title: Among Mortal Men
Rating: Mature
Warnings: Canon character death (happy ending!) (ish), non-linear narrative, mental health issues, non-explicit sex, canon-typical themes, canon-compliant
Word Count: 9,300
Summary: Now, then, and always.

Why You Should Read It: I read the first 300 words and immediately opened my rec doc because I knew this fic was going to destroy me and rebuild me in the best ways. For me, Remus/Sirius fics should be about at least one of two things: the joy of love and the heartbreak of loss. This has both in a canon-candy shell and is one of the ways I most love to devour Remus/Sirius content.

Non-linear storytelling is the best in the right context, and this is entirely the right context. I'm kind of in love with this fic that spans the whole of Sirius's life and the one relationship most important to him. Make sure you read this one with some tissues (all tears are entirely worth it).

What are you waiting for? Read it!

Link: https://rs-games.dreamwidth.org/158036.html


Title: In the Bed
Rating: NC-17
Warnings: language, scene of a sexual nature
Word Count: 12,000
Summary: Left to his own devices the summer after the prank, Sirius crafts an unusual gift to mend his relationship with Remus.

Why You Should Read It: Yeah, so Sirius decides the way to apologize to Remus for The Prank is to give him a book of art he can enter. Like. ♥ ♥ ♥ The description of the paint (specifically how Remus looks as painted by Van Gogh) is enough that you should read this fic. It's so clear how much Sirius loves him from the descriptions—such a well-written point of view—that you should read this fic. And the ending? The ending is so good that you should read this fic.

Link: https://rs-games.dreamwidth.org/157037.html


Title: Stargazing
Rating: G
Warnings: none
Word Count: ART REC
Summary: Sirius stargazing with Remus in the Gryffindor room window seat.

Why You Should Read It: It's a wholesome and lovely piece of art that makes up for some of the angst I just recced prior to it. ♥

Link: https://rs-games.dreamwidth.org/164671.html


Title: Hiraeth
Rating: R
Warnings: violence, a reference to suicide (in the middle of battle), angst, AU
Word Count: 5,000
Summary: Hiraeth, noun. Welsh. A feeling of yearning to return to a place that may never have existed. An earnest desire. During the first rise of Voldemort, Remus gets into the spying game. No one told him it would be quite this difficult to lie for a living.

Why You Should Read It: This fic is swell, but I'll tell you I kept forgetting it was AU which made reading at times a little awkward. But you will know when you read it. It's AU. IT'S AU!

I really enjoyed the pants off this one. The bits with Remus spying are so well done, as is the tension between the Marauders. This also has one of best dueling scenes I've read in recent memory.

Link: https://rs-games.dreamwidth.org/163761.html

Poldark 3.03

Oct. 21st, 2017 09:00 am
[syndicated profile] smartbitches_feed

Posted by Redheadedgirl

Poldark Season 3 posterNote: the recaps this season are written from the British airings, which often have 6-10 minutes that the US airings do not. If you’re reading this and going “Hey, I don’t remember that!” that’s probably why.

Previously: Enys is alive! And imprisoned! George is social climbing like whoa. Elizabeth is using opiates to manage her anxiety.

This episode uses a lot of short scenes and quick cuts, which makes great visuals but is hell to recap.  I did my best, but this sucker is LONG.

The waves crash angrily on the cliffs, and people shiver while holding their hands over fires. A man yells that the grain ship is in, and people grab pans and buckets and start running.

At Wheal Grace, Henshawe tells Ross the the Princess Charlotte, a ship, was ambushed when pulling into port. Ross is like yeah, it’s a grain ship. Of course it was ambushed.

George proclaims a group of people guilty of rioting and theft, “Crimes for which there can be no justification.”

Ross and Henshawe provide some justifications: failed harvest, and the worst winter in 30 years. People are starving.

George continues to lecture.

Sam, who is with Ross and Henshawe, asks how else people are to get food in their bellies? Ross: “No doubt they pay dearly for it.”

They pay with musket balls in their backs. There’s a scene of soldiers shooting and killing people clutching bowls of grain. Henshawe says the 20 died in riot, some shot, some trampled. Ross asks if the Princess Charlotte was a Warleggan ship. It was, so that means any survivors of the ambush will also pay.

George sends the survivors to trial at the assizes with a recommendation for 15 years transportation. Bodies lie in the street.

At Nampara, D is digging in the garden, when a contraction takes her. She calls for Purdie and asks her to make sure everything is ready. Prudie doesn’t like the current birth plan, and thinks D should “take wise.” D: “It isn’t wise to endure the ramblings of Doctor Choake.” She’s right. Ross wouldn’t want her birthing alone, but “What he don’t know can’t hurt him.”

Henshawe asks if George Warleggan can’t see the link between riots over grain and his decision to hoard grain. “I can assure you he does not.” They both look at Wheal Leisure, still chugging along, “Once a Poldark mine on Poldark land” which could provide decent work and decent wage, and now it’s held by an asshole who thinks workers are chaff and profits are God.

(I’m refraining from making a bunch of editorial comments about the shame and abuses of capitalism and how employers want capitalism for themselves and feudalism for their workers, and making parallels between current events and this show, but hey.)

A group of men pulling a cart with a body on it pass them, and Ross asks what he died of. “Starvation?” George happens to ride by and announces, “Pneumonia! I’m told he’d been fading for weeks, but he refused to stay home and rest.” Ross: “So he has only himself to blame.” “It would appear so.”

Look, asshole, there have been some many times when I’ve worked low-paying contract positions that had no sick time, so I would have to come in INCREDIBLY sick, because I couldn’t afford to take a day off to get well. Thank the voters of Massachusetts that earned sick time is now a thing, even for contract employees, and I guess I’m going to be editorializing a bunch anyway because I want to punch George in the THROAT. A LOT.

Ross tells George that Leisure used to be a good mine, and George is like, bro, it was a vaguely adequate mine. “Oh, the famous red copper… that made her such a rarity? That’s gone.” George draws some comparisons between a played out mine and Ross, and they aren’t flattering, but it’s super over-rehearsed. Ross thinks he rushed it a bit. George sniffs that now no doubt Ross wants to tell him to get off his land, but the land belongs to the mine, and the mine belongs to George! See how that works!

“How do you sleep at night, George?” “Perhaps you should ask Elizabeth.” Henshawe hauls Ross away.

Click for gifs!

Ross, saying How do you sleep at night, George?

George, responding Perhaps you should ask Elizabeth

Ross comes home, calling for D, and she’s not in the kitchen. Prudie runs behind hi and out the door, saying “Miss Demelza says you should go upstairs and bring her a plate of soup!” Ross is like, “Isn’t that your job?” but the door slams behind her before he can say it. He shrugs and brings the soup up to D, who is in the bed and looking VERY satisfied with herself.

“Thank ye kindly, my man.” He asks if she’s unwell, and she’s like no, never better. “Can I do anything else for your ladyship?” “Well, you could say good day to your daughter.” She moves the blanket, and there’s a tiny pick cheeked burrito baby, named Clowance. Ross looks completely poleaxed. “Where was Doctor Chaoke?” “It was all over before we could send for him!” Ross picks up tiny Clowance while D grins.

Click for gifs!

Ross, holding tiny baby Clowance, and grinning. It's adorable how happy he is.

Baby Val is fussy. George would like to know why Val is fussy. Elizabeth says that Doctor Choake says that “some babies are willful” and that they should “put their foot down.” She sends the baby off with a maid to be kept warm and quiet.

These fucking people. HE’S A BABY.

Elizabeth has plans for tea and for dinner and cards, but they have not received any invitations from the Godolphins, despite George letting their son get away with rape. But Christmas is coming, they’ll have a ball, and the Godolphins will be invited, of course. “But will they accept?” Elizabeth looks at him challengingly. George puts down his teacup with some force and looks petulant. I mean, more than usual. He leaves, because he’s got a Wheal Leisure shareholders meeting, which will be sad without one Ross Vennor Poldark. “How I miss the days when I had him at my mercy.” This obsession with Ross is not becoming, George.

Drake knocks on the door at Trenwith, and Geoffy-Chuck answers! Drake brought toads for Aggie. “You did say your aunt do love a toad.” That seems fake, but okay. Morwenna comes to the door, and he presents her with a posy of primroses. “If you ever wish for more, I’ll comb the earth in search of them.” D’awwwwww.

Click for gifs!

Morwenna takes a posy of primroses from Drake

In front of the fire, Geoffy-Chuck is holding a toad, while Aggie grins in delight. I guess she really do love a toad! Geoffy-Chuck says that George hates toads and had them cleared from the pond. Morwenna isn’t sure the George would approve of their…guest. Geoffy-Chuck: Aunt won’t tell him. “Did you know that Geoffy-Chuck’s friend is related to my nephew?” Morwenna doesn’t answer, and Aggie’s like, yeah you do, because this FRIEND tells you a great deal. “Tell my nephew that his aunt is MUCH AGGRIEVED by his neglect.”

Said nephew and said nephew’s wife are entertaining Caroline Penvenen, who has a note from one Member of Parliament Unwin Trevaunance (“who you JILTED” “I may have led him to believe he’s got another chance”) who has gotten news of a certain naval officer. Unwin has brought all his influence down on the Admiralty, and our people are talking to their people and soon all of the officers will be brought home. “In time for Christmas?” D asks. “Or shortly thereafter.” Ross looks faintly dubious, but Caro is glowing. “Unwin has his uses after all!”

In the prison, things are dire. Enys is cauterizing a wound, and there’s a line of men to see him. He’s exhausted.

At Trenwith, Morwenna gets a note when she comes in with G-C and Drake trailing behind her. She and G-C are to go to Truro for Christmas and the carriage is coming for them on Saturday. Drake asks how long they’ll be gone. A few weeks, maybe more. Drake would come to see them off, but Clowance’s christening is that day. “Your cousin, Master Geoffrey.” G-C says that if they won’t see him again before Christmas, then Drake must have his present now. “There’s no need!” “OH THERE IS.” Morwenna and Drake are left alone, and Drake is ashamed he has nothing to give Morwenna.

“Oh, but you gave me this!” she says, touching the bracelet. Drake asks if she ever takes it off, and she does not. “And I never will.” Drake kisses her hand, letting it go as Geoffy-Chuck runs back with some paper and envelopes. “So you can write to us while we’re away.” Geoffy-Chuck notes that Morwenna’s cheeks are flushed. “Do you have a fever?” Morwenna ducks her head and smiles at Drake.

Drake saunters home, and passes Sam, who’s washing in a barrel. “Be that the light of God in your eyes?” No, but it’s sacred to Drake anyway. “But is she worth the risk to your mortal soul?” Lighten up, dude. Get laid. “Reckon so!” says Drake cheerfully.

Ross writes to Aggie, inviting her to the christening. D asks if this is wise, and Ross is like, fuck wise. She’s a Poldark, and my aunt, and George has brought Leisure to it’s knees, and I will be damned if he does the same to my aunt. Why shouldn’t she come to my daughter’s christening?

Prudie knocks on the door at Trenwith, and it’s answered by Constable Goon, who takes the letter, and he and Prudie have a stand-off for a moment. As soon as Prudie’s back is turned, he crumples the letter.

Ross, D, Jeremy, and Prudie (and baby Clowance) walk to the church.

Click for gifs!

From left to right: Prudie, Demelza holding Clowance, Jeremey holding Ross's hand, walking to the church for Clowance's baptism.

At the Warleggan townhouse, footmen unload baskets of holly and oranges and other decorations, under George’s watchful eye. He tells Elizabeth that he’s sent the carriage to fetch Morwenna and G-C, as she requested.

