Book Review: Mechanics of the Past

So who’s up for a book rant about alchemy, childhood trauma, steampunkery and necromancy? Oh yeah, there’s also a giant rabbit.

Refill your tea tankards and grab your cuddliest plushies, because here comes a novel centered around the question “What if instead of ‘Who wants to live forever,’ or ‘Can we change lead to gold,’ we just use alchemy to make something out of nothing and create murder and mechanical mayhem in the process?”

Book: Mechanics of the Past by K. A. Ashcomb

Series: Glorious Mishaps, No. 3
Genre: Steampunk Fantasy
Content for the Sensitive Reader: frequent PG-13 language, necromancy, kidnapping, murder, witchcraft, spirit possession, seduction, nudity, clearly implied sexual encounters, emotionally (and possibly physically) abusive family relationships, some thematic/violent scenes, incestual attraction, gambling, casual alcohol use. Discretion is strongly advised for younger audiences.

BookmarkedOne Rating: 4/10

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book via Booktasters and the author in exchange for an honest review. All opinions herein are my own. Did I mention I got a free book? Because that’s awesome.

SPOILERS CLEARLY MARKED–READ AT YOUR OWN RISK

I really wanted to love this book. There are some really nice things to be said about it. Even before I knew this was the third book, I was impressed by how Ashcomb just throws the reader into the deep end and expects them to figure things out as they go. Harriet Stowe enslaving someone in the name of greater peace? Sorry, that’s backstory. You’ll just have to wonder about it. The very first paragraph? Already in the middle of a heist. Main characters? En route to their destination, in the middle of something you don’t fully understand. And there are also little phrases like the reference to Moby Dick and “the real McCoy” that make you wonder just what combination of reality and possibility, the familiar and the strange, that this world is made of. Not to mention the things that are entirely Ashcomb’s, like “get my octopuses in a row.” And I haven’t seen someone have this much fun with footnotes since Nanny Piggins.

So what’s not to like?

Well, for starters, I’m not a big fan of swearing in books. That’s my personal pet peeve that’s probably going to be reserved for an explanatory post of its own one day. So I’ll try to set that aside for now and look at the writing instead.

Let’s begin with the characters.

A warning: there are a lot of characters in this book. And the book changes focalization every chapter, switching viewpoints from character to character, which can be…difficult. I think Sigourney Perri is the protagonist, but I could be wrong. I counted eight different focalized characters, and frankly, I might have missed one. Just so you’re prepared.

On to introductions!

  • Margaret. The book opens with the reader looking through Margaret’s eyes, and to keep from spoiling too much, I’ll just say it’s a good move. She’s violent. Deliciously so. And Ashcomb tells you just enough in that opening to keep you guessing, keep you curious about what’s going on, wondering what the stakes are but feeling their height–I have a thing for heists, okay? In retrospect, I’m actually wishing Margaret were a more important character…but hey, that’s just me.
  • Sigourney Perri. Anyway, as soon as Margaret’s done in the prologue, we jump to our girl, this shy thing with major social anxiety, childhood trauma, way too much guilt, and the literal ability to disappear. For all that it’s a little depressing to read her berating herself the whole time, Sigourney is the easiest for me to relate to, and she’s also one of the most dynamic characters.
  • Siarl. With Sigourney comes her “plus one,” Siarl Ellis, and her luck/personal deity/pet, the Rabbit. I wanted to like Siarl more than I did. But we’re introduced to him in the middle of “we-have-been-on-the-road-so-long-can-we-please-get-out-are-we-there-yet” headache and argument combo…which is not flattering for the best and most brilliant of characters. Sigourney says he’s brilliant and kind and idealistic, but then she would, wouldn’t she? She’s supposed to be in love with him. I didn’t buy it. It isn’t until the last few chapters of the book that he actually starts to be useful, let alone a well-rounded character.
  • The Rabbit, Sigourney’s second traveling companion. He seems protective of Sigourney, almost like her dad. A ridiculously irresponsible alcoholic dad, but hey. And when we say “The Rabbit?” He’s actually a rabbit. Really, all we could ask for is steampunk with a giant shapeshifting bunny. I mean, what more do you want? Oh yeah, he’s also the “god of luck.” In the most amusingly chaotic way possible.
  • Rose Pettyshare: a willful banker from Necropolis (apparently the necromancy capital of the world, city of the dead, full of fog and octopuses–which we unfortunately don’t visit in the book). She’s a charming, independent little banker woman who takes fencing lessons, doesn’t like corsets, and makes too much trouble to fit in. Delightful, right? Unfortunately, she’s also a greedy little jerk. I’m incredibly regretful about that point. I actually liked Rose. But although she’s surprising in the lengths she’ll go to, in the end she doesn’t change at all–SPOILER–at the end of the book, she’s gambling all her money away just as she finally got out of debt. Of all the characters, I should dislike her the most because she sees no problem with necromancy fueling the future, and accordingly, it’s implied she has no problem with kidnapping and murder to get whatever she wants–END SPOILER.
  • Percy Allread: With Rose comes her bookkeeper, who I honestly liked just because he wasn’t having any of the nonsense the other characters were actively creating. But weirdly, the interesting backstory about him comes at the very end. I was rooting for him to be the cool character, so stiff and wooden through the first half, staying out of the overblown drama, refusing to talk about himself, minding his own business (and Rose’s!) and clearly keeping so many secrets. Well, I still think he’d be an interesting character. Watching him bloom with life when he gets agitated is really a great moment in the book–but I guess I’ll have to wait for Percy to be the hero or villain I know he could be in another book. It didn’t happen in this one.
  • Abigail: lady fencing instructor/gambling house owner remarkably similar to that cool lady from Enola Holmes who ran the tea shop/ladies’ martial arts parlor. I am one hundred percent okay with this being the next latest and greatest fiction trope.
  • Justice: literally the ideal of justice, if you ask her. If you ask me, she’s a sulky militant who doesn’t know the first thing about what’s just and is abusing everyone and everything because she can. Ultimate power leads to ultimate corruption, as they say.
  • Levi Perri: Drumroll please! Introducing our incredibly problematic alchemist who is willing to lie, kidnap, murder, soul extract, hire demons, and enslave others indefinitely to get what he wants, which is to make little gold coins and seeds out of nothing. Problematic actions include but are not limited to flashing the neighbors, being a jerk to the maid who cooks and cleans and puts up with all his nonsense, using necromancy, and contemplating the murder of his own sister. I hate Levi. I know he’s supposed to have a redemption arc, but I still think he’s a pathetic jerk of a human being. I have patience for slow books. I’m good with characters who know what they’re doing is wrong and don’t care in the least. I do not have patience for undisciplined selfish jerks who know they’re doing something wrong and just go “Ehhh. I’ll have that moral argument with myself…later.” These are fictional cowards.
  • Otis: Necromancer extraordinaire who cares about himself, also himself, and only himself. Also known to be extremely sulky and a total womanizer. But he can shape shift into an otter and he’s on the run for his life, so…yeah, it’s actually hard to say if I dislike him more than Levi. I think Levi still wins worst character, which is saying a lot.
  • The Random Deaf Mechanic (or he who crafts pomander goldfish): also a focalized character for one chapter. His scene is so brief I honestly forgot about him, but he seemed nice. Less problematic than the gang we spend the most time with, actually.

