Saturday, March 30, 2013

#CircleSprint co-op story game!

Hello everyone!

I realized earlier that gdocs' sharing makes it really easy to replicate the in person game of co-op stories. I can't think of the established name for this game so we're gonna call it the Circle Sprint! The game is to write as much as you can in one minute before the next person takes over and does the same thing, and then you repeat for as long as you want (I suggest 30 minutes). I suggest having more than two people, and not more than ten in a group -- even ten might be stretching it, but it could be fun once in a while. I think the best number of people for a game like this is five or six.

Anyways, here's how a #CircleSprint works:

1. Make a blank document on gdocs.

2. Share it, making sure everyone can edit the document, using the link function rather than bothering with email. (But you should probably use DM or a chat so random trolls don't join in) Everyone will come as anonymous, but with a colour, and you'll each match your text colour to your chat colour. For those of you who haven't used gdocs before, there's a chat window that will appear on the right side and you can talk to your fellows that way w/o spamming twitter with chat.

3. Have everyone open up This timer is set to go off once every minute, with just a little ding. You all have to set them off independently, or you could assign a timekeeper. There's no preset end limit, so it will just keep going off every minute until you decide to stop.

4. Decide who goes first -- my suggestion is to use or whatever die roller app (or even real dice!) you have and roll to see who goes first, using highest number as first. Choose a die that reflects how many people you have, so there's less chance of rerolls. Just be honest with the results. It's not that big a deal, and if you're really too timid to start you can always lie and say you rolled a 1 ;)

5. Once you've decided the order, decide what kind of genre limits, if any, you want to enact, and how long you want to go. This discussion will give a little time to your first person to think of what they want to start with,  (as if you all won't have been already)

6. Get ready, make sure everyone is at their keyboards. Prepare your mind -- one minute doesn't sound like a lot but it really is if you just let the words come out! Don't worry about how stupid it is, just roll with it. This is for fun and should take you to fun places in ridiculous ways. Or maybe you can write a drama like this, I don't know!

7. OKAY START ALREADY JEEZ! Have everyone start their timers at the same time (approximate is enough, really) and begin! Stop as soon as you hear the alarm go off. Don't even finish the word. Let them. Pay attention, read -- don't go somewhere else if you're number four or five or something -- and know when it's your turn.

When your chosen time is up, stop and behold your creation! Everyone will have the link so they can all make their own copies and such, so you can continue to use them in later sprints, or even make parallel universe stories with different groups! This isn't really about ownership, it's about storytelling :D

You should also feel free to meet up with the video chat service of your choice (google hangouts, skype, something else I'm sure) rather than using gdocs chat, but that's only if you all can. Some of us have desktops with no cameras, or super crummy internet.

I'll try to organize some of these for later this week, but feel free to do them yourselves with friends -- I think it's a good exercise that makes you quicker while lets you have fun.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Friday Review #5: The Way of Kings

Oh yes... yes I knew we would come to this day. I mentioned it during last week's review of Mistborn, and it gave me a hunger. Yes, a deep hunger. So, without further ado, here is the Friday Review of Brandon Sanderson's


This book was actually my first experience with Brandon Sanderson, and he's quickly becoming a favourite for me. I may have spoiled myself, however, because this book is one of the best I've read in a while.

Here's the blurb from the back cover, which I really liked:

I long for the days before the Last Desolation.
The age before the Heralds abandoned us and the Knights Radiant turned against us. A time when there was still magic in the world and honor in the hearts of men.
The world became ours, and we lost it. Nothing, it appears, is more challenging to the souls of men than victory itself.
Or was that victory an illusion all along? Did our enemies realize that the harder they fought, the stronger we resisted? Perhaps they saw that the heat and tThe bohe hammer only make for a better grade of sword. But ignore the steel long enough, and it will eventually rust away.
There are four whom we watch. The first is the surgeon, forced to put aside healing to become a soldier in the most brutal war of our time. The second is the assassin, a murderer who weeps as he kills. The third is the liar, a young woman who wears a scholar's mantle over the heart of a thief. The last is the highprince, a warlord whose eyes have opened to the past as his thirst for battle wanes.
The world can change. Surgebinding and Shardwielding can return; the magics of ancient days can become ours again. These four people are key.
One of them may redeem us.
And one of them will destroy us.

