Letters from Mars (Blog)

The Quantum Internet

- One comment - What?

Have you ever gone online, read something, and then wondered why someone else who has read the ‘same’ thing seems to have apparently read something completely different?

In general, you might think that this is because other people read carelessly or with different assumptions (or that they’re stupid…), and of course that could be true, but it’s not all there is to it.

The truth is that you experience an ever-so-slightly-different version of the internet to everyone else. In fact, everyone experiences their own unique version.

This is a relatively recent development that has come about due to quantum computing.

As some of you know, I have a PhD in Quantum Field Theory, so I thought I would try to guide you through the basics behind this cool new development. (This is my thesis, if you really must know, but don’t read it; no one else has…)

To understand how using quantum mechanics in computing has led to such an odd outcome for the internet, we need to understand a few basic things about quantum mechanics. (Follow the inline links for far more detailed and complicated explanations.)

The Science-y Stuff

Firstly, let’s talk about Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. What this tells us is that you can’t completely know everything about a pair of properties of some thing. For example, the more you know about the position of a particle (for example, an atom) the less you will know about its momentum, and vice versa. The particle is basically a bit fuzzy. You’ll know stuff about it, but you can’t know everything.

The second, related, thing you need to understand is the Schrödinger equation. Back at the beginning of the 20th century, experiments proved that particles (atoms and suchlike) actually behave like waves. They weren’t like, say, a tennis ball, that you could pin down exactly. Schrödinger came up with his equation to tell you mathematically how likely at particle is to be at a particular position.

The final things you need to know about are Wave Function Collapse and the Observer Effect. Basically, if you observe or measure a particle (or set some instrument or machine to do it) then the uncertainty in the Schrödinger equation for the thing being measured disappears. The wave “collapses”. Before you observed it, the particle was in a lot of different places. When you observe or measure it, it is just in one place.

This isn’t just a philosophical principle. You can actually prove it with experiments. No doubt most of you have heard of Schrödinger’s cat, where a cat locked in a box is both simultaneously alive and dead until you open the box and find out which. Physicists are not (in general) horrible enough to actually experiment on cats, but you can do the same thing with atoms or electrons and prove that this is something that really, really happens.

Want more on this by someone much smarter than I am? Watch this video:

So What?

By this point, you may well be wondering what the hell this has to do with anything, particularly the internet.

Well, quantum computing makes use of exactly the same principles. The information on the internet is saved in quantum states. Until they are observed, these quantum states and the information in them exist as a waveform. The information could be anything. When you observe it, it collapses into a fixed form.

How do you observe ‘the internet’? Well, you simply connect to it using your computer or phone or whatever. That very act of connecting (observing) collapses the waveform of the information on the internet into a single, fixed, measurable (readable) form. The exact nature of the information on the internet was previously a bit ‘fuzzy’ (remember the Uncertainty Principle?). Now it has been observed, it is exact. You can read it.

Of course, the wave function of the internet, is quite a narrow one. Remember, the wave function is basically the probability that something will have some property, that an atom will be in a particular location, for example. The probability that the information on the internet will be a particular thing is actually very high, but it’s not 100%. There is some uncertainty.

Now, of course if you collapsed the entire internet, you would lose those important quantum mechanical properties that quantum computing relies on to be so powerful. Take those away, and the computing power of the entire internet would be massively reduced just by someone connecting to it, which would be crap.

So what do the quantum computers do to avoid this problem? Well, it’s quite simple. They generate a ‘child universe’ that isn’t part of our universe at all, but is connected to it through a wormhole. Now, these child universes are not massive things like our universe. They are absolutely miniature. All they contain is the information in the collapsed version of the universe. (This isn’t difficult to achieve; the universe is basically just information, and you can argue that our universe is simply a quantum computer.) Like all observed quantum systems, they maintain their state until they are no longer being observed (or connected to, in this case), after which they decay.

So the quantum computers that run the internet keep their waveforms intact, and your particular version of the information in the internet exists in its own child universe that your computer is connected to. The next person to access the internet then causes the waveform to collapse again into another child universe. But this time, because of the uncertain nature of the waveform, it collapses to a slightly different form.

In other words, the new user of the internet experiences a slightly different internet to the one that you are experiencing.

