Tag Archives: fantasy

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

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Published in 2009 and classified under the genres of fantasy fiction / science fiction, Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde is a far cry from other books with similar titles. Fforde is best known for his ongoing Thursday Next series and fans will find his standard flair in this dystopian tale. The story takes place in Chromatacia, where your social status and standard of living is dictated by your ability (or lack of ability) to see natural colour. As an example, Eddie Russet can only see red; meaning that every other natural colour appears grey to him and he only sees other colours (blue, yellow, purple, etc) by means of artificial enhancements to those items as produced by the national colour grid.

Jasper Fforde

Chromatacia exists at least 500 years in the future after some sort of disaster wipes out current civilization. The population is governed by the rules of Munsell, which include some truly bizarre decrees such as a ban on spoon manufacturing. The entire place is highly complicated and convoluted, making for much more entertaining reading then it would reality. Protagonist Eddie Russet gets sent to the outer fringes to perform a chair census and in the process enters into a plot to break down the colour boundaries and work towards a more cohesive society.

Fforde incorporates wit, whimsy, revolution, and more into this engaging piece of fiction. With two more books slated to pick up where Shades of Grey ends, there is sure to be plenty more to look forward to from Jasper Fforde in the future.

 

 

 

 

 

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Uprooted by Naomi Novik

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uprootedMany fairy tales involve the woods, often warning young children to stay away because bad things like monsters dwell there. But what if the woods itself was the actual monster?  That’s what Naomi Novik explores in Uprooted. Sure, there are a few traditional monsters ready to drag you kicking and screaming into her malevolent Woods. But it’s not just the monsters that you need to worry about – the very trees are out to get you!

 

Luckily for the people of the Valley, there’s a powerful wizard who keeps the Woods at bay. All he demands in return is one girl from the Valley to serve him unquestioning for ten years. When the time comes for him to choose another girl, everyone knows he’s going to choose Agnieszka’s best friend, Kasia. Kasia is the bravest, most beautiful girl in the Valley. But when the time comes, it isn’t Kasia who the wizard chooses. Agnieszka gets whisked away to the wizard’s tower without even a moment to say goodbye to her family. Agnieszka knows she isn’t brave like Kasia is; how will she deal with ten years serving the wizard?

 

One of the best things about Uprooted is that the book constantly changes. The summary I just gave you is basically what’s on the back of the book. But Uprooted is so much more than the simple fairy tale it starts out as – you’ll never know what to expect next (especially from Agnieszka, who manages to quite literally break all the rules)! And you don’t have to just take my word for how great Uprooted is: it’s won multiple awards in 2016 including the Nebula Award for Best Novel and the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel.
Shauna Kosoris is a member of the Thunder Bay Public Library staff.

The Secret Country by Pamela Dean

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Pamela Dean’s The Secret Country is the first book in her Secret Country Trilogy. Laura, Ted, and their three cousins Ellen, Ruth, and Patrick have been playing their make believe game, The Secret, every summer. The Secret takes place in a make-believe world and follows a scripted story the five kids have come up with involving wizards, unicorns, war, assassinations, and political intrigue.  But this year, Ellen, Ruth and Patrick have moved to Australia.  Ted and Laura’s parents have gone to visit but couldn’t afford plane tickets for their children to come, too; Ted and Laura are sent to stay with other cousins, who have nothing to do with The Secret.  And so Ted and Laura are miserable.  At least until they find a sword under a hedge. Hanging onto it transports them into a magical world where their three cousins are already waiting. They discover they’re at the beginning of the game and that all five of them are expected to play their parts.  But how can they? Ted, playing crown prince Edward, is no sword-fighter. Laura, a klutz who is terrified of horses is supposed to be the graceful Princess Laura who loves them. And none of the cousins know the people who they should have known since birth in this strange land. How will they make it through The Secret without being discovered?

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Honestly, that’s an excellent question. I’m not entirely sure how they made it through book one without much more than weird looks being thrown their way from time to time.  But they did.

The Secret Country is a bit of a hard read.  The beginning is a bit confusing at times. I had a harder time of it though once the story really got going; Laura is the main character, and she’s really boring. You can expect her to fall every time she moves, or to drop the things she’s holding. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.  And she has no courage at all, which translates into her just wanting to go home or hide whenever anything is happening. I do suspect this was on purpose, and that Laura will grow over the course of the trilogy. But much like in the beginning of  Mockingjay, when Katniss is confused and not caring, it makes for really boring reading.

