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Friday, November 27, 2020

Two Books By Frances Hardinge: A Guest Review By Jane Routley


Today I would like to welcome guest reviewer Jane Routley to The Great Raven. If you have been following this blog for a while, you may have read her guest post about her work.

 This time, Jane is keen to share a world she has recently discovered, created by YA author Frances Hardinge.

Take it away, Jane! 

Several times during this year’s N.Z. Worldcon, the name  Frances Hardinge was mentioned by a number of panellists as a writer to go on to you’ve finished all of Rowling or Tolkien.  

So I tracked some down.  So far I’ve only had time to read her two Mosca Mye books – Fly by Night and Twilight Robbery, but I’m totally hooked.  

Mosca Mye is a strong-willed 11 year old girl who loves words and reading in a world in which most people fear the written word.  Orphaned, she leaves her village in the company of marvellously named con-man Eponymous Clent and her pet goose Saracen (otherwise known as the goose apocalypse).  Highwaymen, thieves, mad dukes, sinister guild men and floating coffee houses populate their following adventures, a rich rambunctious tapestry enhanced by wonderful names and joyful word play.  This is a world which looks like 17th Century England, but in which a series of small states exist in uneasy truce after a vicious civil war and an even more vicious religious war. 

Most people in this world worship the Beloved, a pantheon of small gods with wonderful and sometimes punning names, such as Goodman Palpitattle, he who keeps the flies out of jam and butter churns and Goodlady Whenyouleast,  Lady of reunions.  

The bookshelves are full of fantasy novels about feisty orphans taking on the world, but Hardinge’s books feel so fresh and original.  I adored the stubborn and spiky Mosca and the cunning Mr Clent.  The plot was so intricate and yet fell into place so effortlessly I was completely charmed and also envious.  

The plotting, the world building, the story telling and the sophisticated but never dull themes of rebellion, censorship, religious tolerance and the struggle for a fairer world are all marvellous and both books romp gloriously along.  And the blurbs on her other books sound wonderful.  Cities where faces don’t show emotions?  Trees which replace lies for truth?  Can’t wait to read them.    

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Bitter Seeds By Ian Tregillis. Milkweed Tryptich Book 1. Hachette, 2010


This novel was mentioned by a panellist at the World Fantasy Convention. It sounded intriguing so I bought it in Apple Books. As it has been out for ten years, it might be easier to buy in ebook than print. Fortunately, I prefer ebooks these days. 

The year is 1939 and British secret agent Raybould Marsh has been sent to Spain to get some information from a Nazi defector. Weird things happen, the defector bursts into flames just before he can hand over the goods and Marsh escapes with just some film that needs to be put together. He also encounters a strange woman on his way to the last ship out of the country. Something weird is going on.

The Nazis have produced some super powered people, by experimenting on orphans, to help with their invasion plans. One does flames, another walks through walls and then there is the most dangerous, an oracle who can predict the future. 

The only way to fight them is with magic, practised by warlocks. Only trouble is that you can’t just do magic. You have to negotiate with otherworldly beings, the Eidolons, which really don’t like humans. There is always a price for their help - a price that involves blood and, often, death - somebody else’s death. So, what do you do? Just how much are you prepared to sacrifice to keep your country safe?

The story is seen from three viewpoints - Marsh, his university friend Will, a warlock, and Klaus, the German who walks through walls. 

It’s a historical thriller with fantastical elements. It also has characters worth caring about. Poor Will is the one who must negotiate with the Eidolons, knowing he will have to agree to the deaths of innocent people and not even the enemy, but his own people, to stop the invasion of England. 

And there are people at the top who are only too willing to sacrifice others for their needs... 

It is interesting to read a story in which the good guys are prepared to do bad things.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and will definitely download the next one in the trilogy. 

The trilogy is available in both Apple and Kindle formats. It’s also in audiobook. 

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Music And Fantasy 2 - Kate Constable!

 In my last post, on the subject of music and fantasy, I neglected to mention the Chanters of Tremaris trilogy by Aussie author and fellow Melbournian Kate Constable. 

This is particularly embarrassing because I’ve read most of her books, including two wonderful time-slip fantasies, Crow Country and Cicada Summer, both of which were borrowed a lot from my school library. I can only plead that I read the trilogy in the early 2000s, and The Taste Of Lightning, a fourth book in that universe, in 2007. 

In fact, here is my review of that novel, posted soon after it came out.

If any books have connected music and fantasy it’s those four! 

And here is my review of her time-slip fantasy, Crow Country, which won the 2012 Children’s Book Council of Australia award for Younger Readers.

