Shameless, Allison, shameless.

Dear readers, I am going to make a shameless plug for myself now and I promise you, I won’t burden this space with annoyingly frequent uRaven&Bonepdates about this business… But….

I wrote a book, witches. I wrote a book and I did something absolutely terrifying: I entered it in Geek and Sundry’s Inkshares contest. I confess that I practically threw up when I put the news out on Facebook last week and I feel a bit itchy about asking you for support as well, but Amanda Palmer says that as artists we should ask for help, so I’m asking:

Please help me get Raven and Bone published.

To win the contest in needs to be in the top 3 by November 1st. The way to vote is to pre-order. If I don’t win, you get your money back. If I do, you get the book. I would really love for Raven and Bone to get out there in the world and if I don’t win, but there are lots of people interested, I may give another route a try, but it would be lovely to have Inkshares do the hard lifting on marketing, etc.

I started writing Raven and B11132103415_7dd94ed2f1_oone almost four years ago when a friend on Tumblr posted a wickedly chilling true crime story. In 1943, four boys tromped through Hagley Woods, in the English Midlands, hoping to poach some bird’s eggs. Instead of eggs, they found a human skull.

When the police went to extract the skeleton from the tree, they found it had actually grown around the bones. This led them to believe the body had been placed there while it was still warm. If that’s not creepy enough, they found that one of the body’s hands had been severed and buried near the tree.

Shortly after the body’s removal, someone began began writing “Who put Bella in the wych elm?” in the surrounding area. Many theories have circulated about who killed Bella. My favorite though, is that a cult of witches might have killed her as a part of a dark ritual.

Raven and SkullIt’s not surprising that I would latch onto this tale. I love urban legends, true crime and above all else: witches. In my mind, I watched the boys find the skull through someone’s eyes who knew the body might be there to begin with, someone who didn’t want anyone else to find it. I sensed that another watched that someone, and that Bella was a part of a larger story.

That’s when Ava showed up. A witch with anxiety, a lot of anger and a past so dark it’s kept her running for centuries. And at first she came with two pretty typical urban fantasy counterparts: a shapeshifter named Lex and a vampire named Vivienne. But things went sideways pretty quickly for me as I started writing their story. As a result, Raven and Bone is a sprawling genre mash-up: Part dark fantasy, part portal fantasy, part paranormal romance. A little bit scary, a little bit sexy, a lotta bit dark.

Not sure about Raven and Bone? You can read the prologue right now, and then decide. I’ll be releasing chapters periodically throughout the contest to reward my supporters.

A million times thank you, even if you don’t pre-order R&B. I just love ya all a million for sticking with us here at CBC.

Allison

P.S. I made the book cover for R&B myself, as well as these nifty little images, using images The British Library put online via Flickr. Check it out.

Advertisements

The Death of Mermaids

23014670Up front, I shall say that I forgive Erika Swyler for making the main character of The Book of Speculation a man. I want to get this out in the open, because I really like this book. I even like Simon Watson (the main character). I just think he would have been better off as a lady. Not everything can be perfect, but The Book of Speculation nearly is, in my opinion, so I wanted you to know what I consider to be it’s primary flaw at the outset so you don’t think I’m gushing too much.

Simon Watson is a librarian with a lot of problems. His historic Long Island home is about to fall into the ocean, his job is in danger, his parents are dead and his younger sister Enola isn’t speaking to him as much as he’d like.

Simon has spent his entire life trying to be responsible for himself and Enola, and barely being able to keep things together. At the start of the novel, it’s clear that things aren’t going perfectly for Simon. The house his parents loved is falling apart, so much so that it will likely fall over a cliff into the ocean pretty much any time. Budget cuts at the library threaten his job. He seems to be falling for a lifelong friend, which will complicate his relationship with her family. It’s all a bit messy, really. The way life is, you know?

I think that’s one of the things that struck me most about the book. Aside from the fantastical and magical (of which there is plenty), Simon’s adult life is agonizingly real. He seems to be about my age (somewhere in his late 20s/early thirties) and he’s finding that being a legitimate adult is a series of painful, complicated choices. Joy is mixed with frustration and responsibility and unexpected mysteries.