Another thing that I admit bothered me at first was how the solutions to things seemed to be something the children would think of with no real foreshadowing, like Shan’s Ring. When Shan’s Ring was first mentioned, it felt rather like a deus ex machina sort of thing. But the more I thought about it, Dean’s introduction to the ring seemed fitting because this is a world that children made up; why wouldn’t they be able to make up the solution as they go, too. So in the end I have to commend Dean; the world of The Secret Country really does feel like a children’s make believe game.

I am torn on whether or not I’d be interested in reading the other books in this trilogy though. All the way through I was thinking the answer to that question would be a resounding “no,” but right at the end I admit I got a bit more intrigued. It felt rather like the end was when the story really started (the rest of the book felt like backstory, which was rather unfortunate). But seeing how I read The Secret Country back in November and haven’t cared enough to get the second book, I guess it wasn’t intriguing enough for me.

Interview with Pamela Dean

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Pamela DeanPamela Dean is the author of six fantasy novels and a handful of short stories.  Firebird has reissued her Secret Country Trilogy; a reissue of The Dubious Hills is forthcoming.  She is currently working on Going North, the sequel to both.  She lives in Minneapolis with some congenial people, a lot of cats, and an overgrown garden.  You can find her online at http://pddb.demesne.com/.

Shauna Kosoris: Tam Lin is arguably your most notable novel.  What inspired you to write it?

Pamela Dean: It was less a flash of inspiration than it was a kind of creeping-upon.  In the mid-1980’s, Terri Windling and Mark Alan Arnold had put together a packaging company, and they wanted people to write novelizations of fairy tales, in the general manner of Robin McKinley’s Beauty, and create a Fairy Tale Line with a unified appearance and cover art by Tom Canty.  Terri invited me, among many others, to contribute to this new fairy tale line she was envisioning.  I had had a couple of books published in paperback originals, and the thought of a hardcover with a cover by Tom Canty was in itself extremely tempting.  I was also grateful to Terri for buying my first novel and editing it so that it was much better, and wanted to make her proud of me.

That said, my relationship with fairy tales is a little peculiar.  I had three books of them as a child — a selection of Grimm’s fairy tales, a selection of Hans Christian Anderson, and a thick, battered (it had belonged to my father, who read things very energetically) orange collection of Japanese fairy tales.  I read them obsessively, but many of them terrified me so much that the books had to live under the bed where the contents wouldn’t leap out and attack me.  Then from time to time I’d take one out and read it obsessively.  At some point I decided that I didn’t need to do that any more.  So my childhood experience with fairy tales was like that, and my adult experience with them is with mostly modern ones, from Robin McKinley and A. S. Byatt to, much more recently, Cat Valente.  I felt, therefore, ill-equipped to write a book-length treatment of any fairy tale.  But I was much engaged at the time with the Child ballads, so I asked Terri if I could adapt one of those instead.  When she said that I could, I went through the volumes looking for a story where a woman does something decisive.  And there was No. 37, “Tam Lin.”  I was already familiar with it from Fairport Convention’s album Liege and Lief.

Why did you set the ballad in 1970’s Minnesota?

I’d originally planned to set it in 17th-century Scotland, and did a lot of research, which was in itself fascinating; but I just couldn’t get on with it.  The characters didn’t seem to want to be there.  I was pondering the ballad one day and realized, around the verse where Janet’s maidens are playing at the ball, that the whole middle section of the ballad reminded me quite a bit of college in the 1970’s, when many of my contemporaries were discovering sex and worrying about pregnancy.  Suddenly I saw the fairy folk riding over the bridge between two dormitories on the campus of Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, from which I graduated in 1975, and it all seemed to fall into place.  My first thought about this was that I would set the story at the Carleton of the late 80’s, and I did some work finding out what it was like attending the college so long after I left it; but, again, the characters didn’t seem to want to be there.  And I had a vast array of material from my sojourn at Carleton, all my papers and class notes and syllabi, the catalogs from the years I attended, an amazing amount of what might have seemed like junk, but I knew all along that, like rope, I would want it, if I hadn’t got it.

