The Warded Man (Demon Cycle #1) by Peter V. Brett – Book Review (Excerpt)

The entirety of this review is published over at booknest.eu. Below is an exerpt of it because…well, #everythingiscontent, and this is mine.

Entering a new fictional world that might take up dozens or even hundreds of hours of your time is no small thing; those first few hours are decisive as they can either mesmerize or let you down. The Warded Man hooked me, and it did so in several ways. First of all, the atmosphere of fear and constant danger that oozes across every page through the first half of the novel is nothing short of impressive. It’s owed to one of the most original renditions of demonic entities I’ve come across in recent memories – the demons. These appear as soon as the sun is down, every single night, filled with malice and hatred for humans. The only thing that keeps them at bay are the wards, magical symbols of protection etched into wood, stone and cement. Thanks to these and these alone does humanity survive, whether in great walled cities or in tiny villages, spread throughout the land, often cut off and isolated from one another. But wards are not failproof; the demons possess base cunning and test them time and again. If any of the wards are weakened or imperfect, the demons will find the weakness and break through.

What follows is a merciless slaughter, the kind only fanatical, thoughtless hate can inflict upon innocents. It’s evil made manifest. How humanity responds to that at the time of the book’s opening is not too difficult to picture; the time for fighting has long since passed and fear has nestled deep in the hearts of men. There’s no fight left in most of them and those in whom resistance still burns bright are the blazing exception. The demons can’t be hurt by conventional weaponry and trapping them until dawn is tough work, demanding sacrifice that most are unwilling to pay, and bravery none possess. And who could blame them? If creatures materialised out of smoke outside my home every day and spat venom or fire, or were fifteen feet high and made of rocks, I wouldn’t be bursting with bravery, either.

The Heart of Stone by Ben Galley – Book Review

This is an outtake from my booknest.eu review of Ben Galley’s Heart of Stone. Click here for the full post.

Ben Galley’s The Heart of Stone matters. It shows that chains can be broken, that stories have a profound effect on how we humans perceive the world and what actions we take, and it has something to say about vengeance, justice and mistaking one for the other.

I’m a sucker for exemplary, complex characters and Heart of Stone has them in spades. First and foremost, the owner of the eponymous heart of stone itself, our golem Task. After four hundred years of destruction and slaughter over hundreds of battlefields in dozens of wars, Task still has an untapped fount of compassion and empathy for these creatures of flesh and bone that he’s been forced to kill by the will of his many masters. He is no dumb brute but an intelligent creature, challenged continually by the purpose for which he was made – to be the perfectly obedient war machine, a harbinger of death. This is, to the surprise of no one who has taken even a cursory glance at the blurb, one of the leading conflicts in the novel.

Yet more complex is the character of Ellia. She is one of those characters who will remain with me a long time, like Peter F. Hamilton’s Angela Tramelo (Great North Road) or Ken Follett’s Augusta Pilaster (A Dangerous Fortune). Ellia is a noblewoman whose loyalties aren’t clear-cut to begin with and only get murkier as the plot progresses. Ellia is the architect (pun intended, for the knowing) of most of what happens during the novel, using her wits to gain the upper hand over generals, lords, councillors and religious fanatics. Fuelled by horrific events of her past, the path Ellia chooses to pursue is understandable.

Continued on booknest.eu. #Everythingiscontent #Evencontentoveronotherblogs

Jim Butcher’s Fool Moon (The Dresden Files #2)

Hullo and welcome to this tiny review, in which I will bitch and moan about Fool Moon for a wee bit! Why? Because #EverythingIsContent !

I listened to James Masters’s reading of the first Harry Dresden novel almost two years ago — my Goodreads shelf tells me I read it on June 29, 2017 — and I enjoyed it deeply. Here was the humble beginning of a likable protagonist, the lead of a first-person novel that defines more than any other work of fiction the look of today’s urban fantasy. To top it all off? I have it on good authority that James Masters, over the sixteen or so books in the series, makes the character and series his own with a remarkable audio performance.

So there I was, excited to know more; I quickly got Fool Moon, I started it and somewhere half-way along the book, I pressed pause and did not touch it for nearly two years. Why?