The world of Way of Kings (hereafter WoK) is similar to Mistborn in one way -- it's a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Only instead of darkness and ash all the time, it's occasional superstorms that strip the land of its dirt and flay anyone caught outside alive with hail and raging winds. Seasons change based on these storms, so things don't stay the same for long. But rather than just a thousand years of this, the society of WoK has dealt with this reality for tens of thousands. The world is populated with crustaceans and hardy armored pod-plants, the only things that can survive out in the storms. As many have said, Sanderson is a master of worldbuilding, and this world feels very real.

This book has a lot of characters, but only three main POV characters, while about a dozen (including our weeping assassin) show up in interludes between plot arcs. This allows you (the reader) to meet a lot of people, learn a bit about other places in the world and open up some side plots but at the same time letting you know you don't really need to worry about these things right now. It's like a recess from the epic storyline. And it is epic, since the book is 1200 pages in print.

The magic is predictably Sandersonian, with straight rules and a complex system (this is actually relates to my only real complaint with the novel, which was a long and detailed description of just how all three of the prologue character's abilities worked. I appreciate that he wants to tell us and make it simple to understand right off the bat, but I know some people are put off by long explanations of magic systems, and throwing one in at the prologue, even if it is a long prologue, is in poor taste. I got through it because Sanderson is a great writer and makes everything easy to read and because the story was already awesome, but its still something that I recommend against.

But seriously guys, this world. It's so magical and wonderful and real. It was refreshing to get a very original feeling world with a creative and involved religion. As I've said before, this is Mistborn for grownups. You travel so far and so wide, and it's all so detailed. I hadn't felt a world so real since reading Name of the Wind, which I know has detractors but seriously it rules. But where NotW has sappy romance and woeful regret (which are good in their own way) WoK just has more action, action, action. There are slow parts, but the book is structured in such a way that you are almost always being rewarded with action scenes whenever the pace settles down for what would otherwise be too long elsewhere.

If you're writing a book, I can't recommend WoK enough. The dramatic structure is obvious; it's like a play. But that doesn't stop your enjoyment of it, and the world and plot are deep enough that you can't just figure it out even knowing how some things will inevitably go. I was surprised by a few things, but really there was just so much to learn about the world that the book could be afforded a few slow moments or obvious twists. There was one twist at the end that was both not surprising and also really surprising at the same time. (I'll leave it to you to read) When I was reading this book I was really trying to be a good reader, and Sanderson made it easy in a good way.

Plus, magic power armour and giant bugs. What more could you ask for?

ONE WORD REVIEW: EPIC                                                       B/W/D: BUY SERIOUSLY ITS 2.99 ON KINDLE FOR SOME REASON

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Fundamental Differences

How do you write a character with a belief system fundamentally different from your own without tainting your narrative with a personal or cultural bias? This is something that seems impossible. Surely some of your own personality, your own cultural bias must be impressed on your writing, no matter how well researched. I'm only willing to accept this with this caveat:

The only ultimate bias is the one formed by the language in which you are writing.

There are limits to what English can and cannot express with simplicity and ease. The same holds true for any other language. French provides a bias with the very word "the" since nouns are gendered. In English, the biases are simply more oblique, and I'm not going to list them not just because it's too deep a conversation but because I can't possibly know them all -- I'm not sure it's possible to.

All that is moot though -- my point is that writing a character with a different fundamental viewpoint should be no different than writing a character that shares your views. Neither of them are you -- they're both strangers in a way. One may have more in common with you, true, but social values should be treated no more differently than personality traits, or even physical traits. You're can't build all your characters exclusively on yourself, no matter how interesting you think you are, and writing a character who is racist or homophobic or atheist or fundamentalist or whatever shouldn't be any different than writing a chracter who is tall, or short, or fat, or thin or angry or passive or brave or cowardly.

I mean, most of us have already written and played racist characters, we just haven't noticed it -- who played D&D? Who reads Forgotten Realms novels? Fantasy is fantastically racist. Dwarves hate Elves, Elves hate Dwarves, Everybody hates Orcs, White People - er I mean Humans have a diverse culture with all sorts of interesting things, and they hate Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, Goblins, Gnomes, Halflings, Half-Orcs, whatever. The sort of jocular racism that exists in D&D is still racism, just with a candy coating. That doesn't mean it's bad -- the past was racists as hell, and classical fantasy is the past.