The difference could be tiny. A comma missing, for example. Or it could be massive. An article that says a completely different thing. And, because of the way probability works, there is an infinitesimal chance (which may occur only once in billions of years) that the internet you experience is 100% different to the one that someone else experiences, causing great confusion.

And this is why, when you read something on the internet, you genuinely may be reading something completely different to what other people are reading. It’s not just they are stupid (although they almost certainly are).

Achievements Unlocked

- 2 comments - Books

Today I got to finish writing two books in one day. How often does that happen?

Okay, I’m spinning this a little.

I finished my last major edits of THE EMPEROR OF MARS, which is the sequel to SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB and sent it off to my editor. There’s still the copyediting and the proofs (and possibly more proofs…) but that’s it for any big changes. Basically, the way the book is now is the way it is going to be when it’s published, other than the odd fix to sentences here and there.

THE EMPEROR OF MARS is set eight months after the events of SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB and features more deadly danger, thrilling adventures, and terrible peril.

As a celebration, here’s the opening sentences of THE EMPEROR OF MARS:

The Emperor of Mars

Mars, 1817

I was twenty feet underground, surrounded by glowing blue sandfish crystals, with my head jammed in a beetle-vine warren, when I realized that vine-mining wasn’t for me.

I had seen the notice pinned up outside the local office of the Imperial Martian Airship Company:

Volunteers Needed!
Root Out Beetle-Vines! Save Lunae City!
Sign Up Today!
Before it’s too late!

Perfect, I’d thought. What a great idea.

I had never been so wrong.

The book is out on July 18th, 2017, but advance copies will obviously be out sooner. Keep an eye on this blog if you want to know when you’ll get a chance to win one. :)

My Work-In-Progress, which I have also “finished”, is the first draft. That means, of course, that it’ll have to be rewritten many times, and so it could be completely, utterly different when it actually is published (and, of course, it might not get published at all). But here is a very brief taste of the opening. This may or may not be in the final version.

The Mystery of Firelake Hall

London, England, 1924

On the day that Miss Wellington was given the job of governess to the Stone children, she learned two absolutely unshakeable rules.

Firstly, nobody – absolutely nobody – talked about magic in the Stone household.

More on this one if and when it progresses!

Music Monday: Music I Missed

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I used to blog about music a wee bit on here, but I’ve realised I haven’t done if for, wow, over a year.

One of the great things about YouTube is that, if you use it enough for listening to music, it starts to suggest things you’ve never heard before.

I got into heavy metal in about 1985, or perhaps early 1986 (it was a long time ago now…). By that time, what was being called NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal) had been going for quite some time. It started in 1979 (well, the name was coined then; some of the bands had been around for a few years) as a little bit of a reaction against punk. It had the same energy as punk, and some of the same attitude, but it put a higher value on musical talent and melody, and it grew as an underground musical movement, without any real coverage from mainstream media, with news of bands being spread by word-of-mouth and hand-produced fanzines.

Well, because I didn’t start listening to it until 1985-86, I missed a lot of bands that didn’t break out of those underground scenes and were essentially gone by the mid-80s. Which brings me back to now and YouTube. I’ve been exploring around, clicking from band to band, exploring the music I didn’t get a chance to experience the first time around.

There’s an awful lot of it, and I don’t have space to talk about it all here, but here are a few highlights I’ve come across.

Tokyo Blade

Tokyo Blade were a band who really should have made it. They had the talent and their music had enough potential. There were certainly similarities with Iron Maiden in the guitars and vocals (although Iron Maiden had a more complex, full sound). But they, like a lot of bands, went through far too many line-up changes and didn’t kick on as they should have done.

Nonetheless, they put out some good stuff and are, in fact, after disbanding several times, still around.

Here’s one of their songs, “If Heaven is Hell”:

Virtue

Virtue were formed in 1981, right when NWOBHM was at its height, but they didn’t actually release anything until their single, “We Stand to Fight”, in 1985. This was unfortunate because, to be honest, if they had released it three years earlier they might have had more success. But by 1985, the genre had shaken itself out a little bit. Iron Maiden had already released their first five albums and were a global phenomenon. Ozzy Osbourne had released Bark at the Moon and Diary of a Madman. Dio had put out Holy Diver and The Last in Line. Def Leppard, Accept, Queensryche, Warlock, and so on were all becoming big.

