Sunday, May 1, 2016

Backlog Bonanza

While I do love creating theme months and reading lists to go with these months, sometimes there's only so many Downtonesque books or Regency time period books one can take. The long and short of what I'm saying is that I read a lot more books than reviews I post here. On average I have about 104 reviews on my blog per year while I write anywhere from 50 to 70 more reviews... So I kind of have a backlog of book reviews that are just sitting around, collecting dust, being pushed further and further back in my blog queue. Therefore I was pondering, why not utalize this backlog for a theme month, or months... in fact I could throw in some books I've been dying to read and haven't had the time to get around to.

I was warming to this idea very fast when I concocted it a few months ago. And then I started playing with my blog calendar, and once I start playing with my blog calendar it's kind of a foregone conclusion that it's going to happen. Only once have a scraped an idea after it reached the calendar phase. So yes, Backlog Bonanza is happening. NOW! I've thematically divided the books up into categories from biographies to modern classics to science fiction. I'll also talk a little about each genre that is spotlighted and why I'm drawn to it. I'm also bringing back a giveaway! Because nothing says summer party like a free book? So let's get this party started!

Giveaway Prize:
A copy of the book of your choice from one of the books reviewed during Backlog Bonanza.

The Rules:
1. Open to EVERYONE (for clarification, this means international too).

2. Please make sure I have a way to contact you if your name is drawn, either your blogger profile or a link to your website/blog or you could even include your email address with your comment(s) or email me.

3. Contest ends Wednesday, August 31st at 11:59PM CST

4. How to enter: Just comment on this post for a chance to win!

5. And for those addicted to getting extra entries:

  • +1 for answering the question: What is your favorite genre?
  • +2 for becoming a follower
  • +10 if you are already a follower
  • +10 for each time you advertise this contest - blog post, instagram (miss.eliza), twitter (@eliza_lefebvre), etc. (but you only get credit for the first post in each platform, so tweet all you like, and I thank you for it, but you'll only get the +10 once from twitter). Also please leave a link! 
  • +10 for each comment you leave on other Backlog Bonanza posts with something other than "I hope I win!" 
Good luck!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A Slight Delay

So, you're asking, where's the review of The House on Durrow Street? Don't worry it's coming! And yes, the book was awesome! There will be a slight delay is all. This month has been chaos and trying to find time to read, let alone read three books over 500 pages might have been stretching things, and the delay has almost nothing to do with the fact I haven't even started my book for book club this weekend... so the final two reviews of Regency Magic are on their way. Soonish.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater
Published by: Scholastic Press
Publication Date: April 26th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 400 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"All her life, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love's death. She doesn't believe in true love and never thought this would be a problem, but as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she's not so sure anymore."

I seriously have all the previous books signed and yet I have yet to read them, while everyone I know tells me I have to read them... perhaps I should read them?

Murder the the 42nd Street Library by Con Lehane
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: April 26th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"This first book in an irresistible new series introduces librarian and reluctant sleuth Raymond Ambler, a doggedly curious fellow who uncovers murderous secrets hidden behind the majestic marble façade of New York City’s landmark 42nd Street Library.

Murder at the 42nd Street Library follows Ambler and his partners in crime-solving as they track down a killer, shining a light on the dark deeds and secret relationships that are hidden deep inside the famous flagship building at the corner of 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue.

In their search for the reasons behind the murder, Ambler and his crew uncover sinister, and profoundly disturbing, relationships among the scholars studying in the iconic library. Included among the players are a celebrated mystery writer who has donated his papers to the library’s crime fiction collection; that writer’s long-missing daughter, a prominent New York society woman with a hidden past, and more than one of Ambler’s colleagues at the library. Shocking revelations lead inexorably to the traumatic events that follow―the reading room will never be the same."

OK, yes, part of this is my love of NY, part of this is my love of a good murder mystery. But combining the two? Yeah, totally for me! PS, adore this library!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Book Review - Galen Beckett's The Magicians and Mrs. Quent

The Magicians and Mrs. Quent (Mrs. Quent Book 1) by Galen Beckett
Published by: Spectra
Publication Date: July 29th, 2008
Format: Hardcover, 512 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

The three Lockwell sisters, Ivy, Rose, and Lily are trying to hold onto the threads of their gentile lives. But it is hard when none of them stand a chance of making a good match due to their penury. Meanwhile their home is entailed upon the death of their mother to an odious cousin and their father had an accident years ago that left him basically an invalid. Though the eldest daughter, Ivy, holds out hope. Her father was a great magician and she believes his madness must therefore be rooted in the work that he loved. It only stands to reason that if she were to find the cause then he can be returned to them whole. Once their father is back everything else will work itself out. Yet women can't work magic and Ivy's social circle is very small, so how to meet a magician? Oddly enough her odious cousin will provide an introduction to someone who might just help. Dashton Rafferdy has spent the majority of his life wasting it away at parties and dinners and balls being the wittiest one there, much to his father's dismay. Lord Rafferdy has long told his son that life is more than what Dashton currently makes of it and he is about to learn the startling truth of this statement when he finds out he is a magician.

