Friday, February 15, 2013

Mélusine, by Sarah Monette

The fantasy novel Mélusine, by Sarah Monette, is the first in the Doctrine of Labyrinths series. First off, for those familiar with the French myth of Mélusine, be aware that this story has nothing to do with mermaids. Luckily I didn't remember that the mermaid in the myth was named Mélusine, or I might have been disappointed. I've always liked mermaids.

Anyway, this story (which fits into the GLBT fantasy genre, by the way) is about two men who live in a city called Mélusine. One, a mage and a member of the royal court, is named Felix. The other, a cat burglar and sometimes thug, is named Mildmay. Felix and Mildmay don't know each other, and for most of the novel, pursue different stories. My biggest beef with this novel is that it switches from Felix to Mildmary's first person accounts, sometimes within the same page. I think I understand why Monette chose to do this (she wanted their stories to keep up with each other in the course of time passing), but it still irritated me all the way to the end. I would get engrossed with one story, and then be jolted into the other. Just about every book I've ever read that does this annoys me. However, I can see the appeal of telling a story from more than one perspective, particularly in this case. I won't say more about that so as not to spoil things.

I liked both Felix and Mildmay, and became more interested in each of them at different times. Mildmay's voice, in particular, really grew on me. I became very attached to both of them, and by the end of the book, I didn't want the story to end. This sort of thing doesn't happen all that often to me; I'll enjoy a book just fine, but also enjoy the ending, and be done with it. Not so with Mélusine. I'm really happy I get to read more books in the series, otherwise I'd miss these characters, especially Mildmay.


The irony is that through most of the novel, I liked Felix more, and more often than not, I wanted to know what was going on with him much more than Mildmay. I enjoyed Mildmay's voice and I really liked it when Mildmay told stories--long before he said so, I knew Mildmay loved story-telling, you could read it in the way he would dig in to a story and deliver it with such relish. Also, at the start, I had a hard time with Felix's experiences, since saying Felix was a punching bag is like saying Hurricane Katrina damaged some houses. And it just kept going and going, I was like, jeez, let's give the guy a break already, okay? Eventually Felix loses his mind, with full-on hallucinations and such, and actually, that's when I really started to like him. And I have to say, sane Felix (who we only meet at the end) is not nearly as likeable as crazy Felix. I'm a bit concerned I won't much care for sane Felix in the next books. Time will tell, I suppose.
Click the image above to order.

Anyway, I highly recommend this book. It is very well-written, meaning the phrasing, etc., is so good I felt like my writing was improving as I read it.

Oh, and just a note on the cover. I really don't like it. To me, it says "beefcake," and not much else, despite the attempt to represent Felix's mage tattoos. And it's so very inappropriate to associate beefcake to this novel. Perhaps Felix was buff and all before his misfortunes hit, but very quickly Monette describes him as emaciated, his hair shorn, etc.--I visualized concentration camp victims.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Inspired to make a pledge

Okay, I know this is going to sound cheesy, but I was watching an episode of Glee, where they're singing Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror," and I got really inspired.* Not to write (although I've had a lot of inspiration for writing lately, for which I am grateful), but to make a pledge. It's still a bit hazy, but let's see... I pledge that when I break $1000 in sales (this is still quite far off), I will donate $100 to some sort of children's charity. It was a line in the song about not having a right to ignore a hungry child's need... Anyway, once I break $1000, $100 to a children's charity. And when (yes, when) I start making at least $500 a month in sales, I'll sponsor a child. I did this before for a while but had to stop because money just got too tight. I'd like to do it again. And if I ever become one of those epub authors who makes more than $50,000 a year, maybe we'll adopt a child. That's something I've always wanted to do, and if you ever read my family blog you'll know it's something we may have to do if we want a second child (although that's still not a sure thing). Adoption is so expensive though, so I'd have to be making a lot more than I am now to even consider it.

