Last Coven Chat of 2016: Crooked Kingdom

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Dear readers,

You may have noticed that the frequency of our posts has gone down a bit. You’re not wrong! The witches have been waylaid by life, as of late, but we are not gone. We’ll be taking our traditional winter hiatus and will be
back with more Coven Chats after the New Year breaks.

Until then, please enjoy our chat about Leigh Bardugo’s Crooked Kingdom. As always, remember that we are discussing spoilers for the book and the series at large, so if you haven’t read the books, don’t read the chat yet!

Nicola: I really liked the change in tone  in Crooked Kingdom, compared to the first book; the story flows really well from one to the other. In Six of Crows, while the characters are risking their lives and are doing something terribly dangerous and not entirely sensible, they are, broadly, in control. It was their decision to take on this heist, and they pull it off successfully. In Crooked Kingdom that’s turned on its head.

Allison: This is interesting and I completely agree. Six of Crows had a very slick, heisty feeling to it — almost like Ocean’s Eleven. All of the chaos and danger was really entertaining. This book turned that over in the best way possible. It complicated the characters in a way that I wasn’t expecting. It was more complex, emotionally.

Alyssa: True. Perhaps this has to do with how the characters overcome adversity. Even though the group’s conflict with Pekka Rollins and Jan Van Eck still drives the plot in Crooked Kingdom, the characters seem to struggle more substantially with their inner demons than they do in Six of Crows. Thus, their ability to overcome their internal conflicts is perhaps more important than their triumph over their enemies.

Nicola: I loved the re-appearance of characters like Zoya, Genya and Sturmhond (I loved all the little references to King Nikolai, too). It was done in a way that I think wouldn’t have made anything seem out of place to those who hadn’t read the original Grisha trilogy, but it added a nice touch for readers who had, especially seeing Nina’s relationship with them. I can so easily see young Zoya growing up into a stern mentor!

Nicola: Zoya and Genya, especially, were amongst my favourite characters in the original trilogy because they were so enigmatic. Neither was villainous, but likewise neither was a pure heroine. To see Nina in the same place they were – a young Grisha soldier who doesn’t always make the most sensible choices – viewing them as the responsible adults was interesting.

Allison: YES! This is one of the reasons I think Bardugo will come back to the Grishaverse. These books proved that she has a way of remixing her characters that is fresh and allows her newer story not to be overshadowed by the old. I think there’s a lot going on here that can (and will!) be developed. I know Bardugo’s new series will be in a different worldbuilding framework, but she has said she’s not done with the Grisha, so I’m looking forward to more storytelling like this.

Nicola: I really, really, really like the development of Kaz and Inej’s relationship. They both have a lot of trauma that would make it unrealistic if they were to suddenly fall into bed together, but in that sense the small intimacies they have are all the more powerful, because to touch another person for them like they do is a huge moment of vulnerability.

Allison: I thought this was a really great development, especially for a YA series. There are lots of teenagers (and people, in general), who for a variety of reasons may not feel as ruled by hormones as we sometimes get use to seeing young people portrayed. This was a complicated issue and I was so glad to see a different framework for sexuality portrayed here.

Alyssa: Yes! I also really like the development of Kaz and Inej’s relationship for the reasons both of you mention, and that these strong characters are struggling with trauma.  

Nicola: Speaking of Kaz, I really enjoyed the way we get a better understanding of whom he is in this book. I remember in our Six of Crows discussion we talked about how he was the character we all felt was the hardest to really understand, and I think that’s still true in this book, but to a lesser extent. I mean, there were times when I thought his brutality was purely for survival, but at the same time I was never quite sure if he really had kidnapped and buried Pekka Rollins’ young son. He manages to play the line between ‘brutal enough to survive’ and downright cruel.