Thrown together by chance, Ivy and Dashton forge an immediate connection that could solve many problems while creating many others, but the fate that brought them together is a cruel mistress and she soon rends them asunder. Ivy's mother drops dead and what little savings Ivy had set aside are decimated by hidden bills. Living on the sufferance of their cousin who immediately took possession of their house, Ivy's goal is to take a job as a governess in order to save enough to reopen their old home on Durrow Street and relocate her family there. Moving out of Invarnel for Heathcrest Hall Ivy's world is expanded beyond what she has ever known. She thought she was smart and well informed, in fact the perfect person to be a governess, but as she takes up the care of Mr. Quent's two young cousins she realizes that there is so much she never knew. All of Altania is in danger. It isn't just the disparity between classes causing unrest, but highwaymen fomenting revolt involving the darkest of magics. While closer to home Ivy learns of magicians planning the most dangerous of acts. Will Altania be able to survive the very ground beneath their feet rising up? And will they owe their survival to one whom they never would have expected?

When The Magicians and Mrs. Quent came out I had been spending four years trying to find a book as magical as Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. They were fruitless years of toil. One day I walked into my local Borders and they had this new book by the unknown Galen Beckett featured in the science fiction section with a little card underneath handwritten by one of the employees saying it was recommended for fans of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Looking at The Magicians and Mrs. Quent I had such hope that I didn't want the standard trade paperback release but I wanted it in hardcover. Luckily the Science Fiction Book Club had a hardcover copy which I ordered and promptly shelved, where it sat for eight years waiting for me to read it. I was worried. Maybe I had built up my hopes too high and nothing could live up to them. Why else would I purposefully go out of my way to track down a specific edition only to leave it untouched for so long? One of the reasons I actually started Regency Magic was to get around to all these books I had bought in the hope that they were a fraction as good as anything written by Susanna Clarke. I have been surprised time and time again by how different all these authors approached the same idea creating such remarkable and varied books. And The Magicians and Mrs. Quent is easily one of the remarkable ones. It's high fantasy worthy of George R. R. Martin combined with the Gothic lure of Jane Eyre and The Turn of the Screw with the manners of Austen and the back alleys of Dickens. I very quickly fell in love.

While no one featured during this year's Regency Magic could beat Beth Deitchman for being the most Austen of the bunch, what with her books being continuations of Austen's own work, but Galen Beckett comes in a close second. The Magicians and Mrs. Quent is like seeing your favorite Austen characters in a new setting with them all interacting despite which book they appear in. I don't know if anyone reading this has watched Dickensian, but the conceit behind it is that instead of each book Dickens wrote existing in it's own individual world all his books were in the same world so therefore all his characters could co-mingle. The series started with Inspector Buckett from Bleak House investigating the murder of Jacob Marley from A Christmas Carol, and it went on from there making merry havoc with Dickens's work but somehow being appealing in that way like setting out your Dickens Village is at Christmas and thinking about how all the stories would overlap. All of Galen Beckett's characters owe a debt of gratitude to the characters that came before. The Lockwell Sisters have more than a dash of the Dashwoods. While their odious cousin owed much to Mr. Collins. As for Dashton Rafferdy, he kind of combines the best of the rakes. And when Rafferdy is hanging out with his best friend Garritt they could easily be a Darcy and Bingley double act, but more flashbacks to their college days what with all the drinking. But while they all have an echo of these previously beloved characters at the same time they are 100% their own.