At Trenwith, G-C has some other plans for his day. Clowance is his cousin, and there’s no good reason to not go to her christening. He tells Morwenna she doesn’t need to come. “I don’t think either of us should!” “I’m GOING, ‘Wenna! No one needs to know!”

At the church, Clowance is baptised, and Caro assures Ross and that Enys is there in spirit. “As godfather in absentia.” Ross agrees. The door opens, and G-C and Morwenna enter. D notes that Morwenna and Drake are smiling at each other.

After the service, Morwenna apologizes for bursting in, and Ross assures her that no, it’s totally fine, and invites them to Nampara for the reception. G-C, of course, wants to go, and Drake wants them to, but she knows that time is short. There’s some back and forth and Drake says, “only a half hour?” which never goes well, and Ross and D exchange a look, and Ross nods slightly. Without missing a beat, D hands Ross the baby, and he leads G-C away. D gently guides Morwenna off to the side.

“My brother is a gentle soul… and were he of your station, I would wish nothing more. But he’s far beneath your station, and cannot aspire so high. You know it.” Morwenna had a wide-eyed innocent “whatever do you mean” thing going on, but lets that fall. “I know it.” D says it’s good that they’re going away for a bit. “T’will break the bond.” “That’s what I tell myself.” They curtsy, and Morwenna collects G-C. “We’re very late.” He forgot his hat, though, and he pops into the church to get it, and Drake follows. “I’ll come visit?” She does not think that’s a good idea. “This must stop.” Drake asks if she can stop. “Yes.” He kisses her, and she kisses him back for a half second before running out.

At the reception, Caro is cuddling the baby and saying that Unwin has assured her that it’s only a matter of time before Enys is released, and in the meantime, he’s receiving the best possible treatment

He is not, though. Enys is performing surgery and doing the best he can, but conditions are terrible. Lt. Armitage comes by, and Enys says he ordered Armitage to rest. Armitage asks who orders Enys to rest, but Enys will not, because there’s no one else. Armitage offers to watch and learn from Enys so he can have some help.

D opines to Ross that this is good news about Enys, and Ross is as cynical as I am: “If it’s true. I’ve been a prisoner of war, myself.” D asks if Enys wouldn’t get special privileges. Ross sighs, and looks over at Caro, who is telling Henshawe that she will open her house to all emigre nobles fleeing the Reign of Terror. D also sighs. “She hates to feel useless.” Ross: “I know the feeling.”

At the Warleggan townhouse, Elizabeth is getting ready for their ball, and puts more of her tranquilizers in her port and chugs. George watches, judgily (I don’t know if he knows what that stuff is, but he’s judgey), and Elizabeth is like what? You don’t like my gown? It’s a red and dark red striped gown, and yes, it’s very pretty. George says “I cannot permit you to dance tonight…with anyone but I.”

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Elizabeth, in her red striped gown, gazing at herself in her mirror, considering her life and her choices.

At Nampara, Ross is chuckling over G-C’s spiritedness, and then suddenly remembers that Aggie never replied. “Perhaps she never received the note,” says D the Realist. Ross: fuck this, let’s go get her. D: THEY’LL SHOOT YOU. Caro, using her privilege for good, notes they wouldn’t dare if she’s with him, and off they go.

G-C and Morwenna arrive in Truro, and Elizabeth hugs her son, and then shoos him upstairs to change before the guests arrive. “Guests?” asks Morwenna. Yes, for the ball, and there’s a new dress waiting for her upstairs. “Oh.” Morwenna is perplexed.

Ross and Caro ride to Trenwith, and the footman opening the door is bowled over by Ross and Caro smiles politely. “Captain Poldark is here to visit his aunt. A glass of canary and a blazing fire, if you please!”

Aggie is in her room, swathed in blankets and sitting before her cold fireplace. “Of course I never received your invitation! Do you think I’d pass up an opportunity to drink port and eat heavy cake?” Aggie has her priorities in order. Ross notes that the room is freezing, and Aggie tells him that the maids don’t light her a fire. Ross: George’s plan is to kill you with cold and infection. (Aggie: Pluttthhththt.) Ross asks her to come live at Nampara, at least. Aggie, still with reasonable priorities: “And lose the chance to torment him? I was born in the house and I will die in this house. If it costs me cake and a few hot coals….”

Ross: what must Geoffy-Chuck think, seeing that asshole strut about his home? Aggie: And the baby? Ross: I feel sorry for any kid with THAT as a father.

In Truro, the turnout is…light. No Godolphins, nor any of the other ancient families that the Warleggans are desperate to cultivate.

(Seriously, the parallels between the Warleggans and Certain Other Families are so thick.)

Cary looks at Elizabeth and Morwenna and intones, “Very eye-catching.” George takes this to mean Elizabeth, but Cary means Morwenna. G-C wanders over to Morwenna and declares that he’s bored and he wishes they were at Uncle Ross’ party. Morwenna says that they shouldn’t have gone, and G-C says that he wants to get to know his cousin Clowance better. “I wager that she’s less dull than Valentine.” George overhears this and gets that look on his face that means he’s going to use this blow to his delicate masculinity to fuck with everyone some more. “First thing tomorrow, I’ll write to Harrow. I want that brat out of my house.”

Ross comes down stairs and sees Caro standing with a maid. Ross reminds the maid that it’s her job to look after his aunt, and he’ll be making regular visits, and if she fucks up, he’ll have her dismissed. How? Unclear. But the maid looks suitably terrified.

Back at the ball of sadness, George asks Elizabeth if Morwenna enjoyed the christening. Elizabeth: what now? George: Oh, I thought she told you, they trotted down to the church to see the latest Poldark brat get baptized. Elizabeth chews on the fact that Ross and D have a daughter. “Let’s hope they are less careless with this one.” FUCK YOU. Elizabeth states that G-C can’t be blamed for going to the christening. It’s Morwenna, she needs to be punished! George: “Oh, she will be.”

A rotund, officious looking man enters the party- one Reverend Whitworth, who is recently widowed. Elizabeth expresses her condolences and asks after his two little girls. “As well as could be expected. It’s only been a week. Only your kind invitation could have forced me to leave the house today.” George nods that life must go on. “My very thought when I chose this waistcoat!” Welp.

Ross and Caro ride back to Nampara, and happen on Constable Goon marching some unfortunates through the woods. They were caught robbing another Warleggan grain ship. Ross and Caro look disgusted, but Ross shrugs: George is within his rights to protect his property. Caro asks if George is aware the harvest failed, and Ross says yeah, he’s super aware. “That’s why he’s importing and selling to the highest bidder.” Caro ponders what would be the best way to help people.

George advises Elizabeth to say nothing to Morwenna about her “misdemeanor.” (God, George, you’re worse than first year law students in in their first week of Criminal Law.) No, they need to think about ‘Wenna’s future, like when G-C goes to school, what will happen to her then? George is sure Elizabeth would want to see her well-matched. He eyes Wentworth, who is a “highly respected young man, and his mother is a Godolphin!” Gross. George introduces Morwenna to Whitworth, who makes the SLIMMEST bow, and asks her to dance the gavotte. She is not fond of dancing. “It can only be because your partners thus far have lacked the expertise. Allow a master to induct you into the pleasures.” He holds out a hand, Morwenna looks at Elizabeth in alarm. I throw up. Elizabeth merely raises an eyebrow and Morwenna takes his hand.

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A Poldark Christmas, with Drake, Jeremy, Ross, D, Clowance, and Caroline, standing around the table Jeremy is standing on his chair and looks SO PROUD of himself singing.

At Nampara, everyone is singing “here we come a wassailing” and tiny Jeremy is SO CUTE AND SO PROUD. Sam is pouty because it’s too cheerful for his methodist heart. Caro wonders how Enys will keep Christmas, and the answer is with roasted rat.

In the village, the Nampara crew passes out bread to the hungry as soldiers drag someone else off. D says she’s never seen it this bad, and Samuel Carne loftily says that sinners must pay the price. Ugh. D demands to know what sin? “They should all examine their consciences to see if they be without blame.” Drake says that his conscience is fine.

Ross gathers his chosen family- D, Caro, the Brothers Carne, Prudie, Henshawe, Tholly, and outlines a plan. It’s a plan that can’t feed all of Cornwall, but it’ll help some, but they need to keep it secret. Ross clearly has a speech planned, but Henshawe’s like dude. We’re all in. Shut up. Ross says cool, I gotta go check with an old friend and see what he thinks.

It’s Trencrom, the leader of last season’s smuggling ring, who tells him that he’s out of his goddamn mind. Ross: “That’s promising.” Trencrom lists out the problems- getting “it” in war time is hard, getting it across the channel is hard, not having an actual delivery date is hard, and the cost is prohibitive. Ross: We’re on that part, don’t worry.

In France, Enys is dozing next to a patient, who wakes him up begging for water.

At Wheal Leisure, where even the sign is in bad repair, Ross looks out over the above ground workers, who look tired and downtrodden. His face gets determined, and he rides over to Sam’s meetinghouse. Ross says it’ll be perfect for his devices, and Sam snits that he doesn’t like the idea of a House of God being used as a cache. “Nevertheless, it will be so used.” Sam doesn’t like it, and Ross is like, fucking get used to it.

D and Caro are arming themselves for battle. D is wearing one of Caro’s reddingcotes, the silver one, and one of Caro’s fancy hats. Caro wonder’s what Enys would think of them, and D grins that they look the part of highwaymen, since it’s their goal to part as many men from their money as possible.

And here’s another set of scenes quick cut together, so: here we go. Each new paragraph represents a cut.

Wentworth simpers into George’s office, saying it’s a fine day to address the topic of matrimony (ew). George barely covers his disdain of Wentworth, but Wentworth is so enamoured of himself that he doesn’t notice.

Drake sits on a cliff, thinking sad thoughts and holding a shell. Morwenna sits in the parlor of the Truro townhouse and touches her shell bracelet and also looks sad.

George offers a settlement of 2,000 pounds as a settlement for Morwenna. Whitworth says “Ah” and explains very earnestly that a man in his position must look the part and carry himself in such a way as to inspire awe. “Must he?” Besides, Whitworth has debts of over 1,000 pounds, so he can’t possibly accept a penny less than 6,000. George does not laugh in his face.

D, sitting next to Caro, explains to a Sir John that their goal is the help the poor survive the worst winter in living memory. They both have wide eyes.

Whitworth: MY MOTHER IS A GODOLPHIN. George: MORWENNA IS A CHYNOWETH. “Devout, healthy, fond of motherless children” but hey, if you can find another girl of similar pedigree and virtue to yoke yourself to, by all means, go find her.

Caro to an unseen rich person: We pledged 50 guineas each, and a large donation in my late uncle’s name, so you might be able to kick in….? D: You wouldn’t want to be lacking in your own generosity, would you?

The music turns jaunty, and Whitworth stalks out of George’s office. Drake looks at an envelope with the direction to the Warleggan townhouse in Truro and starts walking.

D: We wouldn’t want to tell you, Sir Phillip, how much to pledge, BUT Sir John kicked in 20 guineas!

Whitworth comes back with a counter offer.

Caro: “My dear, you do him wrong. I believe he offered 25.”

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Caro and D, side by side, in fancy clothes and wearing shit-eating grins as they charm men out of their money.

Whitworth: How about 4,000? George: Economic times being what they are, go fuck yourself.

D: I was just telling Caroline that there isn’t a kindlier man than Sir Hugh!

Whitworth: I cannot exist on so paltry a sum! George: Find an heiress, then. Wentworth leaves.

Caro: 30 guineas, then? Excellent.

Whitworth comes BACK. I can accept 3,500? George: “GOOD GOD MAN, DO YOU IMAGINE I HAVE MONEY TO BURN.” I mean, yes?

Drake has made it Truro and to the townhouse, where Morwenna is looking dreamily out the window, but not toward the street.

