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Notes on Diversity:
It’s subtle, but it’s there. The ruling family of Red London–Kell’s London–are definitely brown folks. And Rhy Maresh, the crown prince of Red London, seems pretty canonically bisexual. Lila is definitely gender non-conforming. I am not venturing that she’s trans or genderqueer, but she is performing, quite consciously, a very butch and very hard kind of femininity.
Now, that does mean that our leads, Kell and Lila, read as straight-ish and White. The major antagonists are also White. So it’s a decidedly White book, but there are at least queer brown people in power, so there’s that.
V.E. Schwab has two enormous strength going for here in this book: first, she can write; second, she can fascinate. She constructs effortlessly emotional sentences. The book reads fluidly, quickly, and packs a great number of punches. Schwab is a smooth and evocative writer, which is needed when outlining the nuanced differences between the various Londons.
Which brings me to point two: the story’s hook is great. Four parallel Londons, each linked and locked by magic, each with its own history and relationship with magic. And within all of those worlds, there are only two people–Kell and Holland–who can travel between them. Only two people who can see these other worlds and report back and forth.
The opening scene is masterfully done, and tragic, and beautifully sets the stage for everything to follow. This is a tale of obsession and sacrifice, and all of that is spelled out in those opening interactions Kell has.
We start with Kell as he travels and as he flirts with danger, and then the plot ratchets up when his flirtations get the best of him. But by then, Lila Bard, hungry thief and sharp-tongued street rat, has already linked her fate with his. They cut a blood-soaked trail from one London to the next, plagued by an artifact they only half understand, while hunted by the sadistic rulers of White London–a London hungry for power and dominance.
I loved this book. It wasn’t perfect–the plot took too long to fall into place, which meant the pacing was uneven, but the story and the world was fascinating enough that I kept going anyway. Lila is a deeply fascinating character. The counterpoint of her poverty to Kell’s confused by privileged life bore out interesting moments and conversations throughout.
A few years ago, back before I had a kid, I used to play World of Warcraft. I started playing because a good friend of mine started playing. And she started playing because a friend of hers was playing. We leveled up together, joined his guild. Friend started dating her friend. I mailed a holy priest and got into healing. Did some raiding. Wrath of the Lich King came out. Friend and friend-of-friend broke up. Guild split up. I realized I needed to focus on finishing my dissertation anyway and stopped playing.
And now here I am again.
Look the world is terrible, and I need something that helps me unplug. WoW’s stream of endless, mind-numbing quests is exactly perfect for that. I actually always really liked leveling. And, perversely, leveling healing characters. So now I’m back again.
It’s bizarre–it’s like going back to your hometown and noticing all the things that have and haven’t changed. The Cataclysm expansion totally blew apart and stitched back together old world Azeroth zones. They are prettier than they used to be, and the quest lines are darker than I remember them being. Spending and talent trees are so much more streamlined than they used to be. Everything is half-familiar.
I’ve rolled a Draenei Shaman. I’m doing every Alliance quest in every zone (including the starter zones–they give killer rep). I’ll report back on my weird experiences here.
A brand new, never-before-seen Aerdhverse novella is available via my Patreon for subscribers at the $5 level and up! For information about Patreon subscriptions and the reward tiers, go here. If you subscribe now, you will also get my previous releases, “A Matter of Circumstance” and “The Adviser and the Diplomat.”
In The Company of Strangers is directly tied to both Ariah and “A Matter of Circumstance.” While you don’t have to read either of those to read In The Company of Strangers, it will probably be a richer experience if you do. Here is a blurb for the novella!
All Sorcha and Shayat know about Ma-Halad is that Ariah might be there. They walk through the tall gold grass with a skeleton of a plan, a handful of food, and lies on their tongues.
But Ma-Halad is ruled by The Butcher of the East, an ambitious general facing down impossible orders from the Emperor himself. Sorcha and Shayat are marked the second they appear in town. Ferreting out Ariah under The Butcher’s watchful eye will be no easy task.
REMINDER: In the Company of Strangers, my Patreon-exclusive novella, will drop this Tuesday. It’s definitely not too late to subscribe ($5 and up gets the novella!) and get the story!