Looking at other people's reviews one of the things that I notice people took issue with was in this three part book one of the parts switches from third person to first person narration. This was a ballsy move on Galen Beckett's part to shake up the middle of the book. It could either work or it could fail and give the whole work a pretentious vibe like the author was trying to be clever; and yes, I'm looking at you John Scalzi with your Redshirts codas! I of course don't agree with the many, surprise surprise, and perhaps for the first time ever think that this moved paid of entirely. And it paid off for many reasons. Most importantly the second part is when Ivy leaves Invarnel and is a governess at Heathcrest Hall. This section of the book is mimicking both Jane Eyre and The Turn of the Screw, two famous books who used first person narration. Therefore to get the vibe right this section needed to be written in a similar style. Gothic books cry out for that intimate writing and therefore I think it was needed. This also let us forge a stronger connection to Ivy and actually get inside her head. This didn't just help us bond with the book but it helped us have more of a vested interest in the characters by feeling what she felt. But I don't think the full impact of Galen Beckett's choice was felt until Ivy returned to Invarnel and was thrust back into the comedy of manners that is the high society taken straight from the pages of Austen. Before we reveled in these little party scenes but now we see the triviality of it all. These people are entirely unaware of what is at stake and completely blinded to the danger that is coming. By seeing through Ivy's eyes our eyes were opened to the bigger picture and now we can't understand how we ever related to these insipid people who just don't get it.

Another aspect of the book I was surprised people took issue with was the worldbuilding. Personally, I loved it. This is a very different yet parallel world to ours. What I connected to most was the way in which day and night formed this society. The way the planets work in this world is far different from ours, and I'm guessing more than a little irregular which I hope we'll sink our teeth into in the later volumes. Here in our world after the winter equinox we gain a few minutes of sun every day until the summer equinox where we lose a few minutes of sun every day, unless you live at the equator and then it's twelve hours of light and twelve hours of dark everyday, year round. Whenever I think of the shifting of day and night I think of that line I love in the Doctor Who episode "A Christmas Carol" that refers to the winter equinox as being "half-way through the dark." But enough about Doctor Who, in this world night and day are all over the place. Lumenal is the time of daylight while Umbral is the time of night. There are long Lumenals and short and middling, there are long Umbrals of twenty-two hours of darkness. Sometimes you are waking when it's full dark and other times you sleep very little because the light will return so soon. I find it fascinating that instead of sticking to a strict clock of waking up and going to bed at the same time no matter what lightness or darkness the sky possesses that their schedules are far more fluid. Despite the strictures of society they are willing to be more indulgent when it comes to their circadian rhythms and I find this interesting. While I wouldn't want to live in this world of inconstancy and the dire need for an almanac, I like reading about how it effects these characters.

Of course I've written a rather wordy review by this point and have barely mentioned the magic. Seeing as this is Regency Magic perhaps I should get around to it? The magic in this world is clearly divided by the sexes and I could go into talking about what these two halves, the witches and the magicians, have and don't have, but instead I'm going to talk about where the magic resides, because this is what speaks to me. The danger and the magic in Altania comes from the forests and the darkness. The most basic of human fears come from where danger could be found. Stories and folktales sprung out of these innate fears, fears of the forest and the dark. The fact that the magic is found in this world where our fears are born just fascinates me. I took a forestry class years ago in undergrad where I wrote a paper on the depiction of forests in Twin Peaks drawing on myths and legends and how evil was thought to reside there. We have a primal fear of forests and what if it's with very good reason? What if all our worst nightmares were real? What it there really was something in the dark to be scared of? What if the evil that resides in these places is magical and far more dangerous than we could ever expect? Unlike some of the other magical systems that I've read about this one seems somehow more viable to me. It speaks to the idea of what you can achieve if you could only embrace your fears. I can't wait to embrace the next volume of this series to see what happens next and if it will scare me.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Galen Beckett

Much as my Regency handle should Mr. Darcy drop by is Miss Eliza, Mark Anthony also has an alias, that of Galen Beckett, though I don't believe his was to ensnare an Austen hero, but more to give that right fantastical authorial feel to his Mrs. Quent trilogy. Mark spent his childhood summers in a Colorado ghost town falling in love with the mountains as well as the fantasy stories he read "pushed" on him by a pair of older sisters. Of course this shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who has read his Mrs. Quent trilogy which is a delicious combination of magic and nature. Instead of veering into the realm of fantasy right away he initially trained as a paleoanthropologist. Along the way it wasn't so much human evolution which called to him, though you will see that it does work it's way into his writing, but the evolution of man that is reflected in myth and the literature of the fantastic. This shift shouldn't have surprised anyone, what with Mark growing up on a steady diet of Tolkien, McCaffrey, and LeGuin.