Allison: I enjoyed the fact that we don’t get to push Kaz into a “white hat/black hat” place. Inej is firmly in the “criminal with a heart of gold” category. We understand her crime and can easily justify her actions because ultimately, she is noble. Kaz, on the other hand, doesn’t get “outed” in this book as secretly noble, which I love. He stays firmly in that “grey” area and refuses to get out. I think Inej’s understanding of that fact complicates her as well, in a way I wasn’t expecting.

Alyssa: I love that all of the characters–and especially Kaz–are complex and can’t be pigeon-holed. Kaz remains complicated and morally ambiguous, and he’s just as likely to act brutally as nobly. Jesper is also a complicated character who has done “bad things,” but he feels more shame and empathy than Kaz as a result. Jesper is not cruel in the same way that Kaz is. Perhaps, this has something to do with the fact that Jesper has a father who loves him, whereas Kaz has been abandoned or betrayed by those he’s loved.

Nicola: I loved Jesper’s father. In a story like this, the parents naturally can’t be present much because then there’d be no story, but in contrast to his friends, he’s the only one who ever had anything like a choice in the matter. Wylan’s father disowned him, Nina was taken to join the Second Army as a child, Kaz’s family is dead, and Inej was abducted and sold. Jesper, on the other hand, chose to avoid his father out of shame, and in spite of all that his father still loves him and tries his best to look out for him.

Allison: And it makes sense that he would come looking for him. It also puts the little world the crew has built for themselves into sharp relief. They are playing a dangerous game, an adult game, and the arrival of Jesper’s father complicates that dynamic significantly. We get to see that yes, they are still children, but also they’ve entered a world where there are no children. The underbelly of Ketterdam doesn’t allow for childhood.

This is part of what makes Kaz such a complex character, but really is what makes Bardugo’s characterization really masterful. She’s very carefully laid out for readers what happens when children are forced into servitude, sex trades, poverty and wars: they become adults, and often they become criminals. When Jesper’s father arrives, we see that very clearly.

Jesper had the opportunity to be a child and he chose against it, but the others did not and we get a chance to really see the horrors of the Grishaverse because they are contexualized in such a way that we understand that not everyone is having this same experience (as opposed to the Shadow and Bone series where war has taken over everyone’s lives and there are no “children”). However, there are university students in Ketterdam that are having a very “normal” late adolescence, which Jesper is supposed to be having. That experience exists right alongside what Kaz’s crew has always had. I think it’s remarkable commentary on how privilege and the lack thereof, so often exist literally on top of one another.

Nicola: Yes! And I think we see that in a different way with Wylan, too. Jesper doesn’t come from a wealthy background, but he comes from a loving one. Wylan, on the other hand, is more traditionally privileged, but because of his father he was also deprived of the chance to be a normal teenager, even though his father had the means to allow him to do so.

I cried when Matthias died. To be honest, Matthias was probably my least favourite of the group, so if someone had to die I’m glad it was him, but still! Nina’s one of my favourites so I felt sad by proxy.

Alyssa: Matthias is also probably my least favorite character of the group, but I may like his character development the most. While all of the characters have struggled with and overcome a lot of internal and external conflicts, Matthias perhaps evolves the most–because of his love for Nina.

I think this series needs someone like Matthias, whose personality we may not like, but who is transformed by his love for “the enemy.” Nina is also one of my favorite characters, and I felt sad for her when Matthias dies. And yet, I also like that Nina does not seem devastated by his death, and we are left feeling hopeful about her future.

Allison: I was sad about Matthias, but like both of you, Nina is one of my favorite characters so I’m hoping this means we’re going to see more of her. I’m hoping this twist is an opening for another series. I think it seems clear from this book that Bardugo isn’t done with the Grisha. It seems to me that there are too many big worldbuilding plotlines left open for her to be done with it.

Nicola: Yes! I definitely feel like the Grishaverse is Bardugo’s “Middle-earth”, so to speak, in that it’s her one world she’ll keep returning to.

