The Iron Flower by Laurie Forest (Goodreads Review)

The Iron Flower (The Black Witch Chronicles, #2)The Iron Flower by Laurie Forest

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclosure: I am a colleague and friend of Laurie Forest as well as a devoted fan. If I didn’t love the book, I wouldn’t have read it, and I wouldn’t leave this review. I paid full price for my hardback copy.

Laurie Forest’s sequel to her 2017 debut The Black Witch extends the primary storyline and invokes new points of view to add to the epic scale of the conflict. Elloren Gardner is now firmly ensconced in the Verpacian resistance to encroaching Gardnerian rule. Her aunt has kept up the pressure for her to marry (wandfast) and the harassment of non-Gardnerians increases. Her small cadre of teen revolutionaries is secure and expanding, but Elloren finds herself caught between feelings for a boy she can’t be with, and her duty to the resistance. If she fasts to Lukas Grey, she might be able to turn him to the resistance, and make him a powerful ally. But her true feelings lie with Yvan, a Kelt whose secrets become harder to hide.

The action really heats up when the Gardnerian military cadets refuse to hide their prejudice, start riots, and attack members of the other races. Everyone makes an escape plan, and Elloren plans to stay behind to help whoever she can.

This book is an incredibly complex epic fantasy with an original take on fantasy races. There are so many reasons I wouldn’t like the Black Witch Chronicles: it’s YA; it uses stereotypical fantasy races like elves, dragons, selkies, amazons and so on; it’s overtly political, possibly even allegorical. But dig beneath the surface and you’ll find a well-written story with a compelling character and a compelling conflict at its heart. Thanks to Elloren’s hazy memories, we know she’s powerful, but she cannot access her power, leaving her at a disadvantage and feeling useless. The Iron Flower traces Elloren’s rise into her own power over the course of the Spring following the events of The Black Witch.

As for conflict, this is again, on the surface, the same conflict brought up by so many Tolkien-derived fantasy books of the nineteen-seventies and eighties, but Forest puts a twist on everything by introducing new races and giving unique qualities to the ones we’ve already heard of. At least two of the races, the icarals and the Gardnerians, are her own creations, and they are the most crucial. The final third of The Iron Flower reveals just how unique Forest’s creation is, and how far she has come in introducing and maintaining tension.

Laurie Forest knows how to build suspense, specifically tension, and Elloren’s growth to power is just one of the ways she does it. Other examples: what’s going to happen with Lukas Grey? What is the deal with Yvan? You’re going to find out. You may have your suspicions, but you’ll be surprised. And you’ll find all of that amid one of the most turbulent and troubling third acts I’ve read in a long time. Not predictable, not gentle. INTENSE.

The impression I had at the end of The Iron Flower (other than “WOW”) was this is an intense, complex epic masquerading as a YA fantasy drama. The choice of point of view gives an impression of the emotional intensity we expect for a teenage girl character (and yes, it verges on melodrama sometimes), but the conflict she’s embroiled in is huge, and she won’t be able to solve all these problems herself. At the end, we’re left with a character who’s embroiled further in the conflict, and further torn by the necessity of doing what’s right.

Read the book. It’s excellent.

View all my reviews

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Getting into Lovecraft

Reading H.P. Lovecraft requires, ironically, going beneath the surface.

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Howard Phillips Lovecraft (August 20, 1890 – March 15, 1937)

The stories of H.P. Lovecraft have a dedicated following in the Fantasy and Science Fiction community, and are canonical in Horror, along with Edgar Allan Poe, Wilkie Collins, and Algernon Blackwood. Lovecraft’s corpus enjoys a certain unity, which some might call repetition, unparalleled except in more recent authors who aren’t afraid to cite Lovecraft as an influence, or even hail him as a genius. The works of Stephen King and Clive Barker, for instance, have so many crossovers that readers often conclude each work is part of a larger whole, an entire fictional universe. Just like Stephen King’s fictional analogue of the state of Maine, Lovecraft’s work takes place in a New England of his own creation, with its own universities, towns, and publications.