Because of Murphy.

The way she was written in the first one didn’t make much of an impression. Cool, the competent detective prototype that’s common enough in this urban fantasy subgenre we so adore. She wasn’t memorable enough next to Harry, his talking skull and dangerous businessman and mafioso John Marcone.

In Fool Moon, Murphy is impossible to stomach. She doesn’t act like a competent cop, investigating ritualistic murders that seem to have been committed by some sort of a beast, instead choosing to jump to one wrong conclusion after another without any solid evidence. She goes as far as to arrest Harry Dresden, refusing to trust him even a long, long time after a menagerie of events proves his innocence beyond reasonable doubt. Murphy acts as judge, jury and executioner without anything but circumstantial evidence and facts unrelated to one another.

How does Dresden accept her accussations and behaviour? He feels bad. Doesn’t get annoyed at her, doesn’t get rightfully pissed, he feels guilty for having to keep secrets from her; secrets that, if he shares with a non-wizardy person, he’ll be commiting a crime punishable by death! She arrests him, refuses to trust him and he nods along with it, feeling bad for himself and for her. God dammit, Harry, get a grip!

This was a relationship that completely broke my immersion from what was otherwise a really interesting novel about magic and werewolves. And there’s a lot of good werewolf stuff here. Five types of the beasts! A talking skeletal head! The sexy journalist lady from the occultist paper that Harry has a fun semi-relationship with! Some sweet action scenes!

And I could barely enjoy all of these because Murphy’s relationship with Harry went against everything I know about how human relationships function, in fiction or otherwise. It’s kinda funny, if you think about it.

Except, it isn’t.

What’s important, however, is that it’s all uphill from here on out! All the Dresden fans agree (or most of them, anyway) that Fool Moon is the weakest in the series. I’m looking forward to seeing what heights the series will offer next.

Would I recommend this novel? Not by itself. As a stepping stone to get to know more about The Dresden Files? It has some interesting aspects. But once I read the rest of the series, I will probably come back to this review and give one last verdict as to whether this is, in fact, important enough to read despite the glaringly bad relationship between Dresden and Murphy.

Book Review: Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft

Senlin-Cover

I’ve had some trouble putting my thoughts in order where Senlin Ascends, the first book in Josiah Bancroft’s Books of Babel series of four, is concerned. This book is an excellent read, the kind whose characters live with you well after you’ve put it down for good. Perhaps Senlin Ascends is one of those rare novels which excel so completely at surprising and thrilling many of its readers that words all of a sudden elude you.

Then again, maybe it’s the sort of read you need a few days to process. And process I have. What did I come up with during those few days?

Senlin Ascends is an excellent novel that doesn’t fall into any one genre checkbox. We can spend all day discussing its Victorian influences and steampunk elements, but at its core, this is (the beginning of) a story of a husband doing everything in his power to find his wife.

Senlin is the headmaster of the only school in the small town of Isaugh, a man ‘at the edge of things,’ a man of reserved judgement who looks on his fellow residents as uneducated and treats them somewhat like children, to their mild disdain. He only recently married the beautiful, talented and lively Marya, described as:

Marya was a good match. She was good-tempered and well-read; thoughtful, though not brooding; and mannered without being aloof. She tolerated his long hours of study and his general quiet, which others often mistook for stoicism. He imagined she had married him because he was kind, even-tempered and securely employed. He made fifteen shekels a week, for an annual salary of thirteen minas; it wasn’t a fortune by any means, but it was sufficient for a comfortable life. She certainly hadn’t married him for his looks. While his features were separately handsome enough, taken altogether they seemed a little stretched and misplaced.

She played the piano beautifully but also brutally. She’d sing like a mad mermaid while banging out ballads and reels, leaving detuned pianos in her wake. And even still, her oddness inspired admiration in most. The townsfolk thought she was charming and her playing was often requested at the local public houses. Not even the bitter gray of Isaugh’s winters could temper her vivacity. Everyone was a little baffled by her marriage to the Sturgeon.

