Posts Tagged ‘fantasy’

Books

Recent Reading: Spinning Silver

I haven’t done a recent reading/book report post in a while, but I have a cool one today because it’s about a book that’s releasing today. I got an advance copy and managed to actually read it before it was released, which is rather different for me (I didn’t read my advance copy of A Game of Thrones until after the first season of the TV series).

The book is Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik. It’s a standalone (at least, so far) fantasy novel with Russian/Eastern European influences, playing off the Rumpelstiltskin story. Only, in this case, the one who turns things into gold is our heroine, the daughter of a moneylender, who notes that the fairy tale is a story about someone who made a deal and carried out his end of it being cheated. Her father’s not a very good moneylender, since he hates to ask for payment, and therefore everyone in town is cheating him and the family is poor. Fed up with going hungry, his daughter pulls together the account ledgers and starts collecting debts. Then she invests the income and makes a profit, turning the silver coins she collects into gold pieces. At one point, she boasts of her ability to turn silver into gold … and the wrong person hears it, and takes it literally.

This story is interwoven with the story of the girl whose father can’t pay his debt to the moneylender, so she’s working it off in service to the moneylender’s family — and finds that this is the best thing to ever happen to her as she finds a family happier than her own. And then there’s the young noblewoman forced to marry the cruel young tsar, who turns out to have something terribly wrong with him that she might be able to do something about.

As you may have noticed, I love fairy tale retellings and new stories that feel like old fairy tales, and this is a bit of both. It’s magical and atmospheric, and you can almost imagine someone telling you this story by the fire on a cold winter night.

Winter is actually a big part of the story, as the magical folk (very fae-like) have created an eternal winter. That’s one of the things our heroines have to deal with. I imagine this book would be nice to read while snuggled under a blanket with a hot cup of tea or cocoa, but it was also nice to read on a hot early summer day, when the descriptions of snow piling high made me feel a little colder.

There’s a touch of romance in a couple of the stories, but very slow build (so just right for me). I wanted to see how it ended but didn’t want it to end.

If you read her earlier Uprooted (one of the books that benefited from my Nebula good-luck charm, as she was sitting next to me when she won), this is along those lines, but is an entirely different story, possibly in a different world.

So, go find it. I really liked this one.

Books

Recent Reading

I’ve been so busy lately, and it’s only getting worse! Last week, I finished the book I was working on and sent it to my agent Monday. I’ve already started a new book and have written 8,000 words — all in one day. Now I want to top that number, so we’ll see what I manage to do today. Then I have an event every other weekend until November. This weekend is FenCon in the Dallas area. I have a weekend off after that, and then I’m going to the Missouri Library Association conference. I get a weekend off, and then I’m going to Necronomicon in Tampa. I get a weekend off, and then I’m going to the World Fantasy Convention in San Antonio. Probably not the best time to start writing a new book, but I’m behind and am trying to get back on schedule. A few 8,000-word days will help.

But I have also made time for reading and discovered a new-to-me series, the Sanctuary books by Carol Berg. These are set in an Italian Renaissance-like society in which the magical people consider themselves superior to the “ordinaries” and set themselves apart to the point of having strict rules about interacting with nonmagical people. They even wear masks while in public because it’s forbidden for nonmagical people to see their faces. In the first book, Dust and Light, our hero, a young artist, finds himself suddenly demoted from his job painting portraits of the elite and sent to work for the city’s coroner, using his magical talent to paint a subject’s true self to create portraits of the dead for use in identifying them and possibly solving their murders. That’s bad enough for him, but things go downhill from there as his life is totally upended by a vast conspiracy. It seems his talent has an element he wasn’t aware of — he not only paints his subject’s true self, but things from that person’s history also tend to show up in his paintings. That means some interesting things showed up in his portraits of the elite that they would rather not be made public.

It’s hard to talk about the second book, Ash and Silver, without spoiling the first one, but it does involve one of my favorite fantasy tropes, memory loss. More specifically, the question of what would you be if you didn’t know who you were? (I’m not a fan of the more romance novel style amnesia plots, but I love it when magic is used to erase identity. Go figure.) There’s an order of magical knights, and part of their training is to have their identity and memories associated with their identity erased so that they focus on training without personal baggage like status, loyalties or history. After training, they get their memories back so they can decide whether to enter the order for good or return to their old lives. I find that a really interesting concept because it’s all about these men discovering who they really are in the course of training and choosing who they want to be.