Even if you don’t know who these bands are, what I’m saying is that the major bands were already becoming superstars and releasing what would later be acknowledged to be the best albums in the genre. Virtue’s single felt just a few years too late.

Nonetheless, this is a classic bit of early NWOBHM that just happened to not appear early enough.

Praying Mantis

To be honest, I think I was vaguely aware of Praying Mantis, but I don’t think I ever actually listened to anything they put out. Which is a shame, because I think I would have liked them, and they were putting out good music. They were on the slightly ‘softer’ end of the heavy metal of the time – more AOR influenced, perhaps.

Praying Mantis had a reasonable amount of success and, although they broke up for a while, are now back together and playing again.

This is “Children of the Earth” from their first album.

Randy

For this last band, we’re going really obscure. This is a Danish band called (rather unfortunately) Randy. They only put out a few songs, and their best work came out as the two sides of their single, “Shadows are Falling / The Beast”. So, I’m going to put both here, because I really can’t decide which I prefer.

Here is “Shadows are Falling”:

And here is “The Beast”:

There are a lot of other great bands from the same era that I didn’t catch the first time around and which didn’t make it big, bands like Overdrive, Crucifixion, Excalibur, Mendes Prey, Cloven Hoof and so on. You can hear a bunch on this playlist (the playlist includes a couple of bands that were relatively successful, too):

Enjoy!

New Middle Grade Books for 2016: April – September

- 2 comments - Books

Time for a bunch more great-looking middle grade books coming out this year. I blogged books coming out from January to April and from January to June. Now it’s time to look at books coming out from April to September. (Yeah, the dates overlap, because I don’t always know about books far ahead of time.)

All of these books are by new voices in middle grade, debut authors in other words.

Here we go again!

Treasure at Lure Lake, by Shari L. Schwarz

Published: April 12th, 2016.

An epic adventure—that’s all Bryce wants this summer. So when he stumbles upon a treasure map connected to an old family secret, Bryce is determined to follow the clues to unearth both, even it means hiking in the wilderness in the middle of nowhere. Bryce must work with his bickering brother, Jack, or they may never see the light of day again!

This one is already out, so no need to delay. Get it now!

Goodreads | Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Author Website

Artifacts, by Pete Catalano

Published: May 17th, 2016

Jax and his friends have been planning the summer of a lifetime at Camp Runamuck. However, when one of them is facing summer at a school desk for failing English, they watch those plans crash and burn!

At the last moment they’re given a way out. An extra credit assignment to find several fake artifacts for a fairy tale display their teacher is presenting at the local library. But soon they realize that they’re searching for one real artifact that can rewrite fairytales. Now they’re in a race against actual fairytale villains to get their hands on it first.

Imagine The Goonies meets Peter Pan.

This one has also been out for a while so you should have no trouble finding it!

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Author Website

The Voyage to Magical North, by Claire Fayers

Published: July 5th, 2016

This is already out in the U.K. I know that, because I’m reading it right now, and very good it is too! Those of you in the U.S. have to wait a few more days. :D

Twelve-year-old Brine Seaborne is a girl with a past–if only she could remember what it is. Found alone in a rowboat as a child, clutching a shard of the rare starshell needed for spell-casting, she’s spent the past years keeping house for an irritable magician and his obnoxious apprentice, Peter.

When Brine and Peter get themselves into a load of trouble and flee, they blunder into the path of the legendary pirate ship the Onion. Before you can say “pieces of eight,” they’re up to their necks in the pirates’ quest to find Magical North, a place so shrouded in secrets and myth that most people don’t even think it exists.

Goodreads | Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Author Website

Sticks & Stones, by Abby Cooper

Published: July 12th, 2016

Ever since she was a baby, the words people use to describe Elyse have instantly appeared on her arms and legs. At first it was just “cute” and “adorable,” but as she’s gotten older and kids have gotten meaner, words like “loser” and “pathetic” appear, and those words bubble up and itch. And then there are words like “interesting,” which she’s not really sure how to feel about.

Now, at age twelve, she’s starting middle school, and just when her friends who used to accept and protect her are drifting away, she receives an anonymous note saying “I know who you are, and I know what you’re dealing with. I want to help.” As Elyse works to solve the mystery of who is sending her these notes, she also finds new ways to accept who she is and to become her best self.