Not much time at all passes before Marya and Senlin lose track of one another, in the very foundation of the massive structure that is the Tower of Babbel, the setting — and, in a way, the prime antagonist — of this fantastic story. Senlin has had a deep fascination with the Tower for most of his life, having bought into all those books proclaiming the Tower of Babel the greatest accomplishment of humanity. Senlin’s trusted Everyman’s Guide to the Tower even describes it so:

The Tower of Babel is most famous for the silk fineries and marvelous airships it produces, but visitors will discover other intangible exports. Whimsy, adventure, and romance are the Tower’s real trade.
Ah, how wonderful it sounds, how exciting! If only reality were so…
Senlin’s obsession with the Tower will cost him, as its true guise is much different from what he’s imagined and read about throughout his life. His wife lost, Senlin is forced, after a period of dumbfounding shock, to begin his ascension of this great structure.
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Along the way, questions will pile up. Who built the Tower, and just what is its purpose? These lay on the wayside, however. More central are the myriad questions, which shove and prod Senlin at every corner, forcing the well-meaning but cowardly teacher to grow and change in order to survive and follow Marya’s trail. Despite the trials and tribulations in his path, what Senlin retains is a core of decency, compassion and the belief that the Tower’s destructive influence doesn’t necessarily erode everything good and decent in people. It’s this belief in men and women that forces them to do better, to meet him half-way.
Senlin’s growth, in fact, is one of the main reasons this novel pulled me in so thoroughly. It’s no small feat, making a likeable person look completely unprepared and incapable of dealing with a situation, to have all his positives turn into flaws to disastrous effect, only to see him realize all this and, step by step, rebel against it, becoming something of a charming rogue by the end. (Bit long-winded, that sentence.)
Mysteries abound in the form of indebted slaves called ‘hods,’ a terrifying gentleman monster playing at Dr Jeckyll/Mr. Hyde called Red Hand, four ringdoms, levels of the Tower, each under different authorities, built for different purposes, and so on.
Plenty of side-characters are to be found, all of them excellent. My favourites have to be Edith and Tarrou, the latter’s description:
A two-pointed black beard accentuated his iron gray mane of hair. He seemed hale and athletic for a man his age. Senlin was a little intimidated by the width of his chest and shoulders, though his smile seemed amiable enough. “And that is the dazed look of a man fresh from the monkey pen.” He gave an exaggerated shudder. “The Parlor is an awful place.”
The prose is nothing short of exceptional. Bancroft’s sentences flow easily and present a clear view into another world, a world that is sometimes beautiful, sometimes unspeakably ugly and nearly always bizarre. It will set your imagination on fire, both with its adventurous streaks and with the darker undertones Senlin Ascends is rich in.
In short, Senlin Ascends is excellent and well worth your time and hard-earned cash. It’s even worth your tiny sum of pocket money, if you make no cash what-so-ever.
I can see why it has as much hype as it got; I’m almost sad to have found it only now that a big publisher has republished the first two books and will soon publish the third (in September). Now that I’ve started, I can’t wait for the last two books of the series to hit the shelves!
The simplest way to make the world mysterious and terrifying to a man is to chase him through it.
In this, Josiah Bancroft certainly succeeds…even if Senlin Ascends doesn’t always feel like a chase, it’s one hell of a ride. There I go, mixing my metaphors again.
Thank you for reading this review! I’ll be back with a review of the second book in the Tower of Babel series as soon as I finish reading it! Now I’m off to read it!
P.S. Action scenes! Excellent bloody action scenes!
P.P.S. Six seasons and a movie!

Book Recommendation: Sun Wolf and Starhawk Book 1, The Ladies of Mandrygin

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Ah, 80’s era fantasy. An era much beloved by many and fairly disliked by some. To me, it’s a by-gone age with some great books that hold up really well, and some that…well, don’t. Either way, I’ve been going out of my way to explore this decade’s worth of fantasy trends, and–surprise, surprise– sword’n’sorcery is indeed a thing. And a wonderful thing it can be, but also a terrible one.

Where does Sun Wolf and Starhawk fall on that spectrum?… It’s mostly good. Bit anti-climatic to just come out and say so, I know, but it’s true!

