A Gathering of Shadows

When V.E. Schwab wrapped up A Darker Shade of Magic, she left plenty of questions without answers, which means plenty of content for additional books. A Gathering of Shadows is book two in the series, and while I enjoyed it, pretty much every question remains unanswered.

This second book focuses a lot more on Lila and her new life in Red London. Spoiler, she doesn’t stay with Kell, instead, she heads out on her own and takes up with a ship captain. During this time, Lila begins to learn how to tap into and control her magic.

Kell, on the other hand, is extremely restless from tiptoeing around in order to keep Rhy safe. Additionally, the king and queen distrust him, and Kell recognizes that his home has become a prison.

Kell and Lila finally come face to face again during the Essen Tasch, a competition that pits the best mages against each other to find out who is truly the best. Meanwhile, in White London, someone has taken the throne and begins slowly weaving a web to catch Kell.

A Gathering of Shadows is definitely a character building, plot building book. When you finish all 500 pages, you realize very little has changed since you began the book, in terms of where the storyline is. But several small, powerful things have happened that set the scene for book three. Kell, tired of being trapped and distrusted, is willing to follow a stranger to White London. Lila, during the games, has proved that she has more power than anyone thought, and though she doesn’t quite understand it, and she is learning to control and balance it, we know she will be capable of coming to Kell’s rescue in the third book.

I’m a little torn, when it comes to this book. I enjoyed it, and I appreciate how Schwab shows her characters’ growth, instead of a little aside, “oh yeah, Lila learned to use magic.” But part of me feels that, as a middle book that was mostly setting the scene for the final showdown, maybe it was a little long and drawn out. Not that it wasn’t well written and enjoyable to read, but with a book of this length, I just expected a little more action relevant to the overall story, or at least a few more answers, or even hints, for all the questions still floating around.

What I can say is, I expect the final book to be packed full of action and revelations. And I’m excited to get to read it.


Stepping Back and Moving Forward

As we all know, the last couple weeks I’ve taken a hiatus from my project because I felt maybe I’d reached the point of needing a critic, and I haven’t found anyone to do the job/haven’t emailed it to the family member(s) I feel would be objective about it. But this week, I decided to give it another read through, after having allowed it to be on the back burner, just to see if anything new jumped out at me. And boy did it.

I think taking a break from a project while editing is a good thing. It allows you to put some distance between you as the writer and you as the editor. It allows some of the unwritten details to fade from your mind a little, which means when you come back to it, you’re more in tune to areas that may need more explaining or developing. I ran into that while rereading the portion where Mason meets with the people claiming to be his parents.

From the moment he meets them, everything happens so fast (don’t worry, I won’t spoil the ending). The psychological turmoil I want him to experience seems a little far fetched. It hasn’t been nearly long enough for him to start questioning what’s real and what isn’t. So I realized that I need to allow the timeline to stretch out just a little.

But in stretching the timeline, I now need to ask myself, does everything else make sense. The reporter who is looking into his story, does her behavior make sense? What would she be doing, or what would she be reporting? If everything happens within two or three days, maybe it’s OK, but if I spread it over a week, something would obviously have to be different. I’ve also come back around to those stupid medical records that seemed to crucial in the beginning, but now seem to be nothing but plot holes and problems. So I have to ask myself, what are the ramifications of getting rid of them all together? Do I lose anything, other than a couple thousand words?

Finally, when I revisited this whole section of the story and started correcting inconsistencies (it may make sense for people who believe someone is their child to pass up on a DNA test, but if the now-grown child is uncertain, wouldn’t he ask for one, or wouldn’t they decide to do one to put his mind at ease?), I realized I needed someone on the inside, which showed me a little more depth to a supporting character. His loyalties aren’t what we’d assumed them to be.

So, now that I’ve looked through it again, I see several areas I can start working on, again. And more than that, I see pretty clearly where things need to go, which can be half the battle when editing. It’s easy to make something that doesn’t feel right, but harder to know what you need to do to make it work. Some distance can give you a fresh perspective.