Don't feel bad about any of that, how the hell were you supposed to know? But realize that when you've written a character or played a character who believes in Black and White good and evil, you have probably written someone who has racist views. And I think probably all of us, regardless of any other viewpoint, are not racist, nor do we (for whatever reason) wish to be. But at the same time, everyone is, since no one is telepathic. We can't be fully empathetic with someone because you aren't that person. Why do you think twins always seem so close? They don't share a special link, they just are the same biological person. They react the same (or at least more often than two otherwise related human beings), at a fundamental level.

This means that you're always faking it when you're putting yourself in someone else's shoes. You're imagining it, but you can't imagine what you don't know. That's why it's important to read widely; gain experience and a wider breadth of cultural viewpoints. You'll find that writing those characters who seemed strange or reprehensible will become much easier. Travel, too, don't just read. That's just one person (sometimes more) funneling their experiences through fiction, which is great too, but if you're a writer, you need more than just condensed milk. You need the whole cow.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Friday Review #4: Mistborn

This one was a long time coming. I've had friends bugging me for years about reading these, and it shames me to have taken this long. Today's review is:


By Brandon Sanderson

I picked up Misborn after reading his more recent epic, Way of Kings, which I highly recommend. It was very interesting reading the earlier work of an author after reading the later works. Especially in the case of these two books, since they both share a lot of the "post-apoc fantasy" trappings and multi-pov action. While Way of Kings is obviously more polished and fuller, since Sanderson is a bit more experienced now, Mistborn was well-written and very imaginative.

Sanderson is a card carrying Ruler -- his magic systems are really systems. There's very few tricks when it comes to his magic; once you understand how the basics work, it's very straightforward to follow the action and predict some things. Sometimes the descriptions are a bit slow, but I never had too much trouble with them. There's a lot of very careful worldbuilding in Mistborn, and the characters and their place in society feel real. There's a good sense that you can explain how and why everything works and why everyone sits in their place in society.

I'm going to be honest. Writing this review is difficult because having read Way of Kings already, my view is coloured. WoK is like Mistborn, but better crafted, more interesting, and more dramatic in every way. So if you're going to read Mistborn, don't read WoK first :D

There's not really much to complain about Mistborn; its good. You should pick it up. It's a cool trilogy, but you can just read the one if you want. But in the same vein, I don't have much to say about it either. It's a cool high fantasy tale in a cool world that's just not as cool as his later works.

This is something we all need to understand. Your best right now isn't going to be the same best five years from now. You're not going to craft your finest work immediately, no matter how much you think this story right now will be your masterpiece. Mistborn made Sanderson a name, but it's hardly going to be his best work. We're always improving ourselves. This doesn't mean that the things we created early on are bad -- they're testaments to the effort that you put in to get where you are now.

All this talk is making Mistborn sound bad, but it's seriously a fun time.

Just... Way of Kings... mmh!

ONE WORD REVIEW: A ROMP (shh "a" doesn't count)                         B/W/D: BUY

Friday, March 15, 2013

Friday Review: Downbelow Station

For this edition of the Friday Revew, I bring you:


By CJ Cherryh

I'm going to get a lot of hate for this one, I think. Downbelow Station is an older book, by the well-renowed CJ Cherryh, that came out in 1981. To hear the wikipedia synopsis of it, it's an epic story of war between corporate imperialists, beleaguered colonists and a scrappy band of merchants. I didn't miss the part of the book that this occurred in, but I honestly felt the war itself was a fairly distant thing, and the book is more of the effects of war.

The main setting is "Downbelow Station," an independent space station orbiting a slightly uninhabitable planet called Pell or, "Downbelow." This planet's atmosphere is almost good enough for humans, but they can't live outside indefinitely. However, the sentient proto-Ewok creatures that live on the planet are capable of surviving just fine in normal human atmosphere. This will be important.

This is a multi-POV story, and honestly it doesn't matter which POV you're reading, because everyone is reprehensible. Maybe that's good, but I don't think it was intended. Most of the characters are people who live on Downbelow station, and follows their story as their mostly self-sufficient station is bombarded by refugees from other stations as the war between the Alliance and the Union grows. The ever-pragmatic citizens of DS put all these refugees into one section of the station, give them minimal food, restrict their movements, and call them "Q" for "Quarantine." There's a strong antagonism between DS and the rest of the human civilization, as though because they have a planet and Ewok slaves they are better than everyone out there.