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you might recall how much I enjoyed Barbara Hambly’s Time of the Dark trilogy. She’s penned several trilogies and I intend to explore all of them, year by year until I’m all done with them, and The Ladies of Mandrigyn is the beginning of Sun Wolf and Starhawk’s adventures. It’s a good start, which nevertheless does a few things I didn’t enjoy. It doesn’t necessarily do them badly, mind you.

Sun Wolf is a mercenary captain, Starhawk — his loyal lieutenant. Sun Wolf is first described as an exceptional commander, a skilled fighter that has the ability to see demons. Starhawk is a cold and brutal commander in her own right, following in the footsteps of Gil (Time of the Dark main heroine) in terms of badassery, among other traits.

I was overjoyed to be reading about yet another mercenary squad — the enjoyment on this front soon disappeared, what with Sun Wolf getting himself kidnapped by a number of willful women who don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. The question? “Will you help us fight the immortal wizard Altiokis, who took over Madrigyn, our pretty seaside city, and also enslaved our men, and put them to work. We’d really appreciate it if you could give us a bit of a hand for a bit of coin!”

Sun Wolf, whose two rules of conduct are, “Don’t mess with magic, don’t fall in love,” says no to that and gets poisoned for his troubles. I’d hate to say ‘no’ to those ladies.

Starhawk, being secretly in love with the Wolf, goes after him, though she really has no clue where he went off to, what with his surprise disappearance. Her companion is Fawn, the Wolf’s pretty, young concubine, whose role isn’t all too important in this book. Wonder if she’ll reappear later on or if we’ll steer clear of the lass.

My problem with this book is that although the Wolf is supposed to be this highly skilled mercenary general — which translates to a cut-throat sunuvabiscuit who has more than a single vicious bone, he takes a lot of punishment and abuse from the ladies with a very…Zen Buddhist bearing, if you will. He’s such a stoicist — and he shows his disobedience for the leaders of the Mandrigyn resistance in the most stupid, tantrum-throwing way! It’s not that his character feels unnatural, it’s that the descriptions we get of him early on really have little to do with what he is, in reality. It bugs me.

Starhawk is fantastic, though. Sadly, she plays a less prominent part than does the Wolf. Nevertheless, the chapters with her as our PoV character caught and held my attention from beginning to end.

It’s a good book, with a few good mysteries and one of those moments where a lightbulb in your mind will turn on and you’ll say “Ah!” or, if you’re anything like me, you’ll laugh with sinister delight!

It made for a mostly enjoyable read. Not what I’d recommend if you wanted something to grab you by the throat and transport you to another world as forcefully as possible — if you want that, read Malazan or The First Law, or even Hambly’s Time of the Dark trilogy.

As to how the trilogy itself holds up, I cannot yet say. I’ll get back to it in due time, but I think I need something a bit more captivating first. Luckily, March has been rich on good fantasy. I’ve started working on Senlin Ascends, the first book in the Tower of Babel trilogy.

Working on? Pfft, reading is wot I meant! More’s to come, at any rate, in the following weeks. We are, at this point, back to our regularly scheduled programming, what with at least three posts per week — hopefully more, if I manage to squeeze in the time to write a bunch of stuff about graphic novels you might want to know more about! 

Can’t wait for September!

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Look at this cover! A three-eyed cat! A woman who looks like the Lady! A man that has to be Croaker! A pair of kids, one demonic, the other — sort of nice, if you’re into that sort, and whatnot.

It’s dark, it’s stylish, it’s of great quality! Do the job! Get paid! Survive!

I’m beyond excited. So much beyond excited, I can’t even begin to describe it!

Gah!

Have an excerpt, which I totally didn’t steal from Tor.com:

The chimes turned orchestral as she stepped down from the carpet. A gust tossed her hair in streamers as black as her clothing, but shining. Her hair included several intensely scarlet streaks. A silver and lapis lazuli butterfly clip sat at the root of the boldest red stripe. She was as slim as a maiden but her face suggested past strains beyond those of any maiden’s years.

So, truth absolute. She was Taken. She had gone to the Tower. She had come out of the Tower a bespoke servant of shadow.

Nobody moved to greet her. Nobody doubted what she was, either, though no Taken had visited us in months. The Limper had been the last.

