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Retribution Falls

Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding

Gollancz: paperback published 2010: 398 pages

Darian Frey is the roguish captain of the Ketty Jay, and leader of a small and highly dysfunctional group of layabouts. Frey and his gang run contraband, rob airships and generally make a nuisance of themselves, all the while avoiding the Coalition Navy frigates.

A hot tip on a cargo freighter seems like a great chance for a simple heist. But when the robbery goes awry and the freighter explodes Frey suddenly finds himself public enemy number one, with both the Coalition Navy and hired bounty hunters after him. But Frey knows something they don’t; that freighter was rigged to explode and Frey’s been framed to take the fall. To prove his innocence he’ll have to catch the real culprit, surviving gunfights and facing down liars and lovers, Dukes and daemons along the way.

It’s going to take all his criminal talents to prove he’s not the criminal they think he is…

Lola Sees Stars is basically a genius. No, I’m not kidding. This girl not only knows her stuff with books, but she’s also awesome at pretty much everything else. There have been many a fine evening spent in her den-like front room, supping on mugs of rosé wine and shooting zombies on the Wii, or discussing the merits of Dean vs. Sam in Supernatural.

So I tend to pay attention when she recommends I read something (it might take a few years to get around to actually reading it, but I do pay attention). As previously mentioned in multiple posts, it is Lola Sees Stars’ impatient thrusting of new books under my nose that has grown my love of fantasy, steampunk and every other kind of quirky novel you can think of.

Retribution Falls is no different. The plot, admittedly, is a little predictable (you kind of know the twist before the twist is mentioned), but the book’s quality hangs on its characters and not necessarily the plot. You have Frey, the heartless, drug-addict captain, and his motley crew of miscreants, misfits and runaways.

You love Frey, despite his tendency towards arsehole-ish-ness, and you learn to love the rest of the characters in their own way. Wooding has a habit of info-dumping – there are a lot of “big reveals” about the crew’s mysterious respective pasts that could have been leaked bit by bit instead of all at once, but other than that, I can’t really complain about his character-creation. They’re flawed and daft and funny and kind and heroic in an unwilling way, just like normal people.

I love characters. You should know this by now. I can be very forgiving of a questionable plotline if the characters are good enough. I enjoyed this book because I fell in love with characters (and it has a slight Pirates of the Caribbean feel to it, which does no harm when I imagine Jack Sparrow hiding round every corner). I liked the general idea of the plot, and its ultimate execution, but my biggest criticism is that the book suffers from shit-ending-itis. I won’t give it away, because although it’s a little predictable, I don’t like to ruin other people’s reading enjoyments, but it was a bit meh.

Upside? There are more books. Yes, I can read more about Frey (inappropriate crush alert – mainly because I picture him as Nathan Fillion) and his band of pirates. Remember my comments about “rip-roaring” from Kristen Britain? Well, this has the same feel – but better quality. Fudge to the shit-ending-itis, as long as these books go on and on and on, and I get a never-ending supply of Frey-ness, I’m basically happy.

Lola Sees Stars, I think I love you, you mental genius.

Rating: 7/10

Next book: Predictably, this is another Lola Sees Stars recommendation. The Lies of Locke Lamora allegedly contains her favourite line in the history of books… “I just punched the cat.” I instantly have to read this just to find out the truth of this allegation. Having cheekily started it before starting to write this post, I’m getting steampunk Oliver… think Charles Dickens but not boring.