You can buy them all on line, in print or ebook, at your favourite on line bookseller, including her new book, The January Stars, which I haven’t read yet but will. Go get some - you won’t regret it! 

Friday, November 13, 2020

Music And Fantasy

Spanish Vihuelas -Public Domain

 I’m still catching up with World Fantasy Convention panels, which will be up till December 1. Last night I watched a panel on the subject of music and fantasy. I admit I hadn’t heard of any of the panellists, but they were all musicians as well as writers. One was an opera singer, another plays metal, a third was a rapper.

One mentioned the idea of magic systems connected with music, which I think is interesting, and have come across before. The moderator connected music and fantasy with reading your work aloud to yourself, something I do, and it does help, but it’s not music. 

While they did mention authors with music in their fantasy, there were quite a few nobody mentioned, so I thought I might talk about some here. 

The one I thought should really have been mentioned was Charles De Lint. He’s a musician himself, who plays the mandolin(he met his wife when she needed lessons), and composes songs, but music is a huge part of his fantasy. The Newford stories are full of it, and I have to say I would move to his little town of Newford tomorrow if it existed. It’s a place where music of all kinds fills the cafes, along with musicians, artists and poets, and where there are fairies in the local park. His novel Moonheart had the Celtic bard Taliesin in it, and a heroine who works to the music of folk band Silly Wizard. I bought my first Silly Wizard album after reading it. I’ve been lucky enough to meet the De Lints at a con, some years ago, and they performed for the con goers as well as jamming in the foyer with a harpist fan. If that’s not a great mix of fantasy and music, I don’t know what is, but no one on the panel mentioned him.

By the way - filk music is a great combination of music and fantasy/SF too, songs composed by fans and writers, on SF themes. Some big name writers have been filk composers and singers, such as Poul Anderson, Gordon R Dickson and Joe Haldeman(who was at the World SF and Fantasy Cons). Not mentioned on that panel.

Tolkien - who did get a brief mention - wove songs into his fiction. In the very first chapter of The Hobbit, the Dwarves are carrying their instruments with them when they arrive at Bag End. After dinner, Thorin Oakenshield, leader of the Dwarves, says, “Now for some music!” and out come the instruments, and they tell their story via song. 

Lord Of The Rings includes more songs, just because that’s part of the culture of that world, whether it’s hobbits singing about their lovely bath or Aragorn singing about Beren  and Luthien, or even that cheery walking tree Treebeard. 

Elizabeth Ann Scarborough’s Songkiller Saga is a trilogy of novels about music. Hell has decided that folk music is keeping humans happy. It has to go. So American musicians forget their songs - only Americans, it seems - and real music is replaced by the equivalent of shallow advertising jingles. They can’t get across the border to Canada or have Canadian musicians arrive for a planned folk festival, so a group of them escape to Britain to learn songs all over again. By the way, real people and bands are mentioned, including Charles De Lint, who can’t get to their festival. In Britain, they have a lot of adventures as they learn their folk songs again and battle the forces of Hell, including the Debauchery Devil, who used to be the Queen of Faerie, until that dreadful woman Janet rescued Tam Lin from being sacrificed to Hell. Since she couldn’t pay the rent, she was taken instead. 

It’s a sweet and delightful trilogy, and it made me realise that folk music was a lot broader than I had thought it was. So again, I went out and bought albums it would never have occurred to me to try before.

These are some classic music-themed fantasies, but recently I have read Aussie author Narrelle Harris’s book Kitty And Cadaver, which has a system of music-based magic. The main characters are a group of musician ghostbusters who travel around, perform gigs and fight demons, vampires and ghosts with their music. 

I’ve known Narrelle since she was in her teens and was my pen pal, but I can recommend this book without bias. I nominated it for a Hugo Award, though it never reached the shortlist.

Someone on the panel suggested that songs and storytelling went together, which is certainly true of folk music; in the Songkiller Saga, in fact, the characters find themselves inside folk songs, living the lives of the characters such as Barbara Allen and the Two Sisters. 

Can you think of a music themed fantasy novel not mentioned here? 

Sunday, November 08, 2020

Me And Sinbad

                                                              Public Domain

 I’ve recently been searching the markets for potential homes for my existing stories, as well as potential homes for stories I might write, eg themed anthologies. It’s not easy to find a home for the stories I have. There are a few, written over the last few years, which have not sold, for one reason or another. Two of them are novella length, one Arthurian, the other an urban fantasy murder mystery with werewolves. Hardly anyone is buying novellas, or if they are, not the kind I have written. 

