Monthly Archives: January 2014

Books and bundles

Froi of the Exiles I am emphatically no good at reviews but I do like to rant, so that’s what I’m planning to do here (I think that counts as fair warning — abandon hope, all ye, and that sort of stuff).

A couple of months ago I bought Shadow and Bone, the first of the Grisha books by Leigh Bardugo. I opened it, saw a character list, and put it down again. I was absolutely not in the mood for anything even vaguely epic. A couple of weeks ago, after gorging myself on lots of fairytales and urban fantasy, I picked up Shadow and Bone again and read it in a day (well, honestly, it might have been two days — but it was fast). It’s that sort of book. I loved the Russian flavour to the novel without anything being overdone or heavy-handed. I also really liked the world, and the relationships.

The girl being brought into a world she had nothing to do with reminded me a little of Eon by Alison Goodman, another book I enjoyed very much.

Right off the back of Shadow and Bone, I started reading The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima, which has to be — along with The Exiled Queen and The Grey Wolf Throne – one of my favourite ever stories. I love those characters and their relationships so much I dreamed them (which doesn’t happen often now I have other things to dream about, like my seven year old’s homework and the theme from Scooby Doo). So that was me started on one series, having thought I was sick of series.

The Seven Kingdoms is so readable and involving (and I say this without having read The Crimson Crown, despite a certain amount of hoop-jumping to get it) partly because of the characters. I rarely dislike a character — if there’s someone I’m supposed to identify with, pretty much I do However, the characters in The Seven Kingdoms are wonderful. They are sympathetic and clever and fully-drawn. They have flaws but the flaws are not what defines them, and I really loved them completely.

To fill in the time between finishing The Demon King and getting The Exiled Queen, I read Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, which I’d had on my Good Reads list for a little while but for some reason (probably partly the brief anti-traditional fantasy allergy) I hadn’t got yet. Anyway, it was completely fabulous as well, and I have been living in my own little world of fantasy with these two series, bouncing back and forth as I wait for the next book to arrive.

I have only good things to say, and the main thing is: read them for yourself!

The Demon KingRight now I am waiting for Quintana of Charyn and The Crimson Crown to arrive from Abe books. I feel kind of sad buying second hand since I know that means money doesn’t go to the authors, but everywhere in the UK is out of stock of The Crimson Crown and they don’t know when it will be in again, and Quintana isn’t released in the UK until the summer. So buying the books from the States and getting them sent over works out significantly faster and cheaper than buying them here. Which feels kind of illogical.

I know that bundling is something vaguely discussed these days as a possible future for books — so that when you buy a story on Amazon, for example, you also get the e-book. They’re doing it now with music and I cannot say how much I love it. I know it’s obvious, but if I had got the e-book as soon as I ordered The Crimson Crown, I would have been happy to wait the four weeks or whatever it’s going to be until the physical book arrives.


AggressiveBoy_032613-617x416Ah, first coffee of the day, how I have missed you. Let us never part again.

I have been reading up on aggression in boys for my shiny and exciting new WIP. It’s not as obvious as you’d think. There’s lots (and lots) of YA about nastiness and aggression in girls — especially the difference between the cheer-leading types and lesser mortals, and I really love that stuff. Recently, I read The Replacement, and enjoyed it very much — creepy fairy tale monsters etc. — but one thing I really enjoyed was the way the mc lusted after the ditsy prom queen type girl even though she was completely evil. Similarly, yesterday we went to see Justin and the Knights of Valour and again the boy’s initial love interest was beautiful but shallow and awful.

[Tangent: are there any Jane Bennet/ Dorothea Brooke girls around in YA? Beautiful girls who are also good and nice? Or maybe it’s the being obsessed by it that turns you evil? Dorothea was never remotely concerned about the way she looked — was she? — and there’s no description of Jane fussing endlessly over bonnets — that’s left to Lydia, who’s the Austen equivalent of the evil cheerleader. So, it’s a classic pattern(*). But then in chick-lit, so called, being obsessed by shoes is not a bad thing. Now I’m confused. Tangent ends.]

So, to return to the point (at last), it’s much harder to find stuff about boy aggression than about girl aggression. Possibly this is because boy aggression tends to be more straightforward and physical (=involves beating people up)? There’s the bit from Anna Dressed in Blood where the bad guy from school beats Cas up and tries to get him murdered by a ghost but I was hoping for something more low level. There’s the bit in Finnikin of the Rock where Finnikin and Lucian fight because that’s what they do — but they’re basically friends and I was hoping for something a bit more negative… So I’ve been trying to research. EXCEPT, everything I’ve found is advice to parents for dealing with aggression in their sons (with the occasional bit of comfort that boys are supposed to be physical and just because they’re playing super-heroes/ war doesn’t mean they’re actually being aggressive so much as acting through scenarios, and the very occasional rant about the evils of gun control in the comments of blog posts about toy guns). Sigh.

Is there an in-between somewhere in the space between playful shoving (which boys seem to do all the time judging from (a) my observation of six-year-olds, (b) looking out of coffee shop windows when the secondary school kids are out for lunch) and big proper fights with punching and blood?

So how does a boy who doesn’t like another boy behave?



(*) Though it does seem to put girls who are interested in hats in a bit of an unenviable position.

Content versus Structure

I like that title. Sounds nice and pretentious. Like I’m going to say something intelligent.

Let’s not hold our breath(s).

So… I’ve done lots in the last few months. I went to World Fantasy Con in Brighton where I got more rained on than I have ever been in my entire life (and I live in Scotland), met the fabulous Holly Black and astounding Sarah Rees Brennan, saw Garth Nix, Neil Gaiman and other writer rockstars and was baffled and disappointed by some of the weirdness on panels, and excited by some of the sense on others (generally those which included Holly Black and Garth Nix, not that I’m obsessed). I got two books signed by Susan Cooper — who, disappointingly, didn’t look at me, which was a little soul-destroying for someone I’ve worshiped since I was 10, but then I was speechless with awe when I met her, the longest of a very long line of people getting things signed and she must have been exhausted. So.

It was a lot. I am still processing. Did I mention how amazing Garth Nix was? How stunning Holly Black was? I went to a reading by Joe Abercrombie, too. He had a cold, he was feeling grim, and still he read so powerfully I forgot where I was (and that crying in public is a Bad Thing).

Also, I’ve been working, testing a system that’s been developed to guide people around and tell them interesting things about the places they pass. Something occurs to me about the way programmers approach these things compared to the way humans do (not saying programmers aren’t human, not really). Our evaluators — the people who are testing the system — get really disappointed when the system tells them pointless or stupid things (a current classic is, “The Bank of Scotland is a Scottish bank”). The people who have developed the system — who are all utterly brilliant — get excited that it knows when to give the right information, irrespective of what that information is. They’re interested in structure, not content  (see what I did there!?).