*This is weird for a couple of reasons: first off, I'm really not sure what to think about Michael Jackson when it comes to children, and unless you knew him personally, you can't honestly tell me you have all the facts either. But I am uncomfortable with at least some of what I do know, so for him to inspire me to want to make a pledge to help children, well... Anyway, secondly, it's all the more apparent that I am a sucker for Glee performances, because the previous performance in the show, a mash-up of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" and Destiny's Child's "Survivor" already had me all worked up thinking I could take on the world. This is nothing new, actually. I straight up cried during Amber Riley's performance of "Beautiful"--and I still do every time I watch it.

So anyway, you folks who read this blog can hold me to my pledge. I will announce it when I break $1000, and you can say, "Hey, that means $100 to a children's charity!" and you can even suggest some good ones.

How about you, have you been inspired in unlikely ways lately? Do you have any pledges you've made or would like to make?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

First Draft Finito!

Yes, folks, I have just finished the first draft of The Plane and the Parade, the third book in the Veronica Barry series (unless you count Veronica in Paris, which is book "zero" and takes place about 13 years before The River and the Roses). I'm doing a first read-through and then I'll be sending The Plane and the Parade to my most wonderful beta-reader, Kathryn. And while she's slogging through that, I'll be working on a cover. Although I have been searching through images, and so far I haven't found any parade ones I'm particularly taken with.

It's always so wonderful to finish the first draft. The revisions are much less fun. Yes, yes, I know they are a necessary evil, and I'm going to do my best to nail every typo and fill every plot hole. I'm just not going to particularly enjoy it.

I've been giving a lot of thought to what to write next, and I just finished reading a GLBT fantasy novel that I'll be reviewing here soon that I absolutely loved, and it made me want to write a GLBT fantasy novel. Or maybe just a fantasy novel, with or without GLBT characters. I've got a fantasy world I spend month building many many years ago that I'd love to actually set a novel in.

Trouble is, I'm really not sure what my characters or story would be like. I have odds and ends in terms of ideas, but nothing that hangs together. I know I like an old-fashioned quest, of course.

But then there's the whole idea I had about trying my hand at writing a romance, and I'm really not sure I'd want to combine the two. QUEST + ROMANCE = CHEESY. Not always, of course, but it just seems like if the point is to find the MacGuffin before the world ends or whatever, then splitting your attention to moon over some hottie is a little bit counterproductive. And I do realize the hottie can be the MacGuffin, but then it just really becomes a book about a character who is obsessed with someone else and needs to develop a stronger sense of self. Although I suppose the Myadar serial I've been working on has some elements of this--in her case it's a child, not a hottie, though. I like writing female main characters, though, and if I'm going to write a romance, I don't want my mc to be so smitten with the love interest that they pursue them like a MacGuffin. And as for a scenario where the mc of my fantasy novel dutifully pursues the (non-character) MacGuffin and falls in love with some other character who is somehow tangentially involved, while I have no problem with this sort of story, it's not really a romance. It's a fantasy story with an element of romance. And so it doesn't satisfy the "I should try writing a romance" urge.

No, I have a couple of specific needs when it comes to my mc, and these vary by genre. For one thing, if I do write a fantasy novel, I want my mc to be powerful. I often write mcs that are fairly ordinary or at least inexperienced, and as such, apt to get their butts whipped. It would be nice, for a change, to have an mc who does the butt-whipping. If I write a romance, I suppose my mc could still be a butt-whipper, (ahem--this is straying into unintended territory--keep your minds out of the gutter, people) but it's really not so essential.

There was the whole Edwardian romance idea, but I am, shall we say, a perfectionist when it comes to research, and would probably drown in any effort to write a historical romance even of the shallowest kind. I've considered possibly creating a fantasy setting that somewhat emulates the Edwardian England of Jane Austen, thereby releasing myself from the need for accuracy of depiction, but then we stray back into FANTASY + ROMANCE = CHEESY again.