So now I’ve been challenging myself to write just one scene a day, plodding along at making the necessary changes that make this story, or at least its characters, believable.

A Darker Shade of Magic

Lately I’ve been sticking more to plain fiction and nonfiction, because that seems to be what I have the most of right now. So dipping back into fantasy was a nice break from reality.

V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic is the first installment of a story about three Londons, each in its own world. Two have magic and one has forgotten magic all together. The only way between these Londons and their worlds are doors, opened and used by two special magicians called Antari. Kell is one of these Antari, in the service of the royal family in Red London, the most thriving and magical of them all.

But Kell finds trouble and a very sinister magic when a poor woman thrusts a talisman upon him–one from Black London, the fourth London that was destroyed long ago by corrupting magic and power lust. Now Kell has to return the talisman before it can wreak havoc on the rest of the worlds. And naturally, the power-hungry rulers of White London would love nothing more than to get hold of it.

The story starts out a little fragmented, narratives of a few characters’ lives as Schwab weaves them all together into one cohesive narrative. It’s clear from the reading that she put a lot of thought into her worlds, and into the rules of her magic, which can be one of the most frustrating things for a reader (magic that just does what it wants with no clear rules). Her characters also developed well and had clear, distinct personalities.

Overall, it was a fun book to read. No grand plot twists, but the story itself was engaging enough that it didn’t suffer the lack.  As the first installment in a series, it draws readers in. And while it ties up the loose ends relevant to the plot, it leaves enough mystery that I’m ready to dive in to the second book to find answers to the underlying questions.

New month, new challenges

The great thing about a fresh month is being able to press the restart button on personal challenges. Turning your goals off and back on, with a new determination and none of the overwhelming discouragement.

I’ve started the month off by doing something creative each day, focused on writing. Whether it’s a writing exercise, reading through some of my book to edit, or just writing a poem or something, my goal for this month is to do something each day. I’ve even got a silver Sharpie so I can put a check mark on each day I’m successful.

Part of me is antsy to return to some other project and start writing or even editing. Another part wants to start planning and plotting for my novel in November. And maybe I’ll start some of that, but for now, I’m taking small bites. I’ve got a couple research pieces to finish up. I’ve got more than half a book of writing prompts I could go through, most of which take maybe 15 minutes of my day. And if I push myself to commit to that, 15 minutes will eventually become an hour, or more, and I’ll be well on my way to… something. I’m still not sure what my end goal is for any of this. It’ll take a lot more research, a lot of soul searching, and a lot more time and energy. But first, the habit. They say if you do something consistently for 30 days it becomes a habit, so I guess I’ll give that a try.

Love and Other Consolation Prizes

The main reason I picked up Jamie Ford’s new book was because it’s set in Seattle, Washington, and in the 100 degree weather, I needed a little bit of home.

In the year 1909, at the World’s Fair in Seattle, a young, half-Chinese boy is offered as a raffle prize, and for Ernest Young, it’s a chance for a new life away from the stuffiness of boarding school.

Ernest quickly loses much of his naivete once he arrives at the Tenderloin, a high-class brothel where he is the new houseboy. He befriends Fahn, a bold scullery maid, and Maisie, Madame Flora’s daughter, and finds his heart pulled in opposite directions. But as everything they’ve come to know and love threatens to fall apart, each one makes painful choices in the name of love–love of self and love for others. Told in a mix of present day and recollection, Ernest’s story is uncovered by his daughter, a journalist working on a then and now story on Seattle’s World Fair, which returned again in 1962. In sharing his own story, however, Ernest is trying to protect his wife, Gracie, who’s history is linked to his.

The first thing about this book is that, for being largely set in a Brother and Seattle’s red light district, it’s surprisingly PG, probably because the characters, as we meet them, are quite young, barely even teens.