Mark was interested with "how myths and archetypes provide mirrors to our mundane, everyday lives. I think there’s a lot in myth that we can learn from, and fantasy provides a wonderful means for exploring those ideas." Of course there is one outlet that has been a constant for many years for those wishing to go into fantastical realms, and that is Dungeons and Dragons. Mark got his literary start penning novels and short stories for various Dungeons and Dragons game settings. After ten years of writing for Dungeons and Dragons the first book in his Last Rune series, Beyond the Pale was published. Sadly Mark's pointed out there is not any magic to getting published, but lots of work, perseverance, and being willing to keep going after multiple rejections. You just can't give up, and he even has a day job. But his exploration of the idea that reason and wonder need not exist in conflict reached it's pinnacle, in my mind, with his next big project which began with a binge reading of 19th Century classics and asked the question, "What if there was a fantastical cause underlying the social constraints and limited choices confronting a heroine in a novel by Jane Austen or Charlotte Brontë?" You'll have to read his Mrs. Quent trilogy to get that answer, but let's go to Mark for answers to some other questions.

Question: When did you first discover Jane Austen?

Answer: I came very late to the dance! I remember my older sisters talking (excitedly) about Jane Austen when I was younger. And of course I read the prescribed amounts of English literature in high school and college. But somehow Austen’s novels were never on the syllabus.

So I was well along in my 30s before I decided that I really hadn’t read as many 19th century novels as I wished. I started in on Dickens, Shelley, Wilde, the Brontës, and of course Austen. And just as I had years before, upon first reading The Lord of the Rings, I felt that an entire new world was opening up before me as I devoured Pride and Prejudice. It was a world I loved so much, I couldn’t resist creating my own version of it!

Question: What do you think Jane Austen would think of her impact with so many literary offshoots, from parody to pastiche?

Answer: I would never be so bold as to try to guess what Jane herself would think of it all—she was a far better judge of people than I! But I do think that any work which made a genuine (and genuinely wry) attempt to seek the point of this achingly silly and marvelous game we call life is something she would have approved of. So while zombies shambling around Netherfield Park for no apparent reason might get a sideways look, I think a delightfully clueless stand-in for Miss Woodhouse in 1990s Beverly Hills might win an approving nod.

Question: Where do you get your inspiration from?

Answer: I don’t think it’s so much where inspiration comes from that’s important—it really can come from almost anywhere. Novels, movies, music, scientific works, histories, walks out doors, ancient ruins, even the pixelated art in a video game—all are things that have inspired me at some time or another. What’s important are the connections that can occur between any and all of these things. When you are suddenly struck by an unexpected link between two thoughts that didn’t seem related at all, that’s when the spark happens.

For The Magicians and Mrs. Quent, it was the connection I glimpsed between the circumstances of women in Regency and Victorian England and scientific work that had been done using mitochondrial DNA to trace the lineage of most European women back to seven “clan mothers” who lived many thousands of years ago. What if, my brain that is ever inclined to make things fantastical postulated, those seven women had been witches?

Question: What makes the early 19th century mesh so well with magic?

Answer: It really does, doesn’t it? I think maybe because on the one hand it was a time of reason and mastery—when people were trying to understand the world, and to force an order upon it. Yet on the other hand there was so much they didn’t really understand, and so much that they had marvelously wrong. It makes it fun to imagine a world in which all those things they thought were true, but weren’t, in fact really were.

Question: The world building and system of magic varies greatly in the regency fantasy genre, how did you go about creating yours?

Answer: I tried to keep the magic as limited and focused as possible. As I mentioned, I started with a premise that there were seven clan mothers back in the misty past who became witches, and from whom all witches were descended. Magicians, who are always men, traced their origins to the same time period, and were born of an opposing magic. So the tension between the sexes that existed in 19th Century England took on new meaning in my alternate realm of Altania—it went back to a magical conflict lost in the mists of time, but now coming to a head after all these millennia.

Question: If you had to choose between writing only period literature or only fantasy literature, which would win?

Answer: Well, clearly with The Magicians and Mrs. Quent, I didn't want to choose, and so did both at once! But since you are forcing an answer to such a dreadful question, I would have to say that fantasy would win. It’s my nature to look at everything through a lens of magic and myth and wonder. If you ask me to write a Western novel, or a mystery, or spy thriller, It’s pretty much a guarantee I’m going to find a way to sneak magic into it!

Question: Be honest, have you ever dressed up in Regency clothes just to pretend for a moment you are in the past?

Answer: Well, I did wear a puffy shirt to a Renaissance festival once. Does that count? :)

Monday, April 18, 2016

Tuesday Tomorrow

Love, Lies and Spies by Cindy Anstey
Published by: Swoon Reads
Publication Date: April 19th, 2016
Format: Paperback, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In Love, Lies and Spies, Cindy Anstey's hilarious homage to Jane Austen, a lady with a penchant for trouble finds a handsome spy much more than merely tolerable.