These are definitely “put your characters in a tree and throw rocks at them” books, so sometimes they got a bit intense with the hero’s suffering. I just wanted to give the poor guy a time out to rest and have a cookie and not have everyone scheming against him for maybe five minutes. So, perhaps not the best read if you’re feeling stressed and can’t deal with suffering, unless that sort of thing puts your own life in perspective. There were parts I kind of had to to read from between my fingers, and I ended up flipping to the end to make sure things would be okay before I could continue reading. On the other hand, that’s a good sign that I was invested in the character. It was fascinating watching him grow from all he endured and figure out who he could and couldn’t trust.

Apparently, these books are set in the same universe as one of her other series, so I’ll have to look for those. The worldbuilding is really intricate, and I’m intrigued by that world.

Meanwhile, I’ve found myself wondering if there’s a market for whimsical, tame, low-stress adventures for reading when you’re too stressed to deal with life-and-death sakes in fiction. There are days when I’d be all about an entire book about playing with a basket of puppies, because that’s about all the stress I can take at the end of the day.

writing, TV

The Supersonic Raven Fallacy

I’ve noticed that some writers have a tendency to get defensive when they’re called out about something that doesn’t quite work. There’s a particular tendency among some writers of fantasy to question “nitpicks” in a fantasy work — if you can believe in magic, why can’t you accept these other things? It seems to be more of a trend in TV writers than among novelists, which may have something to do with the way novelists approach worldbuilding. At any rate, this arose again this week, thanks to events on Game of Thrones, and I have now dubbed this particular argument the Supersonic Ravens Fallacy.

The argument goes: “You can believe in X, but you can’t believe in Y?” where X is “big fantasy element” and Y is “mundane thing that doesn’t quite work the way it does in the real world.” For example, “You can believe in dragons, but you can’t believe in ravens that had to have flown faster than the speed of sound in order to deliver a message in that amount of time?”

The defensive writers blame the audience for being nitpicky or unwilling to suspend disbelief, but I think it’s the writers’ fault. If the audience doesn’t believe in Y, it’s because the writers didn’t make them believe in it. They believed in X because the writers built it into the world. The disbelief comes when the writers fail at building something into their world or portray it inconsistently. The audience wouldn’t believe in X, either, if it was written inconsistently.

It’s a false equivalence because the big fantasy element and the mundane thing that don’t work right aren’t on the same level. The suspension of disbelief that allows the audience to buy into the big fantasy element isn’t transferable. It only applies to that big fantasy element. Writers have to make the audience believe in every single aspect of the story, and it’s usually the easy stuff that trips them up. You don’t have to explain “ordinary” things to the audience. They take those things as a given. If you don’t show us that these things aren’t the ordinary things we’re used to, then we’re going to assume they work the way things in the real world work. We get annoyed when they don’t work the way they work in the real world.

So, say there’s magic in your fantasy world. You’ll show us that magic is a part of this world, suggest who can use it and who can’t, show how it works and what it can do, and give an indication of what people in this world think about magic — do they know it exists? Do they like it? Fear it? If a character suddenly uses magic to get out of trouble when you haven’t established that magic exists, then that surprise needs to fit into your world. You can’t have a character with no magical powers in a world with no suggestion of magic just suddenly use magic to get out of trouble without that being a big deal — “OMG! I have magic powers! How did this happen? What do I do now?”

Meanwhile, if you have horses in this world and haven’t given us any indication that they’re different from horses in our world, then they have to act like horses in our world and have the same needs, abilities, and limitations. We’re going to assume they need to eat, have to have rest and water every so often, and they walk on land. If a horse suddenly flies when your plot requires it and you’ve given no indication that horses in your world can fly or are at all different from what we know of as a horse, then we’re not going to believe it, even if we believe that there’s magic in your world. You’d better have a good explanation, like the horse ate enchanted hay or someone did a horse levitating spell, and people better be surprised about the horse flying. Otherwise, if you need the horse to fly to get your character out of trouble, you’d better establish previously that horses in this world can fly, and you need to show how that affects your world — people carry really sturdy umbrellas, there aren’t as many roads, etc.

Basically, it comes down to the fact that you can’t change the rules of your world to fit your plot —especially not to get your characters out of trouble — whether it’s the magical elements or the mundane elements. If you can set up the fact that ravens serve as the messenger system, then you can set up the fact that maybe there are special ravens to be only used in dire emergencies or there are spells to be cast on ravens to make them fly faster, or there’s a special supercharged raven food. But if the ravens have acted like our ravens, other than the fact that they work as the Internet, then they need to keep acting like our ravens and not flying thousands of miles in a few hours.