Alyssa: I’m also hoping for another series set in the Grishaverse, and I’d love to see more of these characters. But I’m also glad that this series ends without a lot of ambiguity and loose-ends; we have closure. I also like that this series includes characters from the Grisha trilogy, so that we have a satisfying end to both series.

Allison: I feel like Crooked Kingdom gives us a close to one part of the story, but leaves open a whole world of storytelling for Bardugo’s future, which I confess, I love! Thanks everyone for joining us today. Warmest wishes for your holiday season and we’ll see you again in 2017!

Allison, Alyssa and Nicola

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Coven Chat: Empire of Storms

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Happy Halloween, witches! Today we’re having our discussion of Sarah J. Maas’ Empire of Storms. Remember that in a Coven Chat we spoil and spoil and spoil. Don’t read on if you aren’t caught up on the series.

Allison: First off, let me say that I found Empire of Storms just as addictive and completely engrossing as all of the books in this series. I’m actually really excited to read it again. I felt like a lot of the action in previous books is starting to come together in EoS in a deeper way.

Alyssa: This series is really addictive and I reread it every year when a new book comes out. I can’t help myself! I love that each additional book is much more expansive in its worldbuilding and cast of characters, and that QoS and EoS reintroduced us to some of the characters from The Assassin’s Blade.

Nicola: Yes, agreed. I noticed a shift in QoS when characters from the novellas like Lysandra and Arobynn started appearing, and even more so in this book with Ansel’s return and the appearance of the Silent Assassins. It really feels like all those story threads from the first few books in the series are being drawn together towards the ending, and I love it.

Speaking of endings, can we talk about the end of this book for a second? I was really not expecting any of it, and I stayed up late because I just HAD to finish it – then I couldn’t sleep because I was fretting about Aelin. Seriously, that ending was one of the most shocking I’ve read in a long time.

Allison: I really didn’t expect the ending at all, but it was clear that Aelin did! I don’t know what I was expecting. I mean, I think we knew that some kind of showdown was coming between Maeve and Aelin, but I thought that perhaps Maeve would offer a bargain of some kind for assistance in the war.

I think that Maas started putting some serious distance between us and Aelin in this book to support the ending and the next book, which I assume will rely heavily on the characters she built up in this storyline, like Lysandra, Aedion and the witches. I loved the deeper characterization of Manon and the Thirteen in this book. I’m actually hoping that we get some novellas about the witches, or possibly a spinoff series.

Alyssa: Yes, I’d love a spinoff series or novellas about the witches! Manon and the Thirteen are some of my favorite characters, and they really help sustain this series. While I’m fond of the characters in Aelin’s inner circle that dominate the first few books, I really like that HoF, QoS and EoS introduce us to new characters who exist outside of Aelin’s sphere of influence.

Nicola: I wasn’t sure about Manon in HoF, but as the series has progressed she’s really grown on me, and I really like the relationship between her and the Thirteen. The fact that they’re more loyal to each other than the Ironteeth as a group speaks volumes about their relationship, and I find it fascinating that Asterin and the others show such loyalty to Manon, when the Ironteeth witches are, supposedly, cold-hearted and cruel. They’re much more human than they would like to think.

Allison: I think it will be interesting to see how the reveal that the Ironteeth clan-leaders have been manipulating their offspring to be so ruthless in coming books. It’s clear that the Thirteen are just as “emotional” as Manon, so we can’t necessarily dismiss her feelings as purely being due to her heritage.

Alyssa: I love Manon’s identity as half Ironteeth, half Crochan, and that she experiences so much character growth in HoF, QoS and EoS. I love that she’s complex and conflicted; that she upholds as well as questions her beliefs and personality traits, since she stays cold-hearted and ruthless but she also begins to value hope and love above all else…her humanity more than her upbringing as a monster. Manon will likely have a very significant role in the final book, now that she’s discovered she’s the Crochan Queen, and I can’t wait to see that storyline play out. She may be my favorite character now.  