Juliana Telford is not your average nineteenth-century young lady. She's much more interested in researching ladybugs than marriage, fashionable dresses, or dances. So when her father sends her to London for a season, she's determined not to form any attachments. Instead, she plans to secretly publish her research.

Spencer Northam is not the average young gentleman of leisure he appears. He is actually a spy for the War Office, and is more focused on acing his first mission than meeting eligible ladies. Fortunately, Juliana feels the same, and they agree to pretend to fall for each other. Spencer can finally focus, until he is tasked with observing Juliana's traveling companions . . . and Juliana herself."

Yes, I was drawn to this because of the cover... but it still sounds awesome. 

You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day
Published by: Touchstone
Publication Date: April 19th, 2016
Format: Paperback, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The instant New York Times bestseller from “queen of the geeks” Felicia Day, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) is a “relentlessly funny and surprisingly inspirational” (Forbes.com) memoir about her unusual upbringing, her rise to internet stardom, and embracing her weirdness to find her place in the world.

When Felicia Day was a girl, all she wanted was to connect with other kids (desperately). Growing up in the Deep South, where she was “home-schooled for hippie reasons,” she looked online to find her tribe. The Internet was in its infancy and she became an early adopter at every stage of its growth—finding joy and unlikely friendships in the emerging digital world. Her relative isolation meant that she could pursue passions like gaming, calculus, and 1930’s detective novels without shame. Because she had no idea how “uncool” she really was.

But if it hadn’t been for her strange background—the awkwardness continued when she started college at sixteen, with Mom driving her to campus every day—she might never have had the naïve confidence to forge her own path. Like when she graduated as valedictorian with a math degree and then headed to Hollywood to pursue a career in acting despite having zero contacts. Or when she tired of being typecast as the crazy cat-lady secretary and decided to create her own web series before people in show business understood that online video could be more than just cats chasing laser pointers.

Felicia’s rags-to-riches rise to Internet fame launched her career as one of the most influen­tial creators in new media. Ever candid, she opens up about the rough patches along the way, recounting battles with writer’s block, a full-blown gaming addiction, severe anxiety, and depression—and how she reinvented herself when overachieving became overwhelming.

Showcasing Felicia’s “engaging and often hilarious voice” (USA TODAY), You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) is proof that everyone should celebrate what makes them different and be brave enough to share it with the world, because anything is possible now—even for a digital misfit."

Yes, I'm a bad Felicia Day fan in that I have yet to read or buy this book. But I think my laziness has paid off because she's doing a book signing for the paperback near me. So really, it was a plan, not laziness.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Book Review - Heather Rose Jones's The Mystic Marriage

The Mystic Marriage (Alpennia Book 2) by Heather Rose Jones
Published by: Bella Books
Publication Date: April 28th, 2015
Format: Paperback, 264 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Antuniet Chazillen has been living in self-imposed exile from Alpennia. She longs to go back to Rotenek but that isn't an option. Even if she were to return no one would take her in. Ever since her brother was executed for treason and her mother committed suicide anyone bearing the name Chazillen has been ostracized. The driving force in her life now is to show the world that not everyone bearing the name Chazillen is worthless. To this end she has devised a plan with a rare alchemical text she found in Prague. If she can master the book's recipes to create precious gems of power she could present them to Alpennia's ruler, Princess Annek, and prove she can be of use to the crown and regain her standing. But wanting and doing are two very different things. Not only is her work hindered by a lack of funds, but she is being chased across Europe by someone who will stop at nothing to get their hands on the text she found. After she is discovered in Heidelberg she realizes that she must return to Alpennia earlier than she had planned in order to live long enough to restore the tattered shreds of her honor.

Jeanne, the Vicomtesse de Cherdillac, is a social butterfly. Flitting from party to party and lover to lover. Yet lately the petulance of these young women who rotate through her bedroom isn't as entertaining as it once was. And then one night Antuniet appears at her door. They knew each other peripherally years ago before Antuniet's hasty departure. It intrigues Jeanne that of all the people Antuniet knew in Rotenek she chose her. But Antuinet's only other option was her cousin and Jeanne's former lover Barbara, and somehow going to Barbara would have been too much for her pride to bear, and Antuinet has always been proud. In fact all the bedraggled Antuniet asks of Jeanne is help in securing a patron so she can continue her alchemical work. Jeanne tries her best but finding money for a dubious trade for a disgraced outcast tries even her formidable skills. But Jeanne won't abandon Antuniet, she will stick by her as she mends her flirtatious ways and develops a tendre for the alchemist. Though returning to Rotenek didn't dissuade Antuniet's malevolent shadow. Soon enough the protective Barbara and her lover Margerit, the crown's thaumaturge, come to Antuniet's aid as well. But Antuinet and her heart are vulnerable. Will she be able to repair her reputation and find love, or is it all too late?

