Trip Diaries

Years ago, when I was single, I always travelled with a trip diary: a small notebook to record anything I wanted to remember about my experiences. I carried a camera, too, and took photos, but there are many things a camera just can’t capture: overhead comments on a famous painting, the sound of an organist practicing Handel in a nearly empty cathedral, the scent of roses in an English country garden, … Words can’t fully capture those fleeting moments either, but between the two—the photos and the words—I have the triggers to evoke memories years later.

In those days, I usually jotted down the day’s events in restaurants, while waiting for my dinner or while enjoying a cup of coffee or glass of port after the meal. Now, travelling with family, I turn my trip diary into a sort of game, partly to jolly the family along in the sometimes interminable interval between giving our order and getting our food. “What,” I will ask, “do you want to remember about today?” And then I’ll scribble frantically while they call out things that mattered to them—sometimes things I had completely overlooked. Often we’ll have a good laugh, and just as often go off on tangents, talking about history or science or any of dozens of other topics.

So it’s a shame I forgot my little notebook on our short trip down to the South Island last week. Instead, I’ll jot down here a few things that stood out on our circuit from Christchurch to the West Coast and back:

The waterspout over the road to the west of Arthur’s Pass. 

Bruce Bay, where the road runs right along the edge of white surf, and I was glad we passed through in good weather.

Mist rising from a river, along nearly 180 degrees of our field of view, as a cold front moved in.

Driving through rain and dimming light at the end of a long day, frantically searching for our motel on a secondary road twenty minutes from the nearest town, and the cattle lowing at us from the neighbouring field when we finally found it.

The waterfalls along Haast Pass where other tourists had piled up rocks in the streams just for play, and where our legs were covered with bug bites after a five minute walk.

Bliss over udon, tempura, and pork katsu at the Sasanoki Japanese Kitchen in Wanaka.

The contrast between the temperate rain forest on the west side of the Southern Alps and the arid Mackenzie Basin a few kilometres to the east.

The pleasure of setting out on the open road at the start of the trip, and the equally valid pleasure of coming home to familiar surroundings and a firm mattress.

Of course, I haven’t had time in decades to go through those trip diaries. I have cracked them open on a few occasions to check when we went to a particular spot or to give recommendations to friends. I hope when I’ve been retired a few years I’ll have a chance to get them out and relive those experiences.

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The old house is perfect. Ellen March falls in love on first sight with the pre-Revolution farmhouse, sitting in a clearing surrounded by lilacs, apple trees, dogwoods, oaks, and maples. It doesn’t matter to her that the locals say the house comes with the ghost of a witch, or that the rural Virginia setting is miles from anywhere, the nearest town the isolated community of Chew’s Corners. The house has what she wants: solitude. With her daughter and the three nephews she had helped raise all nearly fledged, it’s time she took care of herself for a change. Her only near neighbour, Norman McKay, is a handsome, wealthy bachelor. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, for starters, there’s Norman’s sullen nephew Tim, the town’s despised delinquent. When Ellen comes to his defence in an incident with the town’s teens, it doesn’t endear her with their parents, and while he awakens a maternal response in her, she’s not happy when her daughter Penny falls for him.

And then there’s a string of events, possibly coincidences, that provoke gossip that Ellen herself is a witch. With the town dominated by a fire and brimstone sect—The Earthly Church of the Wrath of God, no sentimental schlock about love preached there—she makes enemies when she speaks up against intolerance and superstition. The townfolks reactions are discomforting but not frightening, at least, not at first. Ellen proves she is quite capable of taking care of herself when she can deal with them one-on-one.

She just never expects to be trapped in her own house, along with Penny and Tim, by an armed mob…

Witch, by Barbara Michaels, is an old favourite. It was published in the 1970s, and I loved it when I first read it, probably in the early 1980s. I re-read it again recently, and still enjoyed it. Younger readers will probably consider it dated, but I don’t care. A cell phone would have saved Ellen a lot of grief, and her occupation for the last ten years was housekeeper for her widowed brother-in-law and his three boys. She doesn’t  look for a job, but the book never explains how she can afford to buy and refurbish the old house.

Despite the book’s age, Ellen is a strong female character—strong in the sense of acting on her own, rather than being passively buffeted through life. She is misled and manipulated for a while, but once she realizes her error, she doesn’t dither around.

