This is the most charming, delightful fantasy novel you will read this year.
Set in an alternate-history England, in approximately the Regency era (early nineteenth century), this is the story of Cassandra Harwood, the first female magician in Angland. In this alternative reality, where Boudicca drove the Romans out of Britain, women hold political power while men have traditionally been the magicians. Cassandra was not only the first female magician, but also a very capable one. That is, until she tried a too-powerful spell that nearly killed her. Now, if she uses magic again, it will very likely finish the job.
Which would be all very well. Except that now she has stumbled into the path of a malevolent elf lord. If she can’t carry out his demands within a week, her life will be forfeit. But without magic, how can she hope to unpick the mystery and face up to his overwhelming power?
And if that isn’t enough, she’s trapped in the snow in a house party with her ex-fiance, her interfering family, manipulative lady politicans, and troublesome male magicians: her former colleagues, who never thought she should be allowed to be a magician in the first place.
Cassandra will have to find a way to neutralise the deadly elf lord and deal with her infuriating former fiance and the feelings she still holds for him.
Snowspelled is wonderful fantasy novel, full of spark, energy, and brilliant, sharp characters. There is a mystery, a romance, and a magical threat growing ever closer in a completely unique setting. I wholeheartedly recommend it.
Snowspelled is a very short novel, just a little longer than a novella, but it is fast moving and you never feel like anything is lacking. The characters and plot are all fully developed. It’s the first of three novellas. The second, Thornbound, is due out in 2018, and I can’t wait!
I only get to America once a year, so I don’t get the chance to do many book events over there, but this year, if you’re in or near Michigan in August, I’ve got two events coming up. I’m going to be alongside the lovely, talented Jim Hines, Merrie Haskell, and Stephanie Burgis. We’re going to be doing short readings and a panel Q&A.
Hopefully we’ll see some of you there!
August 9, 2017 – Okemos, Michigan
Schuler Books & Music
1982 W Grand River Ave, Ste 715, Okemos, Michigan 48864
I don’t get to spend much time on cover design anymore (or web design, for that matter) because most of my non-childcare time is spent on writing, but occasionally I get to do the odd cover. Here are a couple of covers I’ve designed for Steph in the last month.
I was particularly pleased with this one, because I made it entirely from freely-available, public domain images, so other than my time, it didn’t cost a penny.
The second cover is for Steph’s forthcoming novella, Snowspelled. My contribution to this was a little less, because I was working from a specially-commissioned artwork by Leesha Hannigan. All I had to do was add text, make a few subtle adjustments to make the text more visible, and add the frills. But I think it turned out really nicely. Here it is:
Follow the links to find out more about the stories!
The year is 1814, and the Congress of Vienna has just begun. The Emperor Napoleon has been defeated, and the great powers of Europe have gathered in Vienna to carve up Europe among themselves. Along with them have come the powerful, the deposed nobility of old Europe, and the opportunistic, hoping to grab power and wealth for themselves. Amid glittering balls, parties, and salons, the great of Europe meet, plot, and position themselves.
Into Vienna come Lady Caroline Wyndham, a wealthy English widow, and charming con man Michael Steinhüller. Both of them have secrets. Caroline was born Karolina Vogl, daughter of a radical Viennese printer. Caroline’s father was arrested by the secret police and her childhood was cruelly stolen from her by dark alchemy in the cells of the secret police.
Michael, meanwhile, was once the apprentice of Caroline’s father. Neither has seen the other since their childhoods were shattered, and both have returned to Vienna with plans of their own, Caroline’s to save her father, and Michael’s to pull one last con before he retires. Neither of them expect to encounter the other, and when they do, both their plans will be in danger, and so will they.
I’ve said before that a really well-researched piece of historical fiction can be as full of wonder as the most inventive fantasy or science fiction novel, and this historical fantasy proves that. Every scene comes alive with wonderful, vivid, and sometimes alien detail that make you feel like you’re really there. I lived for six months in Vienna, and in Congress of Shadows, I really felt like I was back there, strolling around the first district or through the royal palaces. This is lush and all-enveloping.
The characters, too, are incredibly involving and well-conceived. From the moment you first meet Caroline, Michael, and the third main character, Peter Riesenbeck, you are swept into their stories, their fears, their desires, and their plans. But it’s not just the main characters who are so believable and enticing. There is also a whole array of historical figures – from the quipping Prince de Ligne and the paranoid Emperor Francis to the manipulative head of the secret police, Count Pergen – and fictional counterparts who leap off the page.