When Simon receives a beautiful antique book from an unknown bookseller, he’s hurtled into his family’s past and the magic of the book unfolds. You see, the women in Simon’s family are amazing swimmers, divers, breath-holders. For generations they have been circus performers at one time or another. But until Simon gets the book, he doesn’t know much about this at all. The man who sends him the book does so because it is inscribed with his grandmother’s name and he felt Simon should have it. Having the book leads Simon to research his family and he finds a startling pattern regarding the deaths in his family.

On the surface, Simon’s book is a journal recounting the day to day operation of a traveling circus in early America. Its author was the owner of the circus and so it contains some fairly uninteresting details, but also a detailed account of two particularly fascinating additions to the circus, a mute young man and a young woman who’s talent was not drowning.

Swyler presents us with two stories, one of Simon and his desperate search to unlock the mysteries of the book and his family, and the story of the circus. The narrative switches back and forth between the two stories very effectively, releasing bits of knowledge from the past that inform Simon’s growing predicament as the book wears on. The more Simon learns about the women in his family, the more terrified he becomes for his estranged sister, Enola. There’s a bit of a race against time at the end of the book and the conclusion is extremely satisfying.

I love how the particular mundanity of life is absolutely infused with a mysterious magic in this book. I love that The Book of Speculation celebrates strangeness. Sure, there’s Enola’s boyfriend who’s covered in tattoos and can ignite lightbulbs with his touch, but there’s also Simon himself, who seems about as a boring as a fellow can be, except for the fact that he can hold his breath underwater for nearly ten minutes… Maybe more. And yet, none of this is too odd for the book. None of it is condemned in any way. In fact, it would seem that the book reassures its reader that the strange and uncanny are valuable and worth treasuring, even when they lead to heartache.

The novel reminds me quite a bit of The Night Circus, even aside from the obvious similarity. The Book of Speculation works with a magical system that is presented without much explanation and in some ways this feels like magical realism, but in others it’s a bit more fantastic. Folks who enjoyed The Night Circus will like this book, as well as people who enjoyed Water for Elephants, as this story also has a strong historical component. In fact, I would go so far as to say that people who enjoy dark (but not necessarily sinister) stories of the strange magic of the circus will enjoy The Book of Speculation. 

Overall, I have to say this is probably one of my favorite books I’ve read this year. It is most definitely my favorite standalone novel so far. I do love a series, but it is wonderful to put a book down knowing you’ve read the end. I hope you’ll pick this one up.

Allison Carr Waechter would love to sink under the waves and nap at the bottom of the sea. Call her a selkie and watch her swim away. 

 


Coven Chat: The Raven Cycle

 

17675462It’s time for our Coven Chat about Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle. If you haven’t read the series yet, please remember that spoilers lie ahead, beware!

Allison: Overall, the best thing about this series is the writing. Really, I don’t always care about writing style that much. I’m in it for the stories. If a story is well crafted and the prose doesn’t get in the way, I’m usually happy. But these books are gorgeously written and especially for The Raven King, it’s all that matters. Whether or not I like the Glendower storyline matters very little in the face of the writing and I love that.

Alyssa: Yes, Stiefvater’s writing is fantastic. Her rich and interesting characters make up for some weaknesses in the storyline.

Nicola: One of the things I’ve always loved about this series is the way that sometimes I catch myself reading 100 pages and being utterly unable to put into words what happened in the story, but being so completely engrossed I can’t wait to go back. There’s something about the characters and the worldbuilding that’s so completely encompassing, so that even when the plot moves at a leisurely pace it never feels like the story is stagnant.

Allison: Stiefvater writes amazing characters. I love how well I felt I knew the main cast in these books. There’s so much depth to each of the boys, as well as Blue (though I do feel she’s the least developed of the four). Even though I read the first three books over a year ago, my memories of character are incredibly vivid.

Nicola: Yes, the characters are so vivid. Partly because of that, though, I was disappointed that we didn’t see more of Blue in The Raven King.

Allison: I agree! There was a lot going on in terms of characters, both old and new, which I think is always the issue with the last book in a series. It struck me right away that she faded out a little in this one.