The publisher’s blurb gives the impression that this is a ghost story, but that’s misleading. The supernatural element is minimal; this story is more in the vein of Mary Stewart’s suspense thrillers than Micheal’s other supernatural thrillers like Ammie, Come Home or The Crying Child. This story is about mass hysteria, driven by a culture clash between a sophisticated ex-urbanite and an isolated rural community, and manipulated by a man who has much to lose when busybody Ellen sticks her nose in. There’s romance here, too, based on something much more important than mere sexual attraction, and a functional extended family. (They actually like and help each other! How shocking!)

Audience: Adults and teens. No sex or bad language. Some violence and psychological abuse.

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The Spirit Ring

Lois McMaster Bujold’s noblebright fantasy The Spirit Ring, set in Renaissance Italy, opens with a young woman, Fiametta, assisting her father, Prospero Beneforte, master craftsman and mage, in putting the final touches on a magical poison-detecting salt cellar. Their richly decorated creation is intended as a gift from their duke to the duke’s daughter’s husband-to-be, Lord Ferrante. But when the betrothal party goes bad, with their duke murdered and their city of Montefoglio overrun by Ferrante’s men, Fiametta and her father flee. Ferrante’s men track them, murder Master Beneforte, and take his body away to be used in black magic enslaving the powerful mage’s unshriven spirit.

Fiametta, naturally, is horrified. With the assistance of Thur Ochs, a young Swiss metalworker, she returns to Montefoglio determined to free her father’s spirit and see justice done.

On first dipping into The Spirit Ring, I wasn’t thrilled with Fiametta, who seemed like a flighty teenage girl with her mind on romance and an overly generous assessment of her own abilities, but she grew on me as the book progressed. She is a bit naive but brave, and the author shows us that she is talented, as she steps up to accomplish things her older and wiser advisors say can’t be done.

This isn’t a story with great depth, but it is a fun read, with kobolds, ghosts, and asides into mining and metalworking. There is also a gentle romance, but the love-at-first-sight trope is subverted, at least on Fiametta’s side. Thur does fall for her immediately, but when her magic tells her he is her one true love, she is aghast. A big, stupid Swiss lout is not at all what she had in mind. But of course he’s not as much of a lout as he appears.

There are other appealing characters in this story, including an abbott who is competent, caring, and a voice of moral authority, and a maybe mad, maybe not castellan. Even the power-hungry Ferrante is brave and in some ways likeable. Only the evil magician working for him is irredeemable, despite the abbott’s valiant efforts to redeem him.

And finally, when the story is over, you’ll never be able to view Benvenuto Cellini’s bronze statue of Perseus in quite same way, ever again.

Audience: teens and up. Violence, but no sex or bad language.

Posted in Noblebright Fantasy, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Silence of Medair

I cried over Andrea K Höst’s noblebright fantasy novel, The Silence of Medair. That’s a compliment, you understand. To become so engrossed in a story that the real world gets put on hold for a few hours, to identify so strongly with a character that I can feel how much it costs her to keep her chin up and her voice steady when she would rather throw herself onto her bed and sob—that’s the magic that keeps me coming back for more.

Medair an Rynstar, herald for the Palladian Empire, is on the losing side. With her country on the verge of disaster before the invading Ibisians, she goes on a quest to find a legendary horn that, when blown, will repel the invaders.

We’ve heard this story a million times, right? Well, no, not quite.

Medair does find the horn, and makes the fatal mistake of resting in the enchanted vault. When she wakes five hundred years later, the war is long over, and her side lost. A legitimate and respected ruler, heir to the combined bloodlines of both Palladian and Ibisian royal families, sits on the Palladian Silver Throne. The natives and invaders have interbred for so long that sounding the horn would rip the country into shreds.

That’s all backstory. The Silence of Medair begins with Medair hiding in the mountains, overcome with hatred of the Ibisians and shame for having returned too late.

War is again on the horizon. A king of a neighbouring country, Decia, is sponsoring another claimant to the Palladian Throne, and wants to use Medair and her treasures to finish what she set out to do so long ago: drive out the Ibisians. Medair wants nothing to do with this conflict, but in trying to evade capture, she runs into a high-ranking Ibisian mage in trouble after the failure of the mission he was on. Unaware of who she is, he enspells her to assist him in returning to the Palladian capital—a place she empathically does not want to go to. Confronting the changes wrought to her former home by invaders and five hundred years comes at a high emotional cost to her.