The story is fast paced and increasingly tense as Caroline, Michael, and Peter’s plans begin to crumble in the face of the dark alchemy wielded by Count Pergen.
This is a fantastic book and I have no hesitation in giving it five stars. I loved Stephanie Burgis’s previous historical fantasy, Masks and Shadows, but Congress of Secrets is even better.
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.
I’m blogging every day about writing, books, inspiration, and maybe the odd story until SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB is published on January 12, 2016!
Today I’m talking about six fantasy and science fiction books that aren’t Secrets of the Dragon Tomb and that I’m looking forward to in 2016.
Bounders, by Monica Tesler
Middle Grade Science Fiction
Publication date: January 5th, 2016
You don’t get a great number of pure science fiction middle grade books, but Monica Tesler proves that they can be done extremely well. This is the story a group of children bred to be “bounders”, who can leap through space and who are recruited to Earth’s expeditionary and defence force.
Generations ago, undesirable genetic traits were bred out of humanity, but now that diversity has been found to be useful, and the genetic traits have been reintroduced for this select group of children, producing a neurodiverse group who have trouble fitting in but whose talents are essential.
The book shares some of the same science fiction space as Ender’s Game and Starship Troopers, but it brings its own unique take on the training of children for war. There are mysteries, adventures, danger and a very cool world in which to play, as well as a unique take on space travel.
On a stormy May day in 1929, William and Maxine arrive on the doorstep of Battersea Manor to spend the summer with a grandfather they barely remember. Soon after they settle in, Grandpa receives a cryptic telegram and promptly whisks the cousins off to New York City so that he can meet an unknown courier and collect a very important package. Before he can do so, however, Grandpa vanishes without a trace.
When the cousins stumble upon Nura, a tenacious girl from Turkey, she promises to help them track down the parcel and rescue Grandpa. But with cold-blooded gangsters and a secret society of assassins all clamoring for the same mysterious object, the children soon find themselves in a desperate struggle just to escape the city’s dark streets alive.
This book has been described as a cross between Indiana Jones and the The DaVinci Code. Exciting!
The year is 1779, and Carlo Morelli, the most renowned castrato singer in Europe, has been invited as an honored guest to Eszterháza Palace. With Carlo in Prince Nikolaus Esterházy’s carriage ride a Prussian spy and one of the most notorious alchemists in the Habsburg Empire. Already at Eszterháza is Charlotte von Steinbeck, the very proper sister of Prince Nikolaus’s mistress. Charlotte has retreated to the countryside to mourn her husband’s death. Now, she must overcome the ingrained rules of her society in order to uncover the dangerous secrets lurking within the palace’s golden walls. Music, magic, and blackmail mingle in a plot to assassinate the Habsburg Emperor and Empress–a plot that can only be stopped if Carlo and Charlotte can see through the masks worn by everyone they meet.
This is an utterly unique historical fantasy. It’s incredibly lush and entirely involving, with characters you genuinely won’t forget. I found myself completely immersed in the 18th century world, full of princes, plots, and opera. Don’t miss it.
The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price, by Jennifer Maschari
Contemporary Middle Grade Fantasy
Publication Date: February 23rd, 2016
Ever since twelve-year-old Charlie Price’s mom died, he feels like his world has been split into two parts. Before included stargazing and Mathletes and Saturday scavenger hunts with his family. After means a dad who’s completely checked out, comically bad dinners, and grief group that’s anything but helpful. It seems like losing Mom meant losing everything else he loved, too.
When he follows his sister into a magical world he finds it is identical to their own with one key difference – Mom is alive. But this idealized other world holds terrifying secrets, and he’ll have to defeat monsters both real and imagined or risk losing himself, his sister, and the true memory of his mother forever.
This is a touching, emotionally powerful middle grade contemporary fantasy.
Where Futures End is a novel made up from five interconnected short stories. The first story is set right now (or very close to now) and the subsequent ones step into the future, developing the story up to some unstated point over a hundred years from now. Our universe has somehow intersected with another universe, and a very few people can cross between them, weakening the barrier between the universes.
Over the course of the five stories we experience the lives of different characters – some of whom are able to cross between universes and some of whom aren’t – as the intersection alters both universes, as technology advances, and as global warming begins to take hold.