Allison: Speaking of favorite characters: Lysandra!!! I love her so, so much. There’s this scene where she’s in her snow leopard form and she’s resting her head in Aelin’s lap and I was just so damn happy. I love that she is so fierce and so loyal and that she and Aelin have all these secret machinations.

Nicola: Yes! I love Lysandra. She’s fast becoming my favourite character. She’s just so determined and protective and just damn perfect. And I love how Aelin starts to really trust her in this book. Aelin’s always had issues with things like sharing power, trusting women and general jealousy, and now she’s at the point where she trusts Lysandra to pretend to be her for the rest of her life. It’s a HUGE bit of character development for Aelin, and it shows how different Lysandra is from the vain, shallow courtesan Aelin once believed her to be.

Alyssa: I love Lysandra and her romance with Aedion too! It’s almost like she’s become the heroine of this series (along with Manon, perhaps). And I don’t get irritated with her in the same way that I sometimes get irritated with Aelin. I’m curious to see what happens when she plays Aelin!

Allison: Aedion, please forgive Lysandra right away! Lysandra, please forgive Aedion back for being a leetle too obsessed with his cousin… I’m also curious to see how Lysandra “plays” Aelin.

I’m thrilled to see Lysandra’s character get more time and energy, but I admit was frustrated by what’s happening with Rowan’s character in this book. I was a huge fan of Rowan in HoF, but he hasn’t developed much beyond stoic-Fae-male and that’s a little bothersome for me. He’s SO objectified! I mean, I want to defend Rowan here and say all the things that I’d say if a female character was getting this kind of treatment.

Alyssa: Yes. Even though I think Rowan might be the best “mate” for Aelin, he is a less interesting character in QoS and EoS than he was in HoF. He loses some of his depth when he falls in love with Aelin, and he is objectified!  I feel like Rowan’s intense (obsessive? possessive?) love for Aelin is his whole identity now. Honestly, I’ve sort of lost interest in Aelin’s love story in this series and I’m more invested in the secondary characters’ relationships: Lysandra/Aedion, Manon/Dorian, etc. I actually find their relationships more romantic than Aelin and Rowan’s–even if they are “mates.”

Allison: I’m conflicted about the “mating” conceit that SJM has developed for both her series. It sometimes creates an excuse for toxic masculinity that doesn’t always get checked. Some of it feels cheap alongside the amazing depth that she’s created for her female characters.

Nicola: I’ve been re-reading the series since reading EoS, and while reading the novellas something struck me: What does Aelin being Rowan’s mate mean for Celaena/Sam?

Allison: Ohhhh, I hadn’t even thought of that.

Nicola: I feel like the notion that she’s fated to be with Rowan cheapens her first love, as though the future she and Sam imagined could never have materialised. And what about Rowan’s supposed mate? I really hope that this is explored in the last book. Weirdly, I also feel like Rhys gets way more character development, even though we don’t see his POV in the ACOTAR books.

Allison: I completely agree with you about Rhys. I just re-read ACOTAR and ACOMAF and he sort of “corrects” some of that toxic masculinity, but there’s that same attitude of “Fae males are just like that” that I’m not reacting to well.

Alyssa: I agree. What’s supposed to be a romantic conceit is getting annoying and problematic for the reasons you both mention. Also, “mating” seems more unnecessary and confusing in this series than in ACOTAR.

Allison: Completely. In ACOTAR it takes center stage because ACOTAR is up front a more emotional book, Feyre’s relationships are very important.

Alyssa: I suppose an argument in favor of the “mating” conceit is that it’s important considering they are Fae and immortal. But I find the toxic masculinity problematic, too. It does seem like these books argue that all of that behavior is not just normal, but something we should desire. I wonder if that’s a problem with the Fae/vampire trope in general?

Allison: Yeah, I feel that way too. I think in ACOTAR there is a lot of condemnation for the extreme that it goes to. Even in the first book, you can see the seeds for Tamlin being so possessive and Rhys’ commitment to Feyre’s freedom (and fighting his nature) is the antidote. I think the mating concept feels out of place and kind of confusing in this series though.

