Today I Read…Ella: a Stepmum’s Tale

Today I read Ella: a Stepmum’s Tale by J.L. Higgs. Image result for ella a stepmum's tale

Ah, the story of Cinderella. Every one knows it, right? The beautiful girl, the handsome prince, and the Wicked Stepmother who tried to keep them apart. Well, gentle viewers, this is celebrity reporter Sylvia Stark here with an exclusive interview with Charlotte Johannson Baker, the Wicked Stepmother herself, with her side of the story. You decide who is the innocent one and who is the villain.


I was excited when I won this book from a Goodreads First Reads contest, because I love rewritten fairy tales, and I have a soft spot for the villains. I wrote a short piece defending Cinderella’s stepmother myself for a high school assignment. Unfortunately, this one just wasn’t that great, due in large part to a main character who is a complete twit. Reporter Sylvia Stark keeps claiming she is very bright and deserves to be an investigative reporter instead of a celebrity news reporter, but she misses every clue and sounds inane both on camera and off. Her asides to cameraman Stuart (who is as smart as Sylvia thinks she is) are unprofessional and annoying. Sylvia claims it is all an act, but when she’s not “acting” for the cameras she behaves exactly the same. At one point, she thinks “I try to sound as intelligent as possible.” But the next sentence is “Hey, I am blonde and beautiful so why do I need to be brainy as well?”

And as an aside, she wants us to believe that photography didn’t exist just a few years ago when she was in school, but now she can do on-location camera spots for television as a young reporter? Either understand how technology develops, or say it’s magic. As it is, the world-building is a mash-up of fairy tale and real world that just doesn’t work.

And the scene with Cinderella and the stepmother playing naked Twister is just plain weird. And that is not a euphemism or a joke.

I wish this book was better than it is, and it has an interesting premise, but it desperately needs a good editor.

Today I Read…The Silenced Tale

theSilencedTale-frontFinal-REUTSToday I read The Silenced Tale by J.M. Frey, book 3 of The Accidental Turn trilogy.

They have survived two adventures, and finally Lucy and Forsyth Turn Piper can settle down in the Overrealm and raise their daughter Alis. Life is peaceful for them, as they get ready to celebrate Alis’ first birthday.

But for Forsyth’s Writer, Elgar Reed, things are slightly less peaceful. His typewriter has been stolen from the Smithsonian, he is trying to help prepare for the upcoming and top-secret TV show based on his The Tales of Kintyre Turn series, he can’t write a word for fear of what might happen to his characters, and he has some kind of a stalker. But he doesn’t want to worry Forsyth. After all, any enemy he has is human, right? The cops can handle it. It’s not like the Viceroy has come back for a third time. Except Lucy keeps muttering something about “Fucking trilogies”…


I posted the cover reveal a couple of weeks ago as part of the blog tour for the book, and today is the actual launch day for the final part of the Accidental Turn trilogy (Though I am assured by J.M. Frey that there will be a third novella coming at some point to join Ghosts and Arrivals). The Silenced Tale follows The Untold Tale and The Forgotten Tale, and brings the adventure into the Overrealm along with Forsyth, Pip, and Elgar.

This book focuses on Elgar Reed even more than The Forgotten Tale did. We spend a lot of time with him and his problems. He has always been a very specific type of person, and he’s very set in his ways. Frankly, he’s a sexist, selfish jerk, who has been coasting on writing a very popular fantasy series a long time ago. He is someone who is probably pretty familiar to anyone in fandom. Now we see his own problems, and how he is slowly starting to change thanks in large part to meeting Forsyth and having him bring Pip into Elgar’s life. They are family, which he hasn’t had for a very long time, if ever, and he does care about what they say. Even if he needs to be told a few times until he remembers. And occasionally needs Pip to verbally smack his nose with a rolled up newspaper about assuming women are there only to fetch him coffee and be groped. Though even Pip needs to work on her intersectional feminism, as we see in one particular scene.

The most important thing to remember is that this is, as Pip puts it, a “fucking trilogy,” and things must always come in threes. Three trips between Hain and the Overrealm. Three attempts to defeat the villain. Three deaths…

I’ve read an early draft at the start of this year that J.M. sent me, and recently a more finalized draft that I received from her last month. What I take away the most from the end of this book, is my dissatisfaction. I want more! I think the main story is done, but there is so much more to be discovered about this world, about both Hain and the Overrealm. I want to see what happens with the Tales of Kintyre Turn  TV show. I want more information about what has been happening in Hain, and what will happen now that Elgar has stopped writing, and how will the characters’ lives develop even more away from what he had planned. I want to know about Kintyre and Forsyth’s early life together as brothers. It’s getting my fanfic instincts going, and I just don’t have the time to write all of the stories I want. And I know that while J.M. does have one more novella planned, she has other projects in the pipeline that I won’t spoil here. So if anyone finds any fanfic, let me know? There is one particular scene in The Silenced Tale when Forsyth is telling Elgar stories about growing up with Kintyre, and I really want those stories…

Also, J.M., was that first death really necessary? You’re still not forgiven for killing Kalp, you know. What do you have against cute characters?

Also, regarding character X from The Forgotten Tale? I was totally right, and I want that story too.


“THIS IS ABBY,” Elgar says, about twenty minutes later. He is smiling too widely, and his eyes are too bright – he is in what he calls ‘Convention Mode’: gregarious, energetic, his jokes flat and desperate, his smile false. As a fellow natural introvert, I can see how exhausting the performance is. He is trying too hard and he is too ‘over the top’ as a
He slings his arm around a young woman with large dark eyes, and long dark hair. She is dressed in a great deal of bubblegum pink and misty mint, from her sneakers to her leggings, to her knee-length skirt, which is patterned with ice-cream cones, and the matching scarf over a long-sleeved shirt. She is terrifically pretty, too, very carefully
made up with false lashes and the careful sort of artistically intense makeup that Pip has called ‘contouring’ and ‘a massive pain in the ass’ and ‘a waste of a perfectly good hour of my life.’ Bless my wife, but she does reject the traditionally feminine with a vigor that nearly borders on insulting to those that embrace it.
However, the young lady before me seems to be the exact opposite of a simpering femme, wearing her pastels and makeup with a sort of warrior-like pride which I admire. She is clearly of Indian descent, not African, but I am reminded so intensely of Captain Isobin for a moment that the déjà vu fills my breast with a brief, intense stab of
homesickness. Though, of course, this young woman is neither pirate, nor captain; and unlike Isobin, not filled with the raucous self-confidence required to push my Creator back on his arse for his presumption. She is clearly not comfortable with the way he has not only taken liberties with her personal space without asking, and he has just as
clearly gotten her name wrong. Her badge, which marks her as a guest liaison,
says “Ahbni”.
“Hi,” Pip says, holding her hand out for a shake, and Ahbni uses the excuse to duck out from under Elgar’s arm.
“I’ll be able to tell her apart from the rest of the brown girls because she’s the hot one,” Elgar goes on, sticking his foot further down his throat.
Pip pinches the bridge of her nose and groans. “I honestly can’t tell if it’s the meds talking, or the stress.”
“Actually I–” Ahbni begins, but Elgar talks over her.
“You can get my friend a coffee or something, right, Abby?”
“I’m the assistant guest liaison, Mr. Reed, and I need to talk to you about–“
Elgar laughs. “Cute. No, no, grab your boss and send him my way, okay, sweetie?” And then he gives her a little shove. She steps away, off-balanced, and Elgar’s eyes drop to… oh. They drop with the full intention to watch her walk away.
Beside me, my wife makes a noise like a strangling cat.
“Lucy?” Elgar asks, having heard the sound as well, bushy eyebrows knitted with confusion. “Are you okay? Abby can you –“
“It’s Ahbni,” the liaison corrects.
“Ahbni,” Elgar repeats, not entirely sure where he missteped. “That’s a cute fantasy handle.”
“Nope. It’s my name,” she corrects.
“Oh!” Elgar laughs. “Were your parents fantasy fans, then?”
“They’re Telugu,” Ahbni says and I get the distinct impression that she is considering using her badge lanyard to garrote my creator. I am doing my best to control the urge
to laugh.
“I might use it though, you know. It’s a good name. The beautiful Princess Ahbni, with skin like fresh roasted cafe latte–“
“No,” Pip snaps, smacking Elgar’s good arm like an errant puppy. “Bad Writer. Women of color are not dessert products.”
Elgar jams his hands into his pockets and scowls. “It’s supposed to be a compliment–”
“I swear to fuck, one of these days I’m going to throttle you myself,” Pip says, deadpan and staring straight at Elgar. She’s got her index finger stretched out and tapping him right in the chest, finger-nail clicking against his plastic button. “You know that being terrified out of your mind is no excuse to fall back into bad habits, right?”
Elgar immediately looks ashamed. “I… you’re right. I didn’t think–“
“Try to,” Pip says. Then she blows out an annoyed breath, then forces herself to flex her fist out, runs her fingers through her hair, and pointedly turns away from him. “Ahbni, if you’d like to tell us where the coffee is, I can make sure that my husband fetches it for his
own damn self. And then you and I can review where Mr. Neanderthal over there needs to be, and by when.”