Goodreads | Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Author Website

The Last Cherry Blossom, by Kathleen Burkinshaw

Yuriko was happy growing up in Hiroshima when it was just her and Papa. But her aunt Kimiko and her cousin Genji are living with them now, and the family is only getting bigger with talk of a double marriage! And while things are changing at home, the world beyond their doors is even more unpredictable. World War II is coming to an end, and Japan’s fate is not entirely clear, with any battle losses being hidden fom its people. Yuriko is used to the sirens and the air-raid drills, but things start to feel more real when the neighbors who have left to fight stop coming home. When the bomb hits Hiroshima, it’s through Yuriko’s twelve-year-old eyes that we witness the devastation and horror.

This is a story that offers young readers insight into how children lived during the war, while also introducing them to Japanese culture.

Goodreads | Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Author Website

The Rat Prince, by Bridget Hodder

Published: August 23rd, 2016

The dashing Prince of the Rats–who’s in love with Cinderella–is changed into her coachman by the Fairy Godmother on the night of the big ball. And he’s about to turn the legend (and the evening) upside down on his way to a most unexpected happy ending!

I don’t often enjoy fairytale retellings, but this one looks like enormous fun. Can’t wait.

Goodreads | Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Author Website

Howard Wallace, P.I., by Casey Lyall

Published: September 6th, 2016

Twelve-year-old Howard Wallace lives by his list of rules of private investigation. He knows more than anyone how to work with what he’s got: a bathrobe for a trench coat, a makeshift office behind the school equipment shed, and not much else—least of all, friends. So when a hot case of blackmail lands on his desk, he’s ready to take it on himself . . . until the new kid, Ivy Mason, convinces him to take her on as a junior partner. As they banter through stakeouts and narrow down their list of suspects, Howard starts to wonder if having Ivy as a sidekick—and a friend—is such a bad thing after all.

Goodreads | Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Author Website

The Peculiar Haunting of Thelma Bee, by Erin Petti

Published: September 6th, 2016

Eleven-year-old Thelma Bee is never bored. In fact, she has curiosity and adventure in her blood. She spends her time running science experiments, practicing Spanish, and daydreaming about exotic landscapes. But Thelma gets more than she bargained for when a strange woman sells a jewelry box at her father’s antique shop.

That night, a ghost kidnaps her father, and the only clues are the jewelry box and a word the ghost whispered in her ear: “Return.” Now it’s up to Thelma to get her dad back, and it might be harder than she thought—there’s someone wielding dark magic, and they’re coming after her next.

Goodreads | Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Author Website

Poppy Mayberry, The Monday, by Jennie K. Brown

Published: September 13th, 2016

What if your teacher could read your mind just because she was born on a Thursday? Or the kid next to you in class could turn back the clock just because he was a ‘Wednesday”? In the quirky town of Nova, all of this is normal, but one thing is not—Poppy Mayberry. As an almost-eleven-year-old Monday, she should be able to pass notes in class or brush her dog, Pickle, without lifting a finger. But her Monday telekinesis still has some kinks, and that plate of spaghetti she’s passing may just end up on someone’s head. And if that’s not hard enough, practically perfect Ellie Preston is out to get her, and Principal Wible wants to send her to remedial summer school to work on her powers! It’s enough to make a girl want to disappear…if only she were a Friday.

Goodreads | Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Author Website

The Adventurer’s Guide to Successful Escapes, by Wade Albert White

Published: September 13th, 2016

A thrilling debut novel where fantasy and science fiction meet, dragons aren’t as innocent as they look, and nothing is quite what it seems.

Anne has spent most of her thirteen years dreaming of the day she and her best friend Penelope will finally leave Saint Lupin’s Institute for Perpetually Wicked and Hideously Unattractive Children. When the big day arrives, a series of very curious happenings lead to Anne being charged with an epic quest. Anne, Penelope, and new questing partner Hiro have only days to travel to strange new locales, solve myriad riddles, and triumph over monstrous foes–or face the horrible consequences.

Packed with action, humor, and endless heart, this debut novel marks the first volume in an irresistible and original fantasy series.

Goodreads | Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Author Website

That’s all I’ve got for now. I will probably do one more of these round-ups for the end part of 2016. But check on the books from this list and the previous ones. There’s great stuff there.