She turned my way, frowned slightly, then smiled just as the sun sneaked out from behind a cloud. Its light kissed her. Her face suddenly seemed coated with white makeup on which thin blue lines had been sketched. The light faded before I got a good look. Then I got distracted by the cat that ambled out of her shadow.

It was a three-eyed cat. You do not see many of those. It was as black as her hair. The rationally placed eyes were yellow, except when they looked straight at you. Then they became a pale lilac rose, and glowed. The third eye, above and between, was a slit visible only from straight ahead. It shone crimson for a moment, then purple.

Excerpted from Port of Shadows, copyright © 2018 by Glen Cook.

Book Recommendation: Jhereg by Steven Brust

I took a big chunk of time of last October and November to re-read most of Steven Brust’s excellent Vlad Taltos novels. I loved the first few novels as a child when I had read them in Bulgarian. I must’ve been between nine-ten, maybe eleven when I first held Jhereg in my hands. It was a spellbinding experience, the kind that speaks to you on a very deep personal level.

But that was a long time ago.

I do a lot of writing — never as much as I want, and not always as much as I should. I’ve learned a lot about it from reading, naturally. The fact is, one of the major POV’s in my novel is in the first person. During ye olde case of writer’s block, I decided to revisit Jhereg, discover how my adult self would take to a book I loved as a child, and maybe even find out how it holds out.

What we love as kids, adulthood sometimes takes away.

But boy, is Jhereg good!

Vlad Taltos is an Easterner (read: human) in a world of humans (read: elves, or Dragaerans). He is a baronet in the Imperial House of Jhereg, but don’t let that fool you — the title’s been paid for with coin and means next to nothing. The Jhereg is one of seventeen Great Houses of the Dragaeran Empire. The Great House which deals in just about every illegal thing you could think of — gambling, prostitution, assassination and so much more!

Vlad Taltos is an Easterner, and a Jhereg, and he’s a small-time boss of a small-time criminal organization, which owns several districts worth of criminal activities (read gambling dens, restaurants and whorehouses) in the capital city of Adrilanka. He’s pretty good at maintaining his business, for an Easterner, considering their life spans.

Vlad Taltos is the head of security to Morrolan E’Drien, a Dragon and close friend to the Empress, and the single Dragaeran to have a floating castle in the air. It’s called Castle Black, and the colour of magic is Black, and that says something for Morrolan, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Castle Black just so happens to be the safest place in the Empire, unless you’ve got the Imperial Orb looking out for you.

Vlad Taltos also happens to be a killer for hire, and that, most would argue, is where his real talents lie. He’s not a spectacular fighter — although he can hold his own — so much as he’s exceptionally crafty and very, refreshingly clever. The fencing and witchcraft he picked up from his grandfather don’t hurt one bit when handling the larger and stronger Dragaerans, used to a more brutal sort of fighting by far.

Vlad Taltos just so happens to get hired for the most complex job he’s ever had to perform. To kill a member of the Jhereg’s own Council, a member who’s done away with the House’s coffers. A man whose tenacity might very well surpass that of Vlad’s — for this man is a guest of Morrolan E’Drien and the Lord of Castle Black lets no one harm his guests.

The clock is ticking — and if Vlad doesn’t take care of the problem, two mighty Houses go to war. One is the House of some of Vlad’s closest friends, and the other is his own.

Tick-tock.

It’s a great book, worth every minute, every cent. A great starting point to a rich world filled with colourful characters and hours of action and tear-jerking comedy. This book reads like a detective story; the way Vlad works is very much like an investigator, and the books are all the better for it. Steven Brust’s use of language is beyond comparison.

But hey, I’m subjective. I love Vlad. Don’t take my word for it — check it out for yourself!

 

Thanks for reading! I’ll see you next time! Any books you’d like me to read and share my opinion on? Let me know in the comments! A like would also be appreciated! 

 

 

Writing Advice: The Seven Key Steps of Story Structure (Chapter 3 of The Anatomy of Story)

Welcome back to my summary of ‘The Anatomy of Story’ by John Truby. Today we’ll take a look at Chapter 3, which deals with the steps of story structure. Let’s get to it! 