Here’s a map I drew specifically to make sense of what I was writing for In the Company of Strangers, so I thought I’d share it with you. I love maps, and I tend to sketch them as I go, and then refer to them as I revise to make sure what I’m writing makes sense. It gets really iterative–I end up adding to the map as I revise, too, because there are little details I write in that I’ve forgotten about (like the grain fields).
The Kraken Collective is an alliance of indie authors who have pooled resources to publish high-quality fiction while retaining complete creative control over our stories. We aim to provide a wide variety of science fiction and fantasy stories, all starring LGBTQIAP+ characters. From alien hunting lesbians to complex political fantasy, The Kraken Collective publishes queer SFF that will blow your mind away and leave you craving more.
Although it begins as a simple cooperative between authors, we aim to grow into an unique publishing model capable of supporting queer indie voices everywhere in SFF. We are committed to building a publishing space that is inclusive, positive, and brings fascinating stories to readers.
Why a Kraken?
Cephalopods are fascinating and deeply intelligent creatures: masters of camouflage, brilliant escape artists, and underwater innovators–from the millimeters-long cuties to the kraken-like giants, they’ve impressed us with their constant ingenuity and creativity. In short, they are awesome.
Just like us.
We hope to create a kraken-sized cloud of ink through our stories and that, like an octopus hiding in its ink, you too can find refuge and solace in our worlds.
But Wait, There’s More!
In The Company Of Strangers, my Patreon reward novella which will be released next week, is the collective’s first release! Check this out:
I got a Kraken on the cover. You see it? It’s so cute! I love that little dude.
Notes on Diversity
I confess I read Every Heart A Doorway on the strength of its asexual protagonist, Nancy, and I was not disappointed. But beyond Nancy, there is also a trans character (Kade), and Sumi, an Asian girl. I think Sumi may have been the only non-White character,* and it’s…not great that she essentially gets fridged.
An additional diversity shoutout to the character of Eleanor, who, in running her school finds the word “crazy” problematic and bans it. I really loved this, considering the context, and I also really loved how some characters defiantly used it and reclaimed it anyway.
Every Heart A Doorway, by Seanan McGuire, is a murder mystery, and a coming of age story, and a portal fantasy all neatly wrapped in the same novella. It’s a minor miracle that the novella never feels overstuffed—in fact, I wanted more from it. I didn’t want it to end.
Every Heart A Doorway follows Nancy, a girl who has been to and returned from the Halls of the Dead, and who must find a way to settle back into the mundanities of the normal, regular world again. Luckily for her, she’s not the only such stolen and returned child. There are enough such children that there is an entire boarding school devoted to their treatment and rehabilitation.** Nancy’s parents pack her off, and so her story begins.
Just as Nancy is finding her footing at her new school, students start turning up dead. And not just dead, but mutilated. Nancy understands that as the most recent addition to the school, and as a girl whose portal world has such a close connection with death, she is an easy and likely suspect. She knows clearing her own name means casting suspicion elsewhere, and that means unraveling the mystery at hand.
McGuire is a deft writer. Since this is a novella, space is limited, and the cast of characters is surprisingly large for a novella. But the characters are quickly and deftly drawn. Most of them have excellent depth. The mystery itself has twists and turns and a decent red herring. The plot clipped along, quick but not rushed. I found myself more interested in the worldbuilding, though, than the mystery. There was something more compelling in the way the characters categorized the portal worlds—Wicked and Virtue, Nonsense and Logic—than the inevitable death of the next student, who I was sure was not going to be Nancy.
I was particularly fond of the ending, which wraps things up so neatly emotionally, but quickly and quietly. It made me think. It made me mull things over. I want to talk about it with people, but I can’t here, because spoilers.