The Dinosaur Hunters: Out Now

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Today, my new novella, THE DINOSAUR HUNTERS, was published. I’ve been really looking forward to sharing this with you. For me, this story was just pure fun. I wanted to throw everything I love about science fiction adventures into my story: strange, alien civilisations and technology, spies, mysteries, deadly peril, adventure, and, of course, dinosaurs. Who wouldn’t want write a book like that?

THE DINOSAUR HUNTERS is set in the same world as SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB but it takes place a year earlier, and it’s entirely a stand-alone novella.

Buy now: Amazon | Kobo | Nook | Smashwords (all formats)

Here’s the blurb:

Mystery, murder, and adventure on Mars…

Mars in 1815 is a world of wonders, from the hanging ballrooms of Tharsis City to the air forests of Patagonian Mars, and from the ice caves of Noachis Terra to the Great Wall of Cyclopia, beyond which dinosaurs still roam.

Sixteen-year-old Harriet George has never had the chance for an adventure. Now her older sister is determined to marry her off. Harriet can’t think of anything worse.

Meanwhile, her brother-in-law, Bertrand, has a problem. He’s never been much of a police inspector. As far as Harriet knows, Bertrand has never caught a criminal in his life. But now the famous jewel thief, the Glass Phantom, has come to Mars, and Bertrand has been given the job of tracking him down. If he fails, Bertrand will lose his job and the whole family will be ruined.

Harriet will not let that happen.

So she comes up with a plan: she will capture the Glass Phantom herself. Even if that mean that she and Bertrand have to follow the thief’s intended victim, the Countess von Krakendorff, on a dinosaur hunt in the perilous Martian wilderness. But there is far more going on in this expedition than mere robbery, and the dinosaurs are not the greatest danger.

If Harriet cannot solve the mystery, her family won’t just be ruined. She and Bertrand may not make it out of the wilderness alive.

Buy now: Amazon | Kobo | Nook | Smashwords (all formats)

Or you can read the opening right here.

The Emperor of Mars Cover

- One comment - Books

The cover for my second novel, THE EMPEROR OF MARS, kind of snuck its way out into the world last week without telling me. So, it’s time to officially give it its freedom here.

Without further waffle, here it is in its full glory:

The cover art is by Jeremy Holmes, just like for book 1. I think it’s great.

THE EMPEROR OF MARS is out on January 10th, 2017.

You can pre-order it now: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Barnes and Noble | Book Depository (International)

Add on Goodreads

New Novella: The Dinosaur Hunters

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Hey folks. Exciting news for me! I have a new novella coming out on June 16th, 2016. It’s called THE DINOSAUR HUNTERS, and it’s set in the same world as SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB and THE EMPEROR OF MARS, but it takes place a year before SECRETS and is a completely standalone novella.

Ever wondered where the dinosaurs were in SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB? Want to find out more about Regency Mars? Can’t bear to wait for THE EMPEROR OF MARS to come out? Wondering what all the fuss is about? Here’s your chance to find out!

You can pre-order THE DINOSAUR HUNTERS now from Amazon, or buy it from most ebook stores or my website on June 16th.

Pre-order: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon Canada | Amazon Australia

Or: Add on Goodreads

If you have a review blog or site and you’d like a review copy, please send me a message!

Here’s the blurb!

Mystery, murder, and adventure on Mars…

Mars in 1815 is a world of wonders, from the hanging ballrooms of Tharsis City to the air forests of Patagonian Mars, and from the ice caves of Noachis Terra to the Great Wall of Cyclopia, beyond which dinosaurs still roam.

Sixteen-year-old Harriet George has never had the chance for an adventure. Now her older sister is determined to marry her off. Harriet can’t think of anything worse.

Meanwhile, her brother-in-law, Bertrand, has a problem. He’s never been much of a police inspector. As far as Harriet knows, Bertrand has never caught a criminal in his life. But now the famous jewel thief, the Glass Phantom, has come to Mars, and Bertrand has been given the job of tracking him down. If he fails, Bertrand will lose his job and the whole family will be ruined.

Harriet will not let that happen.

So she comes up with a plan: she will capture the Glass Phantom herself. Even if that mean that she and Bertrand have to follow the thief’s intended victim, the Countess von Krakendorff, on a dinosaur hunt in the perilous Martian wilderness. But there is far more going on in this expedition than mere robbery, and the dinosaurs are not the greatest danger.

If Harriet cannot solve the mystery, her family won’t just be ruined. She and Bertrand may not make it out of the wilderness alive.