As the two countries draw closer to war, she is forced to take sides, but do the Ibisians living in Palladium today deserve her hatred? Are the Decians liberators or just another round of invaders? Whichever side she chooses, innocent people will die, and many survivors will hate her for her choice.

Medair is an appealing character: intelligent, honourable, fair, observant, wry, and capable. Not herself a strong mage, she has an awesome back of tricks, and is more often rescuer than in need of rescue. She spends a fair portion of the book angst-ridden over her choices, both past and future, but she actively makes choices. Even when she is furious over being compelled to aid the Ibisians, she chooses how she will respond.

Besides the character study, the story addresses issues of colonialism and the impacts of nurturing centuries-old grievances. There is also just a hint of romance.

The book does have a few defects: lamentable cover art, an out-of-character suicide attempt, a slew of confusing Ibisian titles, and, most serious, a magic system apparently without rules, where anything can happen. Towards the end, a world-changing magical event occurs with unforeshadowed results. The purpose seems to have been to leave the powerful Ibisians feeling as disoriented and ineffectual as Medair, but it jarred me, too. Not enough, however, to keep me from enjoying this fast-paced, engaging story.

As you can tell by now, I really like The Silence of Medair. The bad news is that it’s the first book in a duology, and the second book, Voice of the Lost, doesn’t live up to the standard set by the first. The first book ends with a semi-resolution, answering the biggest question facing Medair, and I probably should have left it there. Where the first book had just a hint of mutual attraction, the second book turns into a soppy romance novel. Her love interest didn’t appeal to me in the slightest, and the end had way too much of a squick factor for my comfort. Worse, the author robs Medair of her agency. In The Silence of Medair, she acts. In The Voice of the Lost, she turns her bag of tricks over to her lover, and that’s pretty much the end of her as a driver of the action. So, boo.

Audience: Adults down to mid-teens. Some violence, but no bad language. Off-screen sex in the second book.

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2018 Recap

Out of the six dozen or so books I read (or started and abandoned) this year, here are the ones that were most successful in capturing my attention and drawing me into that state of willing suspension of disbelief long enough to enjoy the ride. That kept me entertained, in other words.

The list includes a couple I haven’t gotten around to writing reviews for yet, and only a few were published recently. (I make no claims to being up-to-date.)

In no particular order:

  • Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brooks: Ordinary people coping with catastrophe as plague rips through their English village in 1665.
  • Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke: Rich fantasy/historical novel crossover. Dense and slow-paced but worth the effort.
  • Matters Arising from the Identification of the Body by Simon Petrie: Science fiction/crime fiction crossover set on one of Saturn’s moons.
  • The Traitor and the Thief by Gareth Wood: The Artful Dodger goes to a school for spies in this steampunk fantasy.
  • Cunning Devil by Chris Underwood: Dark urban fantasy with a likeable protagonist.
  • The Lord of Dreams by C J Brightley: Explores a young woman’s character growth as she’s pulled into the land of the fae.
  • Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch: Mayhem in Police Constable Peter Grant’s London with chimeras and jazz vampires.
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik: Fantasy war story rooted (pun intended) in Polish folktales.
  • The Spirit Ring by Lois McMaster Bujold: War in Renaissance Italy with magic, murder, invasion, and a sweet, clean romance.
  • Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson: Cross-cultural romance between two mature adults in contemporary Britain.
  • The Silence of Medair by Andrea K Höst: Fantasy with an appealing heroine faced with an impossible choice, coming to terms with hatred and shame.
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Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

The match is entirely unsuitable. Everyone in the small British village of Edgecombe St Mary agrees on that. He, a retired career army officer, rubs shoulders with the titled and the wealthy; she’s the village shopkeeper. He’s a respected member of a family with a long history in the community; she’s the widow and daughter of Pakistani immigrants.

Except that Major Ernest Pettigrew was born in Lahore; Mrs Jasmina Ali was born in Cambridge and has never been further afield than the Isle of Wight. Brought together by sympathy for each other’s recent losses—her husband, and for him, first his wife and more recently his brother—they enjoy each other’s company, and share an appreciation  for classic literature.