These repetitions and allusions build up to a world that is haunting and creepy, but not because of what you might expect. We have to take a look at Lovecraft’s style of narration and the psychology of those narrators to really figure out why Lovecraft’s stories are indeed weird, enduring, and influential. Lovecraft’s stories get under your skin but not for anything on their surface. I have been reading At The Mountains of Madness for the past few days, and while I’m reading I don’t sit there thinking “oh God, I’m terrified,” or even “that’s sick!”

But I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, terrified that lurking in the corner is something whose terrible presence so chills me that I cannot sleep. To keep typing this blog post is so deeply against my nature that it may result in a complete nervous breakdown, terrifying my very soul and giving rise to the persistent thought that I should stop typing, delete my WordPress account, and drift into anonymity…but it’s a warning you all must have before you make the same regretful choices I have made. Oh, how I wish I had never opened the 2014 publication of The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft, edited by Leslie S. Klinger with an introduction by Alan Moore, and published by W.W. Norton. Oh, the regret… Continue reading “Getting into Lovecraft”

Black Sun Rising by C.S. Friedman (Goodreads Review)

Black Sun Rising (The Coldfire Trilogy, #1)Black Sun Rising by C.S. Friedman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Short version: richly-imagined world, historically important in modern fantasy, and mostly skilled prose, though mixed and sometimes hard to follow.

 

Black Sun Rising is a book I have looked forward to reading for years, as it’s often found on library shelves and lists of influential or favorite books. The tipping point came when I found the third book of a different trilogy at a local thrift store. C.S. Friedman’s skill was evident from the first word and I found myself stuck, ignoring my kids. Black Sun Rising, likewise, is engaging and drew me in with its inventive and original world. The author is not tentative about revealing the nature of the world: this is a future world colonized by spacefaring humans, and the relationship to earth is clear from the very beginning, in the prologue. You’re clearly dealing with earth cultures and remnants from Earth on a world that works differently, right on page 1. Continue reading “Black Sun Rising by C.S. Friedman (Goodreads Review)”

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: what sets it apart?

What makes the final book of the series so meaningful and complete?

I haven’t posted in a while thanks to numerous life developments and lots of writing done.  If you’re interested in that, see below.

136251Lately I’ve rewatched two Harry Potter films and it’s brought back memories of reading the books, a project I finished in 2015, reading all seven books to my sons. Harry Potter was a known character even before we started the books, and enough of my friends and enough of popular culture centers around Harry and Hogwarts that I thought reading the books would be a good idea.  I am just a few years too old, and was too cynical about fiction at the turn of the century, so I missed the Harry Potter boat until my boys were old enough to hear them aloud.

And it was certainly fun.  Reading books with kids is a completely different experience from reading them as an adult, especially an adult in graduate school.  Prisoner of  Azkaban was incredibly fun, and the prospect of my kids getting excited and staying excited to read books together, especially books over 500 pages, was really exciting.  Finally understanding the jokes and references related to the books was also fun, even if I made sure to tell people right away that I was reading the books to my kids, not just for my own enjoyment.  I finally knew who Tonks was, and that was helpful in my general life. Continue reading “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: what sets it apart?”

Solar by Ian McEwan (Goodreads Review)

SolarSolar by Ian McEwan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Perhaps it’s schadenfreude, or simple voyeurism, but only Ian McEwan and Margaret Atwood can make unlikeable characters so engaging. McEwan is also a master at believable immersion in the technical aspects of the characters’ world, in a way that myself, a former scientist, is totally engrossed. McEwan nails how scientists think, interact, and the hypocrisies and benefits, habits and mannerisms, as well as the unique demands on the mind and “real lives” of scientists. Reading this book was like being back as a professional scientists. The conversations were realistic, the thoughts and judgments of the characters were completely like the people I’ve worked with. Continue reading “Solar by Ian McEwan (Goodreads Review)”

How not to piss off your readers, or “Have you driven a Ford lately, Terry Goodkind?”

The rise of social media has given many readers new ways to cross authors off the list.

andre-norton
Recognize this author?  Me, neither.