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An Excerpt from my Efforts…

The sounds of the dock overwhelmed Rayne and Shadow as they disembarked from the skiff and made their way to the dockmaster. The captain was already ahead of them, preparing to barter for trade for the shipment he had brought in and discuss the potential of more trade going back. The dockmaster ran the harbour, taking anchor-tax, bribes and keeping a web of informants and handymen so that he was the best-informed in port. If you wanted to do anything when you arrived, you would have to go through the dockmaster to do it.
The dockmaster eyed the panther suspiciously, but Shadow was still looking glum and listless from the journey. The dockmaster was tall and robust, reddened sea-faring cheeks and rum-stained nose. His dockmaster robe was rimed with dirt, the last few inches trailing in the ground where his stature didn’t match that of the robe’s. He was, for the most part, bald on top, with a  greying band of hair around his ears and back of his head. He still grew a plait down the back, now thin and whitened, and barely reaching shoulder-length. He had an equally grey beard, which had grown to his collar bone in a big square of bristles, and he combed his large, fattened fingers through it frequently. There was a large gold ring on his right little finger, with the ship-in-sail crest of the Freys on it.
“So that’s two crates of the Gava liquor, fourteen of perishables and two passengers,” the dockmaster said, ticking off the list in his ledger. “Not a big catch if your arks me.”
“Nobody did ask you,” the captain responded. “Trade’s a bit tight everywhere but here if you hadn’t noticed.”
“Yeah, I’d noticed,” the dockmaster drawled, not noticing the acid in the captain’s voice. “Big fuss up at the palace ‘bout it, so I ‘eard. But then there’s always some big fuss or ovver nowadays.”
“You’re telling me,” the captain shook his head. “First, we come out of port and straight into a storm, and lose two crates of liquor – which would have got me a pretty neina or two at market if you ask me – then some of the crew see a kraken –”
“Kraken you say?” the dockmaster hissed appreciatively.
The captain nodded, his mouth tugged down in a concerned curve.
“Where?” the dockmaster asked, glancing to Rayne and the big cat, and leaning in conspiratorially.
“Not a day out of port,” the captain replied, shrugging. “I don’t believe in all that superstition, but half the men do. It’s going to take me a lot of work to convince them to heave to again.”
“A day out of port, you say,” the dockmaster ran his fingers through his beard and rocked back on his heels.
“Sou-sou’west of here,” the captain confirmed with a sharp nod. He took a deep breath and folded his arms, making it clear he had already had enough of idle talk – he had traded enough news to keep the dockmaster happy, and wanted a good price for his time. “The crates?”
“Well,” the dockmaster sighed. He had a habit of dragging out his words so as to make him sound thoughtful, so it came out more like we-e-e-e-e-ll. Rayne rolled her eyes. She could be waiting forever. She glanced at the sky, the sun was tilting towards the horizon, it was already past high-sun and it wouldn’t be long before the appointed meeting time.
As the captain and the dockmaster thrashed out their bargains, she looked around the dock. They were towards the western end of the docking – with two ships between them and the high sea wall. Fisherboys were sitting on the wall, casting their lines out to the rock pools, bare feet dangling. Feral cats sat at the end of the pier watching, waiting for the boys to haul in a catch to steal. The pier itself followed the curve of the land – a wide sweeping arch from east to west, curving out long arms into the ocean, following the natural rock formations and creating an impenetrable sea wall. Wooden jetties stuck out from the stone pier, serving as landing points for the skiffs of larger ships that couldn’t come close enough and as docking points for the smaller boats which could venture into the shallower waters. Schools of fish darted around the jetties, and tendrils of seaweed climbed the pier walls, heaving and waving in the ride and fall of the water against the side – its steady slap-slap barely audible above the noise of the pier.
Over the years, the citizens of Aquene had spilled from its walls, creeping ever closer to the water as overcrowding built ramshackle districts of traders and thieves. The Freycrest District, the district that held sway over the harbour, was overseen by the Freys – allegedly a family of noble descent, though no one knew how true this was. The buildings of Freycrest loomed over the pier – the upper floors seeming to tilt from the lower floors, the buildings leaning on one another for support and doors with strange gaps where they didn’t fit the frames. It was mostly warehouses along the pier front. Doors on both floors were flung open to the sea air, ropes and pulleys directing the wares from one point to another.
The pier itself was wide enough for two horse and carts to pass by, with a narrow strop for people on foot to crowd into. But no one respected the rules of the road – oxen pulled carts down the centre, and people hurried along dangerously close to the edge of the pier before darting across in the passage of other people rolling barrels, or horses and riders. Everywhere Rayne looked, there were people, diving back and forth, shouting and catcalling and insulting.
There was a tavern at the end of the pier, pushed rudely against the sea wall. It looked like it had been built as an afterthought, shouldering its way in to the warehouses with stubbornness. Drunkards leant against its pockmarked walls, and a whore stuck her head out of an upper window to peer furiously at the men below and yell profanities.
Rayne turned her attention back to the captain and the dockmaster – coins were exchanging hands, and the dockmaster was beckoning to a rumpled-looking boy wearing the footprint-and-waves crest of a dockrunner on his chest.
“This’un will help you organise for the goods to come ashore, and for an extra mut or two ‘e’ll find you a place to stay,” the dockmaster said, clapping a massive hand on the boy’s narrow shoulders.
The captain thanked him and turned away, the dockrunner in tow. The dockmaster looked at Rayne with some reluctance. Even though Shadow had slumped to the ground, her head buried in her paws, he was still wary of the black cat. The flash of silver in Rayne’s palm caught his attention, and his eyes instantly softened. A neina found its way to his pocket.
“I need passage into the city, before nightfall, and the name of a ship leaving tonight before high-moon,” she said in a low voice.
The dockmaster glanced around. “There’s a curfew at the city gates. You won’t get in and out after three-moon.”
Rayne shrugged, twirling another neina between her fingers. “I guess I shall have to find someone else to get me through the Hero’s Gate.”
The dockmaster snatched the silver coin from her hand. “I’ll see to it. Find yersel’ in the Land’s End tavern on Old Wharf Road by seven-sun. Arks for the gypsy Karil.”
“Gratitude,” Rayne smiled. She began to walk away, and then turned back. She flicked two bronze mut at him. “Make sure there’s ale waiting for me at the tavern. I’ll be there by six-sun and I expect the gypsy to be waiting.”