Sometimes book series don't start out as series. The author writes a tale and for some reason or other the characters won't leave after the denouement. Whether it's their inability to leave the author's subconscious as they keep chatting away or rabid fans salivating for more, sometimes a stand-alone morphs into a series. It feels like this is what happened here. The first book set in Alpennia by Heather Rose Jones, Daughter of Mystery, focused on Anuniet's cousin Barbara and her lover Margerit. They had their story and got their happily ever after. There was an ending and it felt final. Yet here they are again getting into new adventures and new scrapes. You're probably wondering why I'm pointing this out. I should be happy at their return not dwelling on the whys. But I'm dwelling. I find this book's setup problematic. The thing is, if you are going to write a series in such a way that each volume has the secondary characters stepping forward into the limelight, the previous volume's characters need to know enough to take a step back. They aren't the focus anymore. Only someone forgot to give Barbara and Margerit this message. It makes sense that they would appear, Barbara and Margerit's actions in the previous volume having had such an effect on our two new heroines. But did they have to take up at least half of the narrative? I felt that this gave short shrift to Antuniet and Jeanne. It was THEIR time to shine, and they felt secondary.

I think this problem comes down to the fact that this book is stuck in the middle, and sorry, not sorry, for getting that song in your head. And by middle I'm referring to it's length. It could easily go either way. To go shorter, really pare down and omit Barbara and Margerit almost completely. This would give you a shorter, sweeter story. Yet I am not included in this direction. The Mystic Marriage has such court politics and machinations it's like a Ruritanian Game of Thrones. So make it like Game of Thrones! Make it a thousand plus pages! Don't just have four characters POVs have more. Have Anna, the little alchemical assistant have her say! Have Barbara's little country cousin have a chapter or two. Make this book the doorstop book to end all doorstop books. Make it the epic it wants to be! I just feel like there's so much I'm missing in this world, the details of a dress, the architecture of an alchemist's laboratory. So much is hinted at but then never developed further. I talked about this with Daughter of Mystery and how the writing felt elliptical. Here I was happy to see more time spent on the smaller details, such as the refining of the precious gems, but seriously, I craved even more. It's rare for me to say make a book longer, and editors today seem to only want books short and sweet, but The Mystic Marriage needs to expand to reach it's full potential. It needs to be fired a little longer.

What really helped me to connect to The Mystic Marriage more so than the previous volume was I felt the arcane elements were easier to understand. Thaumaturgy and the working of miracles still feels a little beyond my keen. I don't quite fully understand the process and I felt that the mysteries were left lacking definition and therefore left me a little cold. Fluctus this and fluctus that... it would help to understand a little better what fluctus even was in my humble opinion. But alchemy. I'm on far stronger ground here. Whereas we can question if miracles and magic ever really did happen, alchemy DID. I'm not saying it worked, but I'm saying that it was studied and was an accepted "science" of the time. Even if your only exposure to alchemy is the Philosopher's Stone in Harry Potter or the more detailed chemical marriages in Deborah Harkness's All Souls Trilogy, you have a grounding in it so that you are more easily able to understand what Antuniet is up to than what Margerit was. What I found particularly interesting from my point of view was the crossover of the alchemical practices and how it relates to things such as metalwork. I haven't done metalwork in many years but crucibles, flux, fire, all that I used is here used in similar yet different ways and I found that fascinating.

But it wasn't just the alchemical work itself that intrigued me, but the outcome. Antuniet was making stones, well gems really, that would have influence over people. So my first thought was, if this is the actual case with alchemy people have every right to fear it! Before I'd only ever heard of the Philosopher's Stone, which was used to increase your life, and turning lead into gold. But the work that Antuniet does is basically used to control people. Say what!?! Alchemy is basically rohypnol! Antuniet even worries that one of her stones set in a ring is responsible for Jeanne's feelings towards her. If Antuniet is worried about this how can she, in good conscience, give this power to the crown so that they can basically control their ministers? I can see the benefit for helping people with health issues, but to actually CONTROL THEM!?! I really have issues with this concept. It's taking away free will. It's like in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer season six episode "Dead Things" when The Trio use a Cerebral Dampener to make any woman their willing sex slave. It's not just wrong it's a violation of basic human rights. While you could say at least Annek's counsel "knows" the rings do something, I don't think she told them the whole truth... This just brings up a LOT of the more negative connotations of what "magic" can do. Is it even right that Antuniet made these influencing gems?