Nicola: Although characters like Adam and Gansey arguably have backgrounds more similar to the audience’s, Blue always felt to me like the novel’s ‘gateway’ character, the one through whose eyes we’re introduced to the wo17347389 rld and the story, perhaps because she comes to the group of Raven Boys as an outsider, as someone who is unfamiliar with the quest for Glendower, and in spite of her rather unconventional family she still feels like a ‘normal’ teenage girl, far more normal than a group of boys, two of whom have died and another of whom can pull things out of dreams, who chase after an ancient king. As such, she felt like the protagonist, and I rather missed her presence in this book, which focussed much more on Gansey, Ronan and Adam (even though I love those three as well). I also missed Noah in this book, although his gradual corruption was foreshadowed earlier in the series. He is, after all, dead. I did appreciate, however, that he still got to play a role in not only the culmination of the story, but also in the moment that set it all in motion.

Allison: Yes, it’s interesting that this series is primarily about male characters, even though Blue is set up as the protagonist. I’ve come to expect that the series I like best will probably have primarily female characters, so aspect of things has consistently surprised me. I really enjoyed getting to know each of the boys individually. Ronan is definitely my favorite, overall. I was, however, disappointed that Blue doesn’t have a female friend her own age that is an active part of the story. This series plays into a “I’m not like other girls, so I’m friends with boys” stereotype that makes me a little uncomfortable at times.

Nicola: This is a good point. I think it’s ameliorated somewhat by the fact that Blue’s life is filled with interesting, supportive women, as well as that the series makes it clear she didn’t have ANY friends before she met her Raven boys, but it does still fall into the “not like other girls” stereotype.

Alyssa: I agree. If we didn’t have the women of 300 Fox Way, then I would have found Blue’s friendship with only boys–the Raven Boys–more problematic because she does fall into the “not like other girls” stereotype. But it seems that Blue may be aware that she falls into this stereotype and perhaps is slightly critical of her own biases. Is Stiefvater critiquing such stereotypes while also celebrating Blue’s friendship with all males? I’m not sure.

Allison: Even though Blue doesn’t have female friends, there are lots of great women in these books. I appreciate that they range from good, to ambiguous, to outright evil. And I love that they are psychics. It’s a magical system that isn’t used a lot in fantasy, which tends to hone in on more exciting forms of magic, but I find divination really interesting. I also like that they’re all performing their craft in different ways. From classic tarot cards to pay-by-the-minute psychic readings, I like that the women Blue lives with have true abilities, but have to make a living in some nearly mundane ways.

Nicola: Yes! One of my favourite things about urban fantasy is the way it intermingles the magical and the mundane. The women of 300 Fox Way have magical talents, and Stiefvater could have gone the other way and had them hold down mundane careers and keep the psychic stuff to themselves, but instead they bring their magical talents into the mundane world and make a living with them. For some of them that comes with all the trappings that mundane customers expect when they go to a tarot reading, whether or not it’s necessary for the divination to actually work, whereas others are much more modern. And I really liked the contrast between Neeve and the rest of the psychics, in that it’s clear the others do draw a line in terms of how public they’re willing to go.

Alyssa: Yes, I love how Stiefvater mixes the magical and the mundane into all of her characters. I also love that the women of 300 of Fox Way are psychics, and that the other characters have diverse magical abilities. Ronan’s dreaming ability is my favorite.

17378508Allison: Ronan is my favorite character, primarily because he is so well developed. We get to know him and his motivations the best, as well as his family’s struggle overall, and I appreciate that.

Alyssa: Ronan’s probably my favorite character, too, for the reasons you mentioned and because of his magical ability. Adam is also one of my favorite characters because, like Ronan, he struggles with powerful magical abilities (Cabeswater) and with serious family issues. Their romance is my favorite because of what they have in common and how they support one another.

Allison: Oh yeah, the Ronan+Adam (Rodam? Adron? Whatever…) romance was definitely the one I had the most invested in. Gansey and Blue seemed like endgame no matter what to me, but Ronan and Adam were unpredictable.

Alyssa: I like that it worked in this series that Adam and Blue had a bit of a romance in the first book, and that Ronan and Adam didn’t get together until the end of the series. I’m curious. Did you see it coming? I think Stiefvater did a good job of hinting that it could happen, but she didn’t make a big deal out of it.  