So what’s so great about Where Futures End? Well, first up the structure is not easy to pull off. Different characters? Different time periods? Different voices? Not an easy thing to manage, and something that could go terribly wrong. Well, it doesn’t. It works beautifully, and rather than losing narrative drive, the end of each story leaves you wanting to read the next to add more pieces to the puzzle. Each adds another layer, revealing more about what was going in the previous stories while developing its own story.
Ambitious. Clever. Gripping. You should add this one to your wish-list right away!
Trisha Sullivan is one of the most intelligent, insightful, and imaginative writers working in science fiction today. It’s an absolute delight to have a new science fiction novel from her after almost six years.
A woman with wings that exist in another dimension. A man trapped in his own body by a killer. A briefcase that is a door to hell. A conspiracy that reaches beyond our world. Breathtaking SF from a Clarke Award-winning author.
Tricia Sullivan has written an extraordinary, genre defining novel that begins with the mystery of a woman who barely knows herself and ends with a discovery that transcends space and time. On the way we follow our heroine as she attempts to track down a killer in the body of another man, and the man who has been taken over, his will trapped inside the mind of the being that has taken him over.
And at the centre of it all a briefcase that contains countless possible realities.
Note: This is published in the UK right now, but you can easily order it internationally from Amazon or Book Depository.
It’s ten days until SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB is officially published! I figured I’d count down until the big day with a series of blog posts on books, writing, and maybe the odd story. Yes, folks, this may be the only time in my life that I blog ten days in a row.
Today I’m starting with the five best pieces of writing advice I’ve ever received.
1: Everyone is the hero of their own story
Yes, you have a hero for your book. Maybe more than one. But they are not the only heroes. Every single character who appears in your book has their own story and they are the hero of that story. That spear-carrier who blocks your hero’s way at the castle gate? She’s not there for the benefit of your hero. She’s there because she’s living her own story. And in that story she is the hero. She’s got ambitions and frustrations, wants, needs, fears, hopes. If you know what those are, she isn’t a cardboard cut-out. She adds to the story.
The same goes for your bad guy (if you have one). They didn’t go out that morning deciding to be evil and make life difficult for your hero. They think they are doing the right thing, for themselves, even if not for anyone else. They have their reasons and their motivations. Know what those are and you’re well on the way to a rich, three-dimensional story.
(Advice from: George R.R. Martin)
2: Cut 10%
When you’ve finished your book, revised it, polished it, and made it perfect, go back and cut 10% of it.
I’ll admit, when I first read this advice, I was massively skeptical. If anything, I thought, I needed to add to what I wrote, to flesh out scenes and characters. Well, I did have to flesh out some parts. But my editor told me I had to make my book shorter, too. And you know what? She was right.
Even though I thought the book was as tight as I could make it, when I approached it knowing I had to reduce it in length, I found it wasn’t as tight and efficient as I thought it was. There were redundant words and sentences, even whole scenes that just didn’t have to be there.
So give it a go. When your book is done, cut another 10%.
(Advice from: Stephen King)
3: Every Scene Should Do At Least Two Things
It’s easy to write a scene that does one thing, advances the plot or changes your protagonist or reveals something about your world. But a scene that does only one thing is flat and boring. It’s the kind of handle-turning writing that leaves a reader feeling underwhelmed.
But make that scene do two things – creating an arc for your protagonist and moving the plot on, for example – and make those two things be intertwined and then you’re flying.
(Advice from: Nalo Hopkinson)
4: Coincidences Are Bad
In real life, coincidences happen all the time. Unless you believe that every part of everyone’s life is controlled by some external force and we are but will-free puppets, then coincidences are a part of life.
But not in stories.
If you solve a plot or character problem through a coincidence, your readers will throw your book across the room in frustration, and rightly so.
There is one circumstance where you can have coincidences in stories, though, and that is where they make things worse for your protagonists. The coincidence where they bump into the person who has all the answers? Nope. The coincidence where they bump into an enemy looking to waylay them? Yep. Make things hard for them!
The only coincidences you should have are bad coincidences.
(Advice from: Connie Willis)
5: What’s the Worst That Could Happen?
Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, ask yourself in every scene, “What’s the most awful or embarrassing thing that can happen to my hero?” And then make it happen.
Humiliate them. Drop them into hell. Make everything go horribly wrong. In each scene, your character should have to deal with the disaster created in the previous scene and then something even worse should happen. Rinse and repeat, and at the end, you’ll have a book. (Obviously, your hero will have to win eventually (unless they don’t), but not until the end.)