Oh, right. The Ewok slaves. They're called the Hisa, and I know this book came out before "A New Hope" but they're Negroes. I mean Ewoks.

Have you ever read old Jules Verne stories? There's one called "The Mysterious Island" that you can read for free in French and English at the Gutenberg Project. In it, one of the main characters owns a slave. That slave is described in terms that you or I would likely use to describe a dog. Sort of a friendly dismissiveness, a simplification of motivations. "That Negro just loves his massa" rather than "that black slave fears that if his master is killed and he returns alive that he and his family will be killed."

This book does very little to address the issue of having sentient slaves other than to sort of express (from a Hisa POV) that the Hisa just love their masters, and if only they just weren't so stupid.

There's also a moment where one of the heirs to the DS throne is on the planet itself, the station having been conquered by some Union troops or something, and he's with a lot of refugees who were working on the planet's surface. And while he's looking out onto the refugees, worrying about their families and loved ones back on the station, he realizes that "wow, the people from Q have families too!"

Wow. Incredible. Those people from stations just like yours who look like you talk like you and are like you in almost every way have similar emotions and fears as you? My god, I'm so surprised.

Here's my main beef. If you're going to write about a bunch of slaveowning racists, don't make them so incredibly stupid. This book was screaming white privilege at me the entire time. "Everything would just be fine if we ran on the American ideals of an unregulated free market."

A lot of the characters in this book are well put-together, but the sort of idiot colonialism that is represented by these supposedly "freedom loving anti-establishment" merchant folk was just too much bigotry for me to take. I don't particularly blame CJ Cherryh for writing a novel like this -- it was the 80s and I'm sure no one told her better. Her tech is realistic and a lot of her characters are really well grounded, but so many aren't. This book just hit on a lot of stupid points for me, and also felt like it was promoting slavery, so long as the slave race is stupid and easy to control.

It's impossible to predict how your book will be received, or what people will pay the most attention to in a book, but I felt like the parts of the book I had the most problem with were the parts that were the least essential to the entire plot. The Hisa don't matter to the plot, they're just there, as slaves. The people of DS are special because they have this planet that the don't really use, but there's no real reason that they should have ownership or why someone can't just take the planet from them at a moment's notice.

This book received critical acclaim and won a Hugo award. I don't think it deserved them. You can read to decide, but I wouldn't waste the time.

ONE WORD REVIEW: DISTASTEFUL                                                     B/W/D: DONT

Monday, March 11, 2013

An Artist and Their Art

There's been a recent brouhaha which if you read this you probably know about and already have an opinion of: Orson Scott Card. In general, but the specific event was his hiring to write a Superman comic. Comics may or may not have wider appeal in the liberal and homosexual demographics than in conservative ones, but it definitely has a very vocal population, one that has been emboldened by recent victories. DC was in some hot water until the artist decided to pull away from the project, something that gracefully spares DC and OSC any sort of dramatic confrontation. DC won't rehire him, thus sparing themselves this battle and OSC won't get into a huge battle and have to defend his reputation, make a fool of himself for saying he would "destroy the government" or any other sort of interaction with a pulpit. It additionally allows DC to sort of creep away without making any definitive statements of corporate policy towards gay marriage which is ehh.

But really, I want to talk about whether buying OSC's works, like Ender's Game or the somehow quite good Homecoming saga, and whether or not their purchase supports homophobic efforts by financially supporting him.

I want to make my thoughts very clear before I enunciate on them.

You are not a bad person if you buy something and somebody does something bad with that money. 

Even if you have an inkling of what they might do. I'm not saying if you went to a store run by Al-Qaeda and bought their shit and then they used your money to bomb the crap out of us, you wouldn't be guilty, but really you'd only be guilty of being a giant moron. Or evil, and if you're evil then why are you worrying about this?