The Silenced Tale Cover Reveal

I have previously reviewed The Untold Tale and The Forgotten Tale from J.M. Frey’s Accidental Turn trilogy. I am excited to say that it’s almost time for the conclusion, The Silenced Tale to be released on December 12, 2017. The cover is being revealed today as part of a blog tour, and I am happy to participate. It’s as beautiful and evocative as the previous two, and the book inside is sure to be the same. I have read (and enjoyed) an early draft thanks to author J.M. Frey, but my formal review is still to come as I have received a more finalized copy in return for a review.

For anyone in the Toronto area, I’d like to mention that the book launch party will be at Bakka-Phoenix Books in Toronto on Tuesday, December 12, at 5:30 PM. If you’re not in the area, you can also order the e-book in advance from the publisher REUTSfor $0.99 and get it by Friday, December 8, a weekend before everyone else.

While I usually like to write my own synopsis, and I will for my review, I’ll enclose here the synopsis from the publisher:

Forsyth Turn never wanted to be a hero. And yet, even in the Overrealm, a hero is what he’ll be.

After their last adventure in Hain, Forsyth expected to return to the life he’d built with Pip and Alis, his days of magic and heroics behind him. But then Pip starts suffering night terrors laced with images of glowing ivy and Elgar Reed calls with fears of bizarre threats and a man garbed all in black.

But there is no magic in the Overrealm. Forsyth refuses to believe that anything other than mundane coincidence is at work—until Elgar’s stalker leaves him a message too eerie and specific to ignore. Now, he has to face the possibility that Pip’s dreams and Elgar’s fears are connected . . . and that maybe they weren’t the only ones to escape the pages of The Tales of Kintyre Turn.

And if that’s the case, it’s going to take more than a handful of heroes to save the day this time. It’s going to take an army. Luckily, Reed fans are legion.

A stunning conclusion to the series, The Silenced Tale is a genre-bending whirlwind that breathes life into the idea that the power of story lies not just with the creator, but with the fans who love it.

And at last, the cover!


See you in the book…

Today I Read..The Forgotten Tale

the-forgotten-taleToday I read The Forgotten Tale by J.M. Frey, book 2 of the Accidental Turn trilogy.

After leaving behind the land of Hain, Forsyth Turn and Lucy Piper have returned to her world to settle down and live more-or-less happily ever after with their daughter Alis. It hasn’t been easy, with Forsyth getting used to a new land and a new culture and a new language, where he is no longer the rich and respected Lordling of Turnshire, no longer the powerful Shadow Hand of the King, no longer a brother or a friend to anyone. And worst of all, Alis will grow up never knowing his contribution to her heritage–she will not know the songs and stories from Hain, she will not have her place in society as the beloved daughter of a Lordling, she will not know his friends and family as her own. But they are together, Forsyth and Pip and Alis, and that is a comfort.

But there is a problem which will not go away–Elgar Reed, the author of The Tales of Kintyre Turn series. He is fascinated that his character has come to life, and will not understand that Forsyth does not want to have anything to do with this careless man who created him with so little thought, who put him through so much heartache and hardship, and who reminds Forsyth so much of his long-dead and unmourned abusive father.

Back in Hain, the famous heroes Kintyre Turn and his loyal friend Bevel Dom have done the unthinkable–they have retired and settled down (mostly) into a comfortable life together ruling Turnshire, as the Lord and his Paired. Until some long-lost family starts turning up unexpectedly. Family…and some enemies.


J.M. sent me an e-book ARC in return for a review. Well, she sent me two copies–we had an entertaining lesson on converting files with 2 pages per pdf page into epub vs concerting files with 1 page per pdf page into epub. For entertainment, I’ll post a sample at the end.

This is the second book in the trilogy, and comes after The Untold Tale and Ghosts: An Accidental Turn Novella. I would definitely recommend reading The Untold Tale before reading The Forgotten Tale, as it does rely fairly heavily on what has gone before. Ghosts is more of a bonus–you’ll get by without having read it, but you’ll recognize more if you read it first, especially since it is where Bevel Dom really has a chance to shine.

This book is a great example of how “and they all lived happily ever after” is a cop-out, a phrase that glosses over the reality of what it really takes to make it happy day after day. Yes, both of the Turn brothers have married the loves of their lives, and had children, and settled down into a second line of work that they reasonably enjoy. They are also finding out that love is hard work, and that it requires constant work to stay a happy marriage. For all that Forsyth and Kintyre are very different people who married very different spouses, sometimes they can be remarkably similar, and make similar mistakes with their families which they need to recognize and correct to be both happy and healthy as a family. They are not alone at fault–their family members also need to learn to communicate their needs and listen to what Kintyre and Forsyth need. Pip condemns Forsyth’s anger instead of listening why he is frustrated, and Kintyre’s newest family member causes a great deal of trouble when he glorifies Kintyre’s past adventuring over his daily life of running the Chipping.

They also see the dark side of families, when they meet a relative of an old enemy who threatens their world, out of love for the villain. I won’t give away too much here, but just remember that the best bad guys never stay dead for long. As Buffy Summers told Dracula, “You think I don’t watch your movies? You always come back.”

Forsyth’s interactions with Elgar Reed are particularly fascinating to read. For Forsyth’s point of view, he and everyone he knows from Hain are people–flawed, complicated, fully developed people. Reed keeps being surprised as he learns about Forsyth–there are things he never thought about, things that he included as throwaway lines or as convenient plot points, that were never supposed to mean much. He never considers how such things affect people’s lives. Reed comes from the place of ultimate privilege–he is literally the creator of the world of Hain and everything in it. However, he is also a careless creator, who never once considered that his creations might have their own thoughts and feelings and desires, because he thought they were fictional. He is absolutely gobsmacked when he discovers just how far past Forsyth is from what he intended. For example, Forsyth points out that he was written as a scholar and a polyglot, with a knack for learning languages–in Pip and Reed’s world, this means that he picks up very quickly on programming languages for computers and becomes an accomplished hacker for CSIS. How does a fantasy world character react to the modern real world? By using his skills as best he can and relating his new life to his old one, and learning to adapt and survive.

One more thing I realized upon reflection of this book–J.M. once more demonstrated her talent for making me think about fictional conventions and my own reactions. There is a character from The Untold Tale who shows up again with their nonhuman partner, and who seems to be flirting with a new character (I don’t want to give too much away.) Both characters are presented as make, but I asked J.M. if the returning character is going to be revealed as a girl in disguise, because they seem to be a new love interest in the early stages. Specifically I said “Pretty sure [X] is a girl is disguise…Well, [Y] is a hero in training, and you’ve killed his first love interest to prove the situation is serious and torture him a little, so he needs a new love interest that he can forget about by the time the next book begins. And knowing you, she’ll make him work for it and won’t be that forgettable. But there’s something.” J.M.’s reply was “It’s like you study this stuff or something”. Which, yes, I do. But that can also trip me up. Why should [X] be a girl in disguise? That’s actually pretty heteronormative of me to assume. Why can’t they both be male and flirt? Just because [Y]’s first love interest is a girl, doesn’t mean that [Y] can’t be bi, or pan, or whatever they call it in Hain. I confess to accidental bi-erasure, and I apologize J.M. You caught me again. You always do make me think, and I can’t really give a higher compliment.

And one last thing–anyone in the Toronto area, the launch party for The Forgotten Tale is happening tonight on Tuesday, November 15, 2016, at 7:00 PM at  the Hard Rock Cafe Toronto. This will be the very first chance to buy the book, in advance of the release date on December 6, and a great time to get it signed by the author as well. Hope to see you there!


With words tasting of bitter almonds, I say: “I hack.”

Reed’s sadness dissolves into confusion. “Hack what?”

“Whatever the Canadian Security Information Service tells me to,” I answer with a shrug, being deliberately glib. “I learned of hacking quite early upon my arrival here, and it was easy enough to read the many volumes available regarding coding. I am a polyglot, you recall—you wrote me that way. JavaScript and C++ are just another set of languages to perfect. And it was the easiest way to set myself up with a legal identity.”

“But . . .” Reed blusters. “Computers?”

“Of course. It is not so different from the work I did as the Shadow Hand,” I sneer, raising my hands to indicate the walls covered with wires and screens, and the small bookshelf overflowing with programming books, Alis’s favourite board books, and stuffies. On the wall above my main console, Smoke has been hung on a cherry wood plaque board. “I investigate, I read, I synthesize data, and I return recommendations and command actions. And just as before, I have found a way to ingratiate myself to the governing body of this nation.”

Reed’s jolly fat cheeks drain of color. “But you’re a scholar.”

“And in this world, libraries are digital and computers are books,” I say, stunned by his lack of comprehension. I scowl. “I was no mere book-mouse,” I push. “You know that.”

Reed staggers back a step, reaching out blindly behind him and crashing into the wall, clutching at my desk chair to remain upright. “I don’t . . . I didn’t . . .” He gasps for air, sweat pearling on his forehead.

His reaction startles me. Derision, I expected, but not this shocked horror. Unless . . .