Most of the plot in Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, by Helen Simonson, is driven by the indignities inflicted on the Major and Mrs Ali by their respective families and friends as their friendship deepens into something much more serious. The Major’s remaining family—a tactless, selfish son with bad taste and a money-grubbing sister-in-law and niece—want him to sell the family heirlooms: a matched pair of hand-crafted sporting guns given to the Major’s father by a maharaja, and then handed on, one apiece, to the Major and his now-dead brother. Mrs Ali has no children, but is under pressure from her controlling brother-in-law and his wife to turn over her shop to their son, since obviously a mere woman can’t keep it going on her own. She resents their interference, but will act against her own self-interest when her love for family demands it.

Throw in a cringe-inducing holiday gala at the Major’s golf club catered by friends of Mrs Ali, an arrogant American attempting to “develop” the village, and a fierce young single mother with a four-year-old son, and the story gets delightfully complicated. This novel is much more than a simple romance between two mature characters, although that’s appealing enough. The Major has to come to terms with his buried resentment of his father’s gift of one of the heirloom guns to his brother, and with his prejudices and blind spots towards immigrants and shopkeepers. It’s lovely to watch his senses of honour and fairness force him to grow as he is pushed out of his comfortable routine time and time again. His steps towards greater involvement with Mrs Ali’s troubled extended family are at first reluctant, but at the end he throws himself in wholeheartedly, for a bravura skirmish with a distraught youth.

Actually, the climax was rather over-the-top melodramatic, but I still enjoyed it. For me, the weakest part of the story was the character of the Major’s son, Roger, who grated on me. He was so blatantly selfish and un-self-aware that I wondered what either of the two young women he was involved with saw in him. His behaviour called into question the Major’s competence as a parent—a blot on an otherwise fine character—in making me wonder how Roger could have absorbed so little of the Major’s values.

Roger did have some merit, though, as comic relief. There is a lot of humour in this story, especially in the details about small-town life.

Audience: Anyone interested in character-driven romance. Clean, and almost violence-free.

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Why does fantasy have to be so long?

Why is so much speculative fiction so long?

In the past year I have read several stories that were more than 500 pages: Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (782 pages), Brandon Sanderson’s Well of Ascension (763 pages), Eric Flint’s 1632 (592 pages), and Jo Spurrier’s Children of the Black Sun trilogy (more than 1300 pages). I enjoyed them all, for different reasons, but each one dragged at some point, making me wonder if I would ever finish.

I’m not saying I don’t like long novels. I do, although generally not back-to-back or side-by-side. If a story is complex and compelling enough to justify a 2.5-inch brick, as Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is, I’ll keep reading. But most are not that compelling or entertaining. In far too many, I slog through, hoping the pace will pick up. More often lately I give up. There are at least a dozen books on my shelves of 600+ pages that I may never get around to reading because I just don’t want to commit the time needed.

Publishers are partly to blame. Baen, for one, in their submission guidelines, states that they prefer manuscripts between 100,000 and 130,000 words long, and are uncomfortable with manuscripts under 100,000 words. At somewhere between 250 to 300 words per page, their minimum is 330 to 400 pages long.

Why? Because the world building needed to transport the readers to imagined worlds needs the extra space? Sometimes, yes. But some authors pack a lot of colour and description into tight spaces. Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea, less than 200 pages in my edition, is one of the most atmospheric and haunting fantasy worlds I have ever been privileged to visit. Other oldies on my shelves communicated their stories and exotic settings in under 350 pages. Here are a few: Ringworld by Larry Niven, The Hobbit by J R R Tolkien, The Thrall and the Dragon’s Heart by Elizabeth Boyer, Watchtower by Elizabeth A Lynn.

Far too often, writers use guidelines like Baen’s 100,000 word minimum as license for self-indulgent excess, padding page after page with digressions and repetitions that drag the story to a halt rather than building complex, multi-layered but still-tight narratives. With so many book being published these days, why should I spend my time with ones that don’t keep me captivated?

Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy was the trigger for this post. The first book, The Final Empire, was a bit long (643 pages), but with all the main character had to learn—the magic system, the politics, how to deal with her new crew, etc.—the story kept moving along (mostly). But the second book, The Well of Ascension, is even longer (763 pages), with not nearly as much excuse. The amount of new world building and character development doesn’t justify the bloat. I would have liked the book twice as much at half the length.

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Armistice Day

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the guns stopped.

That was one hundred years ago today.

Out of a population of one million, New Zealand sent nearly one hundred thousand (100,000) men—and a few women, mostly nurses—to serve in World War I. (In proportional terms, that is as many men as fought in the American Civil War.) 80% of those New Zealand troops were volunteers. Given that the population of eligible men was around a quarter of a million (250,000), this means that one out of every three eligible men volunteered, and for a war fought on the far side of the world, not one defending their own homes.

To those of us who haven’t experienced an all-encompassing war, that is a mind-boggling statistic. Every family in the country would have been affected; if they hadn’t watched their own sons, fathers, husbands, or brothers march away, they would have known friends and neighbours who did.

16,000 of those men are buried in places with names like Gallipoli, Passchendaele, and Somme. Many more were wounded but survived. Even the ones who returned home physically undamaged would have been irrevocably changed by what they experienced. Some of them would have been near strangers to their families after years away.

Whatever we call this Sunday—Armistice Day, Veterans Day, Remembrance Day—let us not forget its purpose. It’s such a small thing to take an hour or two from our lives to honour those men and women who have been called to serve, and who have sacrificed so much in the line of duty.

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Uprooted, the Nebula-award-winning novel by Naomi Novik, is one of the most captivating fantasy novels I have read in several years. I was hooked within the first page, from the fairytale-like opening paragraphs, and although there are a few things I didn’t like, I couldn’t put it down.

It is, at heart, a war story. It is other things as well—fantasy, mystery, romance—but the core plot is the culmination of a country’s long struggle against a malign, implacable foe, the Wood. Not a mere dim, inert forest, the Wood in this story is an aggressor, acting with intelligence to sow corruption and discord among its fiercest opponents, misleading them into fighting and nearly destroying each other when they should have been united against their common enemy.

Deeply rooted (pun intended) in Polish folk tales, the world-building is superb, calling to mind the days before technology let humans conquer our fears of the dark and unknown with our klieg lights and chainsaws. The days, not so long ago, when we huddled around the hearth, barring the doors and windows against the howling wolves, knowing that the natural world was greater than we were and would kill us without remorse on our slightest misstep. (Those days may be coming back, but that’s an essay for another time.)

We’re given hints about the Wood early on, but it takes time for the sense of menace to grow and take form. I sometimes get frustrated with fantasy’s emphasis on world building, when an author’s love for their imagined world gets in the way of plot and bogs down the story. That wasn’t the case here. The world building is an integral part of the plot as we come to understand what the Wood is and how it came to be that way, and how deeply intertwined the Wood is with everything in the country of Polnya.

The narrator, Agnieszka, is a young woman who grew up in the valley next to the Wood. Even with the Wood looming over them, threatening them on a daily basis, none of the inhabitants except for their overlord, the wizard called the Dragon, understand the Wood’s full threat. When Agnieszka shows herself to be a witch, the Dragon takes her away to train her, as by law he must. Under his tutelage she begins to understand what a danger she would have been to the people of the valley, and indeed to all of Polnya, if the Wood had managed to control her. It’s her organic, instinctual magic, so different from the Dragon’s disciplined use of intellectually complex and long-practiced spells, that pushes the war with the Wood to a new level and brings them within reach of either victory or defeat.

This is a powerful story with some wrenching passages. It is noblebright as well. When Agnieszka makes some impulsive, disastrous choices, it’s always because she’s fighting to save people she cares about. The Dragon is a cold, arrogant ass, but he’s brave and heroic, too, for more than a century stubbornly fighting a losing battle to keep the Wood in check. The villagers Agnieszka struggles to protect are ordinary, decent people, some brave, some not. Even when Polnya is tearing itself apart, the leader of the army attacking the Dragon’s stronghold is not evil as much as misled, another victim of the Wood’s malicious interference.