Then it’s very good that you kept it all!  The setting of your Secret Country trilogy is also quite interesting.  Where did you get the idea for that world?

I wrote a lot of stories as a child and teenager about kids playing games.  This was before D&D or much of anything else formal, but of course children have always done role-playing games on their own.  I meant to be writing realistic stories, but fantastical elements would keep breaking in.  With this for background, I started a novel about some children whose personal game apparently became real.  It stalled out fairly quickly.   I still have a scene meant to happen near the ending, where Patrick, the skeptical character, cries out, quoting Alice, “You’re nothing but a pack of cards!”  I didn’t intend the game actually to be real.  That shows how much I knew.   When I was in my twenties, I realized that when I’d culled my bookshelves of books I felt I’d outgrown, I had been very much mistaken.  So I found those books again, reread the ones I hadn’t gotten rid of, and read some classic children’s literature, like the Narnia books, for the first time.  I enjoyed this excursion into the past very much, but after a while I was disappointed: the books had seemed so much more complicated and difficult and wondrous when I was younger.  They had seemed longer, too.  I started to think about writing a book that partook of everything I liked best about my old books, that would appeal to children, but would still have some mysteries in it if the same readers came back to the book when they were grown.  And I had this beginning for a book where five children (Nesbit and Lewis had a strong effect in all this) found a place where their game was real.  I abandoned the whole pack-of-cards ending and started over.  Then I just tried to work it out logically.

Were you always intending to set The Dubious Hills in that same world?

Yes, I was.  There’s a scene in The Secret Country where the wizard Fence, newly returned from a journey, explains that he could not bring any of the children presents because he had been in the Dubious Hills.  I had no more idea than that of what the Dubious Hills were, but I liked the name.  Then Martin Greenberg, the prolific anthologist, looked at the fantasy boom of the early 1980’s, and asked some of the newer writers who were with Ace/Berkley, like me, as well as some more well-known writers, to commit to writing short stories in the worlds of our novels.   I’d had the idea of a culture devised by wizards to prevent violence for quite a while, but nothing solid to apply it to.  So I put together a quick plot synopsis.  When Mr. Greenberg had enough interest from writers, he pitched the anthology to Ace, but they didn’t end up buying it.  I have a lot of trouble writing short pieces, so when I first conceived the idea of the story, I thought it would need to be a very formal, stylized fairy tale so that it wouldn’t get completely out of hand.  Once it no longer needed to be a short story, though, it expanded gleefully.

What can you tell me about Going North, your unpublished novel set in that same world?

It’s very, very long.  It has a lot of dialogue, but also waltzing, and some intrigue.  It has dead people, history, unicorns, and romance.  It has students and gardens and a water clock.  It’s a joint sequel to The Dubious Hills and The Whim of the Dragon.  In a weird way, I guess you could say it’s also a sequel to “Owlswater,” which is a novella set in the history of the Secret Country books; it was originally published in the third of the Xanadu collections, edited by Jane Yolen.   At the end of each of these stories, a young woman who has gotten herself into a troublesome situation ends up going to Heathwill Library, which is a fortified library of books about magic that has more or less inadvertently also gathered about itself a school of wizardry.  I was curious about why this place seemed the only place to send all of these characters.  Yes, I wrote the books, but that doesn’t mean I know all the answers.  And I thought it would be interesting for the two characters from the novels to meet.  Fortunately, I thought of this while I was revising Hills for publication, so I was able to figure out the timing and make it all fit in.  The two characters from the novels are contemporaries; the one from the short story is a great deal older.

I could say more, but I’m a little wary of spoiling the earlier books with too much detail.

That’s fair.  Will we be seeing it any time soon?

I certainly hope so.  My husband and I are working on self-publishing the parts of my backlist that I have the rights to, including The Dubious Hills and “Owlswater,” and I need to finish revising Going North before we publish it.  It got into repeated trouble with the publisher that bought it on spec, because it was just too long.  Then, when I cut it down, my editor rightly thought that I’d gone too far and made it difficult to comprehend.  Also, sadly, the opening, which I am much attached to, does not work for people who haven’t read the earlier books.  That’s the major issue right now; the rest is just adding back in some of the scenes that I cut.

Thinking of your backlist, are there any publishing hurdles that are unique to reissuing books?