Which brings me around to the whole alchemy not really be respectable. Well, if you're controlling everyone's free will I'm not surprised alchemy has a dubious reputation! Of course it's hinted at that most alchemists are charlatans, but still, if Antuniet's morals were a little more lax, dear god! What I'm getting at is that question I wondered in the previous volume as to the acceptability of magic and witch hunts. I really like that Heather Rose Jones came back to this because I felt this was something that needed addressing. So yes, witch hunts do happen! Evil magicians are run out of town. The only reason "mysteries" and thaumaturgy are acceptable is because they have the cloak of religion giving it respectability. Which has an interesting counterpoint in the relationships of Antuniet and Jeanne, and Margerit and Barbara. Margerit and Barbara are accepted as a couple because of their eccentricity and status, whereas Antuniet and Jeanne raise eyebrows because Antuniet used to be respectable and one of the society that is now looking at them askance. Just like the veneer of religion covers a multitude of sins, so does the right combination of eccentricity coupled with title and wealth. The lower down the social ladder, the less acceptable it is to be an "other." You could in fact say that Jeanne and Antuniet face their own witch hunt with the lesbian backlash. The marriage of the mystical and mundane controversies just goes to show all the levels this book is working on. But don't worry, luckily love conquers all as long as you are willing to fight the good fight. Love wins.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Book Review - Heather Rose Jones's Daughter of Mystery

Daughter of Mystery (Alpennia Book 1) by Heather Rose Jones
Published by: Bella Books
Publication Date: February 18th, 2014
Format: Paperback, 264 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Margerit Sovitre is in her first season. Though she'd rather be spending her time on scholarly pursuits in Rotenek than dancing in the summer playground of the rich in Chalanz. But she's never even been to Rotenek. Never walked the fabled streets of the University there. She's spent her life in Chalanz with her Uncle's family, always feeling out of place except for those rare moments talking to her cousin Nikule about the University and forming unrealistic dreams. But all that might be about to change. Her enigmatic godfather has arrived in Chalanz early. There are rumors about a duel that made it desirable that he leave Rotenek early; but more pressingly it is obvious he is dying. Margerit knows that she has a small inheritance coming her way that might get her out from under her Uncle's power, but during his last days on earth she forges a connection to Baron Saveze and he leaves her everything that he can; which is quite a lot. No one knows why he did this. Was it a whim to anger his nephew Estefen who inherited the title and has spent his life borrowing on his expectations? Was it to give Margerit the life she always wanted? Whatever the reason it upends the lives all those connected to the Baron, in particular Barbara.

Barbara is also an enigma, even to herself. But then again the Baron loves his games of secrets and shadows. She was raised by the Baron to be an Armin, a bodyguard with special skills and rights. Though female Armins are rare the Baron got away with this breach in tradition by his eccentric lifestyle. But they had an arrangement, when he died Barbara would learn her name and gain her freedom. Instead he has given her to Margerit and insisted that she remain with his goddaughter until they are both of age. What at first seems like an unholy punishment soon becomes a new way of life as Barbara becomes close to the scholarly Margerit. Margerit's fortune means that she will be able to have the life she dreamt of, with Barbara's help. While maintaining the appearance of a respectable heiress for her family's sake she can studying to her heart's desire. Though the money is a temptation to desperate men, and there is none more desperate than Estefen. Moving her household to Rotenek, Margerit starts studying the mysteries all while playing the game of disaffected debutante. Though as time goes by her scholarly side keeps asserting itself. Will her studies put her in even greater danger? It's lucky she has Barbara to protect her, even from herself.

Ruritanian Romances are tricky. They have to strike just the right balance of realism and suspension of disbelief. Couple this with worldbuilding that has an alternate history that is not clearly defined and you're stuck with a book that you're struggling to connect to. The main problem I had was this disconnect between Alpennia and the rest of Europe. With the religious practices and the magic that takes the forms of mysteries appealing to the saints Alpennia has a very distinct and unique culture. Yet there are constant references to mysteries written elsewhere, like Lyon in France. So how exactly is the world outside Alpennia different from the world of our history books? Alpennia being at one and the same time a part of our world yet outside of it how are we to grasp onto what has actually changed in our world for the alternate history angle? There seems to be a distinct lack of creating a framework for the worldbuilding in which we'd be given the information when we need it most. While this could be done to have us form a bond with the characters first and the world second, you can't understand what the characters are going through unless you know the world they live in.