Alyssa: It’s a bit tacked on that we find out near the end of EoS that Aelin has been keeping secret her realization that Rowan is her mate. But she kept a lot of secrets from Rowan and everyone else in EoS. Honestly, I found that secret and some of the other reveals slightly irksome and perhaps too convenient.

Nicola: Aelin keeping secrets was something that didn’t sit right with me, not because it’s not in-character (it is), but because she used to be the reader’s main POV character, and now she’s keeping secrets from us. I’m not against the whole ‘trick-the-reader’ thing (I love it in Six of Crows), but I don’t think it works when the character used to be the main POV character and now there are a lot of things kept secret from the audience.

Alyssa: Yes, that’s a really great point. I think that’s why Aelin’s keeping secrets didn’t quite work for me as well.

Allison: And it wasn’t just a couple of things, but an entire plotline that we don’t get to see and that isn’t really even hinted at. I like it when we get to know that something is going on, but just not what exactly. I felt like there was a big shift in tone in this book in a lot of ways.

I’m just going to say it: the sex didn’t work for me in this book. I’m all about there being sex in YA books, I guess I’m just not sure how I feel about it being erotica. There’s something about an adult writer, writing this kind of stuff for teenagers that makes me really uncomfortable. Perhaps I’m a bit prudish.

Alyssa: Yes, while Maas’s depictions of sex have always been more mature than most authors of YA, it becomes even more adult in this book. It’s strange because before I reread HoF and QoS, I thought that Aelin and Rowan had already had sex; but they don’t have sex until the middle of EoS! So in some ways, the fact that Aelin and Rowan wait is typical YA. But, the erotica in EoS and Maas’s books in general (even when the characters are not in fact having sex) makes the YA categorization problematic. I’m also a bit uncomfortable with Maas’s books being for teens (14 and up).

Allison: I wasn’t disturbed by this at all in ACOTAR. It’s clear from the beginning that the content is much more mature in that way, but I feel really uneasy about the way it’s developing in this book.

Nicola: It’s made me uncomfortable, too, especially when I consider just how uncomfortable I would have been to read that stuff as a teenager. I was a pretty prudish teen, so my experience is by no means typical for teenagers, but reading sex scenes like that would have really upset me a book so far into a much-loved series simply because at the age I started reading books like ToG I wasn’t emotionally ready for books like EoS.

And IMO it’s not just sex, but violence as well. It’s always been a very violent series, of course, considering the main character is an assassin and the story opens in a death camp, but in earlier books it was less graphic and more implied. For instance, there’s a scene in TOG when one of the competitors has been disemboweled. It’s a horror-filled scene (especially when Celaena points out that the man’s tendons had been severed so he had to lie there watching the creature sharpen its claws before he died), but it’s nowhere near the description of one man screaming as the creatures in EoS disembowel him.

Allison: I have to say that for me, this book is absolutely not YA, which is troublesome, given that it’s the fifth book in this series. I feel like this was not a great time for such a dramatic shift in content. I’m an adult reader, so my perspective is different, but I don’t love thinking about how teen readers might perceive this shift.

Nicola: Yes, I agree. I think a lot of teen readers would just take it in their stride, but for others this book will be the turning point where the series is no longer something they feel comfortable reading, which I guess isn’t really fair to them when it’s so late in the series.

Alyssa: I’m not sure if this is true or merely speculation, but I’ve seen claims online that the series has transitioned from YA to New Adult with Empire of Storms.  But, whether EoS is still officially YA or not, I wonder if teens are less shocked by this shift than we might think since they have likely already read ACOTAR and might want and expect Rowan and Aelin to have a more erotic relationship. And those fans that ship Chaol might have cared more about the shift with HoF to Rowan as Aelin’s love interest. It’s almost like ACOTAR attempts to bridge the shift between the first and second half of the series.