Inside, George is crowing to Elizabeth that they finally have a deal. He was willing to go higher for a connection to the Godolphins, but “the idiot settled for 3,000 pounds!” So Elizabeth can inform the bride now. Elizabeth: uh, you came up with this plan so you do it. “I would not, for the world, deprive you of this happy task!”

Drake approaches the front door, and a footman is like CAN I HELP YOU. Inside, Elizabeth calls for Morwenna, and Drake skitters away.

Morwenna: “Marry? Mr. Whitworth?” Elizabeth is like, girl, you’d be making the jump from governess to lady of the town, it would be a help your POOR STARVING MOTHER and your UNMARRIED SISTERS and also George was VERY NICE to give you settlement so be grateful we’re whoring you out to someone in society! “Does Mr. Whitworth’s love mean nothing at all?” Morwenna: we haven’t talked barely at all! Elizabeth: I mean, you’ve talked enough that he’s willing to marry you, so what are you on about? Also your mother is very happy with the idea. Morwenna: My mom is okay with this? Elizabeth: Why wouldn’t she be? Morwenna thinks her mother would be all over it if she thought that Morwenna loved Mr. Whitworth, “But I do not!”

Elizabeth: I think your mother would be dismayed if you found fault in a good match because of this idea you have about love and shit. Morwenna: “Is it wrong to hope for love in a marriage?” Elizabeth takes a second, because there are a bunch of thoughts crowding her head – Francis, Ross, and George and her reasons for picking (or not) each one. “When you wed Francis, did you not marry for love?” Elizabeth hardens her voice: “I married for what I thought was love….it lasted barely a year. My marriage to Mr. Warleggan is not founded on love, yet it is altogether more successful.”

Elizabeth goes into George’s study, where’s he got a letter from Caro, asking for 30 guineas to “help the poor.” Elizabeth snaps that he spent 3,000 on a dowry, so will another 30 bankrupt him? “No doubt she expects your refusal.” “Then I shall disappoint her!” George crows. God. He’s dumb and mean.

Caro is counting money. George sent 50 guineas. D snarks that he’s not interested in “concern for the poor” he just wants to make sure everyone knows he sent the most. Caro: we have his money, so he can think whatever he wants. D grins that they should become footpads, they’re pretty good at it. “Now all we need is the goods.”

Elizabeth doses her port and stares off into the middle distance as Val cries. This poor kid.

At the meetinghouse, Ross and Zacky worry a bit about if the goods will be safe. Ross says they’ll be safe enough for one night. Tomorrow, they’ll be done, and Zacky’s like yeah, landing a cargo of extreme value in utmost secrecy.

At sunset, Ross and the boys are at the cove, and D, Caro, and Prudie are waiting in the kitchen at Nampara. D says the girls should be away, and Prudie’s like, uh, Ross said to stay put? D: “He did. He also said that I’m the mother of two small children and ought to start behaving as one. Daniel’s upstairs with Clowance and Jeremy, and we’re away to the meetinghouse.”

At the cove, the boys see the ship, and Zacky signals with a light.

At the meeting house, the girls sing and sing with a handful of the congregation.

On the beach, the goods are loaded into carts, and everyone hustles off. The girls continue to sing. In the woods, the goods are being moved, and Constable Goon sights them.

The girls finish the song, and D calls for the congregation to put out the candles and be quiet. “If anyone be watching, let’s hope we throw them off the scent.”

Constable Goon rides off.

Zacky peeks into the meeting house and tells the girls the boys are on the way “With no one the wiser.”

Constable Goon reports to George what he saw, and that Ross is definitely the ringleader, and that “there’s no mistaking the goods.”

At the meeting house, where many hands are stacking the goods, Ross eyes D. “Did I not bid you to stay at home?” “Yes, Ross, as often I bid you, and see how well that works.” BURN. Prudie and Caro explain that they’ve been decoys and singing at their top of their lungs.

George decides that he’s going to get some sleep, and that as resident magistrate he must have his wits about him when he busts Ross’ smuggling ring.

In the morning, Ross rides off, and George gets his morning report from Constable Goon: the soldiers will be at the meeting house soon, and George intends to meet them there. Why miss all the fun? Morwenna comes down the stairs, and George also informs her that Wentworth will be calling that day, so she can see for herself what an amiable man he is. He leaves, and she sighs heavily.

At Nampara, D checks with her brothers that they know what to do, and also that the villagers are to keep quiet. Drake’s like yeah, of course they will, or all hell with break loose. Sam snits that it isn’t fit for the the Lord’s House to be used for such a purpose, and D and I make identical sounds of disgust. “Get ye gone!”

Whitworth arrives while Morwenna is reading, and he’s SUPER officious, posing in the doorway and generally being a turd on the doorstep.

On the road to the meetinghouse, George finds himself preceded by poor people running holding plates and pans, urging each other to hurry. The thought of dragging Ross away in chains is giving George such a boner, I’m surprised he can ride at all.

Whitworth is prattling on about a game of cards he played once, while Morwenna looks down at her hands.

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Morwenna, sitting on the red and gold couch, staring down at her hands as Whitworth prattles on.

He then says that he detects the Hand of God in leading him to the Warleggan ball, and to wear the lemon silk “So you could not help but to notice me” (and Morwenna looks like she might actually throw up on his shoes, which she has every right to do, I AM JUST SAYING ’WENNA) and that she could comfort him as only a wife could. “And now that I know my sentiments are returned!” Morwenna says that she is not sure they ARE returned, and he’s like no, it is only your delicate sensibilities, all women approach matrimony with a hint of shyness. “As a man of feeling, and a man of God, I assure you, my love will be returned.”

Whitworth and Mr. Collins read the same books, I see. God, I hope he dies soon. Horribly.

He slimes a kiss on her hand, and Morwenna’s finally like NOPE ‘WENNA OUT, and runs out of the room, only barely not hip-checking Elizabeth.

Elizabeth asks Whitworth if Morwenna refused him, and he’s like, I am not discouraged. She’ll come around. “Proceed with arrangements as planned.”

At the meetinghouse, George and Constable Goon ride up to see the soldiers leaving, and Ross shaking hands with the captain, saying he’s sorry the captain was sent on a fool’s errand. What Ross and his people are handing out is grain, not riches. D and Caro smile brightly at George. “See the fruits of your generosity? Have you come to make further donation?” George: Donation? Yes, see, they bought a load of rain and are now selling it at half the market price. Caro: shall we put you down for 70 guineas next time?

George snits that there won’t BE a next time, because HE is not in the habit of pandering to wastrels and lazyasses who can’t earn their own bread. Ross: what are you doing trespassing on Nampara land? You’re a magistrate, go away, or I’ll call back the soldiers and have you both arrested. George and Constable Goon turn and leave, while Zacky cheerfully shouts, “BYE!” which is my favorite part of this scene, even more than D and Caro’s shit-eating grins.

Back in Truro, George snaps and snits and throws a tantrum about how this whole scheme was a deliberate attempt to humiliate him. Elizabeth, reasonably, offers that it might also have been an attempt to avoid a riot? Bah, George doesn’t care about riots. “He made me think he was breaking the law, and then made me look a fool when I attempted to bring him to heel! Well, he’s overplayed his hand this time.”

Caro stares out over the water, and Enys dozes. Armitage comes over and tries to send Enys to bed, and Enys is like, I said I’d keep watch over this patient. Armitage says the reason he offered to help Enys was so that Enys could get “one hour’s sleep in twenty” and be able to keep doctoring. Enys: “with no fresh water? No medicine? No supplies?” The French guards blather, and Armitage says they’re taking bets on which prisoner will be the next to die.

At the meeting house, Zacky brings news that George has decided to close Wheal Leisure. Immediately, ending 70 jobs. D asks why, and Ross is like, because he CAN, and the profits are small. And it used to belong to Ross. “So to spite Ross, George would put 70 families into direst poverty?” Yes, yes, he would.

Morwenna gets told by Elizabeth that she’s being sent back to Trenwith, and when told to start packing, she begins to cry as she goes up the stairs. Upon being told this, George is like, yeah, she’s being sent back to the tedium of Trenwith after the “happy bustle of Truro.” Elizabeth is unconvinced by this logic. “She’ll soon see the error of her ways and be begging us for the date of her wedding.”

At Nampara, D feels like they’ve done what they set out to do: five villages will survive. Ross is still poleaxed at the cost. This was set into motion by their grain venture and George’s fragile masculinity.

SERIOUSLY GEORGE APOLOGISTS. JUSTIFY THIS.

Ross and D begin thinking about what they could do for the 70 families that just lost their income, when Caro runs into to tell them that she’s off for London. D asks if she’s had word about Enys, and Caro has gotten word from Unwin saying that she has no cause for concern, but she’s going to the Admiralty and start negotiating for a ransom. Ross and D wish her luck, but after she’s left, Ross’s face turns grim. “The Admiralty doesn’t deal in ransoms.”

Enys has managed to get some water to another prisoner, but the French have decided that the prisoners Enys has been trying to keep alive will be the next to go, so they shoot him, right in front of Enys and Armitage. Enys begins to weep and crumples to the ground.

At Wheal Grace, Ross walks up to Henshawe and Zacky, and says he’s got an idea. They’re already over-manned as it is, and if they get more miners, and get more ore, they might flood the market and bring prices down. But there’s a few parts of the mine that have made indications of new lodes (“Which may not come to anything” Zacky says) so, maybe, with 30 extra men they could pay for if Ross doesn’t take his profit dividend… Henshawe and Zacky worry that D might actually kill him for this, and Ross, for once, talked to D and she’s on board.

A driver pushes on a carriage stuck in the mud (and, I note, had made no effort to make the load lighter or have the other driver get off to lead the horses or even make them pull at ALL), and Drake, Sam, and D walk along the road (with Drake and D singing together and it’s ADORABLE). Sam smacks his brother and goes to help, and yes, in the carriage is G-C and Morwenna. Morwenna’s face shines like the moon when she sees Drake.

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Morwenna seeing Drake outside of the carriage

D is a little dismayed, and Sam does all the pushing. The carriage gets unstuck (“Thanks for all the help, brother.”) and the kids go on their way, while Drake grins to himself.

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Sam, efficiently pushing the carriage

The carriage leaves and Sam, Drake, and D standing in the road. Sam: Thanks for the help, brother.

George demands of Elizabeth to know how long Morwenna will need, and she’s like a few weeks, but “I’m not overly enamored of him…there’s something about him that makes my skin crawl.” THIS IS THE MOST ACCURATE STATEMENT ELIZABETH HAS EVER MADE. George is like yeah, he’s a reptile and prig, but he’s also a Godolphin. Morwenna will realize how lucky she is.

How lucky she is, is a suitor telling his tailor to make a waistcoat of gold brocade and trousers tight enough to inspire in his bride “awe and anticipation.” The tailor is a TOUCH rough in measuring the inseam, but honestly, could have been rougher and perhaps careless with his scissors?

D tells Ross that she likes Morwenna, she seems to be kind and sweet, but she worries about what this return will mean for Drake. Ross: It’ll piss the holy hell out of George, and that’s good enough for me. D is more concerned with class divisions (reasonable, given the amount of work she put in so that she could fit in with Ross’s class), and that George would lose his shit over a miner’s son aspiring to his wife’s cousin. Ross: How about a lowly mine owner aspiring to a great lady? He kisses her hand, and she grins at him. “That’s different.” She hopes Morwenna takes care to stay out of Drake’s way.

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Ross, looking at D and thinking I cannot live without this woman and D, looking at Ross and D thinking That's right, you can't and they kiss

GUESS WHAT: she does not. Drake and Morwenna run to each other on the beach, and hug, and they kiss.

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Morwenna and Drake, making out on the beach. You go, kids.