When we talk about the  structure of a story, we talk about how a story develops over time.

A story has a minimum of seven steps in its growth from beginning to end:

  1. Weakness and need.
  2. Desire.
  3. Opponent.
  4. Plan.
  5. Battle.Thgfgfgga
  6. Self-revelation.
  7. New equilibrium.

(Magnus Commentary: Sound bit unclear? Don’t worry, we’re gonna breeze through these!)

These seven steps aren’t arbitrarily imposed from without, the way a mechanical story structure such as the three-act structure is. These seven stop are based on human action, and are organic.

1.Weakness and need.

From the very beginning of the story, your hero has one or more great weaknesses that are holding him back. The need is what the hero must fulfill within himself in order to have a better life. It takes change and growth to overcome weaknesses.

Need is a wellspring of the story, and sets up every other step. Keep two important points in mind:

Your hero shouldn’t be aware of his need at the beginning of the story. 

If he’s already cognizant of what he needs, the story is over. The knowledge comes at the end, after the hero’s gone through a great deal of pain or struggle.

Give your hero a moral need as well as a psychological need.

Psychological needs involve overcoming a serious flaw that is hurting nobody but the hero. In better stories, the hero has a moral flaw in need of overcoming; a character with a moral need is always hurting others in some way at the story’s beginning.

(Magnus Commentary: I’m interested to see a character begin without a moral flaw but develop it as the story progresses.)

Giving your hero a moral need also prevents him from being perfect or a victim. Both are the kiss of death, storytelling-wise.

Keep the problem simple and specific.

The problem is also present from page one, but it isn’t as important as the weakness and need. Crisis defines a character very quickly.

Technique: Creating the moral need

Remember the rule of thumb: To have a moral need, the character must be hurting at least one other person. The moral need usually comes out of the psychological need. The character must be hurting at least one other person. The moral need usually comes out of the psychological weakness that leads him to take it out on others.

  1. Begin with the psychological weakness.
  2. Figure out what kind of immoral action might natural come out of that.

A second technique for creating a moral need is to push a strength so far that it becomes a weakness. It goes like this:

  1. Identify a virtue in your character; then make him so passionate about it that it becomes oppressive.
  2. Come up with a value the character believes in. Then find the negative version of this value.

2. Desire

Desire is what your hero wants in the story, his particular goal. A story doesn’t become interesting to the audience until the desire comes into play. It’s the driving force in the story, the line from which everything else hands. It’s intimately connected to need.

One of the biggest mistakes a writer can make is to confuse need and desire or them as a single step.

Need has to do with overcoming a weakness within the character. A hero with a need is paralyzed in some way by his weakness. Desire is a goal outside the character.

Need and desire also have different function in relation to the audience. Need lets the audience see how the hero must change to have a better life. It’s the key to the whole story, but it remains under the surface, whereas desire is on the surface, a thing that the audience wants along with the hero.

Your hero’s true desire is what he wants in this story, not what he wants in life.

Technique: Starting with desire

Careful — you might think to jump past the need and weakness and straight to desire. It’ll start the story off quickly, but it might very well kill the payoff, the ending of the story. Step 1 makes it possible for your hero to change at the end. They’re what makes the story personal and meaningful. And they’ll make the audience care. Don’t start with desire, not ever.

3. Opponent.

See the opponent not as an evil cliché, but structurally, in terms of his function in the story. A true opponent not only wants to prevent the hero from achieving his desire, but is competing with the hero for the same goal. The opponent thus links with Step Two: Desire.

It’s this link that forces hero and opponent to come into direct conflict. Two separate goals mean…the two characters can each get what they want without coming directly into conflict.

To find the right opponent, start with your hero’s specific goal — whoever wants to keep him from getting it is an (or The) opponent.

4. Plan.

Action isn’t possible without some plan. The plan is the set of guidelines or strategies, that the hero will use to overcome the opponent and reach the goal. Linked to both the opponent and the desire. The plan should always be specifically focused towards reaching the goal and defeating the opponent.

5. Battle.

The final conflict between hero and opponent; determines which of the two characters wins the goal. The final battle may be a conflict of violence or of words.