I almost feel like Daughter of Mystery was at a disadvantage by being a Ruritanian Romance. I have too many questions that are left unanswered, whereas if Alpennia had been in an entirely alternate world that mirrored our own, then I would certainly have less questions. But it's not just the Ruritanian aspect I have problems with. Heather Rose Jones has an odd way of writing that adversely affects the worldbuilding. Her writing is very elliptical and what she is omitting isn't for clarity's sake! It's like she just didn't want to write about something and decides to skip it. And what she skips seems like some rather important stuff. For example we spend all this build-up to Margerit's ball she's throwing in Chalanz only to not see a single moment of the ball. And this example is just a throw-away example, it's not necessary to the world like many of the omissions are. When she arrives in Rotenek I felt at sea. As for the academics? I kind of just let it flow over me and took in what I could. Because to balance her sparsity she occasionally goes for the massive info dump. This is almost worse than nothing, because then you know there's all this stuff you should remember but it was presented in such a way that you have no chance in hell of remembering a tenth of it.

For all the worldbuilding issues I did come to like the world, despite it's imperfections. The truth is, if you're looking for the "Regency" of it all, you're not really going to find it here. Instead, in true Ruritanian style, we have intrigue and high romance and royalty worthy of the House of Medici or The Musketeers. There is this old fashioned feel to it that harks back to the Renaissance, when learning was a vocation, and I really found this fascinating, in the same way a Patrick Rothfuss book is. The truth is Daughter of Mystery doesn't really coalesce as a book until we reach Rotenek and we're in this medieval town with duplicitous scholars and scheming courtiers. Though again, what is almost the most perfect section of the book is brought down, not this time by the structure, but by how the court intrigues ensnare Barbara. For the first time in the book I was furious at Barbara. Yes, you can see why she's doing what she's doing, but her motives aren't explained properly to Margerit and it looks as if the court has turned Barbara's head. I mean, yes, you could say, as if anything could turn Barbara's stubborn head? But it seems to be done just to make us doubt the connection and love our two heroines share. It feels like a cheap shot. Yes, Barbara can navigate this world expertly, but that doesn't mean she should.

This being "Regency Magic" though the magic of it all matters. I can definitively say that not another book I've read has handled magic in this manner. Not only does that make Daughter of Mystery unique, but fascinating as you delve into the magic system. Because the magic system isn't magic, per se, it's faith manifested as miracles. But it's also not as reliable a system, as shown through Margerit's studies. Not every prayer is heard. Mysteries are complex and a word replaced could change the intent and instead of protecting an entire town only the relics of a long dead saint are protected. It's a capricious system that is itself mysterious. Learning with Margerit we see what works and what doesn't, we are with her on her journey as she systematically learns how to work mysteries. I also just like the idea that magic is referred to as mysteries, because they are both about deception and illusion. But as seems to be the case with this book, now I have more question I need answered. For example, religious persecution. Witch hunts were often done in the name of faith, so in this Alpennian world are witches outcasts? Because usually people who see visions aren't treated that well... so what's the stance? Also, is it because of the mysteries that religion is still such a strong force? Because I'd expect the church's hold to eroded a bit by now. Perhaps The Mystic Marriage will answer some of these questions for me...

But the "mysteries" ie, magic, aren't the only mysteries in this book. And these other mysteries are much more problematical. While yes, I could have liked a better understanding of the mysteries of the church, they at least weren't pedestrian and predictable. They actually had some mystery about them. As for Barbara's mysterious past... well, Poirot would have been laughing to think that anyone would have found it not patently obvious. Barbara isn't a dumb woman. She is in fact very smart and has a lot of cunning to go along with her other more physical skills. To think that she has spent years and years with the answer under her nose makes no sense. Yes, she worked for a secretive man, but would she really rely on his word that one day she would know as good enough? No, she wouldn't. It just doesn't make sense. It's literally a mystery to me! It doesn't make sense that the only reason she looks into her own mystery is because of the threat it poses to Margerit. I don't think she needed love to have her face her past, her own natural curiosity should have done that. As for the mystery as to whether they love each other, I will answer with duh. While yes, I could say that these contradictions make Barbara more human, instead I'll say it makes her fickle and Margerit did have every reason to worry about being left behind. So yes Barbara, you inadvertently knocked this book down, and for someone so graceful I find that quite shocking. Also you're not mysterious, you're just eccentric.

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