Art is different from a lot of jobs. There's a lot of yourself in what you create, and like a sniper in war, you are intimately tied to your actions. Unlike a faceless McDonald's employee (some of whom do bad, illegal and immoral things with their money) a writer is their job. You don't think about whether that McDonald's guy is going to go home and support homophobic efforts, and if you did, would you still stop it?
But it's still a job, and you're still creating art for other people to enjoy, whatever the form. You can not partake of their art, and that is the moral high ground, but if you do, you should pay for it. Many of us disagree with Chik-fil-a's corporate stance on homosexuality, but if you were starving and the only place to eat was a Chik-fil-a, you wouldn't go in and say 'I demand you give me food! I disagree with your stance on homosexuality but I require your services!'

I bring this up because in today's day and age, it is incredibly easy to steal art, especially when compared to real objects. Because computers are basically big art boxes, and the internet is a giant blob of free art. Movies, music, pictures, books, games, with 3-D printers you can copy sculptures and objects... We're inundated with so much art, so much of it free, that it's literally impossible to pay for it all, even if you wanted to. I'm pretty sure Bill Gates would go broke if he tried to buy literally every piece of art on the internet. But it's important to remember that all that free stuff comes from people, and all those people need jobs. OSC may be a dick, but for many of us, he made things we loved, and he deserves to be paid for them. Ender's Game is something I would actually qualify as an important book, something people should read, and they should buy it. Or at least get it from the library. And they are not homophobes if they do so.

How many books have you read from authors that are not women, and not Mark Twain, who lived before 1900? Sadly, they were pretty much all racist, chauvinist pigs. Because that was normal for their time and the way they were raised. Since we're reading their books 200+ years later, it means they wrote something important, something great. And we shouldn't look at the pieces any less for knowing that they came from someone terrible. It's important to know, but it shouldn't be what decides the value of the art.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Friday Review #2: Blackdog

Hi and welcome to the second Friday Review! Sometimes its hard to get in that time to read when you're writing, working your day job, and trying to have a life (not to mention raising a family, for some) so it can be tough to get one book done, let alone a series. And it seems like every fantasy novel comes in a series nowadays. Not that that's not for good reason - authors get more guaranteed sales and bigger advances with each book in the series, and publishers get assured sales. Every publisher wants to have a GRRM Song of Ice and Fire - a series like that can be the backbone of a publishing house.

But we don't all have time to read eighteen billion pages about dinners and people getting their limbs chopped off, as good as said descriptions may be. That's why the stand-alone fantasy novel, or even just stand alone novel in general that is good is a rare find.

But today I am bringing you one very such thing. A stand alone novel in a unique world with awesome central-asian trappings that you can grab, read, and put down, happy with the experience. Remember that as always if you don't feel like reading it, there's the One Word Review down and the Buy/Wait/Dont at the bottom.

I bring you:


Amazon blurb: And long ago, in the days of the first kings in the north, the seven devils, who had deceived and possessed seven of the greatest wizards of the world, were defeated and bound with the help of the Old Great Gods... 

And perhaps some of the devils are free in the world, and perhaps some are working to free themselves still…

In a land where gods walk on the hills and goddesses rise from river, lake, and spring, the caravan-guard Holla-Sayan, escaping the bloody conquest of a lakeside town, stops to help an abandoned child and a dying dog. The girl, though, is the incarnation of Attalissa, goddess of Lissavakail, and the dog a shape-changing guardian spirit whose origins have been forgotten. Possessed and nearly driven mad by the Blackdog, Holla-Sayan flees to the desert road, taking the powerless avatar with him.

Necromancy, treachery, massacres, rebellions, and gods dead or lost or mad, follow hard on the their heels. But it is Attalissa herself who may be the Blackdog’s—and Holla-Sayan’s—doom.

Alright, lets get down to some brass tacks here. This book rules. It's great. While a few snippets of dialogue felt a little unnatural to me, and a few of the descriptions had to be given a double-take, the book is well written, and as is always important to me, the world is cohesive and real. It definitely feels like a place you could go to. Additionally, the concept of gods for everything is taken to an excellent level, with various spirits of the earth and world mixing with regular gods and devil wizards, it's all pretty fabulous. My only complaint is that we didn't get to see enough of the world and its history, but it is a stand-alone novel. You just have to let those things go sometimes.

Johansen clearly loves his/her (I didn't look at the picture or author bio) clothing because everyone is pretty richly described, with a variety of clothing items I absolutely do not recognize. So good job, fantasy!