6. Self-Revelation.

The battle is an intense, painful experience for the hero. The crucible for battle causes the hero to have a major revelation about who he really is.

Much of the quality of your story is based on the quality of your story. Good self-revelation, like need, comes in two forms — psychological and moral.

In psychological, the hero strips away the façade and sees himself honestly for the first time. The stripping away of the façade isn’t passive or easy. It’s the most active, difficult and courageous act the hero performs in the entire story. As need is the beginning of the hero’s character change, so is self-revelation the end-point.

7. New Equilibrium.

Everything returns to normal, and all desire is gone, except for one difference. The hero has moved to a higher or lower level as a result of going through his crucible. A fundamental and permanent change will have taken place, either positive or negative.

The hero will therefore either move to a higher level, or — if he’s committed a terrible crime that exposes a corrupt personal flaw — will fall and be destroyed.

That’s it for this week! Hope you find my summary of Chapter 3 an interesting one: here’s to next week, which’ll be centered on Chapter 4: Characters! 

There are plenty of interesting examples and exercises in the book, which are also worth a look. As always, I don’t fully agree with the premise of the novel — that this is the best way to write; but it’s an interesting and educational experience, reading this!

Fragile Things

Whenever I read Neil Gaiman’s short-form fiction — his poetry and short stories — I feel as if I’m inhaling some alchemical substance, an aroma whose very essence is imagination, refined by years of study and hard work.

Fragile Things is one of several short story collections which might very well be my favorite (althought that’s arguable).  Some of the best stories you’ll discover in it include:

  • A Study in Emerald, a short story that mixes the Cthulhu mythos with Sherlock Holmes…with a major twist. The title is an obvious riff on A Study in Scarlet, where Holmes and Watson first appeared.
  • The Problem of Susan, a short story that acts as something of a study/critique of Susan Pevensie, one of the protagonists of the Narnia series. It’s a haunting story, and you can read it here, if you’ve nowhere to pick the anthology from, or if you need a taste before you commit to a purchase.
  •  Fifteen Painted Cards from a Vampire Tarot is a weird, disconnected tale; a few tales, revolving around the names of tarot cards.
  • The Monarch of the Glen, a novella-sized sequel to American Gods. If you haven’t read American Gods, I’d advise you to do so before touching this.
  • Instructions, a poem that gives instructions (what else) for surviving in a fairy tale land — since that can still happen, occasionally. How else could you explain Neil Gaiman’s hair?
  • Sunbird, which is also in the anthology of short stories prepared by Gaiman–Unnatural Creatures– is all about a club of bored rich people, who seek the most amazing gourmet food; when all else is tasted, they decide to feed on the exotic Sunbird.
  • How to talk to Girls at Parties, which is getting the movie treatment, was nominated for a Hugo, and is an overall fascinating piece of fiction, is about a shy boy going to a party with his best friend, and things getting pretty weird.
    As things are bound to, at parties…which you’d know, if you ever went to parties with me.

There’s more, of course, but these are the ones that left the biggest impact on me. The collection is very much worth your time!

Thursday Recommendation: A Slip of the Keyboard

Terry Pratchett is one of the writers I most admire.

A few posts ago, I wrote about adding humor to your writing. Pratchett doesn’t simply ‘add’ humor; he weaves social commentary into his impressive body of works — Discworld and otherwise — and then proceeds to mask it with satire and sharpness that can kick your arse seven ways towards Eureka!

But I am getting sidetracked once again. The book itself is a collection of Terry Pratchett’s non-fiction writing,which covers a variety of topics important to the man during his life — both personal and private ones, ranging from musings on his career as a journalist, PR and an author, to his passionate work to protect orangutans from extinction, to a deep-rooted appreciation for libraries and librarians (akin to Neil Gaiman), and wrapping up with his battles against Alzheimer’s and for the legalization and broader acceptance of a sick person’s right to die.

This is the man who described his disease as an “embuggerance.”  His non-fiction captures the weirdness and the ridiculousness, and sometimes the cruelty of the world we all inhabit, of this wonderful, sometime twisted reality we all share.

He fought injustice; in his writing, and outside it. He enjoyed life, and books, and I often think of how much the world could use him now.