“Reed . . .” I say slowly, horrified in my own right. For how, how can a Writer create a character and not know all of their nuances? How could he have . . . put this in motion and not realized it? “You do recall that I was the Shadow Hand, do you not?”

“I . . . I do,” he mutters. “I just . . . when I set it up, it was a . . . a bit of a throwaway, really. It was such an offhand comment. I didn’t . . . I didn’t expect you to . . .”

A throwaway? The most important aspect of my life, the only part of me that I felt made me worthy, and honorable, and good, the thing of which I was proudest and which redeemed me from being, I felt, a spoilt younger son, and my creator tells me it was a throwaway? Barely remembered, hardly thought about?

Insulting! Beyond the pale!

“What I do here, it is the same!” I insist. I cannot . . . this is untenable! “This is meaningful.”

“But . . . computers,” he repeats. “I just . . . I expected more . . . I don’t know . . . bafflement?”

“I have lived in this world for nigh on two years,” I snarl. “How simple must you think me? I am no Kintyre, to bash around, and bull ahead, and understand nothing.”

“Hey now,” Reed says, rising to defend his greatest literary achievement.

“Spying is the same no matter where it happens. I can learn all I need about a target by following their social media accounts, tracking their IP, watching their online spending habits. It is identical to my old duties, only I need to send out no Shadow’s Men, write no blackmail expense slips, take no in-person meetings with the king. Here, I need not even don the Shadow’s Mask, or Cloak. Here, I need not even change out of my sleeping clothes, if I so desire,” I add with a derisive snort.

My dark amusement rubs Reed the wrong way, and his hackles rise. “But being Shadow Hand wasn’t important! It was such a secondary feature of your character that I . . .” He trails off, eyes falling to his feet, shamed and confused. “I only put the Shadow Hand in one book.”

“Secondary. Secondary?” I hiss. “After Lewko the Elder was tortured by Bootknife, you chose me for Shadow Hand because, what? It was convenient? Because I was nearby? Being the Shadow Hand of Hain was my whole life! It was the only thing that was mine, truly mine!”

“Forsyth, I—” He swallows hard. “You’re just Kintyre’s little brother. You’re not supposed to—”

“Ah!” I snap. “And there is the crux of the problem! I am no hero, and so I cannot have a passion, have a desire to help? I am a citizen of Canada now, am I not? Do I not owe it to my kingdom to serve her best interests?”

“But it’s beneath you!” he shouts, his ire rising to match mine.

His disapproval surprises me. I expected him to understand. I don’t know why I did, because every conversation I’ve ever had with him has given me evidence enough to assume that he would not. Call it blind hope. Maybe, I thought, if I could make him understand, make him see it from my perspective, maybe we could have . . . reconciled our differences. Maybe we could have found the friendship he so clearly wants. Maybe, secretly, deep within the part of my soul that was born of his typewriter, I had wanted. . . . Ah, but it is pointless to wish for that which one cannot have. Reed will never understand how much he doesn’t know about what he has created.


From the mixed-up files of Wading Through Books (not an actual quote), for your entertainment:

Elgar Reed, unfortunately, is. He sent us a very large nose, and Pip’s Asian facial structure.  But the look in her bouquet of flowers and some celebratory wine, along gaze when she is plotting mischief is all Kintyre Turn. with a startlingly large painting of Turn Hall looking, Right now, Alis is bouncing gleefully in a romper well, exactly as it ought. It was signed in the bottom attached to the lintel of my office doorway, smashing a corner by one of those fellows who worked on the Lord sodden Library against the edge of the harness each time of the Rings film designs, and was Reed’s first, but sadly her chubby little feet leave the carpet, and practicing not his last, foray into breaching the tight-knit tapestry three of the four words she has— book, Da, and no. Ma is of our family.


Today I Read…Ghosts

ghostsToday I read Ghosts, An Accidental Turn novella by J.M. Frey.

The great hero Kintyre Turn and his companion Bevel Dom have just finished another adventure, when they are summoned back to Turn Hall by Kintyre’s younger brother, the Lordling Forsyth Turn. He has a quest for them to undertake. However, first they need to travel to Turn Hall, which is some distance away. They stop for the night in the town of Gwillfifeshire, where they meet a ghost and learn a valuable lesson about just where they ought to be sticking their swords, especially when it is uninvited. And when it is gladly welcomed…


J.M. sent me an ebook ARC of her upcoming novel, The Forgotten Tale, and I bought Ghosts to fill in the blanks between the first and second books in the series. It takes place during The Untold Tale, right before Kintyre and Bevel go to  Turn Hall and meet Lucy Piper and Forsyth Turn, and it also connects with events that take place in The Forgotten Tale.

This time when I was talking to J.M. I told her that Ghosts made me sympathize with the little hedgehog (Bevel). I told her that he reminds me of a “grumpy, make, middle-aged Gabrielle” from  Xena: Warrior Princess. “Especially the episode where they’re traveling and you see the unglamorous side of heroes, where they fight about using Gabrielle’s scrolls as toilet paper and her best pan as a weapon. Where you see that they’ve been together long enough to drive each other nuts, but they still stay together because they can’t be apart after so long.” (For the record, I was talking about the episode A Day in the Life) J.M. asked me use that exact analogy in the review, so here you go.

As the storyteller, Bevel has always been the second fiddle to Kintyre. Kintyre is the hero, the one everyone wants to hear about. Bevel is the sidekick, the one who helps fight the extra minions while Kintyre fights the Big Bad, the one who tells the stories to the adoring crowds afterwards so Kintyre doesn’t seem like he’s bragging about what he did and can just not-so-graciously accept the accolades, the one who cleans up all of Kintyre’s messes because he really is pretty self-involved. Ghosts is where Bevel finally gets a voice to tell his own story, even though it is still all about Kintyre. It’s not precisely that Bevel minds–he just wants people to acknowledge his contribution, he doesn’t want to diminish Kintyre’s glory. More importantly, he wants Kintyre to acknowledge what they are to each other. Seventeen years…that’s a long time together. Seventeen years of fighting, of traveling, of being honoured by kings and seduced by beautiful women together. Seventeen years of eating together, sleeping together, bathing together. Of fighting over whose turn it is to do the laundry–well, who took the last clean shirt? Did you remember to buy the supplies? No, it was your turn, and you forgot to buy the flour so I can make bread. Have you seen my dagger? No, not that one, the other one.  Have we passed by this farm before? Yes, we did, and we slept with the farmer’s oldest beautiful daughter, so let’s leave quickly before they find out we’re here again. Seventeen years of you smell like a dead dragon–yeah, well that’s because we killed a dragon and you’re covered in blood too. After that long, either you love someone, or you kill them. Some days the choice between the two may rest on the flip of a coin.

Ghosts  is entertaining as a stand-alone story in a larger universe, but where it shines is as a connection, as a bridge between the novels and as an interlude that serves to give the reader (and the Reader) a deeper understanding of the character that would bog down the action of the novel. It’s a bonus, an extra scene on the DVD–not necessary, but a pleasure, especially to the completist who wants to read EVERYTHING set in that world. And since it’s available now, it’s something to keep you occupied until The Forgotten Tale is released on December 6. If you love the land of Hain, you won’t regret meeting this Ghost.


I always thought there would be children in my life. I actually want to be a dad. Being an uncle is wonderful, even though I only see the little pests infrequently. I love the squirts, and it’s great to see how much they’ve grown, all that they’ve learned, the ways their personalities and preferences develop between each visit. The youngest of the horde seems to think that “poop” is the funniest damned word the Writer ever Wrote.
I want their chubby, sticky fingers locked around my neck, the sweet kisses, the cuddles, the little feet racing through the hallways shouting, “Da’s back! Da’s here!” There’s something more, something magic in the way they say that to their fathers, different to the way they shout “Uncle!” when I surprise one of my six brothers at home. Almost like “Da” is a Word, instead of just a word, and one that I want to mean me. I would like a home to go back to, I think. A place where it’s warm, and I can sit by the fire and and be adored by everyone around me because I adore them back.

That had always been the plan, anyway.

Grow up, work with Da in the forge, marry a farmer’s daughter, build a croft, raise a brood, and spend the rest of my life shoeing horses and being loved.

But then a handsome lord’s son had come along, and that was the end of those dreams. I could have a wife, a home, the children, if I wanted. But that would mean no Kintyre.

A sudden thought drops into my stomach like a fire-warmed stone: I’m tired.
This is not the grief-born weariness I was feeling this morning. This is something else, something deeper, something that has soaked into my skin and settled in the dark marrow of my bones. This is something that is etched on the very fiber of my muscles, the pull of my tendons, the lining of my stomach. This is something born of Dargan’s careless teasing, yeah, but also the contemplation that his words have caused over the weeks since I was in that tavern with him, both of us a little too far into the keg.

I am tired.

I am tired of walking, tired of traveling, tired of having nowhere to call home, no place to call my own, no pillow and bed waiting at the end of the day, no surety of the next meal. I am tired of following after Kintyre Turn and wanting. I am tired of not having.
I am tired, and I want to stop.