The internet is great, but it’s a double-edged sword, especially when it comes to authors.  When I was a kid, authors lived in far off worlds whose locations were rarely hinted at by About The Author passages.  If I passed Dan Simmons or C.J. Cherryh on the street when I was growing up in Boulder, Colorado, I never would have known it.  Everyone knows Stephen King lived in Maine (and for a while he lived in Boulder, and set one of his books there), but King is not only a superstar, he’s a down-to-earth guy who most readers find accessible (even if his books aren’t; although sales suggest they are).  One can believe he not only lives in a house, but he coaches Little League.  The details of Arthur C. Clarke’s personal life came out pretty well in his later books, but for most authors, they might have been dead and I wouldn’t have known it.

Continue reading “How not to piss off your readers, or “Have you driven a Ford lately, Terry Goodkind?””

A Veil of Spears by Bradley P. Beaulieu (Goodreads Review)


veil-of-spears-front-cover-smA Veil of Spears
by Bradley P. Beaulieu

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Veil of Spears is the third full-length novel in the Song of Shattered Sands series by author Bradley P. Beaulieu, which began with Twelve Kings in Sharakhai. The author has created a setting for the ages, akin to Hogwart’s, Randland, and Middle Earth, but I would argue Sharakhai is even better because at the heart of this series is a central character who is deeper and more complex than Harry, Rand al’Thor, or Frodo. There is a supporting cast of nobles, “gutter wrens,” Blade Maidens, revolutionaries, monsters, and various mentors, but Ceda and her quest to understand her origins remains the central driving force behind this series. If this book disappoints in any way, it’s that there is not enough time with Ceda.

Continue reading “A Veil of Spears by Bradley P. Beaulieu (Goodreads Review)”

New Look, New Short Story, and Other News

Howdy there: I have been playing around with GIMP and have found some cool ways to make my own artwork, so I gave the blog a new look.  Tell me what you think.  I created the new banner just by playing around and trying to create something related to the themes of my books.

To end all questions: yes, I and the family are moving to Colorado in June.  I will miss New England and the writing scene here, but I’m looking forward to being close to my extended family and old friends in Colorado.  I haven’t been blogging or writing short stories lately because we’re getting our house ready to sell and I have to focus on the novel.  This is not an apology.  I like writing this blog, and I have plenty of stuff I want to write about and discuss, but it’s a lower priority.

Continue reading “New Look, New Short Story, and Other News”

Superior Readability

An exploration of what makes a book readable and hooks readers, in which I alienate beer drinkers… .

Readability is not a joke.  Of course, this is how I treated it a few weeks ago when I first noticed the readability of Peter V. Brett’s debut novel The Warded Man.  The speed at which I read the first book of Brett’s Demon Cycle series and the way I kept going back to reading it–and actually enjoying it–left me thinking it was just really easy to read.  This was funny because a book should be easy to read, and if it’s a pain to read, and you have to drag yourself into reading it, then why are you reading it?  It reminded me of a billboard for Bud Light that hung over the entrance to the O’Neill Tunnel in Boston: “Superior Drinkability.”  If you’re selling a drink it really ought to be drinkable, or else something is wrong. Continue reading “Superior Readability”

With Blood Upon the Sand by Bradley P. Beaulieu (Goodreads Review)

With Blood Upon the Sand (The Song of the Shattered Sands #2)

The Song of Shattered Sands continues…

 

With Blood Upon the Sand is the second novel in the Song of The Shattered Sands series. Two novellas have been published, Of Sand and Malice Made and In the Village Where Brightwine Flows: A Shattered Sands Novella, along with the first novel in the series Twelve Kings in Sharakhai. The third novel of a projected four, A Veil of Spears is due out next month. This is a deeply-characterized series that focuses on Ceda, a very capable young woman wrapped up in an intense drama. The city of Sharakhai in the heart of the Shangazi desert is filled with magic and haunted by its own past. The influences on this world are primarily near-Eastern or Central Asian, and it makes for an interesting mix of magical elements. There is not just one “magic system” there are Continue reading “With Blood Upon the Sand by Bradley P. Beaulieu (Goodreads Review)”