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A Discovery of Witches

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Headline: paperback published 2011: 688 pages

It begins with absence and desire.

It begins with blood and fear.

It begins with a discovery of witches.

A world of witches, daemons and vampires.

A manuscript which holds the secrets of their past and the key to their future.

Diana and Matthew – the forbidden love at the heart of it.

Two words. Epic disappointment. I don’t know exactly what I expected from something likened to Twilight and described as paranormal romance, but I was deeply influenced by the reduced price and title, which promised so many good things (like a story set in Puritan America and lots of burning-at-the-stake type ideas). It was also set in Oxford (for a part) which I have a bit of a love for thanks to Philip Pullman. Oxford seems to hold its own magic. But, either way, whatever the reasons, I really had to force myself to read this. I kept hoping that it would get better – that I wasn’t revisiting the wasted hours spent reading the angst-heavy pages of Twilight for an older generation. I hoped that the idea of vampires, daemons and witches would be less… literal, and more metaphorical or symbolic. How I was disappointed.

There are very few books I refuse to finish – it feels wrong to leave something half-read when so much work has been put into it (yes, even rubbish books are the love child of their authors and represent the graft of years and years of torture). The only one that springs to mind is War and Peace; I got an inch in and was so bewildered I genuinely didn’t feel I was losing out by putting it down. I can’t even remember what that first inch entailed.

So I finished it. I think that’s all I can really say about this book.

Rating: 4/10

Next book: Another recommendation from the friend who first directed me to the magic of Dresden, I will be moving on to Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding. As a small example of this particular friend’s genius, check out her Etsy! Just nip across to Lola Sees Stars on Facebook whilst you’re at it.

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The Difference Between Happiness and Being Happy

I love conflict. Now that might sound a trifle confrontational (and all of you that know me know that is one thing I am NOT). It also might sound completely bizarre. But read any book and there is always a conflict in one way or another. Any TV show has conflict, any film. Most songs are built from some form of conflict. If there is not conflict in a story, then there is no story. What’s interesting about “once upon a time there lived a girl who had a lovely family, and when she was older, she met a lovely man and they got married and had a lovely family of their own”? Now, if it was “once upon a time there lived a girl who had a horrible family” or the girl met a horrible man, then it would be far more interesting to find out about, right?