I could pay for somewhere to call my own, true; I’m not much for banks and moneylenders, but I’ve squirreled away the  reward purses I didn’t give over to Mum over the years. I don’t need to build a croft now—I’ve got more than enough clink to buy a cottage, a few acres, some pigs. Probably a calf. Or five. Or ten, really. Right, so there’s actually probably enough to buy a title and the estate that goes with it.

Hells, King Carvel has offered me one often enough. Maybe I could just write to him and tardily accept. Though what on the Writer’s hairy backside I’d do with the trappings and responsibilities of a lord, I don’t know. I wasn’t raised to it. I’d have to hire someone to do all the actual work, and the life of an idle gentleperson is not even close to appealing.

The only thing I am certain about is this: Kin would never live with me.

Even if Kintyre Turn did finally settle down, turn in his sword for a ledger or a plowshare or a guardsman’s cap, it would be with a buxom woman who could gift him with little Turnlings. More likely, it would be with some nobleman’s daughter or simpering princess, and it would be on the coin of a king, or the late Aglar Turn’s estate, where his brother Forsyth would maintain the responsibilities of Master while Kin enjoyed the luxuries with which he’d been raised.

If Kin stopped, that would be it. There would be no room in Kintyre Turn’s life for a Bevel Dom, his questing partner, sword-mate, and dogsbody. And a life for Bevel Dom with no Kintyre Turn in it is a life I’m afraid I might not actually have the strength to live.

I know with the surety of a man who has been in love for half his life with someone who will never be aware of it that I will die of heartbreak, or maybe by my own hand, the day Kin marries someone else.

And Writer, that sounds melodramatic as bloody anything. More fit for my scrolls than my thoughts, but there it is. I jam my fists down harder in my pockets and hunch, chewing on my bottom lip to keep from scowling.

And the bastard is still walking, just a few paces ahead, like his long legs can’t be bothered to shorten his stride for the sake of anything as banal as a short companion. Fine.

So I do as I have always done: I put one foot in front of the other. I shove the weariness away, raise my chin, squint to keep the sun out of my eyes, and follow after Kintyre Turn.

The tiredness can be ignored.

Today I read…The Untold Tale

The Untold TaleToday I read The Untold Tale, the first book in the upcoming Accidental Turn trilogy by J.M. Frey.

Forsyth Turn knew exactly who he wasn’t. He wasn’t the hero. He wasn’t big or brave or strong. He wasn’t bluff and hearty and called friend by men from every land under the sun. He wasn’t handsome and smooth and accounted a skilled lover by women from sea to sea. He wasn’t the man the bards sang of. He wasn’t his brother Kintyre Turn.

Lucy Piper knew exactly who she was. She was a normal woman with a normal life. And just like many other people, she was a fan of the wildly popular The Tales of Kintyre Turn series by author Elgar Reed. In fact, she wrote her thesis on the books. But they were just books.

Two very different people from two very different worlds. And they are about to discover that they are both very, very wrong.


First, I’m really sorry J.M. that this review is so late, but I’ve been working in a library (yay!) and have less time to write (boo!).

J.M. sent me an ebook ARC to review some time ago, and I did read it, but I haven’t been able to write my review until now. But now the paperback and the ebook are both available for all you lovely readers to go out and buy, so yay! The Toronto launch party was December 10th at the Amsterdam Bicycle Club, with hosting duties by author Adrienne Kress and entertainment provided by Chantal Barette.

Adrienne Kress (at mic) and J.M. Frey (sitting)

Adrienne Kress (at mic) and J.M. Frey (sitting)

Whenever I finish reading a new J.M. Frey book, I send her an initial thought before I sit down to write my full review. (Okay, that’s a lie, first I cry a little and wonder why I keep letting her play with my heart like bubble wrap, but after that I message her.) For Triptych I told her “I hate you a little for killing my favourite character. But thank you for not bringing him back.” For The Untold Tale I told her that it was “A horribly uncomfortable story that everyone needs to read. And yes, that’s a compliment.”

Forsyth is…familiar. He is the voice in your head, telling you that no matter what you do it will never be good enough. That you aren’t pretty enough, smart enough, charming enough, working hard enough, resourceful enough, considerate enough, talented enough. That those whom you care for regard you with pity, not love. That you are tolerated, not respected. That the Other–your sibling, parent, friend, peer–is so much greater than you are, and that all who know you both compare you and find you lacking. That whatever you try, you will fail. Forsyth is depression and fear and insecurity. And then he meets the mysterious Pip, who he loves without feeling worthy of her, and she says such strange, wrong things. That Forsyth is handsome, that he is clever, that he is responsible and loved by his people. That his brother Kintyre is not better than him. Things he would love to believe, but just can’t.

And Pip, who has loved the books for so long, and who is starting to realize that sometimes fantasy worlds are better as fantasies. That they can be incredibly problematic for people who don’t fit the dominant narrative–that people of colour, or who are queer, or who don’t fit nicely into little gender role boxes, or who are anyone other than the brawny hero and those in his direct orbit, don’t really get their stories told. That maybe the brawny hero is pretty darn tired of sleeping with random maidens and getting soaked in blood, and sometimes just wants to curl up with a good book and a cup of tea. That the love interest has a story, and the sidekick, and the villain, and the innkeeper, and the maidservant. That the story that the Author tells about the characters is not necessarily the story that the characters wish to tell about themselves.

There are other things I could talk about–the romance that does more than merely nod towards the concept of consent certainly comes to mind, and the way that Pip and Forsyth navigate their way through both rape and rape culture and how it affects them both, and not in a superficial way. They suffer, and they think, and they (eventually) talk to each other.

And as a fangirl, the thought of a fictional character attending a convention and seeing what fans think of their world is…both delicious and cringeworthy. There is a scene where Forsyth, dressed as Forsyth Turn from the Elgar Reed books, meets a female cosplayer in a genderbent Kintyre Turn costume who proceeds to hit on him, not caring that a) Kintyre and Forsyth are brothers and Forsyth is clearly not into incest,  and b) Forsyth says no. Cosplay is not consent people… Well, read it.

Frey has a knack for writing books that are incredibly hard to describe properly. It’s a fantasy, but a very real and aware one, which examines the tropes and both celebrates and criticizes them, and thus proves it’s love. You can’t really love something if you only love the good parts–you have to look and know the bad, and acknowledge it, and love it anyway without washing the bad away. I recently read A Game of Thrones for the first time (yes, I’m behind, my to-read list is in the triple digits at this point). I posted on social media when I finished that I thought it was compelling yet highly problematic for the female characters. I raced through reading it–it was one of those books that you just can’t put down. But in my opinion there wasn’t a single well-rounded female character.  Frey comes from an academic background, and she’s a fangirl through and through. She’s used to analyzing her beloved fandoms and figuring out why she loves them, but also where the problems are.

The Untold Tale is the first in a new trilogy. The story feels complete as it is, and at first you wonder how there can be more. But then you start thinking about what happens after ‘and they lived happily ever after.’  That too is another untold tale. The second book will be The Forgotten Tale, and the last will be The Silenced Tale, and I’m sure that both of them will make me think about the title and what it really means just as much as The Untold Tale has.

Oh, and J.M.? You’re going to break my heart again, right? Please?

Chantal Barrette

Chantal Barrette performing at the Untold Launch


When Bevel has imbibed enough liquid courage—I don’t know what his gauge is, but he seems to have met it—he stands and sways over to Pip’s side.

“Sorry he hurt you,” Bevel slurs gently. He’s not quite too drunk to be clear, but his lips are  tumbling over the consonants.

Dismissively, Pip answers, “Kintyre should be apologizing, not you. You’re not his keeper.”

Bevel laughs. “Oh, but I am.”

“And aren’t you sick of it?” Pip challenges.

Bevel shrugs. “That’s just Kintyre. You get used to it. It doesn’t bother me.”

“Well it bothers me,” Pip returns. “Actually, no, you know what bothers me? It’s not that he doesn’t know the social cues and common practices of politeness. What bothers me is that he observes them around him every day and has decided, however unconsciously, that they aren’t anything he needed to bother himself with. That learning to communicate and interact with other human beings was beneath him. That everyone would just recognize his superiority and marvel, and obey. That is what bothers me.”

I am so stunned by the boldness of her words that my tongue seems to be blocking up my throat. My heart is there, beating alongside it, hard and loud and painful. I have never, ever heard anyone challenge Kintyre this way.

Bevel isn’t certain how to respond. “Listen,” he says. “I think we got off on the wrong foot. You’re a pretty little girl–” he doesn’t seem to catch Pip’s incredulous look at the insulting diminutive “– so why don’t we just jump ahead to the end of the evening, hm? We promise we’ll be very gentle with you, won’t hurt your back at all.”

“And what happens at the end of the evening?” Pip asks, wary.

I cover my face with my hands. I cannot watch this. Either Bevel will insult and embarrass himself, or Pip will say yes, which will be worse. Either way, I do not want to see her face when it happens. I couldn’t bear it.

Bevel leans in close and whispers filth into her ear.

“What? Both of you?” Pip yelps, and her face twists in disgust. Bevel leans close and says something else, and Pip physically shoves him back. “No! No, I’m as happy to have a threesome with two hotties as any red-blooded girl, but you guys are complete sleazes. Get off me.”