Next up is the plot. I’ve already hinted this is about Levi’s alchemical machine going one step further than “lead into gold” by challenging “nothing (except necromancy) into gold.” But it’s also about family–Levi and Sigourney are estranged siblings finding their way together again.

And there’s nothing wrong with that, a resolution between siblings. But turning something to gold? We’ve seen that before, dozens of times, in different trappings. It’s a familiar refrain.

But a giant rabbit who can control probability and is called the “god of luck?” Now that’s something you don’t see every day!

Honestly, I wish Ashcomb had explored this more. Of course, being that I’ve stumbled into this series only in book three, it could be my wish has already been granted. But in this book, it stays in the background. Ashcomb comments that there’s a chaotic rabbit casually causing havoc as people crash into each other and the fabric of reality wears thin because he’s bored today as if she were saying “It was foggy in Threebeanvalley today.”

So much unexpected possibility.

There’s also the fact that Siarl and Sigourney are in the middle of the “third act breakup” for the entirety of the book.

Awkward. Very awkward.

I wanted to like them together. I like a light, sweet romance where it’s all in a glance, surreptitious hand-holding and occasionally setting the world on fire and bleeding out villains for each other. When it’s up to you the reader to realize how much emotion is hidden in every shy, tender gesture. I wanted to think Sigourney had found a protector against the noisy, chaotic, social world, a friend, someone who saw the beauty and goodness in her even when she was invisible, when she was at her worst–and I couldn’t do it.

So much of the book, Sigourney is thinking “This isn’t going to work,” and trying to push him away. Even when they say “I love you,” it sounds wooden, like “How are you?/I’m fine.” Reflexive and empty. There isn’t even the tension, the slipping feeling of knowing their relationship isn’t working. It just feels dead.

…And since Ashcomb’s book at heart is about how messy, complicated, and vital family dynamics and relationships are…this didn’t work well for me. I really wish it had. It’s such a complex, beautiful, important subject! But somehow it all just felt hopeless and dark.

And while we’re on the subject of relationships, let’s go back to Sigourney and Levi. Early on, it’s pretty clear Sigourney was abused as a kid. Alcoholic dad, neglectful mom. And where does Levi fit into this picture?

Not that Sigourney’s mother and father had been horrible people. They’d been just indifferent towards her. It was her brother, Levi, who’d had a twisted mind. He’d tormented Sigourney her whole childhood, being violent towards her in the name of curiosity. He had never been reprimanded by their parents, who saw their firstborn son as perfect and a miracle, unlike Sigourney. She was a burden. One extra mouth to feed, and the most despicable sort: a female.

K.A. Ashcomb. Mechanics of the Past (Kindle Locations 379-382), emphasis mine.

In context, that sounds like Levi was physically abusive to his sister. And considering what he’s willing to do later in the book, even considering Sigourney a means to an end, I don’t think that conclusion is a big leap of logic.

Yeah. That’s not okay.

SPOILER

And this is the brother who gets off scot-free at the end of the novel. Other characters lose friends, health, freedom, but he gets a second chance at messing everything up all over again. No lasting repercussions.

He doesn’t deserve to blame Sigourney for escaping an abusive relationship. He doesn’t deserve her apology. She has nothing to apologize for. And yet at the end of the novel, it’s as if they pretend that line about him being violent “in the name of curiosity” never happened and they can just blame their parents and move forward together. Either it’s a continuity error or it’s a relationship that’s really, really messed up.

If it were up to me, I’d tell Sigourney to get as far away from him as possible. You don’t trust people like that. Not until they’re ready to prove to you they’ve changed. And locking you in a closet with the intention to use you for alchemical purposes is not a sign of familial feeling.

Levi’s an abusive jerk who deserves everything he got and then some.

END SPOILER

Look, I could probably keep ranting about this book for days, but this post is already so long I’m going to bet only three people will make it all the way to the end. I’ll skip to my last point.

I could argue that there’s too much chit-chat, that the action scenes are often a little slow, but what I’d really be getting at is the moralizing.

Every time one of the characters has to do anything, they think.

A lot.

I don’t mean you’re getting to see their process and see the change in character towards redemption or corruption. That would be something. This is more of a daydream on a particular topic, the author’s warm-ups, if you will. It’s philosophizing, moralizing on a topic, and to prevent it sounding too preachy, Ashcomb never gives a definitive conclusion “This is right and good” or “This is wrong.”

Personally, I don’t think it works. A little subtlety would go a long way. This much time, with no conclusion to the moral argument just feels like the characters can’t make up their minds, just poorly justifying their actions when they’ve never known anything about logic in their entire lives.

It would be one thing if it happened a handful of times. But we’re talking about the beginning of almost every chapter. And the result of that many long moral arguments with literally no moral is that the reader is annoyed. You zone out and start to wonder about the characters–do you believe in anything? Do you care about anything? If you don’t believe something is right–how do you even do anything? How do you make decisions? How do you get out of bed in the morning? How do you know you aren’t just making the world worse and worse for everyone? Does that even matter to you? I mean, these are the characters who have been through a lot. You’d think they’d learn some core principles eventually, even if it’s as something as simple as Sigourney hating violence or alcohol because of her upbringing. Tell me they feel something, believe something, right?

But no. There are motivations, like Levi’s desire for the alchemical machines to work, Rose’s desire for money, Justice’s for power. But as far as believing in anything? Their logic is flawed. Stupid, even. Lazy. They don’t follow the thread of moral reasoning to its heart because they don’t want to. They’re weak cowards. They already know that the only reason you shouldn’t think is because you already know you’re wrong.

I don’t have patience for those kind of people, characters or otherwise. I don’t care if it feels right in the moment. I’m not going to wait around while your decisions lead to someone else bleeding out in the ditch.

Know who you are. Know what you do. You can’t run from the consequences. The very fabric of the world won’t allow it. And that’s true no matter what universe you’re in.

So…yeah. That’s Mechanics of the Past. Like a lot of independent or small press books I run into, I feel like with a little more press and a lot more editing, the raw potential could have been shaped into something really great.