The Dinosaur Hunters is a thrilling adventure set in the world of Secrets of the Dragon Tomb.

Pre-order: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon Canada | Amazon Australia

Or read the opening:

The Dinosaur Hunters

Mars, 1815

Harriet George had been dressed as a boy for the last week, and she still wasn’t sure her brother-in-law had noticed.

“The thing is, Harry old thing,” the Honorable Bertrand Simpson said as he hunched morosely over his twelfth cup of tea that morning, “disguises are such dashed confusing things. Can’t tell if a chap is a chap or, you know, another chap.” He stirred his tea listlessly.

It had never been entirely clear to Harriet how her brother-in-law had managed to work his way up to the post of Inspector in the Tharsis City Police Service. As far as Harriet could tell, Bertrand had never solved a single case in his entire life.

Unfortunately, Harriet suspected that she wasn’t the only one who had figured that out. It was the only reason she could think of as to why Bertrand had been given the job of capturing the Glass Phantom. The Glass Phantom had evaded police forces in France, Austria, Britain, and Chinese Mars. He’d helped himself to the Crown of Charlemagne from under the nose of Napoleon’s Imperial Guard and had stolen the Orlov Diamond from the Imperial Scepter of Catherine the Great. No one with an ounce of common sense would risk their career tracking down such a notorious and difficult-to-catch jewel thief.

Which was why Bertrand, who wouldn’t have recognized an ounce of common sense if it had fallen into his morning tea, had leapt on the offer like a piranha-mouse on a stray muffin.

Bertrand came from a good family – his father was the fifth Baron Heatherstone – but his family’s estates on Earth had long ago been sold off to pay their debts. Bertrand’s father had brought the family to Mars to seek his fortune on a new world, but it hadn’t made any difference, and Bertrand scarcely had a penny to his name. In his position, he should have married a young lady with a good dowry. Instead, he’d married Harriet’s older sister, Amy. If it hadn’t been for Bertrand’s job, Harriet was certain they would have starved within the year.

And then, five years ago, Harriet and Amy’s parents had died, and Amy and Bertrand had taken Harriet in. She knew it had been hard for them, and she knew they’d given up a great deal for her. She owed them everything.

When Bertrand failed to catch the Glass Phantom, he would lose his job and it would be an absolute disaster for them all.

Harriet would not allow that to happen.

“You know, the Glass Phantom might not actually be in disguise,” Harriet said, trying to cheer her brother-in-law up. “I mean, why would he?”

Bertrand groaned. “That makes it even worse. If he’s not in disguise, how am I going to tell who he’s not disguising himself as?”

Which, Harriet thought, summed up rather neatly why her brother-in-law never actually caught anyone.

Enjoying it? Pre-order now: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon Canada | Amazon Australia

I’ll post more of the opening closer to the publication date

Don’t forget that if have a review blog or site, you can ask me for a review copy. Please send me a message!

Book Review: Masks and Shadows, by Stephanie Burgis

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The year is 1779, the place is the Eszterháza Palace in Hungary. The famous castrato singer Carlo Morelli is travelling to the palace as a guest of Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, but he is not the only one. He’s accompanied by a famous alchemist, Ignaz Von Born, and a man he suspects to be a spy. Already arrived at the palace is the recently widowed Charlotte von Steinbeck visiting her younger sister, Sophie.

But there are plots brewing at the palace. The Habsburg Emperor and Empress are about to visit, and there are forces at work who will stop at nothing to assassinate them. There is blackmail, alchemy, and betrayal, and not everyone is who they seem to be.

Masks and Shadows is a historical fantasy set in an unusual location with characters who are quite unique. If you’ve read Stephanie Burgis’s previous middle grade books, you’ll know she has a knack for convincing, lively, three dimensional characters with complex motivations, and in this, her first adult novel, she has been able to create some of the most interesting characters you’re likely to read in a fantasy novel, from the castrato singer, Carlo Morelli, playing a role he no longer believes in to Charlotte von Steinbeck, the very proper young widow who is forced to confront the scandalous fact that her younger sister, Sophie, is the very public mistress of Prince Esterházy. Then there are the members of the prince’s opera company who are unwillingly caught up in the plots and Sophie’s husband, a member of the prince’s guard, unsuccessfully trying not to regret the deal he made that allows his own wife to be the prince’s mistress.