Allison: I did see it coming from Ronan’s end, but I wasn’t sure about Adam, which I liked a lot. It wasn’t a question of “is Adam gay?” but “Is Adam ready to be involved with anyone, let alone Ronan?”  I really appreciate how both Adam and Ronan evolve as individual characters in this book and, of course, how they eventually grow together. I enjoyed their love story the most.

Nicola: Me too! I love how their developing relationship involves both of them growing as individuals.

Allison: I said this in my rec, but I really enjoyed the way that Stiefvater grows the characters into adulthood throughout the series, and I think that culminates a lot in this book. The extreme circumstances that they go through makes them into adults in a really cool way.

Nicola: There was one paragraph when Blue’s fetching her bike after school and feels totally out of touch with her classmates, like she and her friends are all a thousand years old:

She felt one thousand years old. She also felt like maybe she was a condescending brat […] She wanted her friends, who were also one-thousand-year-old condescending brats. She wanted to live in a world where she was surrounded by one-thousand-year-old condescending brats.

17378527It made me laugh because it’s such a perfect representation of not only Blue and her friends, but so many teenagers in YA in general.

Allison: I completely agree. Something we’ve all said at one point or another is that this series is a really interesting mix of extremely ordinary teenage behavior mixed in with extraordinary circumstances, which is why Gansey’s search for Glendower as the primary motivation for all of the action in the series leaves me a little cold. The Cabeswater storyline (even though it related to the Glendower theme) made more sense to me in terms of the characters themselves. There’s a part of me that wishes that had been the center of the series, and in some ways it is, which makes the Glendower search seem a bit peripheral at times.

Alyssa: Yes,I was more interested in Gansey’s search for Glendower earlier on in the series, and I think the storyline falls flat compared to Cabeswater and the characters’ magical abilities. I was slightly disappointed by how Stiefvater wrapped up the Glendower storyline in the end. But I loved all of the secondary characters involved in the storyline–Mr. Gray, Laumonier, Piper, Greenmantle, Henry, Malory, Gwenllian, Artemus–even if the search for the dead king didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

Allison: Even though the Glendower storyline didn’t quite work for me, I kind of liked the fact that there were aspects of The Raven King that were totally predictable (and if you read Maggie Stiefvater’s blog she promised that they would be over and over). But things happen in ways that you don’t expect, which I also like a lot. I even liked that Gansey dies (like you knew he was going to) and he comes back (which you knew he would). Sometimes I hate that kind of predictability, but in this case it worked for me.

Alyssa: Yes, I think Stiefvater is really good at balancing the unpredictable and predictable. In some ways this is such an unusual series, but we also know from the first few pages of The Raven Boys that Blue will fall in love with Gansey, and he will die. And his coming back to life at the end of the series brings the right amount of hope without being corny.

Allison: I totally agree. I feel like things wrapped up nicely.

Thanks so much for joining us today! Let us know what you thought about the series in the comments. 

 


The Raven King

17378527This post originally appeared in May, but as we are having our Coven Chat about the series on Friday, we are re-posting it now. -CBC

In September of last year, Nicola recommended Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle to you. At the time, we were in the long wait for the last book in the series, The Raven King. One of the things that Nicola touched on in her recommendation was how these books are complicated in that they are in many ways what folks would consider “typically” YA, but in the tradition of what we talk about a lot around here, they’re much more than that stereotype.

While I was reading The Raven King, I was reminded of how odd these books truly are. Stiefvater’s style of writing is slower paced than a lot of YA, but is also lyrical and mysterious, which draws the reader in. She rarely out and out tells you something, but instead shows it to you from a variety of angles. The Raven King is constructed in such as way that even though the plots points of the nearly 600 page book are fairly straightforward, the telling of them is not. The understanding of them is not. It’s good writing and I love good writing.

When I look at the way the events in The Raven King played out, I have to admit they were fairly predictable. Things I thought would happen did. Things I figured were true were. But none of this reduced my enjoyment of the novel a bit. In fact, it was the understanding of how they were true that was enjoyable. The trick is that Stiefvater told you what was going to happen in the first book, The Raven Boys. You’ve known from the beginning how things will end, and they do end that way, but they don’t end the way you knew they would the way you thought they might. The whys and the hows are different from what you might expect.