As it is…K. A. Ashcomb, if you’re reading, I hope I didn’t crush your dreams too badly. You wrote three books, and more than once in those first few pages I caught myself smiling at your humor. So congratulate yourself on your accomplishments, join the growing club of people who hate my little blog (because I promise I can take it)–and go write another book.

I believe in you.

The 200 Followers Appreciation Post

(flings confetti in the air and runs away before anyone can demand who made the mess, because yes, I am a little goblin)

It’s here! Bookmarkedone officially has 200 followers!

(distant screaming)

So first a huge thank you is in order to everyone who has stuck with me through the (sometimes erratic) posts, reading and commenting and liking all the things and letting me know that my stuff isn’t half bad and that I’m not writing to a dark an empty void.

(pats the Void on the insubstantial head. Don’t worry. I still love you, too.)

It’s been lovely to share my books and adventures with you for the last two and a half years, and I plan to keep blogging for a while to come.

But I think most importantly, I’d like to thank everyone who’s put up with the times when I “go dark” and don’t post for weeks at a time because I’m just so worn out with “Other Life Responsibilities” (I lead a chaotic life), or have one of those days when I don’t feel I have anything exciting or important to say.

Thank you for sticking by me, for waiting until I’m ready, and for reading when that next post finally appears. I know there are lots of other blogs that could capture your attention, so it means something that you spend your time with me.

Right. Better stop this before I say thank you so many times it gets ridiculous.

Until next time, happy reading!

ARC Review: Writers of the Future Vol. 37 (Part II)

So as promised, here is the second half of my Writers of the Future Vol. 37 review. If you missed the first post, you can read it here. Or just go out of order and read this post and then that one. Sometimes it’s a backwards day.

Right. I don’t have anything else important to say, so on to the good stuff!

The Phoenixes’ War by Jody Lynn Nye

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

So if you’ve been paying attention to the WOTF contests, you know this story is special even among the anthology pieces because it’s inspired by the cover art and is a companion to Jody Lynn Nye’s story from Vol. 36–which I didn’t have a lot of nice things to say about.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of phoenixes and I’d been dying to read a Nye story because my local library didn’t have Mythology 101 (the shock and horror of the injustice still smarts, I know), but “The Phoenix’s Peace” just wasn’t my thing.

You can read last year’s review if you’re that curious.

Unfortunately, I’m not much more impressed by this second installment than I was by the first. It doesn’t use the same tropes that annoyed me the first time, but it just seems–kind of pointless. The plot seems like it’s going to be violent and painful (I mean, “Phoenix’s War,” hello), but at heart it’s just a royal boy trying to pass a chivalrous test to impress the girl he’s engaged to with cult magic fluffed on top. Everything that happens could have easily been avoided. And when that’s the case…well, it’s a hard sell to get me to pay any attention to anything else.

On the other hand, I might have been transferring my grumpiness from the previous story onto this one. Only way to find out is to read it yourself.

Soul Paper by Trent Walters

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Content Warnings: the stereotypical abusive asylum, electroshock therapy, themes of death, loss, and racism.

The illustration for this one is beautiful. As for the story about a grandfather and granddaughter, and music as its own kind of magic?

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you know I had to be on board with that.

It’s a sad story. Sad and kind of beautiful. And colorful. It’s nice to have a young protagonist once in a while, in between all these serious adults doing science and worrying about magical things. She’s ordinary. And she’s spunky. Honestly, she reminds me a little of my mom, the way she’d tell stories about herself when she was young, having fun, getting into trouble. In the best way.

An example?

The stories often lacked women. I pointed out that either the boys had to self-replicate or they needed women. So the stories started to get more women, but a few featured self-replicating boy armies.

L. Ron Hubbard. Writers of the Future Vol 37 ARC Copy (Kindle Locations 5655-5657). Kindle Edition.

See? Spunky. It’s pretty hard for me to dislike this girl.

But one of my favorite lines, one that’s probably going to be rattling around in my brain for a while as I get the violin out of the case and into my hands?

Silly old song, right? But why do you know it? Why do people try to steal its bars for their own songs? It’s got a piece of someone’s soul fluttering there. If you don’t feel it, you haven’t heard it played with the right feeling or you haven’t got soul yet.

L. Ron Hubbard. Writers of the Future Vol 37 ARC Copy (Kindle Locations 5778-5780). Kindle Edition.

I’m not sure I can argue with that.

The Skin of My Mother by Erik Lynd

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Content Warnings: body horror/some disturbing imagery, plotting murder, some strong language.

A word of caution. Outside of the annual WOTF anthologies, I don’t read much horror. The inside of my mind is scary enough.

So I’m probably not the ideal reader for this one. Don’t get me wrong, it was interesting. The opening descriptions are great, the little details of sounds, smells, drawing you in as if you’re there, sitting in the car with Elise. And at the risk of misquoting Chekhov, when you start with a gun like that, your audience is going to pay a little more attention.

On the other hand…

I kind of…knew what was going to happen.

Not like I could guess every plot point. That would be ridiculous. But just as I’m moseying along through the story, before the characters are fully introduced, I’m like “Oh, that’s her mom. Clearly that’s her mom. No, you’re not going to pull this off, honey. You can try. Yup, the gun comes out now…okay, that’s a little weird, oh, that’s a little gross, okay, makes sense, moving on.”

In other words, not too many surprises. And since I don’t read the genre, I kind of expected there would be.

The ending’s dark. And creepy. If I liked that kind of thing, I’d say it’s good. But I don’t, so I’ll say it’s descriptive and unfortunately memorable.

(Cue sounds of bookmarkedone regretting editing this part of the post at 1:30 a.m.)

Death of a Time Traveler by Sara Fox

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Content Warnings: themes of death, grieving, depression, losing a loved one.

What happens when a time traveler dies? Is time an endless loop? How do you love someone that’s there sometimes and gone others, who is always changing while you stay the same?

Okay, time travel is both tricky to write and endlessly fascinating. Fox masters both. And while I’m not a big fan of a story that takes place mostly around a hospital bed (too hopeless. Too sad. Too much disinfectant.), the idea of being “temporally challenged,” that there’s a side to time travel you can’t control, that isn’t all sunshine and roses, it’s really good. And I love the idea that being “temporally challenged” runs in families, but it doesn’t matter if you’re related by blood.

And of course there’s the lure that time travel offers in any story. That maybe there’s the hope that we can change our future, if nothing is set in stone, even the past.

The Battle of Donasai by Elaine Midcoh

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Content Warnings: mild language, themes of battle, genocide, and PTSD–no graphic scenes.

This one is a little more idea-oriented than action-oriented–the author has a clear idea of what they’re trying to get across, and it’s more a discussion of topics than pulp fiction. I didn’t feel my heart race, but I did feel myself leaning in, thinking hard.