Now for the bits I didn’t like:

  • The romance between Agnieszka and the Dragon didn’t work for me. At the beginning of the story he was contemptuous and abusive (verbally and somewhat less physically, but at least not sexually) of her, and his idea of teaching was to beat spells into her by rote and then rake her over the coals for not understanding. It took far too long for him to see her as a person worthy of his regard. They do eventually develop a rapport where they can work together, and it would have been fine to have left it there, but to have her fall in love with the man who abused her? No. Just no.
  • The resolution was a bit too easy, too glib. I couldn’t buy that centuries of hatred could be laid to rest as easily as it was.
  • Agnieszka was a klutz—literally, a mess. She couldn’t go anywhere without getting her clothes muddy or ripped, she spilled food on herself while cooking, etc. The fastidious Dragon hated the state of her clothes; the king’s courtiers jeered at her. Her friend pointed out that magic was involved; she had seen branches reach out to snag Agnieszka’s clothes. Was this Agnieszka’s magic at work or the Wood’s? Or something else? If it bothered the Dragon so much, why didn’t he investigate? What was the point of all that, anyway?

Despite these flaws, it’s a powerful story. It kept me enthralled on the 14-hour flight from Auckland, to Houston, Texas. I consider that well worth the purchase price.

Audience: Adult, maybe late teens. Some serious violence, a couple of mild sex scenes, and a misbegotten romance.

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Although I love fairy tales, Sleeping Beauty, with its passive princess, is not usually one of my favourites. But in Spindle, Polyhymnia is no princess, Luck, the man who kisses her awake, is no prince, and being dragged kicking awake is just the beginning of the outraged Poly’s adventure.

Who put Poly into an enchanted, 300-year sleep? Why does Luck keep talking about her magic when she knows she has none? Why is someone trying to kill her? And why can’t she remember the wooden spindle that keeps finding its way into her pocket?

Don’t look for the familiar overlooked-and-insulted-fae trope here. Once they leave the crumbling palace and its thorny hedge behind, the story bears more resemblance to Howl’s Moving Castle than it does to Sleeping Beauty. Like Sophie, Poly is stubborn, independent, and clueless about her charisma. Like Howl, Luck is smug, maddeningly uncommunicative, self-interested, and just barely often enough charming and heroic. They bicker and spar and get under each other’s skin as they trek across the realm of New Civet in their quest to free Poly from the curse that keeps trying to put her back to sleep.

The author, W. R. Gingell, doesn’t quite play by the normal rules. She takes chances. She expects the reader to deal with ambiguity and uncertainty as she piles on one unexplained plot point after another. The story comes to a satisfying conclusion, but some important plot threads are simply left dangling. (Onepiece is adorable, but who or what is he, really? What became of Poly’s parents?) Other minor mysteries are introduced, dropped, and never mentioned again. (Why was Poly, lady-in-waiting, in the princess’ dress, not to mention the princess’ bed?) Gingell obviously never heard of Checkov’s gun—the advice that anything not essential to a story should be trimmed: If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.

Besides the random, dropped plot points, there were a few other irritations:

  • The magic was confusing and strange, with ordinary magic Poly could see, and that sometimes got twisted so that she had to smooth it out with her fingers. There was also anti-magic and unmagic: magical negations of magic. The explanations of how these magics worked didn’t explain much.
  • It had some pacing issues. The beginning, besides being confusing, was a bit slow, and then the end was too fast, leaving me not entirely sure what exactly had happened.
  • I was annoyed with Poly at the beginning, for obediently following the overbearing Luck without having any good reason to trust him. On the other hand, she turned out to have more spunk and backbone, not to mention a stronger sense of self-preservation, than was apparent at first.

Among the things I liked are the dialog, and the fantasy world that isn’t populated with nasty people out to rob, assault, humiliate, or otherwise harm a teenage girl. Yes, there is one clear villain and a gaggle of power-hungry government officials, but most of the people Poly meets are fairly ordinary, decent people. Neighbourly, one might say, especially in Luck’s village. A story needs conflict, and this one has it, but I can’t take grim dark dystopias; I’d rather read noble bright fantasies, thank you.

If, like my husband, you want everything tidied up at the end or you can’t tolerate a fair amount of confusion at the beginning, this story is probably not for you, but despite it’s flaws I enjoyed it enough that I expect to read more of this author’s work.

Audience: pre-teens through adult. No sex or bad language, and very minimal violence.

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