As much as I am glad there was representation of a young ace woman and a young trans man, and as well-realized as a I think Nancy and Kade were, respectively, I wish their ace-ness and trans-ness had not been so…clinically written. I couldn’t help but contrast the way McGuire wrote about asexuality and gender identity with the way she wrote about the harms of patriarchy, and how in this world it so easily led to the capture of girls over boys. That section was nuanced and wry. Or compare to the embodiment of smart/pretty in Jack and Jill and how viciously that has gone awry, which is skillfully written throughout. The sections where Kade discusses his gender or where Nancy discusses her asexuality are blunt to the point of earnestness. Still, I am glad the characters were included.
*I think this is the case? If I am misremembering, please let me know in the comments, and I will amend the review.
**There are, as one character explains, actually two such schools: one school for kids who want to return to their portal worlds, and one school for kids who under no circumstances ever wish to see their portal worlds again. I found this detail particularly interesting.
- The Patreon Novella will be released on Friday, Tuesday 7, 2017. This date is firm. This date is in my planner. Anyone at the $5 and above level will have their novella on that date in ebook form.
- As a reminder, the title is In The Company of Strangers and features Sorcha and Shayat from my novel, ARIAH.
- The novella takes places in the city of Ma-Halad, on the edge of the Qin Empire and the Droma grasslands. I have recently spent a lot of time looking at photos of wheat fields on the internet. A truly shocking number feature brides, grooms, and dogs.
- STAY TUNED FOR A VERY EXCITING SURPRISE VERY SOON LEADING UP TO THE RELEASE!
Ink & Locket’s Warrior anthology, which is full of queer representation in speculative fiction, has been fully funded through kickstarter supporters! You should really check out what the folks over at Ink & Locket are doing with the extra money, it’s really wonderful, heartwarming stuff.
Also, if you’re a writer, I’d encourage you to keep an eye on their calls for submissions page. Their editing process is lovely. Being part of this anthology has been such a wonderful experience!
I’m in the midst of a lot of revisions these days. I’m revising the upcoming Patreon novella, I’m putting the finishing touches on a couple of short stories to send out (or back out, as the case may be), and I’ve picked up an interactive fiction piece that I had to table for awhile.
Tabling it was as much a matter of needing some distance from it as it was an issue of resources and capacity:
- I find working on interactive fiction to be more fiddly and labor intensive than writing just regular not-interactive fiction, and until I recently changed jobs, I didn’t have the brain space for it
- I’ve been doing all my writing lately on an ipad with a Bluetooth keyboard*, which works pretty well for composing and revising and blogging, but is not actually so compatible with interactive fiction software
But! I managed to scrape together enough cash to buy the family a new laptop (which I can also use to write IF on sometimes!). Over Christmas, I pulled out this game, and dusted it off. Got a little more agile with my coding.
I really enjoy writing IF. I like giving the player the ability to shape the direction of the narrative and see the fruits or consequences of those actions.
The image above is for the piece I am working on now, a game called Amplified. I’ve been adding a lot of logic loops and assigned more states and values to this version than the previous version so that the things the player does–did you read that brochure?–actually do have downstream consequences in the playthrough.
Unsurprisingly, one thing I like about building games is that it forces me to really think about what I like most in a gaming experience myself. What do I value? What sticks with me? What leave me feeling hollow? These are so similar to the same questions that I ask about writing non-interactive fiction: how do I write the kinds of things that resonate with me so that other people like me can find it?
Are any 0f you working in twine? Want to nerd out and trade tips? Let me know!
This is a quick note to let you know that an Aerdh novella is still coming, but I’m pushing back the drop date a month. Instead of getting your novella by December 31st, 2016, you shall have it on January 31st 2017.
My apologies for the delay! I’d rather take the extra time and make sure the novella is solid and polished than rush it and get you something unfinished and haphazard. But please know it is in the works.
To tide you over, let me tell you what I’m working on:
About the novella:
- The novella is titled In The Company of Strangers.
- The main characters are Sorcha and Shayat.
- It takes place after “A Matter of Circumstance” and before the end of Ariah.
- It is the precursor to a second novel focusing on Sorcha and Shayat’s search for Ariah during Ariah’s time with the Droma nomad.
As always, thank you for your support. And this time, thank you for your patience, as well! The novella will be available to Patreon subscribers at the $5 level and up.