Whatcha Reading? October 2017 Edition

Oct. 21st, 2017 07:00 am
[syndicated profile] smartbitches_feed

Posted by Amanda

old book on the bench in autumn parkIt’s Whatcha Reading time, where we discuss all the highs and lows of our month’s reading. We all hope you’ve had some good book noises this month, but we know sometimes that doesn’t happen. Feel free to rage and gripe as much as you want. However, we can’t be held responsible if your TBR pile doubles in size from the book recommendations you’ll most likely get.

Sarah: I am reading a nonfiction and a romance, because my brain is tired and stressed. The nonfiction is Deep Work by Cal Newport (insert all jokes here) (insert jokes about inserting jokes here) (fin). On one hand, the reframing of what is deeply focused work and what is shallow, distracting work is interesting and very helpful to my own feelings of productivity and accomplishment, especially when paired with a recent podcast interview with Basecamp CEO Jason Fried.

Deep Work
A | BN | K | iB
I’m constantly questioning what I do, and why I do it, and whether I can do less, do things more efficiently, or not do them at all. So the idea of focusing intently on my creative projects and goals is something I’m very curious about. But the book itself, while it contains several helpful concepts, grates on me with the sexism and the ignoring of other work that women typically do (e.g. emotional labor and caretaking). Most of the examples are men, with two exceptions, one of them negative, and most of these examples portray work as a singular monolith or field of study. So I take frequent breaks between chapters so I don’t get too angry to keep reading and cheat myself out of valuable ideas.

Carrie: I am reading Chasing Power, a YA by Sarah Beth Durst ( A | BN | K | G | iB ), and also What She Ate, a nonfiction about six historical women and their relationship to food. The former is entertaining but uneven and the latter is excellent.

Sarah: I’m also currently reading The Offer by Sara Portman ( A | BN | K | G | iB ), which is coming out on 10/24. The heroine is a penniless vicar’s daughter who opens the story in the strange position of deeply envying her best friend, now a duchess, who is in the midst of horrible morning sickness. The hero is also in debt, and not in a position to offer for anyone unless that person comes with several wagonloads of money, so OF COURSE they are going to be drawn to each other. I just started it, and am very curious, so ahoy, more reading time for me.

What She Ate
A | BN | K | iB
Elyse: I just started The Bloodprint by Ausma Zehanat Khan. It’s an epic fantasy about a group of women with magical abilities working to overthrow a patriarchal, repressive society. Their magic is tied to the ability to read and use words of power, so it’s pretty solidly my catnip

Sarah: I read the first chapter of that book and so wanted to continue, but it was giving me the “your brain is going to wake you up with nightmares” feeling with some of the violence. But the women in that first chapter are SO INCREDIBLE.

Elyse: One of the things that I found really fascinating and relevant is that the authoritarian regime bans reading as a means of controlling its populace

Sarah: YES. This is a perfect example of a book that I wanted to read but knew would give my brain middle-of-the-night freakouts.

Amanda: Can I just say that I love these little conversations we have about books? What we like, what we don’t like, what aspects work of us as readers. It gives me the warm and fuzzies.

The Bloodprint
A | BN | K | iB
Sarah: I know, me too.

In the past year I have learned so much about how to work with my brain and my brain chemistry. it’s life-changing on a very basic level.

But knowing when something violent is going to exacerbate my anxiety to the point of losing sleep is a big help, much as I want to read this book.

 

Redheadedgirl: So…I maaaaaaaaay be at “one book bought per day of trip” so that’s a lot?

Elyse: Nah.

Amanda: I just finished an exhausting week in South Florida, cleaning out my late grandparents home where they lived for over 40 years. On the cool side, I found my great grandmother’s bible from 1917. On the bad side, who knew just looking at belongings could sap so much energy. Because of this, I’m waffling between two different types of reads – dark and gritty to channel some of my negative feelings. And reading an autobuy author for some comfort.

Roomies
A | BN | K | iB
For the former, I have An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard from my library ( A | BN | K | G | iB ). It has a magical NYC and a heroine who wants to destroy the current magical system.

For the latter, I have Roomies by Christina Lauren. They write such great modern romances that make me laugh and cry. It’s like a hug in book form and something that I totally need right now.

What have you been reading this month? Something spooky? A comfort read? Let us know in the comments!


By request, since we can’t link to every book you mention in the comments, here are bookstore links that help support the site with your purchases. If you use them, thank you so much, and if you’d prefer not to, no worries. Thanks for being a part of SBTB and hopefully, you’ve found some great books to read!

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Posted by Tor.com

Oathbringer front cover endpapers Dan Dos Santos

Readers of Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive epic got a lush visual treat for the hardcover release of Words of Radiance: vibrant endpapers depicting more characters from Sanderson’s fantasy series! For those who are wondering if that practice will continue for Oathbringer, the forthcoming third Stormlight volume, the answer is: yes!

On Friday, October 20th, the B&N book blog Twitter gave fans a sneak peek at the endpapers for Oathbringer:

Now that they’re out there, check out the full Dan Dos Santos illustrations hiding behind the front cover of Brandon Sanderson’s Oathbringer!

Oathbringer endpaper Dan Dos Santos

Oathbringer endpaper Dan Dos Santos

Who are these striking individuals? Are they individuals?

And… who might be the two characters depicted in the endpapers behind Oathbringer‘s BACK cover?

We’ll find out come November 14, 2017!

Note: The comments on this article may contain spoilers from the chapters of Oathbringer currently available to read on Tor.com. Tread as thou wilt.

October Book Club Announcement

Oct. 20th, 2017 07:24 pm
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Posted by Amanda

We’ve selected With This Curse by Amanda DeWees for our October read for the SBTB book club. Our official selection post has some more information on the book, including Elyse’s thoughts on why it’s a great Gothic pick for the month of October.

Our chat will occur on Wednesday, October 25 from 8:00pm – 9:30pm EDT. That afternoon, we’ll post the chat link on the site and it will go live around 8:00pm. Sarah will lead a discussion of the book for around an hour, and then author Amanda DeWees will pop in for a Q&A!

We hope to see you there!

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Posted by Stubby the Rocket

The Empire Strikes Back ending Luke Leia

“[L]et’s be honest: we never had Star Wars,” Amberlough author Lara Elena Donnelly writes on Unbound Worlds. “We had all the ephemera that unfurled from the ineffable magic of those first three films. Star Wars was—and remains—critically important in nerdy millennial circles. It’s a touchstone by which we immediately recognize our people. It’s a way of connecting with older generations, including our parents, and newbie nerds like our younger siblings, our students, and our children. But it was never ours.”

Until, that is, she saw The Force Awakens in theaters two years ago.

Despite fond memories of watching the rereleased original trilogy as a young’un, it wasn’t until she was sitting in the theater watching a Star Wars movie no one else had ever seen that she felt real ownership of the universe: “When I saw The Force Awakens, in a packed theatre at midnight, crammed into the front row with my neck craned skyward, I felt what I’m pretty sure all those nerds must have felt in 1977 when Star Wars first hit the big screen. I felt surges of joy and terror, excitement to seek out worlds beyond this one, a renewed drive to challenge evil with empathy.”

Donnelly’s essay is one of 20, part of Unbound Worlds’ A Long Time Ago series. Every weekday in October, a different author shares what Star Wars means to them, from how it affected them as a writer (at least one has gone on to write a Star Wars book!) to more personal affirmations.

Before she wrote the Murderbot Diaries, Martha Wells got to play in a galaxy far, far away with Star Wars: Razor’s Edge, a Legends tale that pits Princess Leia against Alderaanian pirates. But first, her 13-year-old self needed to realize that there were other SFF fans out there:

I was an isolated kid in a lot of ways, and didn’t know anybody else who really liked SF as much as I did. And I’d been told over and over again that liking SF/F, or liking anything involving books and media so intensely, was weird and strange and probably bad, or if not bad, something that made me a figure of ridicule. It was especially bad for a girl to like those things, but I was sure to get over it when I grew up and stopping being silly. I knew I wasn’t the only one, I knew there were other people like me out there; all these books and comics had been written by people, for people. But before Star Wars, it was hard to believe those people really existed.

Mapping the Interior author Stephen Graham Jones talks about “capturing” narratives and characters that speak to him, and thanks Star Wars for giving him “Indian role models” and “Indian heroes” while growing up:

And Leia, with her Hopi hairdo, her homeland isn’t just taken from her, it’s turned to (space)rubble. But that just makes her fight harder. Luke, he’s been adopted out of his tribe, has been forced into (space)farming, but is always looking up to the sky for home. Is there a more Indian name than Skywalker? Maybe: Han Solo, that living embodiment of an Indian who is not going to wait to get his request to cross the reservation line approved. He just hits that hyperspace button and goes. And, like all Indians, he believes in Bigfoot. He has to: Bigfoot’s his copilot. And don’t forget Luke and Leia being twins. So many of the tribes have stories about twins either messing up or saving the world—sometimes both. It’s what they do.

And Bradley P. Beaulieu, co-author of The Burning Light, reminds us how the Star Wars universe is full of contrasts:

Now that I’m older, I can appreciate more. Like inclusivity. Here we have this vast array of characters with wildly diverse backgrounds, and yet they treat each other like … people. Just simple people, divorced from their species, their races, their religions, their sexes, and so on. Yes, some biases crept into the story (it’s impossible to be completely divorced from such things), but I always felt as though the story was rooted less in inherited bias than it was on other stuff. Like personalities: Luke’s callow impatience vs. Yoda’s initial feigned curiosity, for example. Or ideology, as in the case of the Empire as it fought to root out and defeat the Rebels. Or base commerce, as in the case of Han and Greedo, or Han and Jabba, or Han and Lando, or… well, again, you get the idea.

Unbound Worlds will continue to release new essays through the end of October, with pieces from Max Gladstone, Fran Wilde, and more coming up!

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Posted by Tor.com

Charlie Jane Anders sci-fi YA trilogy coming of age in outer space Tor Teen

Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author and io9 co-founder Charlie Jane Anders mashed up technology and witchcraft in her debut novel All the Birds in the Sky. Now, in her latest project, she’ll be journeying into space and delving into the teenage psyche, in a new young adult science fiction trilogy recently acquired by Tor Teen.

“Now it can be told: I’m a YA author at last!” Anders tweeted. “I’ve always loved YA and I have been toiling in secret on this for ages.”

Tor Associate Publisher Patrick Nielsen Hayden described the series:

Charlie Jane Anders’ currently-untitled YA will be a trilogy of novels about a disaffected present-day teenager who discovers that everything she believes about herself is wrong—that she is not, in fact, human, or from Earth. That, in fact, she has a critical role to play in an interstellar drama involving many contending alien species and a long and complex history of politics, diplomacy and warfare among them. That she carries within herself the memories and abilities of a now-deceased warrior leader of her true species, deliberately implanted in her for safekeeping. It is a tale of the heart of adolescence: vast power and knowledge yoked to a vulnerable young consciousness that’s just now learning, in fits and starts and with repeated failures and setbacks, how to be a person.

“I’m still in awe of how much everyone at Tor embraced All the Birds in the Sky, my novel about terribly flawed misfits groping their way towards adulthood,” Anders said in the announcement. “Tor gave that book the kind of love that makes books soar, and I remain intensely grateful. So I couldn’t possibly imagine a better home for my new story about coming of age in outer space.”

The first volume is expected to be published in late 2019 or early 2020.

Six Months, Three Days, Five Others, a Tor mini hardcover collecting some of Anders’ short fiction, is available now. Tor will also publish The City in the Middle of the Night, the sequel to All the Birds in the Sky, in January 2019.