My attention was caught as soon as we are introduced to Linae, this tired, “please let me rest” character with the moniker of Destructo and a villainous reputation to match it.

I love going behind what the surface reputation is, looking at characters that have legends built up around them, just to see what that person thinks of it all. The truth is that we all aren’t what people think we are. The contrast between the two versions mesmerizes me.

And beyond that, it’s great to watch Linae and the other characters deal with their weaknesses and strengths, watch them suffer as soldiers and see them take hold of their own choices. Sometimes fighting is the answer. And sometimes it isn’t. And watching someone learn to tell the difference, to puzzle their way out, it’s a sight to behold.

Interlude: The Rewards of Imagination by Craig Elliott

Skipping over the nonfiction again because it can’t compare to the lure of fiction. I’ll just leave you with one quote from this one to give you an idea of the kind of advice you’re getting.

I was once told that a dragon I painted didn’t look like a dragon, and I needed to repaint it. Think about that for a second. Nobody has ever seen a dragon, so how can one idea of a dragon ever be incorrect?

L. Ron Hubbard. Writers of the Future Vol 37 ARC Copy (Kindle Locations 6982-6985). Kindle Edition.

The Museum of Modern Warfare by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Content Warnings: mild language, PTSD, some graphic/traumatic battle imagery, implied extramarital affair.

You know, in one of my first creative writing classes, we were warned off writing characters with psychological scars from war unless we had personal experiences to draw on because they are so hard to write respectfully and convincingly.

That being said, “The Battle of Donasai” and “The Museum of Modern Warfare” both pass any test I could make for them. You feel for the characters in these stories. You know they’ve gone through a lot.

The protagonist in “The Museum of Modern Warfare” is witty and ironic and deals with her pain the only ways she knows how–and sometimes that means ignoring it. No matter who we are or what we’ve gone through, I think we can all relate to this story. We’ve all got somewhere we never want to go back to. We all have someone we’ve lost, a hero, a friend.

So even though it’s a lot of sand in the opening descriptions (and a reminder of why I have trouble with harsh alien geography), and a lot of pain, that idea of looking back so you can finally move forward is worth hanging on to.

A Demon Hunter’s Guide to Passover Seder by Ryan Cole

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Content Warnings: heavy flirtation, monsters/demons, religious imagery.

It’s not often that I get to read a fantasy story with a Jewish background. And it’s well-researched. If Cole isn’t Jewish, he’s taken the time to read about the Passover Seder, the traditions that are part of the holiday…and a lot of more folklore-related demonic stories.

At heart, it’s a simple story about family with monsters chucked in (because hey, if you can’t solve your problems, try fighting a giant demon monster together and see if that helps you work things out. Can’t hurt!), simple and sweet. It’s about a little brother trying to hold his family, their traditions, sacred.

I guess I just hesitate over this one for the same reason I hesitate over any story that uses religion as a plot device (Paradise Lost, Good Omens, I’m looking at you). It’s because I’m always afraid some idiot is going to read it and think that’s what people in that religion believe. And when something is that personal, that sacred…

Again, that’s just my personal reservation. If you enjoy it, great, enjoy it. Just don’t confuse religion with fiction, for all our sakes.

Hemingway by Emma Washburn

Rating: 3 out of 5.

This one was just lovely. And the colors in the illustration are so bright and charming. It feels like a fairytale. And everyone, even hardened adult sci-fi writers, needs fairytales.

I wonder if it’s because the author is so young, still in high school, that this story captures something a lot of mature writers have lost. There’s a dreamlike quality to it, a kind of carefree beauty that you get when you are only telling the stories that go wherever they want to, only telling them to yourself. No pressure about plot or in media res or action, just a beautiful, floaty fairytale.

And seriously now. Classic books, a cup of tea, and a house on the ocean? What more could anyone possibly ask for?

On the other hand…

The ending is very sad. And I’m a little concerned because there’s a fine line between accepting death at the end of a full life and tones of suicide in writing. The latter is something I never support in any writing, so I desperately hope I’m misinterpreting. In fact, let’s just pretend I didn’t say anything and that I’m imagining nonsense. The rest of it is too sweet.

Half-Breed by Brittany Rainsdon

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Content Warnings: 1 instance foul language, themes of bullying, xenophobia, self-harm.

Okay, hold on to your hats, tea, and wayward pets, because this is my favorite story from the second half of the book. I was looking forward to this one as soon as I read Rainsdon’s bio. It’s hard to believe a person who likes Narnia and fuzzy socks is anything but likeable.

I was not disappointed.

This story is gorgeous. And it’s the kind of story I needed to hear, that I think a lot of us need to hear. It’s hopeful and unique and beautiful. It’s one of those puzzles that you try and try to figure out, a situation where there seems to be only two options, both of them full of misery and failure, and that isn’t all there is. You aren’t trapped. You don’t have to be alone.

It’s beautiful.

And trees. I have a major weakness for dryads. Rainsdon’s are exceptional urban fantasy creations. I never would have thought of writing them this way, and that’s what makes her story so delightful.

And that’s Writers of the Future Vol. 37! Thank you for reading and one more round of congratulations to the new writers who wrote and typed and dreamed against all odds and won their hard-earned place in the anthology.

Until next time, happy reading!

ARC Review: Writers of the Future Vol. 37

So after a long break and a lot of sleep (which I really, really needed), it is my immense pleasure to be on the advanced reading team for Writers of the Future Vol. 37, and to review one of the best new science-fiction and fantasy anthologies in the world.

Not to brag or anything.

I’m just kind of excited.

And the good news about my advanced review turning into a late-December very not-advanced review is that the book is already out. So you can read my gushing review and then run off and buy your very own shiny new copy!

But to clarify:

A Disclaimer: I received a complementary ARC of WOTF Vol. 37. I do not receive any compensation for sales of said volume and all thoughts and opinions herein are my own (because we all know trying to convince me to say something I don’t want to about a book is even more foolish than forcing a rhinoceros into a smoothie shop).

And just so you know what you’re getting into:

Like last year, I’m reviewing each story in the anthology separately, because they are all so unique and different that just hitting the highlights of the volume or even leaving a single one out would create an impossible choice. And for the record? The anthology is really good this year. I usually pick one or two stories that are my favorites, but right from the start I kept thinking “Ooh, I like that one too!” And each one was better than the last, one after the other, like I was drinking tea and listening to the most science-fiction-y Scheherazade that anyone has ever met.

Not to get ahead of myself.

Finally, the review is in two parts because it’s a wonderfully fat little book and I can’t gab about all the things I like without creating a mega-long post that literally three people on the internet would have the patience to read.

Okay.

Brew your tea and settle into your blanket forts my friends, because this book is well worth the wait.