There's a number of POVs in this story, and each one has a distinct voice that carries across a different element of the world, which I really appreciated. This a dense book that reads like a light one. You never feel bombarded with infodumps or anything like that. The background history and magic system are all explained in very real, tangible scenes with action rather than passive description. The back and forth personality duo of the Blackdog and Holla-Sayan is great, and I love the internal fights between him and the dog. Not to mention the fabulous styles. Everything in this book feels very stylish, and I really jivved with the world's theme.

My only real complaint was that Johansen sets it up early that there really can't be any interaction between the MC and the antagonist until the climax of the story. It's explained why there really can't be any back and forth action, and it makes sense, but it's unfortunate that the plot played out that way, because I thought the antagonist needed more real screen time. There's a lot of "here's these good guys, here's these good guys, here's these OTHER good guys they all have their own different plots or whatever but they're all coming to kill this one bad guy!"

I know, it's a standalone, and to get the amount of information out there that you want and deal with all these different plots you gotta cut some stuff, but I would have preferred fewer Good Guy POVs and more Bad Guy scenes. A few close shaves with the Bad Guy personally would have made me happier. But this is a good book, and if you're just looking for one novel to gulp down and not have it turn into a series, this is definitely one to grab.

ONE WORD REVIEW: VIVID                              B/W/D: BUY

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Flaw Power!

How perfect are your characters? Are they James Bond impossibilities, capable of seducing literally any person (or animal...?) and doing anything, or do they actually have real human limits?

So many of us, myself included, create attractive characters with normal or excellent social skills, or with great wealth or intellect. That's well and good, but the negative ends are great as well. There's much to be gained from reading about characters conquering their flaws. It's easy to make someone like an attractive and affable character, less so for someone hideous or mad. It's not all about evoking pity, either - it's about creating characters with limits lower than the readers', and then putting those characters in situations that are beyond them. Giving people with two arms, two legs and a healthy neurological and immune system a glimpse at what normal things to them are difficult for others. When you have a character with limits, you can remind the reader of the miracle of basic things, like walking and talking.

I know one of the fabulously talented Nanopals, @_vajk is writing her book, excellently titled Half a Man, about a one-armed orphan who slowly and haphazardly becomes a wizard. I have read some of it and I had some good laughs. I am excited to learn more. And if memory serves, the book opens with a scene about how difficult it is to climb onto a rooftop with only one arm. Climbing isn't especially easy for me already, but I was suitably reminded, and not obnoxiously so, of how lucky I am to have two arms and legs. After that scene, life goes on for the hero, and not really much of a deal is made of his arm. And why? Because we all got the point. Some things are tough, but that character makes do. We're shown the limits and the abilities of this character and not bludgeoned about the bat by the fact that he's missing an arm and oh poor baby.

But physical disfigurement is one thing - a lack of sociability, or a mental illness, is another.

I've recently begun (belatedly, I know) Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn, in which one of the POVs is a rather traumatized teen girl with completely reasonable trust issues. Honestly, she's far more resilient than I think I would have been in her position, but I think she's a god or something. I'm not done yet, don't tell me. But reading about how she slowly came to trust her companions (she still doesn't yet completely, where I am in Part Three of Last Empire) was a roller coaster ride of annoyance, exasperation and mostly amusement. I felt bad for her, but she's just so naive that it's comical to me.  Watching her work through her mistrust has been an interesting and compelling ride, and I and others thoroughly recommend the series to anyone not "In The Know."

The point here isn't to write about disabled characters to evoke pity for their plight, it's to write characters with different flaws. Having an arm chopped off or removing two legs should be a decision on par with deciding whether or not your character will also be an asshole, and to help us see the point of view of living with that flaw, whatever it is. (I'm already an asshole, so I've got that one down, but I'd rather keep physical impairments in fantasies)

So go write! Show me your flaws, make me learn something about myself!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Friday Review #1 - GOFT

I've decided that each Friday will have a review of a book I've read, or a review one of you has written and would like to have hosted! I aim for these to be fairly quick reviews that you can use to both decide whether or not to buy a book and learn something about writing, or being a better reader. Also, if you don't want to read anything, skip to the bottom for a one-word review and the Buy/Wait/Dont! I'm not putting it up here because psychology.