Allison: This has me thinking about the way that the Harry Potter books got more and more intense as the characters grew out of middle grade age and into YA. Perhaps something similar is happening here? Aelin is aging out of a YA audience (she’s 19 now), so the books are too?

J.K. Rowling caught a lot of flak for that while the Harry Potter series was still being written, for the darkness and violence. I remember that while the last few books were coming out that people were angry that as the characters aged so did the maturity, and Rowling’s response was that she believed her readers were aging as well and could handle it. I think that on one hand, that’s true in a real time perspective, but on the other hand, when the books are complete, who is the audience for a series that undergoes that kind of dramatic transformation?

Nicola: I was thinking about Harry Potter, too. I was 9 when I started reading the series, and 17 when the final book came out, so I very much grew up with the series and likely would have stopped reading altogether if the later books were at the same maturity level as the earlier ones.

What I also find interesting is that Maas originally wrote ToG as an adult fantasy novel, and it was her agent (or publisher?) who suggested she market it as YA. So it’s possible she had always intended to incorporate more mature elements later on in the series.

Allison: That’s interesting. I think it will be interesting to see where the series heads next. I know we’re all looking forward to the next book… AND THAT CHAOL NOVELLA! Thanks so much for joining us. Our next Coven Chat will be about Crooked Kingdom in November.

 


Coven Chat: The Remnant Chronicles

25944798Today’s Coven Chat is about Mary E. Pearson’s The Remnant Chronicles. Remember, spoilers lie ahead in a Coven Chat, so if you haven’t read these books yet, don’t go on!

Allison: I’m so excited to talk about the way The Remnant Chronicles wrapped up with you both. We’ve had so many conversations about these books over the last year. I was on vacation when I started The Beauty of Darkness and I had a tough time putting it down.

In terms of the adventure, I was a little so-so on things in this book, especially towards the end. There were parts I was really into, and others kind of dragged for me. The strong character development is what kept me reading. By no means do I feel that the pace lagged or at any time that I became disinterested in the book.

Nicola: I said this about The Raven Cycle a couple of weeks ago, but it applies to The Remnant Chronicles, too. In all three books in the series, I sometimes feel like almost nothing is happening in terms of the overarching plot, and yet I’m still completely engrossed in the story for the characters and their world. I think that displays real skill as a writer, as there are few who can pull this kind of thing off without me getting antsy for more action.

Alyssa: Yes, that’s a great comparison! Like with The Raven Cycle, I was more interested in the characters and their relationships than in the overarching plot. I love the world-building and multiculturalism in this series, too, and how the characters’ identities and relationships evolve because of their adventures in Morrighan, Dalbreck, Cam Lanteux, and Venda.

My only gripe with the world-building is that I wish I understood the mythology better. I’m still a little confused about how the excerpts from sacred texts, such as The Last Testaments of Gaudrel, relate to the series’ main plot. I’d like to read Morrighan because maybe it would explain that backstory for me, but I still wish the excerpts made more sense to me.

Allison: I also wish I’d understood a bit more about the world-building. I haven’t read Morrighan either, so I wish it had been integrated into the text. However, it reminded me a little of a series I read when I was a child, The Darkangel Trilogy, where there’s a “past” that isn’t remembered by those in the present day of the text, but it informs the way the world-building works. We get to know some things about the ancient people, but not all and that fact is integral to the plot of the story. It works for me.

My only real complaint with The Beauty of Darkness was that the multiple POV got weird for me. I don’t know. It’s not that I couldn’t “tell the difference” between the voices, but that at a certain point I was a little overwhelmed by them. I didn’t have this problem so much in the other books, so I was a little surprised. This might be me as a reader though.

Nicola: I was going to say exactly the same thing! I think it worked really well in the first book, because we’re not meant to be able to tell which of the two boys is the prince and which is the assassin (for the record, I was convinced Kaden was the prince), and their POV chapters tended to be short and to-the-point. I think what bothered me about the multiple POV in this book was that I did get a little confused as to whose head we were in at any given time, and sometimes the narrative seemed to jump back in time so we could read the same thing from someone else’s POV, which was rather jarring.