The kind of story where your character drifts through easy successes is the story that nobody is interested in.
(Advice from: Stephanie Burgis)
That’s it. The five most useful pieces of writing advice that I have ever received. They might not all work for you, but if you’re wondering why your story doesn’t work quite as well as you were hoping, give them a go. You might be surprised.
We’re about to move house. This isn’t exactly voluntary, because we rent, and our landlady wants to move back into her property, so we have to find somewhere else. First up, we considered moving here:
Unfortunately, it’s just a bit too far to commute to Mr. D’s school, and we’re not about to make him change schools for a puny house like that.
Then we considered moving here:
But, apparently, it’s not actually real, as such. So, you know.
In the end, we’re moving to a house that is slightly smaller and slightly dingier than the one we’re in now (boo!) but which at least has a separate office (hooray!). Getting ready to move is turning out to be a bit of nightmare. We’ve been in this house for, ooh, something like 4 1/2 years, and to be honest, we haven’t actually gotten rid of anything in those years. And we arrived with boxes of stuff we hadn’t gotten rid of from previous houses.
So, Steph and I have been sorting through piles and piles of random stuff, trying to get rid of it. (Anyone want an old pram/stroller? A carrycot? A baby car seat?) I can’t bring myself to take stuff that is still in good condition to the tip, but I also can’t figure out how to easily get rid of it. I guess we could put it on ebay, but to be honest, we don’t have time to do that before we move.
We have managed to donate about 20 million items of baby clothes to poor, unsuspecting charity shops by taking them there and running off at high speed before they could say they don’t want them. All I have to do now is wait until Steph is out and then get rid of all of her books while keeping mine. :D
Anyway, we’re moving in about a week’s time, so most of our junk will probably come with us again. If you should have our new address and I’ve forgotten to give it to you, let me know!
Now, back to work. I have a room to sort through and a freelance project due tomorrow.
Oh yeah. In other news, it looks like the publication date for SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB has been pushed back again until September 22, 2015. I do so love the vagaries of publishing.
Well, good morning everyone! (Or, you know, good some other time of day. Whatever.)
Today I’m really excited, because it’s the day that Stephanie Burgis’s Courting Magic is published. This is the fourth book in the Kat, Incorrigible series, which started with Kat, Incorrigible (titled A Most Improper Magick in the U.K.)
Courting Magic takes place five years after the last book, with our heroine, Kat, just about to enter Regency society. But Kat is not just any young lady, she is a magical Guardian and a witch, and she’s been given a mission to uncover an illusionist who is infiltrating parties to steal from the guests.
Courting Magic is a novella, so it’s about half the length of the Kat novels, but it’s still got everything you’d expect from a Kat novel: adventure, romance, magic, and one of the best heroines you’ll read.
This is the blurb:
In Kat Stephenson’s Regency England, magic is even more shocking than a stolen kiss. But now that she’s eighteen, it’s time for wild and magical Kat to be introduced to high society by her older sisters, whether she likes it or not…and to finally have a romance of her own!
Of course, her true love is hopelessly ineligible. But when has Kat ever let Society’s opinion stop her from making up her own mind? Once she realizes she’s found her perfect match, she’s not going to let anything or anyone stand in their way – even if she does have to solve a magical mystery, matchmake for an old friend, and break a few rules along the way!
“Courting Magic” is a sparkling 34,000-word Regency novella set in the world of Kat, Incorrigible.
Courting Magic is available as an ebook pretty much anywhere you can buy ebooks.
So, I have been attempting to upgrade my Photoshop skills. In the old days, that simply involved undoing the top of the skull, removing the Photoshop-cortex and replacing it with a newer model, but you know the way that brains are made these days, what with being impossible to upgrade components yourself.
Anyway, I’ve been reduced to actually having to practice to get better. I know, right?
Most of my Photoshop work I do when I’m designing book covers or websites, but that doesn’t always give you the opportunity to practice the things you’re not good at, so I’m starting to do some ‘photomanipulations’ to practice my techniques.
I’m putting them up on deviantART (along with a few of my covers which I’m particularly fond of), which is an awesome place to see other people’s work and to get stock you can use for making images.
In other news, Steph and I have been together 13 years today, which, wow, is a long time, right? Neither of us could have imagined when we met at Clarion West back in 2001 that we’d end up here with our two lovely, amazing little boys and careers as professional writers. It’s been a fantastic 13 years. Thank you, sweetheart.