She shoves him hard enough that Bevel knocks my chair and I have to look. He is stunned. I don’t know if he’s ever been turned down before. And Pip looks like fury incarnate.

On the other side of me, Kintyre raises himself from his indolent slouch and scoffs. “So I suppose it will be to Forsyth’s bed you go tonight, then?”

Pip goggles at him, eyes wide and mouth a scandalized ‘o’. “Hey, how about I go to nobody’s bed because, one, I am in pain because of you, you stupid behemoth, and two, because I’m not a prize that’s meted out at the end of dessert. Here’s a startling and revolutionary idea: maybe I just don’t want a fuck!”

Ah, so that’s what that expletive means.

“Maybe you’re just a frigid bitch,” Kintyre snaps.

Pip rocks back in her seat, stunned. “Oh my god! I cannot even believe I used to look up to you! You’re incredible! You’re nothing like Forsyth!”

“So that’s what this is about,” Kintyre snarls, his bright blue eyes snapping over to me. “Forssy’s already got his scrabbly little fingers and flaccid little prick into you.”

Pip pushes up to her feet and leans over me, her face puce with fury, to get up into Kintyre’s. “Don’t talk about your brother like that! He’s a good man! Better than you’ll ever be!”

“Oh, and now you let your woman talk for you, too, brother?” Kintyre sneers, rising to his own feet. “Perhaps she’s the man between you? Does she stick it to you? Do you think you’re in love, just because she hasn’t run away from you yet?”

I shrink down in my seat, too mortified to even get my tongue to stop fluttering against the roof of my mouth. I could never even make words like this.

“And is there something wrong with taking it up the arse?” Pip challenges. “Does it make you less of a man? Because Bevel seems to like it!”

Bevel and Kintyre both go pale and stagger. Bevel clutches at his chair. “How did you know?” he hisses.

“Silence!” Kintyre booms.

“Oh my god!” Pip says, exasperation written into every feature. “What does it matter what you two do together? Bevel’s disgustingly in love with you, you ridiculous moron! He always has been! It’s barely even subtext! He sets up threesomes for you just so he can touch you! Is that what all this macho manly shit is about? Cause there’s nothing wrong with loving who you love!”

“Nobody loves Forsyth Turn,” Kintyre snarls.

“Qu-qu-quiet!” I snap, standing and pushing Pip and Kintyre away from one another. “E-e-enough!”

“Not here,” Pointe snaps, his voice just loud enough for us to hear, but quiet enough that music keeps his words from reaching my guests. He crosses behind my chair to lay hands on Kintyre’s shoulders. “You’re not doing this here, Sir Kintyre. You’re drunk and shaming yourself. Master Bevel, get him into Forsyth’s study.”

But Kintyre is incensed. He is insulted. He pushes the Sword of Turnshire away and holds a hand out to stay Bevel. “I am shaming myself? Me? You’re the one shaming the Turn name, brother! You are pathetic,” Kintyre sneers. “Deciding that the first woman to show a grain of interest in you is actually infatuated with you? Look at you. What in the world could she find attractive about you? You saved her, that’s all. She’s being nice to you because you saved her, not because she likes you. And everyone here knows it.”

Faces frozen with shock all around us narrow and shut down. Nobody, not one guest, makes a sound in my support. Of course. They are laughing at me, silently, inside. Laughing at foolish Forsyth Turn, who thought he could make this woman fall in love with him.

“Now,” Kintyre says. “You are going to apologize and sit down and act like a proper lady, or I will leave you here to rot and never take you home!”

“I will not!”

“Kintyre…” Bevel starts, plucking at his sleeve, but Kintyre is embarrassed and feeling cruel and pushes him away hard enough that he slams into the table. Bevel turns hurt, dark eyes up at my brother and goes silent, biting so hard on his lower lip that the flesh turns white.

All the breath rushes from my body. Oh, incredible, Pip was right. Bevel Dom is in love with my brother and I never noticed. Poor Bevel. I hate the hedgehoggy little lackey, but to be in love with my brother and Kintyre so in love with women’s bodies… how cruel this Elgar Reed is. Poor, poor Bevel.

“Sit!” Kintyre repeats, pointing to the chair magnanimously, and Pip throws her own finger into the air, the middle one. It is clearly a rude gesture, but its exact meaning is unclear.

“I am not some docile dog you can order around,” Pip screams. “You are an asshole and a bully, Kintyre Turn, and I don’t want your help!”

The whole room falls into a screeching hush.

Kintyre goes very, very still. I can’t help the involuntary step back as his fingers twitch into a fist. It seems the survival instincts of childhood are still deeply ingrained.

“Good,” he grunts, fury in every line of his face. “As you will not be receiving it.”

“Kin!” Bevel squalls. “You can’t just turn down a maiden in distress.”

“I can and I have.”

“I’m not a maiden in distress,” Pip snarls, rounding on Bevel, who is utterly unprepared for his own tongue lashing and stumbles back into my brother’s arm. “I’m a woman and I am damn well capable of rescuing my own damn self, thank you very much.”

“Let us hope so,” Kintyre rumbles. “For your sake.”

And then he pushes past Pointe and storms out of the hall, Bevel quick on his heels.

Me and Untold Tale

Mine, all mine!

Today I Read…Howl’s Moving Castle

Howl's Moving CastleToday I read Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, the first book in the Castle trilogy. It won the Phoenix Award from the Children’s Literature Association in 2006, 20 years after it was first published. The Phoenix award is given to books that do not win awards when they are first published but later rise from obscurity. In 2004 it was made into an anime film by Hayao Miyazaki, which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature (thank you Wikipedia).

Sophie Hatter knows that she is doomed to failure. After all, she is the eldest of three sisters, and everyone knows that the oldest is always the least special. If she’s lucky, she’ll always be alone and eventually take over the family hat shop in Market Chipping.

And then one day the evil Witch of the Waste comes into the shop and curses her. Suddenly, Sophie is old before her time, and her family doesn’t recognize her, so with nothing to lose Sophie sets off into the world to find a cure and maybe her fortune. She comes to the magical moving castle of the mysterious and wicked Wizard Howl, who eats the hearts of young girls–everyone says so! Of course, Sophie is no longer young, so she must be safe. She takes a job as the castle’s housekeeper–it certainly needs one, with the mess that Howl and the other castle inhabitants make!

Howl is certainly very wicked–he’s also lazy and cowardly and dishonest and handsome and vain and flamboyant and foolish and silly and selfish and charming and so unexpectedly kind… Sophie makes a deal with Calcifer the fire demon to free him from his contract with Howl if he’ll take the spell off Sophie, but they have a deadline–Midsummer Day, the day that the curse the Witch of the Waste placed on Howl will come to fruition and doom them all. Sophie and Howl must learn that the most powerful magic is the lies we tell ourselves.


This book is an old favourite–I loved Diana Wynne Jones’ books when I was growing up, and I was very sad to hear about her death from cancer in 2011. I was glad when the craze for magic books following the popularity of Harry Potter led to many of Jones’ books being reissued with new covers–I would recommend any of them with no hesitation (though I really loved Howl’s Moving Castle and the sequels Castle in the Air and House of Many Ways–oh, and The Dark Lord of Derkholm and Year of the Griffin–and definitely Deep Secret, shame she never wrote a sequel to that one–and The Homeward Bounders and Black Maria were always very powerful–and of course, any of the Chrestomanci books…).

Sophie is a really fun character, a very practical by training person who is finally discovering how much fun it can be to do whatever you want. She always knew that her sisters’ were prettier and smarter than she was, but she loved them so she never resented them. She never realized that just because they were pretty and smart, it didn’t make her ugly or stupid, even by comparison. She felt she had to be the responsible one, since as the oldest she had nothing else going for her, so she let her whole family boss her around and have fun while she did what she was supposed to do. The curse taking away her youth is a blessing in disguise, since it means that she has nothing to lose–she can tell people exactly what she thinks, instead of being nice to customers; she’s old, so she can boss everyone else around, instead of being bossed around because she is young; she can wear pretty clothes because she likes them, because she’s old and it doesn’t matter if she isn’t pretty; she can be impulsive, because who’s going to yell at her for making a mistake? By letting go of everything she let tie her down, Sophie finds out that she is pretty and smart and her family loves and values her and she can do magic–she is special and everything she never thought she was.

The new Old Sophie turns out to be exactly what the weaselly Howl needs–he’s not actually a bad person, just an incredibly selfish one who doesn’t usually stop to consider the consequences of his actions until it’s too late. Sophie can boss Howl around and make him be better, which is exactly what he needs to grow up a little. By not running away from his problems, Howl can finally defeat the Witch’s curse and free himself from his co-dependence with Calcifer.

In Howl’s Moving Castle, magic may grant power but it doesn’t make you happy–the important thing is to figure out what makes you happy and to grab onto it with all your strength. You may be surprised just how much strength you have, when it’s important.


In the land of Ingary, where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of three. Everyone knows you are the one who will fail first, and worst, if the three of you set out to seek your fortunes.