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Posted by Val C Alston

During Brandon Sanderson’s book tour for Words of Radiance, super-fan Val Alston traveled from Mexico to attend a signing event at The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, Arizona in order to meet the author and present him with this amazing homemade Shardblade!

We reached out to Val to get the full scoop on the design and creation of the Shardblade, and he was nice enough to share his story. Check out Val’s process below, including some in-progress photos!

 


 

Sanderson’s books attracted my interest first, and as I saw and read interviews with him, I was amazed by his enthusiasm for teaching, charity work, and his fans. Brandon gives us all the magic and kindness of his heart for a fulfilling experience. Thus I wanted to honor him, as I admire his person more than just his amazing characters and beautiful stories.

Of course he doesn’t do it alone, and I wish to thank all who support him, too. His aura seems to attract passionate, talented, and professional individuals into his life who contribute to the whole majesty of all his literature.

I decided to bring Oathbringer to life, but as a hybrid of a few descriptions based on the distinct Shardblades—not perfectly, but as close as I can without magic. I hoped my ideas would capture the magic of the blade (like its smoky transparency when it cuts) and not just the shape.

An early sketch:

Shardblade Val Alston Brandon Sanderson Stormlight Archive

The idea to build the sword as a gift was conceived approximately at the end of September 2013. I can’t honestly remember why it popped into my head, or what I may have been reading of Sanderson’s literatureat the time, as I had already finished The Way of Kings during the summer.

I began by speaking to a friend, Karl Schneider. As a fan of Star Trek he has had various props made in the past. I told him what I wanted to achieve and the adventure began!

Shardblade Val Alston Brandon Sanderson Stormlight Archive

He gave me some ideas on materials I could use, and found smoke-colored acrylic glass to be an awesome way to represent the misty/smoky nature of a Shardblade when it passes through matter. So I looked up specialty shops that worked with acrylic type materials, and amazingly, the best one in Guadalajara, Mexico happened to be 10 minutes away from my apartment. It is called Acrymaquetas.

I researched descriptions of Shardblades and their characteristics while in use, much of the information I found at The Stormlight Archive wiki. I also looked at hundreds of pictures of real swords for reference.

I originally planned on taking more time to slowly work on the creation of my Oathbringer hybrid. Initially my idea was to merge an intricate hilt (custom-made by someone else in metal) with my own blade made of acrylic glass by placing the blade over the hilt with a center steel shaft to represent the transition between the “magical” smoky glass and the real steel.

Shardblade Val Alston Brandon Sanderson Stormlight Archive

Yet after considerable thought, I decided instead to design my own blade fully constructed from acrylic glass in order to shave some expense and time with the hope of having it ready as a surprise gift for Sanderson’s Words of Radiance tour.

Acrymaquetas, the acrylic design and laser shop, made it very clear that if I wanted anything decently realistic that I’d have to hand them a 3D STL (STereoLithography) model. Well, I did it and it was tough. I had no previous 3D modeling experience at all. Kudos to all who work in the CGI animation business!

One of my early 3D failures:

Shardblade Val Alston Brandon Sanderson Stormlight Archive

I decided to use Google SketchUp software since it is free, and I used models from the warehouse as foundation at first. But after many hours, I began to manage 3D modeling sufficiently to create more of my exact ideas from scratch.

Shardblade Val Alston Brandon Sanderson Stormlight Archive

Shardblade Val Alston Brandon Sanderson Stormlight Archive

All in all, it took about 102 hours from start to finish. It has been a grueling but satisfying journey, and I savored the process of bringing something magical to life. Sanderson has evoked my first fandom experience; I’ve never been one to be so enthusiastic about any particular artist or celebrity.

Photos from the crafting process, December 2013-March 2014:

Shardblade Val Alston Brandon Sanderson Stormlight Archive

Shardblade Val Alston Brandon Sanderson Stormlight Archive

Shardblade Val Alston Brandon Sanderson Stormlight Archive

Shardblade Val Alston Brandon Sanderson Stormlight Archive

Shardblade Val Alston Brandon Sanderson Stormlight Archive

Shardblade Val Alston Brandon Sanderson Stormlight Archive

Shardblade Val Alston Brandon Sanderson Stormlight Archive

Shardblade Val Alston Brandon Sanderson Stormlight Archive

Shardblade Val Alston Brandon Sanderson Stormlight Archive

Shardblade Val Alston Brandon Sanderson Stormlight Archive

I want to express a very special thanks to the team at Acrymaquetas, including Miriam Flores (front desk), LilianaPalacios (designer), and the Magical Acrylic Technician, Jose. They had never had a project be so challenging, although they really enjoyed the process as well.

Very special thanks to my friend Samuel Barnes, whose construction expertise gave me structural advice and much needed help in creating the wooden shipping box.

Shardblade Val Alston Brandon Sanderson Stormlight Archive

Have fun lugging it around for 5 days while you bond with it!

This post was originally published in April 2014, and appeared again in December 2014.

Deadhouse Landing

Oct. 20th, 2017 05:30 pm
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Posted by Ian Cameron Esslemont

Returning readers to the turbulent early history of what would become the Malazan Empire, Deadhouse Landing is the second chapter in Ian C. Esslemont’s thrilling new epic fantasy sequence—available November 14th from Tor Books.

After the disappointments of Li Heng, Dancer and Kellanved wash up on a small insignificant island named Malaz. Immediately, of course, Kellanved plans to take it over. To do so they join forces with a small band of Napans who have fled a civil war on their own home island. The plan, however, soon goes awry as Kellanved develops a strange and dangerous fascination for a mysterious ancient structure found on the island.

Dancer faces a hard choice: should he give up on his partnership? Especially when the fellow’s obsession with shadows and ancient artefacts brings the both of them alarmingly close to death and destruction. After all, who in his right mind would actually wish to enter the Deadhouse?

 

 

Chapter 1

‘Those Cawn merchants were fools to have turned us down!’ Wu assured Dancer from across their table in a waterfront dive in Malaz City.

You,’ Dancer corrected. ‘They turned you down.’

Wu waved a hand airily to dismiss the point. ‘Well, that still leaves them the fools in my little scenario.’ He sipped his glass of watered wine. ‘As to chasing us out of town … an obvious overreaction.’

Dancer leaned back, one brow arched. ‘You threatened to curse them all to eternal torment.’

Wu appeared surprised. ‘Did I? I quite forget – I’ve threatened to curse so many.’ He lowered his voice conspiratorially, ‘In any case, Malaz here suits our purpose even better. It is fortunate. The Twins favour our plans.’

Dancer sighed as he poked at his plate of boiled pork and barley; he’d quite lost his appetite recently. ‘It was the first boat out we could jump.’

Wu opened his hands as if vindicated. ‘Exactly! Oponn himself may as well have invited us aboard.’

Dancer clenched the edge of the table of sun-bleached slats and released it only after forcing himself to relax. It’s all right, he assured himself. It’s only a setback. There are bound to be setbacks. ‘Plans,’ he said. ‘You mentioned plans.’

Wu shovelled up his plate of onions and beans, then spoke with lowered voice once more. ‘Easier to control a small city and confined island such as this. An excellent first step.’

‘First step to what?’

Wu opened his hands wide, his expression one of disbelief. ‘Why … everything, of course.’

Dancer’s answering scorn was interrupted by the slamming of a stoneware tankard to their table in the most curt manner possible. The servitor, a young woman whose skin showed the unique bluish hue of the Napans, stalked off without a backward glance. Dancer thought her the least gracious help he’d ever encountered.

In point of fact, she was the fourth Napan he’d seen in this rundown waterfront dive. Two were obvious hired muscle hanging about the entrance, while the third was a tall lad he’d glimpsed in the kitchens – another bouncer held in reserve. The nightly fights in this rat-hole must be ferocious.

‘… and for this we need a base of operations,’ Wu was saying. Dancer blinked, refocusing on him.

‘I’m sorry? For what?’

Wu looked hurt and affronted. ‘Why, our grand plan, of course!’

Dancer looked away, scanning the sturdy semi-subterranean common room more thoroughly. ‘Oh, that. Right. Our try anything plan.’ Stone walls; one main entrance strongly defended; slim windows; a single narrow back entrance. And he’d seen numerous windows on the second floor – good for covering fire. Quite the fortress.

Wu drummed his fingers on the tabletop, his expression sour. ‘You don’t seem to be taking this in quite the right spirit. If I may tell you my news…?’

Still eyeing his surroundings, Dancer murmured, ‘Be my guest.’ He noted that the bouncers at the door were far from the typical over-sized beer-bloated souses that usually slouched at the doors of these low-class alehouses. They were obvious veterans, scarred and hardened, their narrowed gazes scanning the room and the street outside.

This was not your typical sailors’ drinking establishment. In fact, everything about it shouted ‘front’. And everyone in Quon Tali knew Malaz Island was nothing more than a pirates’ nest; he wondered if he was looking at one of their bases.

Wu, he saw, was watching him, looking quite vexed. ‘What?’

‘Do you wish me to continue?’

‘Certainly.’ Dancer motioned to the Napan server who was now leaning against the wall next to the kitchen’s entrance, examining her nails. The woman made a disgusted face and sauntered over.

‘What is it?’ she demanded.

He motioned to his plate. ‘This food is atrocious.’

‘Atrocious. Really. A plate of boiled pork. How atrocious could that be?’

Dancer invited her to take the plate away. ‘Well, your cook managed it.’

The woman scooped up the plate and stalked to the kitchen entrance. ‘Hey, Urko! There’s a fellow out here taking issue with your cooking.’

A great basso voice thundered from the kitchens. ‘Whaaat!

The doors burst open and out shot fully the biggest and scariest-looking Napan of the lot: monstrously wide, with the shoulders of a strangler, yet wearing a dirty leather apron. Dancer readied himself for a confrontation, but instead of facing him the man turned on the server, bellowing, ‘I don’t need these complaints! I didn’t want to be the damned cook anyway. Make Choss the damned cook!’

‘He’s a better shipbuilder,’ the woman calmly returned, leaning against a wall, her arms crossed.

The big fellow raised fists the size of hams to his head. ‘Well … give the job to my brother then, dammit to Hood!’

‘He’s at sea.’

The gigantic cook sniffed his affront, grumbled, ‘Trust him to find a decent job.’

The server pointed back to the kitchens and the huge fellow – Urko, apparently – clenched his thick leather apron in his fists until it creaked. He scowled at the woman then drew a hand down his face, snorting through his nostrils like a bull. ‘Well … I got onion soup. Offer him that.’ And he stomped back through the doors.

Dancer could only shake his head at the state of the hired help here. He supposed it was difficult to find quality labour on the island. He motioned to the door. ‘Let’s try another place.’

Wu gave a strange high laugh, almost nervous, and Dancer cocked an eye at him, suspicious. ‘Change of management,’ Wu explained, gesturing to encompass the establishment. ‘Be patient.’

Whatever. Dancer tried a sip of the beer and found it far too watery. He made a sour face. ‘You said that you had news?’

‘Ah! Yes … news.’ Wu fluttered his hands on the table, the wrinkled knotted hands of an ancient as the mage was still maintaining his appearance of an old man, but his motions were quick and precise; not those of a doddering oldster. Dancer decided he’d have to coach him on that. ‘So,’ Wu continued, still brushing his hands across the tabletop, ‘yes. News. Well … while you were out reconnoitring the waterfront, I happened to fall into conversation with the owner of this fine establishment…’

Seeing that this was going nowhere fast, Dancer forced himself to take another sip of the foul beer. ‘Yes? And you killed him for gross incompetence?’

This raised a weak laugh that faded into a long drawn out coughing fit. ‘Well, actually, no. I found that he was in a feverish hurry to sell…’

Dancer set down the tankard. Oh, no. Tell me no. ‘What,’ he began, calmly, ‘have you done?’