For a while, I believed that life reflected this conflict rule. Look at the celebrities who have overcome great hardship, look at everything that goes on in the world – war, famine, flood, hatred, racism, violence, agony, illness, death – and tell me that none of this is conflict.

So there are people that are happy – brief, glittering moments of joy that promises light and laughter – whilst other people experience happiness – a full life of easiness and satisfaction. I think people fall into one of these two categories – those who are happy and those who have happiness. Now, these are interchangeable categories – people who are simply happy can transform into a life of happiness and vice versa (though it’s less preferable).

I always thought I was in the former category – bright moments of happiness in a long dark tunnel of hard work and a lot of rubbish. Most people do, in fairness (see above comment about the state of the world). I am not a lucky person – things do not fall into my lap, I am not blessed with good fortune in love, life, money or anything else you might think of. Every penny I earn, I have grafted for – and hard. Everything that I fill my life with I work really hard for. And yes, there are millions of people who do the same, and millions that don’t have it as easy as I do. Their grafting is to find food for the day, or stay alive for another week. I’m lucky in the sense that I live a relatively comfortable life with good friends, good family and an awesome cat.

But shit things still happen. Brush yourself off, get up again, right? If no one did, the world would be very depressing.

But this post isn’t about me. It’s about my characters.

The first thing I do is put my characters into conflict – war, famine, hatred, and so on – and see how they come up. Are they happy people or do they have happiness? Those that have happiness, I’m afraid to say, tend to get pushed to the periphery, whilst those that are occasionally happy are my main characters.

Now, here’s the issue. When characters are built on conflict – what happens when the conflict is gone? I’m not a “happy ever after” type of writer… I’ll take bittersweet to downright mortifying endings over that any day. Which is why I’m having a problem with Jarrett – he’s simply too… HAPPY. He’s not bothered by conflict in the way he should. And I suspect he has a crush on Kendra. In other words, he’s not behaving how I want him to.

Here’s my dilemma. Do I ignore my previous rule, and keep Jarrett filled with happiness in the centre of my plot (just to bring some lightness to the whole thing) or do I push him to one side in favour of more jaded characters like Ajax?


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So, thanks to my failure to be a regular blogger the past few days, I’m now worried about NaNoWriMo

The idea of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is to write a 50,000 word novel between 1st November and 30th November. The whole idea is quantity over quality. Now, there are many that dismiss NaNoWriMo as trash-writing for wannabes. I disagree. There’s something entertaining in pushing your boundaries, ignoring the editor in you, and just seeing where your creativity takes you. Yes, there is a lot that will be utter rubbish. There is also a lot that can be used. First drafts of anything are never perfect, but there is always something to be rescued.

My anxiety now though… to write 50,000 words in 30 days, you have to average 1,667 words per day. So round that up to 2,000 words a day, 2 blog posts to write a day, a novel already in process, a full-time job, and if we’re being generous, time to eat and sleep. The past few days have proven that social life tends to cause a wobble in my reliable blogs. With 2,000 words to add into the mix, will I still be able to juggle it all?

Other Wrimos can. Why can’t I?

So I’m starting a new job tomorrow – and have vowed to save every penny. Therefore the beckon of the pub will be outweighed by the absence of money, right? Easy. I have also decided to cheat a little… said started-novel is going to be my work-in-progress for NaNoWrimo… and said blog (one of them) will be linked to NaNoWriMo next month; all you lovely readers will be able to keep up with my self-loathing as I try to squeeze 50,000 words out in a month. It shouldn’t be too hard… should it?

I always promised to subject myself to NaNoWriMo, purely on the basis that I wanted to see where my boundaries lay, to see if I could really be disciplined enough to do it. This year, I’ve decided to DO IT FOR REAL. This means (as other Wrimos recommend) telling as many people as possible you’ll be doing it, so as to shame yourself into actually doing it.