There was the sound of wheels and horse hoofs and a carriage darkened the window. The shop bell clanged and the grandest customer she had ever seen sailed in, with a sable wrap drooping from her elbows and diamonds winking all over her dense black dress. Sophie’s eyes went to the lady’s wide hat first— real ostrich plume dyed to reflect the pinks and greens and blues winking in the diamonds and yet still look black. This was a wealthy hat. The lady’s face was carefully beautiful. The chestnut-brown hair made her seem young, but… Sophie’s eyes took in the young man who followed the lady in, a slightly formless-faced person with reddish hair, quite well dressed, but pale and obviously upset. He stared at Sophie with a kind of beseeching horror. He was clearly younger than the lady. Sophie was puzzled.


“Miss Hatter?” the lady asked in a musical but commanding voice.


“Yes,” said Sophie. The man looked more upset than ever. Perhaps the lady was his mother.


“I hear you sell the most heavenly hats,” said the lady. “Show me.”


Sophie did not trust herself to answer in her present mood. She went and got out hats. None of them were in this lady’s class, but she could feel the man’s eyes following her and that made her uncomfortable. The sooner the lady discovered the hats were wrong for her, the sooner this odd pair would go. She followed Fanny’s advice and got out the wrongest first.


The lady began rejecting hats instantly. “Dimples,” she said to the pink bonnet, and “Youth” to the caterpillar-green one. To the one of twinkles and veils she said, “Mysterious allure. How very obvious. What else have you?”


Sophie got out the modish black-and-white, which was the only hat even remotely likely to interest this lady.


The lady looked at it with contempt. “This one doesn’t do anything for anybody. You’re wasting my time, Miss Hatter.”


“Only because you came in and asked for hats,” Sophie said. “This is only a small shop in a small town, Madam. Why did you—” Behind the lady, the man gasped and seemed to be trying to signal warningly. “—bother to come in?” Sophie finished, wondering what was going on.


“I always bother when someone tries to set themselves up against the Witch of the Waste,” said the lady. “I’ve heard of you, Miss Hatter, and I don’t care for your competition or your attitude. I came to put a stop to you. There.” She spread out her hand in a flinging motion toward Sophie’s face.


“You mean you’re the Witch of the Waste?” Sophie quavered. Her voice seemed to have gone strange with fear and astonishment.


“I am,” said the lady. “And let that teach you to meddle with things that belong to me.”


“I don’t think I did. There must be some mistake,” Sophie croaked. The man was now staring at her in utter horror, though she could not see why.


“No mistake, Miss Hatter,” said the Witch. “Come, Gaston.” She turned and swept to the shop door. While the man was humbly opening it for her, she turned back to Sophie. “By the way, you won’t be able to tell anyone you’re under a spell,” she said. The shop door tolled like a funeral bell as she left.


Sophie put her hands to her face, wondering what the man had stared at. She felt soft, leathery wrinkles. She looked at her hands. They were wrinkled too, and skinny, with large veins in the back and knuckles like knobs. She pulled her gray skirt against her legs and looked down at skinny, decrepit ankles and feet which had made her shoes all knobbly. They were the legs of someone about ninety and they seemed to be real.


Sophie got herself to the mirror, and found she had to hobble. The face in the mirror was quite calm, because it was what she expected to see. It was the face of a gaunt old woman, withered and brownish, surrounded by wispy white hair. Her own eyes, yellow and watery, stared out at her, looking rather tragic.


“Go and catch a falling star,

Get with child a mandrake root,

Tell me where all past years are,

Or who cleft the Devil’s foot.

Teach me to hear the mermaids singing,

Or to keep off envy’s stinging,

And find

What wind

Serves to advance an honest mind.

Decide what this is about

Write a second verse yourself.”


“If thou beest born to strange sights,

Things invisible to see,

Ride ten thousand days and nights

Till age snow white hairs on thee.

Thou, when thou returnest, wilt tell me

All strange wonders that befell thee,

And swear

No where

Lives a woman true, and fair.

If thou— ”

Today I Read…The Fire Rose

Today I Read The Fire Rose by Mercedes Lackey, the first book in her Elemental Masters series. fire-rose

Miss Rosalind Hawkins has nowhere left to turn. Her father has recently passed away, leaving her with enormous debts she has no way of paying off, and her studies in the classics have left her unsuitable for any work in 1905 Chicago. Plain, intelligent, and outspoken, she cannot even hope for marriage to rescue her from her poverty. And then Professor Cathcart tells her of a strange offer he received, for a tutor with her exact qualifications from a mysterious gentleman. Since her options are either his offer or suicide, Rose packs what few belongings the creditors left her and goes off across the country to the wild hills of San Francisco, and the employ of the rail baron Mister Jason Cameron.

Jason’s reasons for hiring Rose aren’t quite what he states in his letter- for one, he has no children, and so no need for a tutor. He is an Elemental Master who commands the power of Fire, who retired to his luxurious home after a spell went wrong and trapped him in the body of a monster. He needs a translator for his ancient books of magic, to help him research a cure, but one that he can control and keep silent about his condition. Rose, educated in several languages, poor, and with no close relatives, is ideal.

Despite the initial deception, Rose is pleased enough with her new position–Jason is generous, his home beautiful, and the work is fascinating. But soon enough Jason’s enemies begin their attacks, and even the earth herself will tremble…


I met Mercedes Lackey a couple of years ago at Ad Astra, and I began reading her work afterwards. While her Valdemar books are possibly the best known, I prefer her Elemental Masters and 500 Kingdoms series. Each Elemental Masters novel follows a young woman in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century as she discovers her own magical powers and uses them to change her life. The idea is that all magicians have an element that they are strongly connected to–earth, air, fire, or water–and that their personalities and magic are based around that element. The books are loosely based around a fairy tale–The Fire Rose is a version of Beauty and the Beast. The Fire Roseisn’t as connected to the other books in the series, taking place in America while the others tend to be placed primarily in England and Europe, but the world of the Elemental Masters is nicely built.

Lackey provides a wonderful amount of detail about the clothing, customs, buildings, and history of the time period while balancing a lively adventure with strongly defined characters. The wicked villain who causes his own downfall, the arrogant prince who is punished for his hubris, the clever poor girl who betters her station through courage and hard work–Lackey skillfully keeps the archetypes from becoming stereotypes, and the story feels fresh no matter how often the reader has read Beauty and the Beast. This is an excellent book for lovers of historical fantasy and feminist fairy tales.


Time to construct his letter, while the Salamander and all its kin considered his requirements. “Dear Sir;” he said, and the Salamander danced above the vellum, burning the characters into it, in elegant calligraphy. “I write to you because I am in need of a special tutor for my—

He paused to consider the apocryphal child of his imagination. A son? A lonely, crippled waif, isolated from the laughter and play of his peers? No, make it two children. If the crippled boy was not bait enough for his quarry, an intelligent, inquisitive girl would be. “—my children. Both are gifted intellectually beyond their years; my son is an invalid, crippled by the disease that claimed his mother; and my daughter the victim of prejudice that holds her sex inferior to that of the male. Neither is likely to obtain the education their ability demands in a conventional setting.”

He weighed the words carefully, arid found them satisfactory. Appropriately tempting, and playing to the “enlightened” and “modern” male who would be the mentor of the kind of tutor he sought. He wanted a woman, not a man; a male scholar with the skills he required would be able to find ready employment no matter where he was, but a woman had fewer options. In fact, a female scholar without independent means had no options if she was not supported by a wealthy father or indulgent husband. A female had no rights; under the laws of this and most other states, she was chattel, the property of parents or husband. She could take no employment except that of teacher, seamstress, nurse, or domestic help; no trades were open to her, and only menial factory work. There were some few female doctors, some few scientists, but no scholars of the arts, liberal or otherwise, who were not supported in their field by money or males. He wanted someone with no options; this would make her more obedient to his will.

My needs are peculiar, reflecting the interests of my children. This tutor must be accomplished in ancient Latin, classical Greek, medieval French and German, and the Latin of medieval scholars. A familiarity with ancient Egyptian or Celtic languages would be an unanticipated bonus.”

The Salamander writhed, suddenly, and opened surprisingly blue eyes to stare at its master. It opened its lipless mouth, and a thin, reedy voice emerged.

“We have narrowed the field to five candidates,” it said. “One in Chicago, one in Harvard, three in New York. The one in Chicago is the only one with a smattering of ancient tongues and some knowledge of hieroglyphs. The others are skilled only in the European languages you required; less qualified, but—“

“But?” he asked.

More attractive,” the Salamander hissed, its mouth open in a silent laugh.

He snorted. At one point he would have been swayed by a fairer face; now that was hardly to the point. “Have they relatives?” he asked it.

‘The one in Chicago is recently orphaned, one of those in New York was raised by a guardian who cares nothing for her, and her trust fund has been mismanaged as she will shortly learn. Those that do have families, have been repudiated for their unwomanly ways,” the Salamander told him. “They are suffragettes, proponents of rights for women, and no longer welcome in their parents’ homes.”

Tempting, But relatives and parents had been known to change their minds in the past, and welcome the prodigal back into the familial fold.