The Tiger and the Waif by John M. Campbell

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Content Warnings: 1 instance strong language, mild peril.

When I say each story is better than the last, I should also say that the first one is jaw-dropping in its own right.

I mean, what more could we ask for than a sassy AI kitten who disapproves of Catwoman?

We’ve seen evil AI and friendly AI (Roombas, I’m looking at you), but an AI cat? Just typing that makes me happier than I know how to express.

But even beyond the inventiveness of the idea, Campbell explores this frankly gorgeous concept–does it matter if it’s my programming making me feel the way I do if I still feel it? Does being synthetic or artificial make emotions fake or unimportant?

Yeah, that’s going to haunt me for a while.

In the very best way.

Sixers by Barbara Lund

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Content Warning: alcohol use, themes of war, some violence.

So after reading “How to Train Your Demon” by Lisa Lacey Liscoumb in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (which you should also totally check out), I’m dubbing this the Year of the Granny in the SF/F world, and anybody who wants to fight me can go home. Because having more fantasy stories feature sweet grandmotherly ladies as protagonists is about the most unpredictable and wonderful genre trend I can think of.

The protagonist of “Sixers” fights a man with a crochet hook. I love her. A lot.

It’s just so refreshing to watch her struggle with pain and being tired and have that unique, motherly perspective while also getting the job done, whether it’s looking after someone else or getting down to murder.

The rest of the characters are equally diverse and wonderful, and Lund’s version of magic creates as many problems as it fixes.

They get into so much trouble and they get banged up and take time to rest and I can’t, just go read it, okay?

The Enfield Report by Christopher Bowthorpe

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Content Warnings: some disturbing scenes of torture, a character is drugged.

This third one was frankly gorgeous in a way I was neither prepared for nor able to comprehend. It’s more the standard sci-fi that we all expect–otherworldly exploration, alien races coming into contact with the (sometimes inhumane) human population, scientific research–but at the same time, it isn’t.

The colors. I can’t get over the colors. Most of the story takes place inside a sterile lab, but the way Bowthorpe describes it–the oranges, yellows, greens–you don’t notice the bite of disinfectant in your nose or how white and unfriendly everything feels. When you’re there, it feels like home.

And the plot!

I should have seen stuff coming. But I didn’t. Not until it fit so perfectly into place. And the characters, the conclusion, the way they fail and fail and fail and try to get up again–

(screams)

Look, if you don’t have the anthology in your online book-shopping basket by now, what are you doing?

The Widow’s Might by Elizabeth Chatsworth

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Content Warnings: violence, including bombings; crossdressing

The nature of anthologies is usually that you can’t love every story. Unfortunately, “The Widow’s Might” isn’t at the top of my list.

I wanted to like it. Women banding together to save the most charming little tea shop through the power of pockets in their dresses? What could possibly go wrong?

Well. It’s…problematic.

My first pet peeve is the dead pet trope. I get it, our pets mean a lot to us. Believe me when I say I know.

But is a dead pet really the best springboard for killing people?

And although it’s nice once in a while to see a corruption arc instead of a redemption arc, the moral of this story ties my gut in knots. Replacing one gang with another isn’t a great plan, even if the new one seems to have a moral high ground.

In some situations, that just means they have a psychological superiority that allows them to do any dangerous, cruel thing they want.

Am I overthinking this?

Probably.

Am I wrong?

No. I am not.

Interlude: Magic Out of a Hat by L. Ron Hubbard and On “Magic Out of a Hat” by Orson Scott Card

“Magic Out of a Hat” is a really interesting look at how to write a short story, as presented by the founder of the contest. But since it’s technically writing advice and thus nonfiction, I’ll skip over it here and let you draw your own conclusions.

On to more stories!

The Dangerous Dimension by L. Ron Hubbard

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I am always pleasantly surprised when I read a Hubbard story. I guess it’s because I heard of him first through his…kookier reputation.

He is, however, a fine writer.

“The Dangerous Dimension” was a stabbing gasp of fresh air after I spent two weeks critiquing nonfiction essays.

Ha. It’s a gasp of fresh air any day.

The urgency of that story, the idea that given ultimate power, even the most educated, the most brilliant person will do exactly the opposite of a good thing, will fall flat on his face, will be utterly ruined–

It’s probably quite accurate, although I say so begrudgingly. Wishing, as always, it were otherwise.

I say this a lot, but the story is gorgeous. It feels like a Halloween story C.S. Lewis’ Professor Kirke would tell his fellows to laugh at their shaken expressions. So many tweedy little professors somehow being the most adventurous of us all. My brain was still echoing with it a long time afterward, the shock of its awe throbbing in my skull.

And although I may bring the curse of Equation C down upon my head–

I cannot entirely dismiss the possibility of the negative dimension.

How to Steal the Plot Armor by Luke Wildman

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Content Warnings: some mild language, innuendo.

Luke Wildman might win the best bio this year. I mean, who doesn’t want to read a story written by “a figment of your imagination?”

The story itself is from your typical Once and Future King-style wizard’s perspective…which means it’s not typical at all.

It’s also quite funny.

There were a few unladylike snorts of laughter coming from my corner of the book hoard. The wizard is just so done with everything, and frankly, I don’t blame him, not one bit.

Sometimes I think we all want the noisy world to leave us alone with our books and our tea (or stronger beverage…)

It’s really, really delightful. And not in a silly, jokey, are-you-kidding me type of way. Although on the surface, it’s very fairytale-like with touches of D&D, the plot is honed brilliantly so everything comes full circle and nothing is quite what it seems. Tropes are turned on their head. And there’s a serious, dark note underneath all the humor about what it means to be a hero.

In other words, it’s fabulous. I would very much like a novel of this wizard’s adventures, Mr. Wildman, if you are listening, please.

Please?

This illustration might be my favorite too–I love all the magical objects just hanging inside the frame, the soft colors of the wizard’s blue robe, the “please get out of my house” vibes, everything.

The Redemption of Brother Adalum by K. D. Julicher

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Content Warnings: violence, battle sequences

I think this story is the answer to the question posed by “The Widow’s Might.” Julicher knows what happens when there is unlimited power, even with the best intentions. “The Redemption of Brother Adalum” is crushingly sad, but at the same time–it’s a relief. It’s a relief to see that the struggle is there, the struggle even within yourself, knowing you can’t be the measuring rod of goodness to the world, that you have failed and will fail again, and that’s okay.

Maybe I’m reading too closely again. But isn’t that what these types of stories are for?

And could we please give the author a round of applause for using a monastery setting and not making it exceptionally cultish or including the “evil Abbess” trope?

Also bear spirits. Did we mention bear spirits? Like a best friend? Except with a psychic connection? And a bear?

The Argentum by Anj Dockrey

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Content Warnings: mild flirting, themes of death, some peril.