Wu raised his hands. ‘As I was saying – we need a base of operations for our plans. This location is ideal. Close to the waterfront, great for smuggling…’

Dancer pressed his palm to his forehead. Mustn’t lose it. ‘What,’ he began again, through clenched teeth, ‘have you done?’

Wu opened his hands wide. ‘Our partnership has entered a new phase. We’ve gone into business together.’

Dancer somehow found himself on his feet, towering over Wu, his hands flat on the table. ‘You bought this rat-hole?

Wu’s dark ferret eyes darted left and right. ‘So it would seem.’

Through his rage, Dancer sensed a presence close to him and snapped his gaze aside – it was the serving woman. How did she get so close?

But her sullen attention was on Wu, ignoring him. She flicked a piece of dirt from the table. ‘You want to see your offices now?’

Wu brightened immediately. ‘Why, that would be excellent! Thank you … ah…’

‘Surly,’ the woman supplied, with a tired curl of a lip.

‘Ah, yes. Excellent. Thank you … Surly.’

She motioned to the stairs and Wu bustled off. His walking cane was now in his hand, tapping as he went. Dancer decided that the privacy of an office would be a better place for their discussion, in case he accidentally strangled the wretched fellow, and so he followed, but not before he noted the woman’s hands: hardened and calloused. The hands of a servitor? No, not the cracked and reddened skin of washing and scouring. Rather, skin toughened and scarred. Hands like his.

The office stood over the common room and here he found Wu waving a cloud of dust from his face after pushing a heap of papers off a chair. The mage gave a nervous laugh. ‘A quick whip-round and it’ll be decent in no time.’

Dancer closed the door behind him and pressed his back to it. ‘What have you done?’

Wu turned, blinking innocently. ‘What? Why, acquired a property at a fantastic price!’

‘Did you just spend all our remaining—’ He snapped up a hand. ‘Wait! I don’t want to know. What I do want to know is why.’

‘Hmmm?’ Wu was now inspecting the desk, which was heaped high with garbage and plates of dried crusted food. He poked his walking stick at the mess. ‘Why what?’

Dancer sighed, raised his suffering gaze to the ceiling. ‘Why did you purchase this place?’

Wu blinked again. ‘Ah, well, actually the price was a steal because the fellow thought the Napan employees were conspiring to kill him and take the business. Why he should think that I have no idea…’ Dancer just glared until Wu’s brows rose in understanding. ‘Ah!’ Swinging the walking stick, he brushed aside all the clutter on the desk, sending papers, glassware, tin plates and old candles crashing to the floor. Satisfied, he sat behind the expanse of wine-stained dark wood and gestured to the empty surface. ‘There we are. You see? One must sweep aside the old before building anew.’

Dancer crossed his arms. Okay. ‘Why here?’

‘The moment I set foot on this island I felt it.’ Wu raised his hands, brushing his thumbs and forefingers together. ‘Shadow. It’s close. This place has some sort of affinity.’

Dancer let his arms fall. ‘So you say,’ and he added, half muttering, ‘if only to justify this stupid purchase.’ He crossed to the one window. It overlooked a side street of ancient wood and stone buildings, all muted grey and dingy in a thin misting rain. He turned on Wu. ‘But we’re still only two. What’s the plan?’

The lad was undaunted. He raised his hands once again. ‘Why, as before. We take over the town.’

Great. As before … when we failed. Dancer drew breath to tear into the fool but silenced himself as he detected someone on the landing outside the door. A knock sounded. Wu cleared his throat and steepled his fingers across his stomach, arranging his features into a stern frown.

‘Ah! Yes? Do come in.’

The door swung inward but no one entered. Intrigued, Dancer leaned forward to peer out. It was the serving woman, Surly. The young Napan was surveying the room before entering and Dancer smiled to himself: More than a mere servitor. For certain.

She took one step in – still not clearing the door – and eyed Wu as if she’d found a particularly annoying mess. ‘Do you have staff of your own you’ll be bringing in?’

Wu’s tiny eyes darted right and left. ‘Ah … no.’

‘So, we’ll be staying on, then?’

‘For the foreseeable future.’

‘Good.’

‘Good?’

The young woman’s expression twisted into even more of a scowl. ‘Work’s hard to come by on this damned island.’

Wu leaned forward to set his chin on a fist, cocking his head. ‘I should think you and your, ah, piratical friends should easily find employment with any one of the crews that sail out of this island.’

The lips curled up into a humourless half-smile. ‘Don’t know much about the history between Nap and Malaz, do you?’

‘You’re rivals,’ Dancer supplied. Surly gave him a reserved nod. ‘You’ve fought for control of the southern seas for hundreds of years.’

‘That’s right. They won’t have us. And in any case,’ and she raised her chin, her gaze suddenly fierce, ‘we work for ourselves.’

Pride, Dancer read in her every stern line. Ferocious pride. How did anyone come to such monumental arrogance? And he smiled inwardly. Well … I should know.

The girl made it clear she considered the interview over by backing away – not turning round, as anyone else might, but sliding one bare foot behind the other and edging her weight backwards. And Dancer smiled again, inwardly. One should not advertise one’s training so openly.

Also studying the girl, one brow raised, Wu motioned to him. ‘My, ah, partner, Dancer.’

Surly eyed him anew. He watched her gaze move from his face to his hands, to his feet, a knowing amusement similar to his own growing in her dark eyes. ‘Partner,’ she said. ‘I see.’

‘So what brought you here, then?’ Wu went on.

The amused light disappeared behind high, hard walls. ‘Shipwreck in a storm. We are the few of … the crew who made it to shore.’

What had she been going to say just then, Dancer wondered. My crew, perhaps?

‘I see … well, thank you.’ Wu motioned her out.

The scowl returned but she withdrew, pulling the door shut as she left.

Dancer remained poised next to the window. He eyed the door, musing aloud, ‘I heard of some sort of dispute among the royal family of Nap not long ago. A civil war. This lot might’ve backed the losing side. So they can’t go back. They’re stuck here.’

No answer came from Wu and Dancer turned: the lad was leaning back in the captain’s-style chair, using his hands to cast shadow-images on the wall. Sensing Dancer’s attention he glanced over, blinking. ‘Sorry? You were saying something?’

Dancer gritted his teeth. ‘Never mind. Let’s talk about our plans.’

Wu thumped elbows to the desk and set his chin in his fists, frowning in hard thought. ‘Yes. Our plans. No sense tackling one of the corsair captains here – the crew wouldn’t follow us. I’ve never sailed. Mock rules from his Hold, but he probably doesn’t care who runs the streets. So, for now, we limit our attention to the shore. The merchants and bosses who control the markets and warehouses.’

Dancer had pursed his lips, considering. ‘What do you propose?’

Wu raised his head, smiling. ‘Why, our forte, of course. Ambush and hijacking.’

Excerpted from Deadhouse Landing, copyright © 2017 by Ian C. Esslemont.

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Posted by Alex Brown

Hot take: Final Destination is a better film than just about any 21st century horror movie to date. Argue all you want, but it doesn’t change the fact that late-1990s and early-2000s era horror movies are awesome. I’ll take Disturbing Behavior over The Human Centipede any day.

The late-1990s and early-2000s were a transitional period in horror movies and for a brief, shining moment, B-horror movies reigned. During this period the villain shifts from a deranged outsider (the height of popularity in the 1970s and 1980s) to one of the cast on the poster secretly hellbent on revenge. Even thrillers got in on the action, with Dead Man’s Curve, Gossip, and The Skulls. Then as J-horror influenced ghost stories rose in popularity and with torture porn on the horizon, the teen slasher fell by the wayside. The post-9/11 horror movie world wasn’t interested in watching a bunch of pretty people get picked off by dorks leaving disgruntled valentines. There was a last gasp in the mid-aughts as studios re-upped their obsession with 3D and blended gore gimmicks with teen slashers, but they never reached the same level of popularity.

The following flicks have all the cheese of 60s B-movies and practical effects of 80s teen slashers but with the added bonus of self-awareness and sarcastic detachment. Of course nostalgia plays a big role in my undying love, but still. Horror movies today are all nihilism all the time, a game of oneupmanship to see who can produce the most grotesque, gag-inducing festival of guts and gore, but in the late-nineties and early-aughts frights were still fun. No one went into The Craft with an eye on an Oscar. Hating on Idle Hands or Cherry Falls for being terrible movies is easy, but completely misses the point that they’re supposed to be terrible. So come take a walk with me down memory lane past some of the best and worst of a subgenre lost to the sands of time.

 

Sarcasm for the Irony Crowd: Cherry Falls vs. Scream

90s_peerpressure

Pretty much everyone has seen Scream (1996), and even if you’re one of the unlucky few who hasn’t, it’s a sure bet you’re familiar with the premise. In this Wes Craven/Kevin Williamson classic, someone in a ghostface mask is bumping off teenagers in spectacular fashion. But it’s not all just vivisecting jocks and decapitating cheerleaders. There’s a dense layer of postmodern trope subversion on underneath Drew Barrymore’s shrieks. Not only does it skewer 80s teen slashers but it more or less sets the tone for the teen slasher revival.

But while Scream is the best of the subgenre, Cherry Falls (2000) has to be one of the worst. Like Scream, Cherry Falls is a postmodernist satire, but where the former takes its source material seriously, the latter is a failed attempt at coopting someone else’s movement. At least it has a clever twist on an old premise—the killer only kills virgins so the kids put together a literally life-saving orgy—but with each swing at grand social commentary it misses in poor acting and a half-baked plot. Where Scream takes a critical look at its roots, Cherry Falls critiques Scream derivatives with the same depth and meaning as Cher’s speech on refugees in Clueless.

Best death scene: Scream—Sidney drops a TV on Stu’s face.
Best line: Cherry Falls—“She thinks fellatio is a character in Shakespeare.”

 

Vengeance Will Be Mine!: I Know What You Did Last Summer vs. Valentine vs. Urban Legend

90s_vengeance

I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) is the most 80s-like of the 90s crew in that the young adults are hunted by a sadistic stranger. There’s a lot of running and screaming and hiding in unlikely places. The killer is set up in the opening scenes as a fisherman the kids accidentally hit with their car and dumped in the water. But maybe homeboy wasn’t dead after all and now his hobbies include standing menacingly in the dark, writing threatening notes, and murdering teenagers with an oversized hook.

Urban Legend (1998) and Valentine (2001) are both movies about young adults with broken hearts meting out revenge against those who wronged them. Urban Legend, a movie where college students are killed in the tradition of local urban myths by someone in a black winter coat, is a clear attempt to piggyback off Scream, but since Wes Craven didn’t have Pacey with frosted tips, points go to Urban Legends. It is also the most quintessentially 90s movie ever made. There’s a scene where the protagonist, Natalie, wears a pastel turtleneck tucked into her high-waisted jeans. The song “Zoot Suit Riot” plays at a frat party. “He likes it! Hey Mikey!” has a prominent role.

Valentine ages up its cast into their early twenties but keeps the wronged lovers in the form of an unpopular kid from middle school hunting the quintet of girls who made fun of him at a Valentine’s Day dance. The killer leaves creepy love notes for his victims then goes completely off script and kills anyone who crosses his path, and also happens to get bloody noses. It toys with feminism in the least committed way possible and offers half-hearted criticisms of what we now call rape culture, but none of that matters anyway because the guy who played Angel is in it.

Best death scene: Valentine—Denise Richards trapped in a hot tub is first stabbed with an electric drill, then electrocuted with it.
Best line: I Know What You Did Last Summer – “Oh, you got a letter? I got run over! Helen gets her hair chopped off, Julie gets a body in her trunk, and you get a letter? That’s balanced!”