“Show me the one in Chicago,” he demanded. She seemed to be the best candidate thus far. The Salamander left the vellum page’ and returned to its obsidian dish, where it began to spin.

As it rotated, turning faster and faster with each passing second, it became a glowing globe of yellow-white light. A true picture formed in the heart of the globe, in the way that a false picture formed in the heart of a Spiritualist’s “crystal ball.” The latter was generally accomplished through the use of mirrors and other chicanery. The former was the result of true Magick.

When he saw the girl at last, he nearly laughed aloud at the Salamander’s simplistic notion of beauty Granted, the girl was clad in the plainest of gowns, of the sort that a respectable housekeeper might wear. He recognized it readily enough, from a Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog left in his office a few years ago by a menial.

Ladies’ Wash Suit, two dollars and twenty five cents. Three years out-of-mode, and worn shabby.

She wore wire-rimmed glasses, and she used no artifice to enhance her features. In all these things, she was utterly unlike the expensive members of the silk-clad demimonde whose pleasures he had once enjoyed. But the soft cheek needed no rouge or rice-powder; the lambent blue eyes were in no way disguised by the thick lenses. That slender figure required no over-corseting to tame it to a fashionable shape, and the warm golden-brown of her hair was due to no touch of chemicals to achieve that mellow hue of sun-ripened wheat.

“She is orphaned?” he asked. The Salamander danced its agreement. “Recently,” it told him. “She is the most qualified of them all, scholastically speaking.”

“And possessed of no—inconvenient—family ties,” he mused, watching the vision as it moved in the Salamander’s fire. He frowned a little at that, for her movements were not as graceful as he would have liked, being hesitant and halting. That scarcely mattered, for he was not hiring her for an ability to dance.

From the look of her clothing, she had fallen on hard times—unless, of course, she was a natural ascetic, or was donating all of her resources to the Suffrage Movement. Either was possible; if the latter was an impediment to her accepting employment, the Salamander would have rejected her as a candidate.

“We will apply to her—or rather to her mentor,” he decided, and gave the Salamander the signal to resume its place above the half-written letter. “I am willing to pay handsomely for the services of any male or female with such qualifications, to compensate for the great distance he or she must travel. The tutor will be installed in my own household, drawing a wage of twenty dollars a week as well as full room and board, and a liberal allowance for travel, entertainment, and books. San Francisco affords many pleasures for those of discriminating taste; this year shall even see the glorious Caruso performing at our Opera.” Clothing he would have supplied to her, having it waiting for her if she consented to come; easier to supply the appropriate garments than to hope the girl had any kind of taste at all. He would not have a frump in his house; any female entering these doors must not disgrace the interior. While his home might not rival Leland Stanford’s on the outside, the interior was enough to excite the envy of the richest “nob” on “Nob Hill.” There would be no cotton-duck gowns from a mail-order catalog trailing over the fine inlay work of his floors, no coarse dark cottons displayed against his velvets and damask satins.

I hope you will have a student that can match my requirements,” he concluded without haste. “Your scholarship is renowned even to the wilds of the west and the golden hills of San Francisco, and I cannot imagine that any pupil of yours would disgrace the master To that end, I am enclosing a rail ticket for the prospective tutor” It was not a first-class ticket for a parlor car; such might excite suspicion. A ticket for the common carriage would be sufficient, and a journey by rail would be safe enough, even for a woman alone. “I am looking forward to hearing from you as soon as may be.”

“The usual closing?” the Salamander asked delicately. He nodded, and it finished, burning his name into the vellum with a flourish. It continued to hover above the paper, as the paper itself folded without a hand touching it, and slipped itself and a railway pass into a matching envelope. The Salamander sealed it with a single “hand” pressed into the wax, then burned the address into the obverse of the envelope.

‘Take it to Professor Cathcart’s office and leave it there,” he instructed, and the Salamander bowed. “If she does not take this bait, we will have to devise something else.

“She would be a fool not to take it,” the Salamander replied, surprising him a little with its retort. “She has no other place to go.

“Women are not always logical,” he reminded the creature. “We were best to assume that the initial attempt will be balked at, and contrive another.”

The Salamander simply shook its head, as if it could not understand the folly of mortals, and it and the sealed letter vanished into thin air, leaving the Firemaster alone in the darkness.


“According to the System of Magick which we all use, as calculated by Pythagoras, all Magickal Power is embodied in the creatures of the Four Elements. If a human—or any other earthly creature, I suppose, but at the moment we are only concerned with humans—wishes to work Magick, he must do so through the intermediary of creatures of the Element which he commands.”

She nodded as she made notes. “Just as an aside, are there any other creatures that work Magick?” she asked.

“For certain, I am only aware that the whales and dolphins have a few Magick-workers among their kind,” he said. “They work Water Magick, of course. There are rumors of other creatures, Man-Apes in both the Himalayas and the forests of the Northwest, for instance, but nothing I can confirm. If they do exist, these creatures are extremely secretive and are rarely even glimpsed. It is believed that they would do anything to avoid contact with humans.”

“I suppose,” she said, touching the end of the pencil to her lips as she thought, “That if they were working Magick, it would be to hide their presence from our own species, so you never would find out for certain, would you?”

He coughed. “A point, I grant you. Well, to get back to the subject, as described by Herr Alexander Metzeger, whose handwriting you so despise—”

She flushed very prettily.

“—every human has all four Elements commingled in his Magickal Nature. Most of them possess exactly equal amounts of all four, and thus, command no Magick for themselves. It is only when there is an imbalance that one can work Magick, for it is only when there is an imbalance that a human comes near enough to the Nature of the Elemental that he can communicate with and command them.”

She scribbled fiercely in her little book, and he paused to allow her to catch up. “Would that be something like a blind man having acute hearing?” she hazarded.

“Good!” he applauded. “Yes, that is an excellent analogy. It may be that because the Magician has that lack in one Element, he becomes more perceptive in another, as the blind man does. There is a danger attendant in having an imbalance, which is that you are vulnerable in the area in which you are the most deficient, and most often, that is the Element that is the opposite of your own.”

“How far can the imbalance go?” she asked. “How—how far can the sensitivity to one Element be taken?”

“To the point where only a Master would be able to find the traces of any elements other than the one that the Magician—or would-be Magician—in question commands,” he told her. “That is why no one can command more than one Element. By simply having that surplus of one, you of necessity drop the rest below even that of a ‘normal’ man.” He frowned, and thought of an analogy, since she seemed to favor analogies. “Think of a square table, with marbles rolling about on the surface. Tilt it towards any one corner, and only that comer will fill with marbles. That is the way Magickal Nature operates, and it is just as well.”

“Why?” she asked.

He had been expecting that question. “Because the Elementals are jealous creatures. They would never tolerate sharing a Magician with creatures of any other Element. Even if a person somehow managed to get a surplus in two Elements rather than one, he would be much better advised to simply concentrate on the one he preferred. The Elementals of his two Elements would be constantly bickering with each other, wasting time and energy, and interfering with his plans.”

“They sound like naughty children,” she commented, with a smile she did not know he could see.

He snorted. “They are like naughty children,” he told her. Actually, he had thought of another simile, but it was not a polite one. “Well, that, in essence, is what Herr Metzeger has written in the section of his book you wished to set aside for the moment.”

She made a face. “He took forty pages to say that?” she responded incredulously.

“With more elaboration, which you can read if you choose. He goes on at some length about the characteristics of each Element, how you can tell if a child has that imbalance in his Magickal Nature that will make him suitable for an Apprentice, and how the characteristics of the Magickal Nature carry over into the personality.” Cameron paused for a moment to let a wave of light-headedness pass. “You might find all that useful. If you pay close enough attention, you will be able to decipher a person’s Magickal Nature without ever using anything but your wit and your five senses to do so.”

“Is that what you do?” she asked boldly.

He barked a short laugh. “No,” he told her truthfully. “I don’t have to. I am a Firemaster, and I have my Salamanders do it for me. They can tell with a simple look what a person’s Magickal Nature is.”

She had that contemplative look again. She’s thinking of something. This could be interesting. I wonder if she is going to ask me what her Magickal Nature is, and if she could be a Magician. But the question she asked was not the one he expected. “Could a Master of one Element teach an Apprentice of another?”

“Well, that is an interesting question.” He thought it over for a moment. “In theory, I don’t know why not—in fact, according to some of the old books you will be reading, the great Masters of the past did so. The discipline is the same, only the spells and Ordeals differ. The one drawback would be that if the Apprentice got himself into trouble the Master would not be able to command the Elementals of the Apprentice to return to their places.”

“You stressed the word, command. Could he do something else to save his Apprentice from his own folly?”

Dear God, she was quick! “He might, if his command of his own Elementals was strong enough, be able to persuade his Apprentice’s Elementals to leave the Apprentice alone.” He shook his head, forgetting she could not see him. “I would not care to try such a tactic with any Elemental but the Sylphs, however. They are the most forgiving and tolerant, and the least likely to anger. Gnomes are slow to anger, but when enraged, they are implacable, and Undines I could not handle at all, obviously.”

“Obviously.” She picked the book back up. “Thank you, Jason. You have saved my eyes a terrible strain. On to the rest of Herr Metzeger’s pearls of wisdom however atrociously written they are.”