This is kind of like Ursula K. LeGuin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” in the sense that after reading it, you don’t want to do anything except stare into space.

All those colors, the shapes, the smells of that world. One of the main reasons I have trouble with interplanetary sci-fi is that I don’t like the idea of living in a place that’s hostile to human life–I like feeling safe to breathe. “The Argentum” is the first story about a planet humans were clearly never meant to inhabit that I would buy a ticket to visit right away. There’s all the pain and struggle and grime and death that infects such stories. But that world–it is one of the most beautiful places. The food, the sunsets, the rocks and minerals, the characters–

And can we please award this one the prize for cutest sci-fi fluff romance of the year?

Even though the author seems to say that hope is a coping mechanism and faith is an evolutionary advance to keep us from despair and destroying our mental selves?

I doubt that’s the way she really meant to phrase the sentiment, so I’m not sure if it’s fair to complain about that. There are also lot of characters, which are a little difficult to keep track of, but my real complaint is the ending.

It ends.

That’s it. I was really kind of angry after I finished reading this one, but then I realized most of what I was angry about was that I don’t feel like the ending is the end of the story. I want to know what happens next.

Kind of desperately.

(Anj, if you’re reading…Please?)

That’s about the halfway point for the anthology. There are still great things in the second half (including Brittany Rainsdon’s “Half Breed!”), so be sure to stay tuned for the second installment.

In the meantime, may you always have a bookmark when you need it, a cuddly dragon, and very happy reading.

Just Musician Things–An Update

So I just finished two hours of violin recordings.

It’s a really, really weird experience. In a recital, you’ve got an audience. For a recording, it’s you, the crew, a pianist, and a gloriously empty theatre.

That’s not to say there isn’t an adrenaline rush. There is.

It’s almost impossible, even to another musician, to explain what that feels like, to stand alone on the stage. Playing the violin for a performance, it’s like a war and falling in love at the same time. It’s a fight, it’s a struggle, to reach for the next note, to make it beautiful, to aim for perfection that can never be reached. It’s a fight against the voice in your head saying it is one, saying it’s a battle you’re going to lose. And on the other hand, it’s a game. You have to trust yourself, trust your hands that somehow no longer feel like a part of you, this instrument that suddenly does, both foreign and fused to your shoulder, unbreakably bound. You have to fall, and hope you sprout wings, that the wind will carry you, even though it’s something you cannot ever see.

Like I said. Still a little high on adrenaline.

I’ve been gearing up for these recordings for almost a month, doubling my practice time, listening, hearing, plunging myself inside the music. My right thumb was so achy this morning from bowing it hurt to turn doorknobs (seriously, not recommending practicing until you hurt to anyone. I make my stupid mistakes. You have to find your own).

I read somewhere this week about a practice technique of going up and back down a flight of stairs so your heart rate is up and it feels like it does when you’re onstage. Something clicked in my brain when I tried it. Whenever I go for a run, by the time I’m tying my shoes and desperately hoping nobody will interrupt me and say “Oh, do this thing, please…,” I get a major adrenaline jump. It isn’t fear, and it isn’t exactly anger either. Like so much of music, I don’t think it has a name. It’s just the feeling that I’m going to do the thing. I’m going to do the thing and it’s going to feel right and nobody’s going to stop me. The thrill of the chase without the fear of being hunted.

I felt that, when I came down from the stairs and started playing Bach. And my brain said Oh, so this is what it’s supposed to feel like when we aren’t afraid of “messing up.”

It’s glorious.

If you want to know the truth, I’d much rather run away to the circus or travel with the Renaissance faires than be a concert soloist. Playing outside, “fiddling,” that’s easy. The concert stuff is hard.

So I tried to hold on to that feeling, that let’s do this voice in my head tonight. It was still sometimes a fight. But sometimes, it felt really good.

And now I’m at home, in the garrett, finally able to breathe. Coming off that stage–it’s wild. You feel like you could go skydiving and all you want is a really long nap at the same time. I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to it in a way that makes it feel ordinary.

But I could get used to this new feeling, the heat in my lungs, as if I could outrun the world.

In other news, I am now 50,000 words more ridiculous thanks to winning my fourth NaNoWriMo. I meant to post more about it, but with a violin competition and the recordings this month…well, now you know what I’ve been up to.

And I have an awesome Writers of the Future anthology to review!

And an Epic Library Sale book haul!

And Dragonfest 2021 adventures that may involve murdering pumpkins!

And Slytherin is winning the House Championship, so good for them…but that I’m sure you knew already.

Stay tuned–bookmarkedone will return to regular posting intervals eventually…after I take a long sleep and maybe have some victory ice cream.

Happy reading!

Book Giveaway Winners!

It’s finally time! Mine is the pleasure to announce the two lucky winners of our first BookmarkedOne giveaway!

A little refresher for those who weren’t fanatically reading each recent installment of my blog:

Amy Bartelloni, in association with my review of the first Children of Camelot book, has graciously agreed to give away a signed hard copy of The Children of Camelot and an ebook bundle of the three-book series to two lucky winners.

Drumroll, please!

Our winners are:

Shaina F., of The Beauty of a Story (winner of the signed copy of The Children of Camelot)

and

Sarah S., of Sixty-Something Trees (winner of the complete series).

A hearty congratulations to both of you! You have some happy hours of reading ahead of you.

Thank you to everyone for following this adventure from review to giveaway. And while you’re not perusing my dragon-related posts, feel free to check out more of Amy Bartelloni’s work on her website and the blogs of the two lovely ladies above.

Or, you know, if you’re ambitious, finish that NaNoWriMo novel this month and come ask me to review yours!

Life off the Page Update

I met the Goblin King today. And Queen Elizabeth I. And milady Fleur, whom we usually call the Squirrel. And the Knights of Mayhem, and at least four Plague doctors, and a giant crow (or was it a raven?), and a dragon named Lily and someone who looked like Robin Hood…

…there was also a unicorn accompanied by two camels…

Yep. It’s Renaissance faire season.

For those of you who don’t know, when I’m not reading a book or writing the next greatest unpublished novel, I play the violin. A lot. And one of my favorite gigs of the year is Dragonfest.

There is no possible way for me to explain my love of Renaissance faires. It’s an entire city of tents built overnight, a little piece of the world that doesn’t fit, it’s laughter, it’s nonsense, it’s all a whorl of color and sunshine and music, and somewhere inside the chaos, I’m there, in it.

There is also no possible way right now because I am very, very tired. And slightly sunburned. Wear your hats, kids. At least it didn’t rain.

And for the first year ever, Dragonfest is two days instead of one, so I’m going back tomorrow and posting about my adventures now would be a thing only half done.

I still couldn’t resist the lure of that list of things that are all impossibly true.