The reissuing editor makes you write short essays to put in the back.

Well, hey, that was a hurdle for me.

Aside from that, I can think of more strictly personal hurdles — I had to reread all these books that I had written when I was, in some aspects, a completely different person, and beginning to do so was terrifying.  And there’s the issue of whether you change anything at all, and if so, how much.  I corrected some typos that I’d marked on the galleys but that did not make it into the finished book, and also a vexing place where a character who has left the area still has a stray line of dialogue.  And I put the dedication and acknowledgements into The Hidden Land — those had been left out as well when the original book was published.  But otherwise I decided to leave things alone.

It’s in some ways less harrowing than publishing a new book, because you know that people liked it before.  But maybe those are all the people who will ever like it and the reissue is doomed.

I’m sure there are a lot of marketing issues as well, but I didn’t have to deal with them.  It’s not my strong suit, marketing.

So besides reissuing your books and writing Going North, are you working on anything else right now?

Yes, three things, turn and turn about, though I have to say that none of them is being very cooperative at the moment.  It always at least briefly seems so sensible to just start another project if one’s stuck on the current project; but sooner or later, they all get stuck at once.

Anyway, when I cut Going North, I just removed a group of characters wholesale, to reduce the number of subplots and proliferating themes.  The characters had to go somewhere, though, and when I figured out where that was, two short stories sprang up and clamored to be written.  One of them is now just sulking, there’s no other word for it.  (Technically, that must mean that part of my brain is sulking, but we won’t go into that.)  The other wants to be a novel, like all my short stories, but I think I can wrench out the one storyline I want to have resolved before the novel begins, eventually.  In a sense, I’m also working on that novel, since I’m all too well aware that a lot of what I’m writing to get where I need to be is not going to stay in the short story.

The third thing I’m working on is a novel set in Liavek.  This is a shared world put together by a bunch of Minneapolis writers in the 1980’s.  There were five volumes of stories altogether.  The book I’m writing takes place after a political and religious upheaval that’s detailed in the fifth volume, though its roots are in earlier stories.  It doesn’t require knowledge of the earlier stories.  It’s mostly about the theater, and I’m having a wonderful time inventing an entire literary tradition, complete with the plots of plays and extensive sections of dialogue from them.  This is a bit time-consuming to produce, however, so I’m not sure how long the book will take to finish.

Those all sound like a lot of fun; good luck!  Finally, I have a few questions about what you like to read.  What book or author inspired you to write?

Probably primarily Little Women.  I wanted to write in an attic, with a pet rat, like Jo March.  There’s also a book called A Room Made of Windows, by  Eleanor Cameron, about an eight-year-old girl who wants to be a writer, that I read over and over.  And Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy.  Harriet keeps an extensive journal rather than writing fiction, but her basic approach and strong need to write things down impressed me deeply.

Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

No, that trick never works.  That is, people are so various and books are so various that the possible interactions between them are incalculable.  No book is going to work for everyone.  That said, I feel that far more people should try the works, any of the works, really, of the late John M. Ford.  His works are varied, but even the funniest of them has a mordant streak and even the darkest has gleams of humor and kindness.  He was a poet as well as a novelist and short-story writer, and the words do pretty much exactly what he wants them to.

And what are you currently reading?

I’m just finishing up a massive rereading of Dorothy Dunnett.  She wrote two sets of fat historical novels, five contemporary suspense novels, and a gorgeous but gruelling single novel about the historical Macbeth.

I’m also reading Ellen Kushner et al.’s Tremontaine, which has been appearing one episode a week from Serial Box Publishing.  You might call it an imaginary historical, or fantasy without magic.  It’s beautifully written, full of witty dialogue, interesting food, mathematics, sword fights, love, and the economics and politics behind all these things.  I should expand the et al.: Alaya Dawn Johnson, Malinda Lo, Joel Derfner, Racheline Maltese, Patty Bryant, and a guest appearance by Paul Witcover.  It’s a brilliant achievement.

Before that, I read Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Sword.  I had very much enjoyed Ancillary Justice, the first book in her series; the second was funnier and more intimate.   Moral complexity, space travel, and tea; what more could one ask?   I’m looking forward to the third.