He settled back again as she resumed her reading, but his mind was still on the last question she had raised.

Her Nature was Air; the Salamander would not have bothered to mention that unless she was powerful enough in Air to command the Magick. Should he make the experiment she suggested, and try training her himself? It would certainly obviate the problem that most Masters and Apprentices had, that as soon as the Apprentice became a Master, one or the other had to seek a new home. A Master of Fire and one of Air could even dwell side-by-side in the same building with no ill effects….

Could I? Should I? Who would it hurt? I don’t think she’s stupid enough to do anything that would get her in real trouble; the only question would be if she could pass her Ordeals, and that would be out of my hands if she was an Apprentice in Fire rather than Air.

It was a question that continued to coil in the back of his mind through the rest of the evening, and even followed him into his dreams that very night.


He made a noise very like a snort. “You are a strange female, Rose Hawkins,” Cameron said, rather rudely. “A most unwomanly woman by polite standards.”

But she had been called that before, and the words had ceased to hurt. “Then polite standards are too narrow,” she replied briskly. “Although I do not call myself a suffragette, I am completely in sympathy with most of their complaints. I cannot speak for the lower classes, but in our class of society, Jason Cameron, young ladies are forced to live atop pedestals, and let me tell you, they are hideously restrictive places to reside! I choose to live down upon the ground where I can actually accomplish something, and if that makes me an ‘unwomanly woman,’ well, so be it.” She crossed her arms over her chest and gazed at him with challenge in her eyes. “Certainly my ‘unwomanly’ nature has stood you in good stead! A fainting, missish, hysterical lady would hardly have done you any good in your current predicament!”

Today I Read…The Hobbit

The HobbitToday I read The Hobbit, or There and Back Again by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End, in the Shire, was a perfectly respectable hobbit, and perfectly respectable hobbits do not go on adventures. no, they have no truck with nasty, dirty, dangerous adventures that might interfere with tea-time, no indeed! But then the wizard Gandalf returns to the Shire and picks Bilbo to be the burglar for a fellowship of dwarves, off to recover the Lonely Mountain and its long-lost treasure from Smaug the dragon. Thanks to the secret dreams in his heart (really, dreaming of adventures, it must come from the Took side of his family, the Bagginses certainly never went on adventures!), Bilbo agrees, and soon finds himself fighting goblins and trolls, dining with elves, rescuing dwarves, riddling with–what exactly is a ‘gollum’?–and worst of all, doing it all without his handkerchief.


I wanted to reread the Hobbit in time for the movie last Christmas–didn’t quite get it finished in time, and I’m still catching up on my backlog of reviews (I read a lot faster than I review). As for the movie, it was excellent, though I really don’t think they needed to stretch it into nine hours. However, Martin Freeman was so well cast as Bilbo that I *almost* forgive him for making me wait so long for more Sherlock (I fully expect that I’ll end up forgiving Benedict Cumberbatch for making me wait once I see the next Star Trek movie).

As for The Hobbit, I know it’s supposed to be a children’s book, at least compared to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but I’ve never really seen it as such. The language is beautiful and lyrical, with vivid imagery, in a way that is quite rare nowadays. It’s a very old-fashioned story, in the best possible way. I would give it to a strong reader, with a great deal of patience, who wants to explore the world of Middle-Earth and not rush straight through to the end of the book.


By some curious chance one morning long ago in the quiet of the world, when there was less noise and more green, and the hobbits were still numerous and prosperous, and Bilbo Baggins was standing at his door after breakfast smoking an enormous long wooden pipe that reached nearly down to his woolly toes (neatly brushed) – Gandalf came by. Gandalf! If you had heard only a quarter of what I have heard about him, and I have only heard very little of all there is to hear, you would be prepared for any sort I of remarkable tale. Tales and adventures sprouted up all over the place wherever he went, in the most extraordinary fashion. He had not been down that way under The Hill for ages and ages, not since his friend the Old Took died, in fact, and the hobbits had almost forgotten what he looked like. He had been away over The Hill and across The Water on business of his own since they were all small hobbit-boys and hobbit-girls.

All that the unsuspecting Bilbo saw that morning was an old man with a staff. He had a tall pointed blue hat, a long grey cloak, a silver scarf over which a white beard hung down below his waist, and immense black boots.

“Good morning!” said Bilbo, and he meant it. The sun was shining, and the grass was very green. But Gandalf looked at him from under long bushy eyebrows that stuck out further than the brim of his shady hat. “What do you mean?” be said. “Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is morning to be good on?”

“All of them at once,” said Bilbo. “And a very fine morning for a pipe of tobacco out of doors, into the bargain. If you have a pipe about you, sit down and have a fill of mine! There’s no hurry, we have all the day before us!” Then Bilbo sat down on a seat by his door, crossed his legs, and blew out a beautiful grey ring of smoke that sailed up into the air without breaking and floated away over The Hill.

“Very pretty!” said Gandalf. “But I have no time to blow smoke-rings this morning. I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.”

“I should think so – in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty .disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anybody sees in them,” said our Mr. Baggins, and stuck one thumb behind his braces, and blew out another even bigger smoke-ring. Then he took out his morning letters, and begin to read, pretending to take no more notice of the old man. He had decided that he was not quite his sort, and wanted him to go away. But the old man did not move. He stood leaning on his stick and gazing at the hobbit without saying anything, till Bilbo got quite uncomfortable and even a little cross.

“Good morning!” he said at last. “We don’t want any adventures here, thank you! You might try over The Hill or across The Water.” By this he meant that the conversation was at an end.

“What a lot of things you do use Good morning for!” said Gandalf. “Now you mean that you want to get rid of me, and that it won’t be good till I move off.”

“Not at all, not at all, my dear sir! Let me see, I don’t think I know your name?”

“Yes, yes, my dear sir – and I do know your name, Mr. Bilbo Baggins. And you do know my name, though you don’t remember that I belong to it. I am Gandalf, and Gandalf means me! To think that I should have lived to be good-morninged by Belladonna Took’s son, as if I was selling buttons at the door!”

“Gandalf, Gandalf! Good gracious me! Not the wandering wizard that gave Old Took a pair of magic diamond studs that fastened themselves and never came undone till ordered? Not the fellow who used to tell such wonderful tales at parties, about dragons and goblins and giants and the rescue of princesses and the unexpected luck of widows’ sons? Not the man that used to make such particularly excellent fireworks! I remember those! Old Took used to have them on Midsummer’s Eve. Splendid! They used to go up like great lilies and snapdragons and laburnums of fire and hang in the twilight all evening!” You will notice already that Mr. Baggins was not quite so prosy as he liked to believe, also that he was very fond of flowers. “Dear me!” she went on. “Not the Gandalf who was responsible for so many quiet lads and lasses going off into the Blue for mad adventures. Anything from climbing trees to visiting Elves – or sailing in ships, sailing to other shores! Bless me, life used to be quite inter – I mean, you used to upset things badly in these parts once upon a time. I beg your pardon, but I had no idea you were still in business.”

“Where else should I be?” said the wizard. “All the same I am pleased to find you remember something about me. You seem to remember my fireworks kindly, at any rate, land that is not without hope. Indeed for your old grand-father Took’s sake, and for the sake of poor Belladonna, I will give you what you asked for.”

“I beg your pardon, I haven’t asked for anything!”

“Yes, you have! Twice now. My pardon. I give it you. In fact I will go so far as to send you on this adventure. Very amusing for me, very good for you and profitable too, very likely, if you ever get over it.”

“Sorry! I don’t want any adventures, thank you. Not today. Good morning! But please come to tea – any time you like! Why not tomorrow? Come tomorrow! Good-bye!”

With that the hobbit turned and scuttled inside his round green door, and shut it as quickly as he dared, not to seen rude. Wizards after all are wizards.


Far over the misty mountains cold

To dungeons deep and caverns old

We must away ere break of day

To seek the pale enchanted gold.


The dwarves of yore made mighty spells,

While hammers fell like ringing bells

In places deep, where dark things sleep,

In hollow halls beneath the fells.


For ancient king and elvish lord

There many a gloaming golden hoard

They shaped and wrought, and light they caught

To hide in gems on hilt of sword.


On silver necklaces they strung

The flowering stars, on crowns they hung

The dragon-fire, in twisted wire

They meshed the light of moon and sun.


Far over the misty mountains cold

To dungeons deep and caverns old

We must away, ere break of day,

To claim our long-forgotten gold.


Goblets they carved there for themselves

And harps of gold; where no man delves

There lay they long, and many a song

Was sung unheard by men or elves.


The pines were roaring on the height,

The winds were moaning in the night.

The fire was red, it flaming spread;

The trees like torches biased with light,


The bells were ringing in the dale

And men looked up with faces pale;

The dragon’s ire more fierce than fire

Laid low their towers and houses frail.


The mountain smoked beneath the moon;

The dwarves, they heard the tramp of doom.

They fled their hall to dying -fall

Beneath his feet, beneath the moon.


Far over the misty mountains grim

To dungeons deep and caverns dim

We must away, ere break of day,

To win our harps and gold from him!