I hope at least once in your life you get to have magic and swords and gemstones and fighting and costumes and utter foolishness all on a sunny afternoon. I hope you get to feel what it’s like to step into a fairytale and live there for a while, next door to the mushroom house and three down from the dragon lair.

Please don’t forget your chance to get a free book complete with King Arthur and dragons!

Author Interview: Amy Bartelloni and the Children of Camelot

Please raise your tea tankards and coffee chalices for Amy Bartelloni and our first author interview on bookmarkedone!

Amy Bartelloni is the author of The Children of Camelot, a delightful new Arthurian retelling with dragons, magic, familiar faces, and all the bright new characters one could ask for. Be sure to enter our giveaway for a signed copy of The Children of Camelot and a three-ebook bundle of the entire series. You can also check out Amy’s other writing here on her website.

Now, without further ado…

What inspired The Children of Camelot? Was there a specific book you read or moment when you thought “This is it. This is the book I’ve got to write?”

Amy: I had that first chapter in my head for so long, I just wasn’t sure where to go with it. I can still see that mountainside and the lights and the questions it brings up in my head – the problem was, I couldn’t answer those questions!  Not right away. I started to write it out as  a YA fantasy, but the characters weren’t speaking to me. So I would tinker with it, put it down then pick it back up. It never really left me alone 🙂 It wasn’t until I found the Arthurian connection that the story really started to flow.

Bookmarked: That scene watching the colored lights from the cliff is one of my favorites. It’s so easy to imagine being there with Arynn’s hair catching in the cold breeze, the lights blinking out in the dark–I’ll stop before I hijack this post into a ramble about that one moment.

How did you go about writing The Children of Camelot? Was there a lot of research, or did you know right away what characters/parts of the story you wanted to include?

Amy: I knew the basic story of Camelot, but once I knew who these characters were, I did have to do a lot of research.  Obviously I changed the story up a little bit. I do not believe Lancelot is a dragon in the original story :). But once things started to come together, the story flowed really smoothly.  Writing is its own kind of magic, really.  I love that part of creating,where the story comes out and the characters and plot are formed.  Sometimes when I’m in between projects or feeling badly about marketing, I forget how amazing that magic of creating a story can be.  I love it.

Bookmarked: Far be it from me to criticize the original Arthurian myths we all love so well…but Lancelot as a dragon is one thing I consider an improvement to the story. And writing as magic is something that I guarantee you I gab far too much about. There’s just something about it that doesn’t seem possible–and yet, marvelously, painfully, wonderfully, is.

Who are a few of your favorite authors? Do you think they influence your writing?

Amy: I’m a really wide reader and I LOVE a good story.  I’m not sure it’s possible for the books you’ve read not to influence you in some way.  That said, while I LOVE YA and fantasy in particular, my favorite authors tend to be out of the genre I write.  In YA I do love Cassie Clare, Holly Black and Stephanie Garber’s to name a few, but give me something by Neil Gaiman, Jasper Fforde, or Grady Hendrix and I’ll spend all day reading.  Stephen King is a old favorite too – I am a Constant Reader.  I also really like the self help genre.

Bookmarked: Shameless plug for my review of Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones, then! I recently stumbled on Neil Gaiman’s short story “Chivalry,” about an elderly lady finding the Holy Grail in a thrift shop…and as a frequenter of thrift shops myself, I’m not sure I could entirely rule out the possibility. It’s a lovely read. I think I’m crushing hard on that story…

What’s one of your favorite pieces of Arthurian myth?

Amy: There is so much to unpack in Arthurian myth, isn’t there?  The Children of Camelot series is based on the very basic parts of the known myths, but in my research I became interested in many of the lesser known knights.  There are so many side stories I’ve thought about telling.  I particularly like the story of the Lady in the Lake.  In my series she only appears briefly, but there is such a rich history there that’s worth exploring.

Bookmarked: Ooh, yes, the Lady in the Lake is so fascinating. One of my bookish friends is rooting for me to write a piece about Avalon someday. I’ve always been utterly enraptured by the idea of that place.

Do you have a favorite character/scene in The Children of Camelot, or do you “love them all equally?”

Amy: I do love them all equally :-). But I’m really partial to the character of Mordred, I think he makes an appearance in book 2, and plays a greater role in book 3.  Without spoiling anything, he’s got a great redemptive arc that I was both surprised and heartened by.  My writing style is what they call a “pantser” in that I don’t outline, I write by the seat of my pants.  I actually call my first draft my outline because I often have to go back and fix continuity issues or plotlines.  It’s not something I recommend because it adds a lot of work, but I have to let my characters talk to me naturally and Mordred was a real surprise.

Bookmarked: Oh, Mordred could use a redemptive arc once in a while. Detestably evil or not, I’ve read a few retellings that just make me sad for the poor boy. Now I’m curious what you’re up to in Book 2.

Amy: One of my favorite scenes was when Arynn is standing in the upper terraces and decides whether to go with Malik on a grand adventure or stay in her safe life on the island.  She takes one last look at the island and decides to take a leap.  It’s such and act of faith and bravery and adventure.  It’s the point her whole life changes, when she chooses truth over safety.

Bookmarked: Definitely a powerful moment for the character! Although if I may–you don’t spend nearly as much time exploring those upper terraces as I would like. I could probably read a whole book set just in that slightly creepy, skin-tinglingly magical place. Not to mention the view.

Tell us about Gen One and your Andromeda series! Do they have any similarities to Children of Camelot or are they something totally different?

Amy: I think my writing style is probably similar but the genres are different.  Gen One is a YA science fiction about the idea of AI and robots taking over the world.  I really loved exploring the character of Gen, and what it is that makes us human.  I think it’s a great story and an exciting plot, but I love exploring those deeper issues of humanity in fiction. I actually have a sequel called Gen Two that I’ve written and will eventually publish. Andromeda was my first published series, and I loved the idea of YA dystopian because you can build the society from the ground up.  Those characters are very close to my heart.

Bookmarked: “What it is that makes us human” is a theme I’ve noticed cropping up in my work as well…even more so lately. It’s such a complex idea to explore, especially when people don’t act human in the way they treat each other. I often find that writers’ debut novels are some of their best, even if their writing gets stronger later, just because they’ve spent so much time mulling over all the experiences and ideas they have. I’m sure Andromeda is no exception.

What’s next? What new adventures do you see on the horizon?

Amy: Hmm, now you have me thinking about going back to re-edit Gen Two! I considered publishing some short stories in the Children of Camelot world.  In particular there is a story about Malik’s parents that’s been swimming around my head, but in the meantime I’ve started something completely different.  I keep coming around to the idea of Atlantis – it makes an appearance in my Children of Camelot series.  I started to play with a lot of “what if’s” around the city and the legend.  There are a lot of possibilities there, and I have a cast of possible characters.  I’m not sure what kind of adventure they’re going to take me on, but like Arynn, I’m ready to take that leap!