No matter what the critics say about NaNoWriMo, it’s a chance for people to have fun with stories and language, to speak to others who enjoy writing as much as they do, and just letting creativity loose. There are no rules about genre, prose or poetry, dialogue or language or description. The emphasis is on the word count. If you can throw out 50,000 words in 30 days, there is a good chance that some of it will be pretty good, and it might also prove that you ARE able to write a novel and why shouldn’t you pursue your dream of being the next J.K Rowling? I love the idea that people can just have fun, without thought behind it, and still produce a creative burst of writing. Writing should never be a chore, and NaNoWriMo makes it playful again… You can do the editing later.

Who else is taking part in NaNoWriMo this year? What are your reasons for it and are you ready for it to begin in 15 days time!?

And what are people’s thoughts on National Novel Writing Month?

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I know I’ve been completely rubbish! I promise a post a day and then I’m easily distracted by evenings at the pub. Well, in my defence, it wasn’t ALL evenings in the pub. I also managed to secure myself a job at a publishers! Yes, people, you are looking at the marketing administrator (temp) for a BIG publishing company. I think I died in excitement. This is it! I’m a genius. So, yes, I have been celebrating, but I have also been having some bittersweet drinks with previous colleagues at the architect’s firm I’ve been working at the past few weeks – they were amazing to me, and will be sorely missed.

So this is a post to apologise for my lameness, and a promise to get my act together. But first, I have to get ready for a certain sister’s birthday…

I also promise a review of A Discovery of Witches. I have a lot to say about this, so be prepared.

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Private Peaceful

Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo

HarperCollins Children’s Books: paperback published 2004: 192 pages

Thanks to libertyfallsdown for warning me about this book. I did indeed bawl my eyes out! As per usual, I find, when I read Michael Morpurgo. The guy is a genius… to write in a way that not only appeals to younger readers, but doesn’t patronise them is skill in itself – to write about such adult themes in such an accessible way is an even bigger feat. No doubt, War Horse is his most famous works – adapted for the stage and creating waves in the West End.

The story of Private Peaceful centres around Tommo, a misguided teen who is wrapped up in the mayhem and hell of World War I, like many his age were. Morpurgo creates a serene background, that seems peaceful and contented despite the tribulations that besets Tommo and his family when growing up. It gives a romantic image of growing up in the countryside in the early 20th Century.

Each chapter opens with a paragraph set in the “present”… Tommo is in a barn at night, you’re aware it must be in Belgium during the war, as it’s no secret about the setting, and you’re also vaguely aware that he is awaiting death. But why, when and how, is all to be discovered as Tommo narrates his way through his naive childhood and into the frightening reality of war.

Side-by-side with his older brother, Tommo is not your average courageous hero, but a normal boy, taken away from his family too young and thrust into a hellish situation that should never have been. You connect with Tommo on a very basic level, and as the story progresses, you feel the tension building as he counts down the hours and minutes to morning. It feels like you’re sat next to him in that cold, dark barn, singing Oranges and Lemons to a mouse as he reflects on his life. You share his fate.

The final chapter – nothing but a page and a half – is as heartbreaking as it is poetic. Although you already know the outcome, nothing prepares you for the feeling of loss. You feel the injustice that many must feel when a young boy is killed for something that was not his fault.

There is a note at the end of the book; the story of Tommo and his brother is not an unusual one. During World War I, hundreds of British soldiers were shot for desertion and cowardice, when in fact they were simply suffering from Shell Shock. Even to this day, the government has issued no pardon for these lost soldiers. It’s a terrible shame that the bravery of each and every one of those soldiers is tarnished by an accusation made by people who couldn’t understand, and that even one hundred years on, they cannot be shown to be the heroes that they were.

Morpurgo’s poetic and vivid description of World War I (first discovered when I read the beautiful War Horse and again in this novel) brings that piece of history to life. He might be a children’s writer in name, but in heart he writes for everyone.