 

‘Sup, Teach?: The Faculty vs. Disturbing Behavior

90s_schooldaze

Like Joshua Jackson, James Marsden pops up in a bunch of turn-of-the-millennium teen horror/thrillers. In Disturbing Behavior Marsden plays the new kid in town. His high school is ruled by the Blue Ribbons, a gang of spit-polished do-gooders with an uncontrollable urge to beat the ever living shit outta people. He and Katie Holmes, in a bid to sexy up her Joey Potter image, take on the varsity jacket crew and their leader, Dr. Caldicott, after their buddy is turned into one of “them.”

The Faculty plays with similar themes of “high school sucks” and “murdering your way to popularity,” but where Disturbing Behavior goes down a weird low rent X-Files route, The Faculty actually makes its point. Elijah Woods is a nerdy kid who discovers aliens are taking over his school and turning everyone into pod people. The final act features a giant alien parasite chasing Woods, Clea Duvall, and Josh Hartnett through the school. Also features a star-studded cast of famous celebs and “hey, it’s that guy” character actors, including Jon Stewart, Salma Hayek, Famke Janssen, Jordana Brewster, Shawn Hatosy, Bebe Neuwirth, Robert Patrick, Josh Hartnett, Usher, Danny Masterson, Lewis Black, and Summer Phoenix. Disturbing Behavior thinks adults, like, totally suck, man, but forgets its train of thought every time Katie Holmes’ midriff shows. Likewise, The Faculty drops all pretense as deeper meaning in favor of satisfying male wish fulfillment, but at the end of the day it holds up better.

Best death scene: The Faculty—Tie between Famke Janssen getting decapitated and thrown from Josh Hartnett’s car and Jon Stewart getting stabbed in the eye.
Best line: Disturbing Behavior—“Self-mutilate this, fluid girl!”

 

The Supernatural: Idle Hands vs. Final Destination

90s_fantasyland

(AKA the Devon Sawa Category.)

I don’t know why I own a copy of Idle Hands (1999). I don’t remember buying it, but there it is on my shelf. It has survived countless culls and half a dozen moves. It’s not that good a movie, nor have I watched it in years, and yet. The plot is simple: stoner Anton’s right hand is possessed by a demonic force and murderous hi-jinks ensue. Devon Sawa puts in one of his best performances ever, and the supporting cast is a veritable who’s who of awesome character actors. It’s the least traditional of the “teen goes on a killing spree” bunch and owes more to Evil Dead than Halloween. But that’s what makes it such a firecracker.

Final Destination (2000) is much more old school in style but this time the killer isn’t some creepy stranger with a grudge, but Death itself. It’s basically 90 minutes of watching teenagers get killed in increasingly freaky Rube Goldberg circumstances. Apparently if you turn down Death it will come for you in the most mind-numbingly convoluted way possible. Just for the hell of it. Again, Devon Sawa is great, and another 90s staple, Ali Larter, charms her way through ham-fisted dialogue. The sequel is also worth watching, but best to stop there.

Best death scene: Mrs. Lewton drinks vodka out of a cracked mug, the drops of which spill into a computer monitor causing it to explode. A shard from the screen strikes her in the throat and she stumbles into the kitchen at the same time the drops of vodka catch fire from the lit gas stove. The explosion knocks her down and when she reaches for a towel dangling on a knife rack one of the knives stabs her in the heart. Alex bursts in to rescue her but hastens her bleeding out by yanking out the blade.
Best line: Idle Hands—“Devil girl, with nothin’ to lose, she’s got wind in her hair and gum on her shoes!”

 

Teenage Witch: Little Witches vs. The Craft

90s_magicmayhem

If you, like me, were a teenage girl in the 90s, then The Craft probably fills you with with an inordinate amount of dreamy nostalgia. Nothing was cooler than this movie, and many a thirtysomething woman to this day still fantasizes about dressing like Nancy. The Craft and Little Witches both came out in 1996 (the latter about 6 months after the former) and cover more or less the same ground: teenage girls at a parochial high school get a little too into witchcraft.

In The Craft, retiring Sarah is taken in by a coven led by Nancy (the astounding Fairuza Balk). Each girl uses magic to improve their lives inch by inch, but when Nancy goes too far the other three team up to stop her from killing everyone. On the other hand, Little Witches is about a retiring girl named Faith who is taken in by a coven led by Jamie who discover a Satanic temple buried under their school and decide it would be fun to sacrifice a virgin to summon a demon. While The Craft has an actual plot and decent if melodramatic acting, Little Witches is mostly just softcore porn draped over a plot so thin it barely counts as one. There are two bright spots in Little Witches: the demon puppet thing—I miss practical effects—and the woefully underrated Clea Duvall. Yet even they can’t beat out Nancy’s “HE’S SORRY!!!” scene. I would kill for her shoes.

Best death scene: The Craft—Nancy throws Skeet Ulrich out a window.
Best line: The Craft—“We are the weirdos, mister.”

 

This article was originally published in October 2015.

Alex Brown is a teen librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter and Instagram, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.

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Posted by Ada Palmer

Have you ever been walking along and felt the creepy, unsettling feeling that something was watching you? You may have met Betobeto-san, an invisible yōkai, or folklore creature, who follows along behind people on paths and roads, especially at night. To get rid of the creepy feeling, simply step aside and say, “Betobeto-san, please, go on ahead,” and he will politely go on his way.

What we know of Betobeto-san and hundreds of other fantastic creatures of Japan’s folklore tradition, we know largely thanks to the anthropological efforts of historian, biographer and folklorist, Shigeru Mizuki, one of the pillars of Japan’s post-WWII manga boom. A magnificent storyteller, Mizuki recorded, for the first time, hundreds of tales of ghosts and demons from Japan’s endangered rural folklore tradition, and with them one very special tale: his own experience of growing up in Japan in the 1920s through 1940s, when parades of water sprites and sparkling fox spirits gave way to parades of tanks and warships.

mizuki-shigeru-betobeto-san

Shigeru Mizuki’s illustration of Betobeto-san, Graphic World of Japanese Phantoms 講談社, 1985

Trickster-fox Kitsune, dangerous water-dwelling Kappa, playful raccoon-like Tanuki, and savage horned Oni are only the most famous of Japan’s vast menagerie of folklore monsters, whose more obscure characters range from the beautiful tentacle-haired Futakuchi Onna, to Tsukumogami, household objects like umbrellas and sandals that come alive on their 100th birthdays, and tease their owners by hopping away in time of need. Such yōkai stories have their roots in Japan’s unique religious background, whose hybrid of Buddhism with Shinto animism adds a unique moral and storytelling logic to these tales, present in no other folklore tradition, whose twists and turns—unexpected within Western horror conventions—are much of why fans of the weird, creepy and horrific find such extraordinary power in the creations of Japan. Most accounts of yōkai and Japanese ghosts are regional tales passed down at festivals and storytelling events in rural parts of Japan—and, like many oral traditions, they dwindled substantially over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with the rise of cities, and of centralized and city-dominated entertainments provided by cheap printing, radio, film and television.

Shigeru Mizuki spent decades collecting these stories from all corners of Japan, and setting them down in comic book form, so they could be shared and enjoyed by children and parents across Japan and around the world, as he had enjoyed them in his childhood. While most of Japan’s 20th century manga masters had urban roots, Mizuki grew up in the small, coastal town of Sakaiminato, delighting in local legends told to him by a woman he describes in the memoir he titled after her, Nononba (the first Japanese work ever to win grand prize at the world famous Angoulême International Comics Festival.) Mizuki’s father was deeply interested in international culture, especially film, and even acquired the town’s first movie projector, hoping to connect his family and neighbors to the new arena of the silver screen. This childhood exposure to both local and global storytelling cultures combined to make him eager to present the wealth of Japan’s folklore on the world stage.

"Umibozu", 1985.

“Umibozu” illustration by Shigeru Mizuki, Graphic World of Japanese Phantoms 講談社, 1985.

Mizuki’s most beloved work Hakaba Kitaro (Graveyard Kitaro, also called GeGeGe no Kitaro) debuted in 1960, and follows the morbid but adorable zombie-like Kitaro, last survivor of a race of undead beings, who travels Japan accompanied by yōkai friends and the talking eyeball of his dead father. In different towns and villages, Kitaro meets humans who have run-ins with Japan’s spirits, ghosts and underworld creatures. Sometimes Kitaro helps the humans, but he often helps the spirits, or just sits back to watch and mock the humans’ ignorance of the netherworld with his signature creepy laugh “Ge… ge… ge…” Kitaro’s adventures also chronicle the social history of 20th century Japan, as the yōkai themselves struggle to adapt to cultural changes and economic doldrums, which lead to the closing of shrines, dwindling of offerings, and destruction of supernatural habitat. Adapted into dozens of animated series, movies and games, the popularity of Kitaro made yōkai tales a major genre, but Shigeru Mizuki’s signature remained his commitment to chronicling the rarest and most obscure stories of Japan’s remote villages, from the Oboroguruma, a living ox-cart with a monstrous face, reported in the town of Kamo near Kyoto, to the thundering Hizama spirit of the remote island of Okinoerabu. In fact, when a new animated movie of Kitaro was released in 2008, it screened in six different versions to feature the local folklore creatures of different regions of Japan. In addition to Hakaba Kitaro, Mizuki wrote books on folklore, and encyclopedias of Japanese ghosts and yōkai.

clash

Young Shigeru Mizuki visiting a shrine, from Nononba, Drawn & Quarterly edition.

Mizuki was also one of the most vivid chroniclers—and fiery critics—of the great trauma of Japan’s 20th century, the Second World War. Drafted into the imperial army in 1942, Mizuki experienced the worst of the Pacific front. His memoir Onward Toward Our Noble Deaths (whose English translation won a 2012 Eisner award) describes his experience: unwilling soldiers, starving and disease-ridden, sent on suicide runs by officers who punished even slight reluctance with vicious beatings. In fact Mizuki’s entire squad was ordered on a suicide march with explicitly no purpose except honorable death. Mizuki alone survived, but lost his arm, gaining in return a lifelong commitment to further the cause of peace and international cooperation. In earlier works—published when criticism of war was still unwelcome and dangerous in Japan—Mizuki voiced his critique obliquely, through depictions of Japan’s economic degeneration, and through his folklore creatures, which, in his tales, are only visible in times of peace, and are driven out and starved by war and violent hearts. Later he wrote more freely, battling historical revisionism and attempts to valorize the war, through works like his biography Adolph Hitler (now in English), and the unforgettable War and Japan, published in 1991 in the educational youth magazine The Sixth Grader, which confronted its young readers the realities of atrocities perpetrated by the Japanese army in China and Korea.

"Gegege no Kitaro" vol. 1, Japanese edition.

Gegege no Kitaro vol. 1, Japanese edition.

Mizuki’s magnificent 1988-9 history Showa (recently released in English translation) is a meticulous chronicle of Japanese culture and politics in the decades leading to and through the war. It shows the baby steps of a nation’s self-betrayal, how nationalism, cultural anxiety, partisan interests, and crisis-based fear-mongering caused Japan to make a hundred tiny decisions, each reasonable-seeming in the moment, which added up over time to a poisonous militarism which saturated the culture from the highest political circles all the way down to children’s schoolyard games. Its release in English is absolutely timely. If the dystopias which have so dominated recent media are tools for discussing the bad sides of our present, doomsday ‘what if’ scenarios where our social evils are cranked up to a hundred, Showa is the birth process of a real dystopia, the meticulously-researched step-by-step of how social evils did crank up to a hundred in real life, and the how the consequences wracked the world. Phrases like “slippery slope” are easy to apply in retrospect, but Showa paints the on-the-ground experience of being in the middle of the process of a nation going mad, making it possible to look with new, informed eyes at our present crisis and the small steps our peoples and governments are taking.