Bookmarked: I hope I get a chance to review Gen Two when you finish it! And as for Atlantis, well. Amy, I think you’re trying to present me with cake only to drizzle fudge on top. I can’t wait to see what you write next!

Thank you for reading! Be sure to check out my review of The Children of Camelot and enter our giveaway (free books, guys! What more could you possibly ask for?), which will run until November 15.

More exciting things are coming soon, but until then, happy reading!

Book Review: The Children of Camelot

So here’s to the first BookmarkedOne review in…practically forever!

Back in the summer, I was approached by Amy Bartelloni with a very polite request to review her book, The Children of Camelot. Little did she know this was the first solicited review on BookmarkedOne, and she pitched it perfectly:

  1. Free book.
  2. Has dragons.
  3. Arthurian retelling.
  4. I read your blog and I think you’ll like it.

At this point, what else did I really need to know?

Book: The Children of Camelot by Amy Bartelloni

Series: The Children of Camelot, no. 1

Genre: YA fantasy/Arthurian retelling

Content for the Sensitive Reader: Occasional mild language, plenty of magic to go around, fortunetelling, mild action, mild romance. Very appropriate for most middle grade-YA audiences.

BookmarkedOne Rating: 7/10

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Official Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in return for the review. To say that free books do not positively influence my opinions would be a lie. To say that all opinions are my own is obvious, and to say that free books make me any less the little book snob I am would be ridiculous.

This isn’t the Camelot you know. It’s more like Jessica Day George’s Dragon Slippers meets The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede and they decide to have a King Arthur-themed D&D campaign and tea party.

In other words, Amy is taking the Camelot legends and making them her own. This isn’t a historically-grounded “What if?” This is her own creation.

And, for the record, King Arthur is a background character. The dragons are center stage.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s start with the bad news first, because Amy is tough and I know she can handle it.

  • It’s an independently published book. I know, I know, this shouldn’t be a con, but indie books hurt because even if they’re good, they almost never get the attention they deserve, and even at their best, the editors still leave a lot to be desired…like misspelling the protagonist’s name…twice. Ouch.
  • It’s YA. My pet peeve and no one else’s, and for the record, I knew that going in. But I’d so often rather have a spunky MG fiction or the serious adult stuff.
  • There’s not a lot of tension. Again, this might just be me, but the writing style is so relaxed that even when the characters were in danger (which was often enough!) I was never very worried. On the other hand, that makes it the perfect sort of book for a bedtime story–relaxing, just exciting enough, and with beautiful descriptions to make you beg for more even when your eyelids get heavy. I’m still stuck on Amy’s description of the dragon scales…
  • It’s not the Roman-Celtic Arthurian setting we might demand of an adult fiction retelling. Nor is it the weird post-1066 Norman Frenchified court that Hollywood once pretended was accurate. It’s a world in which characters go to school and have teachers who wear glasses and who drink coffee in the mornings. That last one was especially hard to swallow.
  • It’s a little like a D&D story. Dwarves, Elves, fairies, dragons, all rolled up and tied with a bow, and characters chanting “We’re going on a quest,” nearly from the beginning of the medieval-brick road, and then proceeding to walk/escape/run/stumble/boat/fly/explore for several pages. I couldn’t help feeling that a lot of the plot was dropped into the protagonist’s lap–x happens, so the characters react with y–but hey, we can’t all be military strategists. Victor Hugo made that very clear…
  • The pace could be faster. But then again, I’m coming off of recently critiquing short stories where we barely stop for breath, so my perspective is a little skewed.

So now that we’ve got my curmudgeonly little madwoman-in-the-garret complaints out of the way, how did Amy Bartelloni win me over into a 7/10 book rating?

Gradually.

Was it the fluff romance and dragon riding?

Okay, fine. It was the fluff romance and dragon riding.

But can we just stop to talk about this for a minute? Because out of all the crazy, chaotic, turbo-charged sweat and passionfruit-scented world of YA books right now, we have a female protagonist and a romance without a love triangle.

…guys. Do you have any idea how long I’ve wanted this? Do you have any idea how rare it is to see a character in healthy, satisfying relationships from the beginning to the end of the story? What a relief–?

There are some lovely descriptions, too. Not just of the magical lights and the wind on the cliff (although for the record, that’s probably my favorite moment), but the whole world.

Do I really want a city built vertically into a rock face with caves below and cliffs above and a natural shield wall about?

Yes. It’s like the Dwarvish version of the Lothlorien tree houses. I love it. I want to go exploring. Who’s coming with me?

And we get to see the character grow. Arynn isn’t the same person at the end of the story that she was at the beginning. Even though she’s ordinary and likeable and struggles all the way through, we can see her throw her shoulders back a little more at the end instead of asking which way to go. It’s the sort of change that makes you wonder where she’s going to go as the series progresses…

And of course, this is still an Arthurian tale. Familiar faces (or at least names) abound. Merlin pops in for a chat, Tristan and Isolde are completely different characters (dare I say better? At least less tragic), my hero Gawain makes an appearance, and there are plenty of characters we’ve never met, unique and wonderful all on their own.

It’s not the King Arthur story you know. But then again, you know that one. It’ll be just where you left it when you’re ready to come back to the original Camelot again.

So why not read something completely different? Something with the same names, some of the same nobility whispering at its heart, but with a new challenge to make.

And now that you know about the book, join us for our first BookmarkedOne giveaway! Enter here for a chance to win your very own copy of The Children of Camelot, signed by Amy Bartelloni, or a 3-ebook bundle of the series!

Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Amy Bartelloni about all things Arthurian and her writing.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for other Arthurian retellings, check out my review of Camelot: A Collection of Original Arthurian Stories.

Happy reading!

The Children of Camelot Book Giveaway!

Now that you’ve read my review of The Children of Camelot by Amy Bartelloni, get ready for the first official Bookmarkedone giveaway!

The details are as follows:

  • Enter to win a FREE signed hard copy of The Children of Camelot by Amy Bartelloni or a 3-book ebook bundle of the series
  • Fill out the form below
  • You’ll receive a confirmation email from me, @bookmarkedone, after you enter
  • Wait (patiently). Reread the review of the first book, while you’re waiting!
  • Keep up with Bookmarkedone posts in the next few weeks for more about The Children of Camelot and the giveaway
  • Don’t forget to check out Amy Bartelloni’s official Twitter, awesome website, and Facebook (doesn’t help you win, but still worth the click!)
  • That’s it!
  • Giveaway entries will close November 15, 2021. Your information is used only for giveaway purposes.

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