Add to those the real historical characters in the book: Prince Esterházy and his wife, the princess forced to live in the palace alongside the prince’s mistress, the composer Joseph Haydn, and a host of others and you have a setting that is rich and highly believable.

This is an enormously well-researched book, full of colour and atmosphere, but it’s not one of those books where the author feels the need to pile all the research on you. The story is fast-moving, touching, tense and enormously involving. You will genuinely believe you are in the Esterháza Palace along with these wonderful and conflicted characters, and the story won’t let you go until you reach the desperate finale.

This book draws heavily on opera and the opera company contracted to Prince Esterházy. I am not a fan of opera (to say the least) and know pretty much nothing about eighteenth century Hungary but everything about the story thread of the company trying to put on a performance of Haydn’s new opera for the visiting royals while being unwittingly caught up in the various plots and under threat of disapproval from the unforgiving prince caught me up and enthralled me.

Masks and Shadows is the kind of book that utterly absorbs you and drags you through the conflicting emotions and dilemmas of its rich cast of characters.

I would highly recommend this to anyone who likes fantasy, historical fiction or romance.

A brilliant and unusual book.

5 Stars

Buy Now: Indiebound | Wordery (International) | Barnes and Noble | Amazon US | Amazon UK

My Writing / Editing Process

- 6 comments - Writing

I’m in the middle of revising my second book, THE EMPEROR OF MARS, which is the sequel to SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB. Because this is my second time through the process of getting an editorial letter and having to work to it, I’m starting to get a pretty good idea of what my writing and editing process is like.

I’ve come to the conclusion that my first drafts have:

  • Too many words
  • Too many characters
  • Too many plot strands
  • Too much detail and worldbuilding
  • Too much description

Basically, I put in far too much of everything in my first drafts. And I’ve decided I’m okay with this.

Yeah, it makes the editing process difficult. Right now I’m having to unpick a whole bunch of interweaving plot and character strands, remove some of them, and reweave it all into a tighter book.

This is often not easy. I work pretty hard to make everything depend on everything else, and then I have to take huge chunks out, and it all has to still work.

But that’s how I work, apparently. I think in complicated stories. I write too much in a book. That’s just the way my mind works.

And I need an editor. Readers don’t think much about editors. (I don’t when I’m reading a book.) But I would be terrible at this without an editor.

I don’t actually need an editor to tell me *what* to do. I generally know what I need to do. But I need an editor to tell me that I *have* to do it.

I’ve just read a self-published book (I won’t tell you which one) which sounded interesting. And it was interesting. But it needed an editor. It needed to have someone who could tell the author that what they had written wasn’t good enough, that they could do better (and I genuinely believe they could do better), and they’d better get on with *doing better* before they hit “publish”.

My writing process is likely to stay the same for a while, I think, with me writing much too much and then having to cut great chunks of it, but that works for me, so that’s the way I’m going to keep doing it.

Wish me luck.

(By the way, THE EMPEROR OF MARS will be published on January 10th, 2017. Put the date in your diary. You’re going to want to book the week off. ;) )

A Quicky…

- 2 comments - Books

A lovely review for SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB from the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books. It’s wonderful when a reviewer really gets your book.

Readers might as well check all disbelief at the door and just embrace this look at a nineteenth-century British Mars that has solid hints of steampunk and features dangers aplenty to excite a kid hooked on spy tales. Such a kid is twelve-year-old Edward, who has been waiting his whole life for something like what he reads in Thrilling Martian Tales. Adventure comes in a rush, as a kidnapping, a much-desired water abacus, a metal assassin, and a mysterious cousin who may be a good guy, bad guy, or just bumbling fool all fall into Edward’s lap (and into the lap of his gender-defying little sister who aids him more than he’ll ever admit). Indeed, it quickly becomes clear that to save their family, Edward will need the skills of his more clever younger sister, his more socially graceful older sister, and his more adept cousin, even if he wishes he could be a solo hero like in the stories. The dialogue is snappy, and the characterization is historically plausible while still giving room for the characters to react to being on another planet. Science fiction meets classic adventure tales in this quirky novel, and it’s a real treat to know that it’s the first in an intended series. Fans of Reeve’s Larklight (BCCB 2/07) will embrace the premise, and readers will happily return for the next entry to see what happens next on Mars.

April Spisak, Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books