The story keeps you guessing, which of the girls will Ernest choose? Or will it turn out to be someone completely different? And what will the girls do, when faced with awful choices? It’s not necessarily a story that glorifies that kind of lifestyle, but paints it in such a way that shows why some would easily choose it over their other options. And it’s a story of leaving behind innocence, despite hanging on for as long as possible.

The title is, perhaps, a little more irreverent than the story itself, but it’s a good story and a quick read. With underlying tones of politics, suffrage, vice and virtue, Love and Other Consolation Prizes is almost reminiscent of The Notebook in it’s gentle romance and dedicated love.

It’s certainly one to keep an eye out for when it comes out September 12.

Looking for Alaska

I took the plunge into the world of John Green, and though I knew what to expect from him (tragedy), I’ll admit, I wasn’t quite expecting that.

In Looking for Alaska, a Florida high schooler decides to transfer to a boarding school in Alabama in search of “a great perhaps.” Once there, he makes fast friends with his roommate, the Colonel, and Alaska, a tempestuous, impulsive girl who thrives on mystery and drama.

Naturally, Pudge, as he quickly becomes christened, falls in love with Alaska, who, rather surprisingly, stays very loyal to her boyfriend, despite the long-distance nature of the relationship. But Pudge and his friends have a splendid first half of the school year, getting up to all kinds of shenanigans and pranks. Then one night, Alaska convinces them to stage a distraction so she can leave campus, and nothing is ever the same.

John Green writes in such a way that you really do expect things to end happily. Despite knowing his track record, I still felt myself lulled into believing things were going to work out. Ha. I didn’t know there would be so many unresolved questions, though, in light of everything, answers would have been too convenient.

All in all, Looking for Alaska is, I believe, probably a pretty accurate snapshot into the lives of teens. The drama, the pranks, the rebellion, and the tragedy. Even as I rolled my eyes at certain things (I outgrew high school in about 9th grade), I recognized them as traits of my generation.

It additionally poses some rather deep philosophical questions, ones I think every one is searching answers to, even if we don’t recognize it. How do we escape the labyrinth? How do we find our great perhapses?

Despite being a teen book, I did enjoy Looking for Alaska.

I know, I know, I say that every time.

Seeking: Critics who won’t be too mean or too nice

It’s exciting to see all the pieces fall into place when you’re working on a project.

At long last, this week I finished another read through of my story. I know, I know, I’m really bad at this consistency thing. But I’ve done it now, and I can see how much better is is now, and how many problematic pieces have been fixed by discovering new ideas hidden within what I already had.

So now it’s time, truly time, to step into the next phase of editing, where I pass it on to someone for critique. I know it’s time because I read through it and didn’t find any new things to highlight with a note that says, “this is awful.” When you stop finding things to correct in your work, it’s time to get another set of eyes on it.

It’s both exciting and a little scary to be at this phase. The hardest part for me has always been letting other people read my work. I’m afraid they’ll fall into one of two camps–either starry eyed fans like my dear husband, who thinks it’s all golden (I like to believe he’s seeing the potential within the trash), of they’ll read it and give me a list of things to change not because they are wrong or bad, but because that person would have written it a different way.

Having spent a reasonable amount of time editing people’s work myself, the one rule I always kept for myself was not to change something in order to change the author’s voice or style. If I thought there was a better way to phrase something, I might tell them, but leave the choice up to them. The fact that I would say “comprises” instead of “is made up of” is not a valid editorial decision, unless we’re trimming words.

All that to say, it’s scary to trust your writing to someone else, because it’s a part of you. You’ve put your heart and soul into it. And it doesn’t take a lot of work for someone to crush that creative spirit. Sure, most of us will probably rebound, but it’s hard to drag yourself up and dust yourself off and try again, same as with anything. But when it’s something you’ve created, sometimes it feels a little different. And it takes a special kind of brave to keep doing it, in the face of discouragement.

So, here’s to a special kind of bravery, and hoping I’ve got enough of it when someone tells me my story is trash.