Shigeru Mizuki’s contributions to art, culture and humanitarianism have been recognized around the world, by the Kodansha Manga Award and Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize, the Eisner Award and Angoulême festival, the Japanese Minister of Education award, Person of Cultural Merit award, and a special exhibit of his work for the 1995 Annual Tokyo Peace Day. His works have long been available in French, Italian and many other languages, but, despite Mizuki’s eager engagement with English-speaking fans and his eagerness to share his message with the world’s vast English-reading audiences, his works were slow to come out in English because his old-fashioned “cartoony” art style—much like that of his peer and fellow peace advocate “God of Comics” Osamu Tezuka—does not fit the tastes of American fans, accustomed to the later, flashier styles of contemporary anime. In Mizuki’s last years, thanks to the dedicated efforts of Montreal-based publisher Drawn and Quarterly, he finally oversaw the long-awaited English language release of his memoirs and histories, along with the Kitaro series (more volumes still coming out), which Drawn and Quarterly aptly describes as “the single most important manga you’ve never heard of, even if you happen to be a manga fan.”

Shigeru Mizuki, with his Eisner Award (2012)

Shigeru Mizuki, with his Eisner Award (2012)

One of Japan’s most delightful folklore traditions is Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai, a gathering of one hundred supernatural stories. A hundred candles are lit, and participants stay up all night telling tales of ghosts and spirits, extinguishing one candle at the end of each tale, so the room grows darker and darker, and the spirits—attracted by the invocation of their stories—draw near. A Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai is rarely finished, since few gatherings can supply a full hundred stories, and, as the dark draws in, most participants grow too frightened to snuff the last candle. But the millions touched by works of Shigeru Mizuki are well prepared to finish, armed with well over 100 stories, and with a powerful sense of the vigilance and hard work necessary if we want to welcome peaceful yōkai back to a more peaceful world.

This article was originally published in December 2015 in remembrance of Shigeru Mizuki.

Ada Palmer‘s is the author of Too Like the Lightning and Seven Surrenders, books 1 and 2 in the Terra Ignota series. She is a historian, working primarily on the Renaissance, Italy, and the history of philosophy, science, books and printing, heresy, and freethought, as well as manga, anime and Japanese pop culture. She writes the blog ExUrbe.com, and composes SF & Mythology-themed music for the a cappella group Sassafrass.

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Posted by Miriam Weinberg

Welcome to an inside look at the collector’s edition of V. E. Schwab’s runaway success, A Darker Shade of Magic—the first book in the bestselling Shades of Magic series.

While brainstorming ideas about what to feature in the A Darker Shade of Magic Collector’s Edition, we thought about all those readers, dreaming of this world, and these characters, and how they made it their own, too. We kept coming back to one desire: shining a light on the readers who have loved the series as much as we have, and who have passed the magic along as the books grew.

We scoured the internet, looking at fan art of the beloved characters from the first book—Kell, Lila, Rhy, Holland, the Dane Twins—and dynamic renderings of the tiniest details from each of the books. The amount of talent within the Shades of Magic fandom is immense, and gloriously overwhelming in its scope and variety. So many options. So much passion.

Alas, there are only so many pages in a book, and we had to whittle down our options to just  a handful of drawings. But we are beyond delighted to open another window into the Shades of Magic fandom!
(Have I mentioned how talented Schwab fans are? Yes? Honestly, I never tire of saying it, or seeing it.  And we hope that this edition will be cherished, bringing more magic into your lives and homes.)

 


 

Check out illustrator Mona May’s striking take on Lila Bard and the vicious Dane twins below, then head over to the Tor/Forge blog for even more fan art from A Darker Shade of Magic Collector’s Edition.

Illustration by Mona May

Illustration by Mona May

Illustration by Mona May

 

The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden

Oct. 20th, 2017 07:00 am
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Posted by K. Kamo

There's a lot to like about Nicky Drayden's first novel, The Prey of Gods, a lively urban fantasy set in a near-future South Africa. It bears some comparison to Lauren Beukes's Zoo City (2010), and, much as that novel won its author the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2011, I wouldn't be surprised to see Drayden on a few “best debut” lists come the end of the year. Here and now, however, she's given us a world in which, instead of Beukes's magical animal familiars externalizing the characters' guilt, everyone has robotic “alphies” as their helpmeets. These robots are just beginning to become self-aware, and many are not so happy with how they've been treated.

The alphies are not the only ones embarking on journeys of individual emergence; there's a revolving cast of POV characters, each of whom, we very quickly learn, is hiding from the people around them a more traditionally internalized guilty secret. There's Muzikayise, star fly-half for his school rugby team, who harbors a crush on one of his teammates; Wallace Stoker, cismale politician by day and transgender cabaret act by night; and Riya, an incandescent pop diva concealing her MS from everyone but her drug dealer. In amongst these more mortal characters mingle Sydney, an ancient demigoddess reduced to slumming it as a nail bar employee, and the newly deified Nomvula, an eight-year-old with all the fresh reserves of power Sydney now lacks.

It further transpires that while Sydney and Nomvula are connecting with their inner goddesses, all of humanity is in fact descended from Earth's original deities. When a new designer drug called godsend appears on the scene it activates long-dormant aspects of its users' divinities, allowing individuals to manifest to other users as crabs and dolphins (this will make more sense later), while also giving them access to abilities such as telepathy and memory erasure. Sydney is the main antagonist, and she concocts a plan to spread a virus to make people even more susceptible to the drug. Nomvula is quickly swept into her thrall, and the other characters find themselves more or less unwittingly ranged against her. Throw in some mecha fights and genetic engineering gone wrong and it's fair to say there's a lot going on.

“Oh, man,” says Muzi. “This is bladdy sick.”

“Hey, Piece of Shit,” Elkin calls to his alphie. “Play artist Riya.”

The alphie obliges. Ambient music from one of the tracks from Riya Natrajan's latest album, Midnight Seersucker, fills the room. The discordant beats cut right to the soul, and her shrill voice sounds like a couple of tomcats in a blender, but oh man does it hit the spot. Muzi claps his claws to the rhythm of the snare drum, and just when he gets it down pat, his arms and hands become his own. (p. 8)

The prose is that most surprisingly controversial of things: “readable.” It trips along in a breezy manner which doesn't demand too much of the reader but which I really enjoyed—enough, even, to allow for sentences like, “Riya Natrajan goes to putty in his arms, damn him and his rugged masculinity” (p.170). While this is an absolute stinker of a line, and the writing not infrequently flirts with cliché, for the most part Drayden manages to avoid inadvertent eye rolls from the reader. Much of this is down to the obvious sincerity of the narration; it's not interested in playing wider games with irony or metatextual commentary, simply in being an exciting story well told. Simple, of course, is not the same as easy.

Much of the most convincing narration comes as Drayden (re)tells her world's creation myth. As far as I can make out, she's built this from scratch, and it certainly ticks all the necessary boxes: epic imagery; elision of the superlative and mundane; supernatural folly, hope, and redemption:

Each time I nearly died but was saved in the nick of time by a dolphin, then a rat, then a serpent, then an eagle. After six thousand years, I had six thousand children, each and every one with the power of gods. Those descended from the eagle could fly, and those from the peacock had beauty that made the others weep … I took pity on my crab children. They became my favorites, and I granted them each the power to bend others to their will. (pp. 93-4)

The language for these sections is more suitably portentous, but the generally chatty tone still creeps through (“in the nick of time” ) and is one of a number of things which in sum mean that The Prey of Gods feels a lot like YA. It's written in the present tense (though I recognize that thinking of this as “stereotypically YA” might be a personal foible), while the two characters with whom we spend the most time (Muzi and Nomvula) are respectively a teenager and a child forced to accept responsibilities beyond their years. All of the main characters have one (and only one) Big Secret which they hide before obtaining a more mature perspective and learning to accept who they really are, and thus every character arc is effectively a coming of age story—even that of the fully-grown politician with aspirations for the premiership, who must throw off the yoke of their controlling mother's expectations and be proud of their true self.

Feeling like YA is neither a positive nor a negative for any book, necessarily, but the deployment of some of its core tropes here is often quite unsubtle. Of course all stories, and genre stories especially, utilize tropes to some degree, but The Prey of Gods relies on them to do a noticeable amount of heavy lifting. It's perhaps no coincidence that I found the creation myth sections among the more successful, in that stories of this type are our oldest, tropiest of all. Creating one “from scratch” is in truth nigh on impossible, but their universality gives the writer license to openly rework clichés and well-worn patterns—license that doesn't extend so clearly to the rest of the book, where the borrowings are less narratively justified.

As a whole the book is diverting, entertaining, and somewhat rough around the edges. This roughness manifests in a few ways beyond the reliance on tropes, most obviously the short chapter length (there are fifty-nine spread across the book's 380 pages). This trick is often used with the aim of keeping the pace high and the pages turning, but its effect here was the opposite, chopping up the overarching plotline and slowing its development. As the close third-person narration is constantly rotating perspectives, we're with each character so briefly before jumping to another that it takes most of the book for any of them to establish themselves as individuals, and thus people with journeys worth caring about. This in turn is exacerbated by the authorial voice, whose easy charm beguiles but also undercuts the severity of what should be some devastating early plot points, and, more pertinently, doesn't vary much according to which of the characters' heads we're in. Sydney as an antagonist also doesn't really convince until the final act (and even then …), which likewise means the story takes a long time to gain momentum. A jump cut every six pages means there's a lot of hanging off not so much cliff—it's more of a staircase, and when the climb is so incremental the fall is much less perilous.

I've fretted more than usual about the balance of this review, because my overall memory of reading The Prey of Gods is that it was enjoyable if familiar fun, yet, as I revisit my notes one by one, I find that most of them are fairly critical. There's a lot to like about the book not least because there's a lot in general; one of its defining features is its eagerness to DO ALL THE THINGS and this cuts both ways. On the one hand, with so much happening there's almost bound to be something for almost every reader to latch on to. A slightly unexpected example was the way rugby cropped up in Muzi's storyline. I played a lot of this at school as well, and while I did wince at a couple of misfires (I can't imagine even the most empathetic of players having a five-minute conversation in the middle of a match to apologise for accidentally hitting a spectator with a ball), the intense camaraderie you feel as a member of a sports team at that age is very convincingly captured. Likewise, despite Riya's unpromising early characterization as Difficult Pop Princess With Sympathetically Tragic Backstory, she eventually emerges as an interesting and engaging character in her own right.

On the other hand, the scattergun approach means you're going to have to accept a number of misses to go with the hits. Rugby etiquette is a comparatively trivial example, and I'm unfortunately unable to speak with similar personal authority to the book's success with the far more consequential issues of LGBT representation. The alphies, however, fulfil the traditional role of robots in SF as a servile underclass on the verge of rebellion. To say that this has added resonance in a near-future South Africa would be an understatement, and yet the implications of this aren't addressed in any meaningful way beyond a general sense that oppression is bad and freedom is good. While the sheer vim of the book's overall execution is an inarguable positive, it would have been no bad thing to sacrifice some of its breadth for greater depth, regarding both theme and character. I've read entire novels successfully built around less than is suggested here of each of the main POV characters, but as Drayden presents them they struggle to rise above their single notes—and there isn't quite enough control to consistently maintain the harmony.

It's not quite tomcats in a blender, but I think ultimately this book, more than most, will stand or fall on whether the reader gets on with its voice, whether they find the overall tone sufficiently melodic to carry the ragged polyphony of characters and plot. For my own part, if not everything about The Prey of Gods worked, then the balance was clearly in the positive. Given the explosion of ideas in her debut novel, Nicky Drayden seems unlikely to run out of things to write about any time soon, which I can only regard as a good thing.


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Jennifer K. Oliver

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