The first of these Friday Reviews is:

By Rae Carson

I picked this book up on the advice of the Land of Lost Books over twitter, after winning a $10 amazon gift card in a comment drawing. I didn't know what kind of book to get, so I asked them to recommend me one, and this was it. I'm not sure whether they are just hardcore YA fantasy fans or if they assumed I was a teenage girl from my twitter personality, but all of their recommendations were YA. In any order, I know when to listen to good advice and so I picked GOFT out of all of them. Mostly because it had Fire and Thorns in the name.

The book follows the tale of Princess Elisa, from the Spanish themed country of Orovalle. She's sixteen second to the throne, and has no interests in ruling. And she's about to get married on a sudden occasion (Spoiler: it happens in chapter one) to a total stranger, a Prince Alejandro. Oh, did I mention she's fat, and likes to ease her low self-worth by eating? I don't know Rae Carson, but I assume that like me, she shares this quality, because every time Elisa goes to eat something in this book, it's exactly when I would have, too.

There's also this little fact that she's the mystical Bearer of the Godstone, a literal gem that is inserted into the chest of a person every so often throughout history (it's wasn't quite clear to me if it was every time one died another one came about, I don't think I'm supposed to know yet) and they all have some great duty that needs to be performed. But because of her culture's weird religious beliefs, she's ignorant of every fact but those, and has been taught to hide this fact.

If all this feels like spoilers, it's not. There's a lot to the world of this book, and GOFT really only scratches the surface. The whole world has a very Spanish feel to it, and mean Spain, the country and not just every latin nation, though I certainly felt there were similarities. It's medieval, with fairly standard medieval trappings, including a monotheistic religion whose sprawling factions all interpret the same holy book differently. Though if I lived in a world where a beam of light from the sky implanted a gem into the navel of a  seemingly random babe every hundred years or so, I would probably believe in that One God, too.

The Godstone also responds to Elisa's prayers, glowing warm when she prays for good things and other people and also sometimes kind of at random, at least to her (and my) knowledge. And cold when enemies are nearby!

With regards to God and the Godstone in the book, I was most reminded of Orson Scott Card's Homecoming Saga's millions-years-later Russian space colony atmosphere, where their God is a misunderstood relic of humanity's past. But that... trope if it is one, is particularly dear to me, so I may just be reading too much into it. Still, there are a lot of references to an "original world" and a God that mystically transported them from that dying world to this incredibly earthlike but not explicitly so world. Though unlike OSC's books, there is explicit magic in this world, so it really could just be that their religious story is 100% accurate.

This is the sort of thing I live for in books. This background action that takes place long before the events of book itself. When your world has a real, tangible past and a real feeling of culture, it makes the story pop. Now, someone who lives in Spain might find some of the Spanish trappings mundane, but for me it was a refreshing change of pace from English culture. Even when you're not doing fantasy, this sort of background is important. Providing a real, rich setting will move your action for you, so you can make it that much better.

There are of course romances in the book, (as she does get married, but that's hardly the start) and of course it is YA, so none of them really get anywhere - though they may in later books. I found them adorably frustrating. I would have preferred a little more directness, but I'm not a sixteen year old girl, and for YA, I approve of all the decisions Rae Carson made, as well as the ones Elisa made. Well, maybe not not sleeping with Humberto. He was my favourite.

Elisa is a smart girl, and the story reflects that. I liked her, and watching her realize her own capabilities was uplifting. The story went dark in the places I expected it to, but not in the ways I expected it to and while the "accidentally acquired all seven dragonballs" style final battle didn't pack quite the punch I was expecting, I am a fight scene nerd, and Elisa is not really a fight scene character. Though when they occur - and they do - she doesn't step from the challenge. It's just not really her thing.

My only real complaint with this book is the same I had with Tolkien's LOTR. The world is excellent and rich (LOTR richest, obvi) and the story is told well and evocatively, but the major action felt a little short. There was a time where she was captured that I feel could have gone on longer, and given us a little more background, but this is a series and it may just be that Carson doesn't want to tell us that much yet about the Godstone and Elisa's real destiny.

In sum, I recommend this book to everyone. Elisa's starting temperment is one common to many, not just girls, and her journey of self discovery can be yours as well, if you haven't already reached a higher level of karmic self-awareness. It's a quick and easy read that has some lovable characters and great food.

ONE WORD REVIEW: APPETIZING                         

Thanks for reading!