Some things about the book are disappointing, as all endings are, and others are so satisfying that I’ll think about them for weeks. One of the things I adore about these books and have from the very beginning is the way friendship and family are portrayed as nebulous, ambiguous and ultimately so complicated we often don’t know what’s happening right in front of our eyes. I’m afraid to say much more, because I’d like those of you who’ve been reading The Raven Cycle all along to have your moments with these characters.

What I’ll say is that I love the ways in which the four teenagers expand into adults in this book. I love the way that Stiefvater shows that they were children before these things happened and now they are not quite grown-ups, but that they are most definitely adults. Of course, Gansey has always been the most adult of the four, but even this is complicated in that his enormous sense of responsibility breaks down to the fact that he is a scared child who doesn’t want to die, no matter how kingly it makes him.

Ronan is still Ronan, stubborn and full of bravado, but he is also openly tender and loving.  Adam confronts his past with his parents and his desire for love and belonging and is able to grow into a man who believes he is worthy of such things. And our dear Blue Sargent comes face to face with her own self and the ways in which knowing and loving all three of these men has changed her, as well as the ways her roots run deep and she is more the same than ever.

I think if you’ve been enjoying the series you’ll be happy with the way things turn out. It’s the kind of ending that makes you satisfied you read the whole series. If you haven’t read the series yet, I encourage you to go back and read Nicola’s rec again and decide if these books are for you.

Allison Carr Waechter will be in her hammock reading until June. Send messenger crows if you need her. 


Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle

The Raven Boys

This post originally appeared a year ago but as we are having our Coven Chat about the series on Friday, we are re-posting it now. -CBC

A few weeks ago, Allison, Alyssa and I talked about the liminal space between YA and adult fantasy, particularly highlighting books we thought were more adult-oriented that had been classed by publishers, bookstores, or other bookish organisations as YA. Today I’m recommending a series that fits into that liminal space. It’s a firmly YA series, about a group of teenagers struggling with the demands of school (including finding the funds for university), troubles with parents (ranging from healthy rebellion to abuse and bereavement), and other themes that place it solidly in the young adult category.

In Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle, Blue Sargent is the only woman in a house full of psychics with no supernatural ability. She’s distressingly normal, except for one thing: everyone who has ever read her fortune has told her that if she kisses her true love, he will die. When she meets a group of boys from a nearby prep school, she doesn’t consider herself at particular risk of falling in love with any of them – but she adheres to her strict no-kissing-just-in-case policy, regardless. Over time, however, she becomes wrapped up in their quest to find the tomb of the Welsh prince Glendower, befriending and coming to care for them and, just possibly, falling in love with one of them.

The Dream ThievesAlthough many of the themes are quintessentially YA, it’s also a series that I think would appeal to a lot of adult readers who have either been hesitant about trying YA or who have read a few YA books and found them not to their tastes. For one thing, the adult characters are given as much care and attention as the teens. Rather than being relegated to the periphery or antagonistic roles, as they so often are in YA fiction, the adults in this series are not only fully-developed characters, but also people who affect and are affected by the plot. They even get their own POV scenes at times, a rarity in YA books.

The use of multiple POVs is another way in which this series has a more adult feel than a lot of YA, which is so often told from a close first-person perspective. Though most scenes are told solidly from a particular character’s perspective, there are times when the narrative veers into third-person omniscient, as well as relating events from the perspective of a minor character, such as the wife of one of the teachers at the boys’ school. It’s a narrative choice many readers of adult fiction will be more familiar with than those who stick to the YA section, though I think it serves this story well.

Blue Lily, Lily BlueThe pacing, too, is more adult than YA, particularly the first book. It crossed my mind at one point around halfway through that, if pressed, I’d struggle to summarise what had actually happened so far, and yet I was utterly absorbed in the story. The small interactions between the characters, the magical quality to their pursuit of the Glendower myth, all these subtle elements create an overall atmosphere that draws the reader in.

The series’ strengths aren’t only in the ways it appeals to adult readers, of course. As I said before, it is a solidly YA series, and a wonderful one at that. It features rich, mythical world-building whose magic is enhanced by the real-world setting. It’s also the first YA book I’ve read since The Princess Diaries where the protagonist is not only an outspoken feminist, but one identified as such by herself and other characters.

Nicola lives and reads in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she’s eagerly awaiting the release of The Raven King. If you want to get in touch, your best bet is Twitter.