So, when I found a themed anthology based on the Arabian Nights, I got very excited for about two minutes, because I have a story on that theme! In it, Aladdin is not a nice young man - well, he isn’t in the original fairy tale, in which he is presented as a lazy good for nothing who is not bothering to run his late father’s tailor shop, so needs a wish-granting djinn to survive. But in my story, he’s thoroughly nasty. The story is seen from the viewpoint of the Princess and the Djinn. 

Yes! A market at last, right? Um, no. Guess which was the only story on that theme they don’t want? I gather they have had too much Disneyfied Aladdin. 

So... I downloaded a copy of the 1001 Nights, though I do have one somewhere in paperback and read it years ago, to reread and get ideas. I am considering having a go at a Sinbad story. There is plenty of potential for a rousing fantasy adventure in this. 

You are no doubt familiar with it, the story of the guy who went on seven voyages and had various adventures. Ray Harryhausen did some Sinbad movies, one of which featured Tom Baker as a baddie, another of which had another Doctor, PatrickTroughton, as a nutty but likeable Greek scientist with a daughter. 

But the original Sinbad isn’t a swashbuckling adventurer, he’s not even a sailor as such. He’s a merchant, though one who gets bored sitting at home, so he likes adventure. 

In the 1001 Nights, Sinbad is telling his story over seven days, to a bunch of friends and a porter who wants to know why he has to work hard for a living while Sinbad is hugely rich. 

“Well, you know, I wasn’t always rich,” says Sinbad over dinner. And he tells his story. Most of the voyages start with Sinbad getting bored and putting together some goods to sell and sailing off in a ship which gets wrecked in a storm. He is always the sole survivor, even if a few others are with him at first. They generally get eaten. 

Somehow, whether he is threatened by a sort of Arabian Nights version of the Cyclops or the Old Man Of The Sea(unlike in Greek myth, he doesn’t shape shift, he sits on your back and won’t let go), he escapes and ends up coming home richer than before, usually due to finding gems of one kind or another. A couple of times he also gets his original goods back because the ship was okay after all. 

Interestingly, Sinbad’s voyages have a bit of the flavour of the story told by Odysseus to the Phaeacians in Homer’s Odyssey

So, do I give Sinbad an eighth voyage, perhaps? Even though he is noft a young man any more, and already protested when the Caliph asked him to be an ambassador? Should I slip in some Greek mythology? Am I even allowed to? I will have to ask. Meanwhile my brain is churning with possibilities, and I was playing with them in my mind in the local pool today. I do find I can “write” stuff in my head while swimming.

Wish me luck!   

Monday, November 02, 2020

World Fantasy Awards 2020


                                                      The award. Fair use.
 Today was the end of the World Fantasy Convention 2020, though not for me, as I’m still making my way through recordings of panels I missed over the weekend. There have been some terrific panels, which I will share with you as soon as I get them sorted out in some kind of order. Today, I watched one on science in fantasy. One of the panellists was the fabulous Joe Haldeman, author of the classic The Forever War and other amazing books. I’ll post again tomorrow. 

Meanwhile, here are the nominees and  winners of the World Fantasy Awards. Unlike the Hugos, these are judged rather than voted for. The head of the con committee, Ginny Smith, introduced the con guests, each of whom made a speech, then the winners were announced by famous editors Ellen Datlow, who edits anthologies, and Gordon Van Gelder, who has also edited books, but is best known for the many years he spent editing Fantasy And SF, a magazine I haven’t tried yet, as it’s huge. 

Most of the winners knew they had won and had prepared speeches, but one of them, Dr Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, hadn’t been told, for some reason, maybe they forgot. Anyway, her reaction was a delighted, “What, I won?” and somehow she managed to make a decent speech anyway. Her book was an academic tome about the role of race in a number of fantasy classics(see below). I tried to buy it when I went into the city today, but one shop said they didn’t stock it at all, and the other had it on their web site, but said it was print on demand, which is what they do these days when a book is basically out of print, but people still want it. I can only assume that, like many academic style books, they only printed a small number of copies. I said I was happy to order it, but the gent said he really wanted to contact the publisher and would get in touch with me when he heard. So I left my number. You can, it seems, get it direct from the (US) publisher, but if I can get it from a bookshop I would rather do that. 

You can check out any of the titles below(some were on the Hugo short list and I have them)via the links. The winners are in bold.

I was thrilled to see at least one Aussie winner, Kathleen Jennings, for art. She has an unfair amount of talent, dammit - she can illustrate and write! But it’s nice to see our land down under represented!

World Fantasy Awards 2020

2020 Lifetime Achievement Awards

Rowena Morrill
Karen Joy Fowler



Short Fiction




Special Award – Professional

Special Award – Non-Professional

Judges: Gwenda Bond, Galen Dara, Michael Kelly, Victor LaValle, Adam Roberts