Alyssa: The multiple POV didn’t bother me for the most part–except during the battle scene at the end, when numerous multiple POV were in a chapter. Each POV was very short and that was a bit jarring.

Allison: Overall, I think the multiple POVs benefitted the series. It was cool to see how both Lia and Rafe change as they take more responsibility for themselves and that the ending isn’t some “pat” thing where one of them gives up their kingdom for the other. I do think it’s a little hard to see how they’re going to make things work, but I like the idea that they’ve both done things that were unimaginably hard and that they’re willing to work hard to be together, rather than being miserable apart. That’s a relationship I’d read about again!

Nicola: I actually really loved that it’s not exactly clear how they’re going to make things work. I think it’d be hard to come up with a solution that’s not too neat or cutesy, so by leaving it open like that we can see that they’ve done the important character development work of reaching the point where they are both committed to their kingdoms AND to each other, but without trying to tie it into a neat little bow.

Alyssa: Yes, I loved how Lia and Rafe’s relationship evolved throughout the series. While I was always hoping that they’d overcome all of their obstacles to be together–and I’m happy they did in the last two pages!–I also had reservations and conflicting feelings about their romance. I’m glad they spent time apart–and were not weakened or devastated by their separation–and that they didn’t give up their kingdoms and their other responsibilities to be together.

I also appreciate that Lia and Rafe were not always perfect for each other, and they still might not be. The ending is hopeful and romantic but feels realistic, too, and I don’t think it would have been tragic if they hadn’t gotten together in the end. I was 99% sure Rafe would show up–even when I only had three pages left!–but I was more excited about Pauline and Kaden’s romance by then.

Allison: Pauline and Kaden! This was a good match from my perspective. I love how it came together. It really made sense for me. It was slow and steady and I appreciated the way that Kaden’s vision came to pass. That was fantastic and just the way I always imagine prophetic stuff going: you see something, but it doesn’t happen at all the way you thought it would.

Nicola: Yes! I was really rooting for them as a couple.

I also loved the development of Lia’s relationship with her parents. From the start of the series, it’s clear she has a very close relationship with her brothers, but she has a much colder relationship with her parents, and I really liked seeing more background into why they made the choices they did with her upbringing, especially her mother. A lot of teenagers attribute nefarious motivations to their parents’ deeds, so although Lia’s stakes are higher it was a nice little reflection of rather typical teenage thought processes for Lia to assume the worst of her mother when in fact her mother is only trying to protect her.

Allison: I was also really interested to see more of Lia’s parents in this book. In the first book they’re positioned as very unfeeling and it was interesting to see how the political plot line interfered with Lia’s personal relationship with her parents. I wasn’t expecting a lot of the “reveals” in terms of both her mother and father in this book.

Alyssa: Yes, Lia’s reconciliation with her parents really strengthened the series’ ending. Not just because of the necessity of her homecoming after a long absence, but because we get an even better sense of how much she’s matured since The Kiss of Deception. In many ways Lia’s still the runaway princess we fell in love with, who defied her duties and chose her own destiny, but she’s also less selfish, more responsible, and more empathetic.

Allison: I love who Lia became over the course of the series. I love that she started as someone with substance and grew into someone with adult concerns and feelings. In fact, I like that all the characters grew so much. This is the benefit of the multiple POV. We get to see the inner-workings of each character and I think that Pearson does this well.

Nicola: Yeah, it feels like the characters started the series as teenagers and ended it as adults, and while the multiple POV thing didn’t quite ‘work’ for me I did appreciate being able to see into the characters’ minds and to understand their motivations.

Allison: Thanks everyone for joining our discussion of The Remnant Chronicles. Our next Coven Chat will be about Sarah J. Maas’ Empire of Storms, and the Throne of Glass series.


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.


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.