Before that, I read Jaime Lee Moyer’s Delia’s Shadow and the two following books, A Barricade in Hell, and Against a Brightening Sky. These are historical fantasy novels (I sense a theme here), a cross among mystery, romance, and ghost story, set In San Francisco before and during World War I.  The first one is particularly creepy, but all the books are leavened by the wit and sweetness of the romance.

Before that, and don’t worry, I’m going to stop now, I read Nnedi Okorafor’s The Book of Phoenix, which was amazing, funny and terrifying and original.

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The Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George RR Martin

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Like much of the planet, I am enamoured by the fantasy world author George R.R. Martin has created for his “A Song of Ice and Fire” series. The books serve as the basis for the television show, A Game of Thrones, so anything set there will have a built-in audience.  The collection “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” contains three previously published novellas set in the kingdom of Westeros about a hundred years before the action detailed on television.  The main characters are a hedge knight named Ser Duncan the Tall and his squire Egg. Unlike many knights, Ser Duncan also known as Dunk is a man of honour who spends much of this time trying to right wrongs and protect the innocent, unfortunately Dunk is not overly wise and more often than not his plans would do more harm than good.  His squire, Egg, who is actually the young prince Aegon Targaryen, is wise beyond his years, so the two are a perfect pairing. The tone is lighter and more amusing but still contains the types of writing twists for which Martin is known, as well as some violence, so it is definitely a book for adults.

 

The first of the three stories, The Hedge Knight, is the tale of the pair’s first meeting and shows how chance can play an important part in deciding one’s fate.  The second story, The Sworn Sword, follows the two protecting another knight’s water rights during a drought.  The final tale, The Mystery Knight, concerns a rebellion and the fight to win the Iron Throne.

 

This collected volume includes a number of illustrations that add a lot to the interpretation of the stories and make the work friendly to someone new to either the Game of Thrones world or to fantasy fiction. For a Martin fan, the history and hints of about future plots in the main series, should keep them reading with relish.

 

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Troubled Waters by Sharon Shinn

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troubled watersGrief is a difficult subject matter, even though we all experience it at one time or another. I wasn’t really expecting to see it being dealt with so prominently in Sharon Shinn’s Troubled Waters.

Zoe Arderlay has lived in exile with her father for ten years. After he passes away, she is whisked away to the city of Chialto to become the king’s fifth bride. She slips away and lives down by the river where she gradually discovers that she is the heir to one of the powerful families of Chialto. What this synopsis leaves out is that Zoe is absolutely numb with grief through most of this. On the journey to Chialto, she is a shell of herself, barely eating or caring about the world around her. When she seizes her chance to disappear, it was rather surprising that she had found enough will to do so. Only while living near the river did she finally begin to heal and find her true self.

Once Zoe heals, Troubled Waters becomes a fascinating look at court politics. As a member of the powerful families of Chialto, she was raised at court until her father was exiled. She remembers how to play the game, but has been away from it for so long that she no longer really cares. Now as the head of the Lalindars, she has to care once again: it’s up to her to maintain her family’s standing at court while wading through all the intrigue and ambition of the King’s four wives.

At first glance Troubled Waters may sound like a simple enough story, but it is a wonderfully complex look at both grief and political intrigue through a very human character.

 

The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks

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As someone who doesn’t read a lot of fantasy, I was a little reluctant to pick up this book. I was even more reluctant after the person who recommended it informed me that it was the first book of Brooks’ original trilogy and now part of a growing series. However, I decided to jump in with both feet. The Sword of Shannara definitely has its share of adventures and interesting characters. Although, I am not a fan of novels with excessive detail, I still enjoyed Brooks’ writing and the fantasy world he created.

The story begins when Shea Ohmsford and his brother Flick are sent on a quest by the mysterious Druid Allanon to retrieve the Sword of Shannara and destroy the evil Warlock Lord. As more characters are introduced, the story begins to unfold in unexpected ways. Brooks immerses the reader in overlapping stories of each character’s journey to defend their world against evil, keeping you intrigued chapter after chapter.

I’ve started to read the second book of the trilogy, the Elfstones of Shannara. This summer, it was announced that MTV is filming a new TV series based on the Shannara books. The Shannara Chronicles will be released in 2016 and begins with the story The Elfstones of Shannara. It will be interesting to see how they have adapted the story for TV.