Children’s Book Rating: 10/10

Next book: Back to the reading list and A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. I’m a complete fail and only bought it because it was discounted after spending over a certain amount in Waterstones. Likened to Twilight in one review, I’m going to admit I’m a little skeptical, but it is set in Oxford and so I am a little intrigued as well…

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Bumps in the Road

From my hours and hours of unkempt and frantic writing the other day, I’ve now hit a slump. It’s like I’ve used up all my energy and ideas in one big go and I’m still in recovery. There is a long-standing argument about writer’s block – whether it really exists or not – and I am of the belief that it doesn’t. I believe that every writer hits a point where writing becomes difficult and it feels like a block, but in fact it’s just recovering itself. I’ve exhausted my writing muscles and it’s knackered me out. When I went through my running phase (I maintain that exercise is bad for you and didn’t keep it up), I was always told to keep my muscles working, even when tired, but also to know when to rest them. So this post is a short mutter about tiredness and writing problems and then I’m off for hot chocolate, bed and a good book to rest my writing muscles until tomorrow when I can face mental exercise again.

I promised myself a post a day (revving up for NaNoWriMo – I hope I don’t suffer writing tiredness next month!) and I am determined to stick to it, h0wever rubbish they may be. So I apologise for the nonsense of this post, and I promise that if you stick with me, it does get better and I’ll be back to my enjoyable, rambling bloggy self in no time.

Okay, so last bit of the blog now…

Hot chocolate:

Horlicks or Aero?

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A Short Story from the Airport

Today I felt Death. I felt Him brush past me, a chill and a darkness in the corner of my eye. He didn’t stop to whisper in my ear, just ran a finger over my shoulder as He went by.

I knew that today I was going to die.

I felt a tingling in my arms and legs, a lightness in the pit of my stomach. The rushing sound of nothing pressed against my ears.

I waited. I waited for Death to return, to take my hand in His, to grip me in cold and darkness.

I felt Him step closer as the day went on – as I slipped on the stairs, and swerved to avoid a pheasant on the road. He watched as I swung from lane to lane in panicked realisation, and as I stepped into the path of an oncoming bus.

But I didn’t die. What grace touched me? What took me from Him? There was no miracle, there was nothing remarkable in the day.

The day I was meant to die, I simply… Lived.

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The Magician’s Guild

The Magician’s Guild by Trudi Canavan

Orbit: paperback published 2010: 465 pages

Each year the magicians of Imardin gather to purge the city streets of vagrants, urchins and miscreants. Masters of the disciplines of magic, they know that no one can oppose them. But their protective shield is not as impenetrable as they believe.

As the mob is herded from the city, a young street girl, furious at the authorities’ treatment of her family and friends, hurls a stone at the shield, putting all her rage behind it. To the amazement of all who bear witness, the stone passes unhindered through the barrier and renders a magician unconscious.

It is an inconceivable act, and the guild’s worst fear has been realised – an untrained magician is loose on the streets. She must be found, and quickly, before her uncontrolled powers unleash forces that will destroy both her, and the city that is her home.

I don’t understand why it took me so long to get around to reading Trudi Canavan. I loved it! Okay, so I’m honestly quite easily pleased by fantasy books (if you can’t tell) purely on the basis that I’m a touch jealous that they’re published authors and I soak up every word as if it will give me their secret of success. But there is a good reason that Canavan is a fantasy big-hitter. She knows how to build her world and her characters and her story into a believable novel that compels you to read on, and involves you. There is a clear image of where you are meant to be, what it looks like, what you should be feeling. Whether you’re writing fantasy, or crime or historical or even chick-lit (bah), you should read a Trudi Canavan, just to see what a well-woven story looks like.

In honesty, there are very, very few books that ever overwhelm me and I will score as beyond-comprehension-wonderful and pronounce as literary genius and should be worshipped on high as a shining beacon of god-like book-beauty. In fact, I’ve probably yet to find a book that amazing (if you do know of such a wordful deity, lemme know). So, no, Trudi Canavan didn’t completely knock me out with amazingness, but it’s a pretty good try.

Rating: 9/10

Next book: Right, this wasn’t on the reading list, but I finished The Magician’s Guild at the parents’ house and had no access to the books ON my list. So it’s now Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo… one of my favourite children’s authors.


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