Welcome to the merry-go-round that is my mind when I try to tease out a new story. :P

How about you, do you ever find yourself going around in circles when you're trying to nail down a new story?

Friday, February 1, 2013

Maledicte, By Lane Robins

I came across Maledicte, by Lane Robins, when I tried out this utility, which suggests a list of books you might like based on a title or author you provide. I typed in Kushiel's Dart. So the implication is that Maledicte is like Kushiel's Dart, which it isn't, except perhaps in the most superficial ways.

I am a picky reader, which doesn't work well with my also being a pretty voracious reader. And also I read very fast. Forgive me for saying so, (because it is bragging, and I do it because I had a learning disability and didn't really learn to read until fifth grade, so my inner child still has something to prove) but at my fastest I read 700 words a minute. So I go through novels very quickly. Despite this, I don't spend time on a novel I don't like--I just quit reading and move on to the next one. My shelves are littered with novels I have started and tossed aside. So the fact that I didn't toss Maledicte aside speaks to the fact that I liked it somewhat.

A short list of reasons Maledicte is worth reading:
  • The gods in the world of Maledicte are intriguing and original. First off, they're dead. Secondly, each one is the patron of two things, one positive thing and one negative thing, but rather than being two sides of coin, these things are fairly unrelated: there's a god of health and greed, for instance.
  • The title character is transgender, and in such a way as to be fairly fluid, which is unusual.
  • One of the central characters, Gilly, is quite likeable.
  • Another of the more minor characters, the king, is also likeable.
  • The writing is good. Good phrasing, no grammatical problems, strong figurative language, etc.
    To order, click the image above.

Aside from that, the novel has many problems, and the ending drove me up a wall. For details, read on.


Except for the two characters cited above, no one in the book is likeable, least of all, Maledicte. It's hard to conceive of why Gilly becomes so infatuated with him. Gilly seems to really dig how sulky and rude Maledicte is. I do not. Plus, Maledicte kills cats. UNFORGIVABLE.*

To enjoy this novel, you must enjoy witnessing your protagonist commit one gory, brutal murder after another. Where Kushiel has sex, Maledicte has murder. And make no mistake, there is very little sex in this novel, and what sex there is either takes place between unlikeable characters, or amounts to rape.

Which brings me to one reason the ending pissed me off. I'm firmly rooting for Gilly, right? Even though Gilly insists on falling in love with Maledicte. So by extension, I root for Maledicte, because if Maledicte gets killed Gilly's going to be devastated. And there's this well-written build up of tension between them, because Gilly's hot for Maledicte, and thinks Maledicte is a man, and eventually Maledicte starts to fall for Gilly, and doesn't want to reveal the physical secret of his body. I enjoy sexual tension that's complicated with an extra layer of resistance like this. But a major part of why I was reading was for the scene I was convinced was coming, in which Maledicte gives in to his lust for Gilly, they start to fool around, and Gilly gets to uncover the secret as they do. This scene never happens. What happens instead (watch out, the following spoils the ending) is that Gilly thinks Maledicte died, and then when they are at last reunited, he not only has the shock of seeing that Maledicte is still alive, but also that he is a woman. And they live happily ever after.

The second reason the ending of this book made me want to spit nails was that I needed to see Janus get an ass-kicking (at the very least). In yet another instance of Sophia's vaunted ability to "see how a plot will unravel" going horribly awry, my conviction was that in the end, Maledicte would have to murder Janus, the love from his childhood and the reason he got into the revenge business in the first place. After all, Maledicte made a pact to murder the earl of Last, and Janus became the earl of Last. And that was just fine with me. Janus, of just about any character, was screaming to get murdered. I don't know why Robins thought he would appeal to readers just because... I don't know. Because he was a street urchin who got abducted... right after he tried to ambush and murder a guy for his coin? Maybe it was supposed to happen because Janus spoke like nobility even though he lived in the slums? Or was it just that we are supposed to love him because we're told over and over that he's pretty (same with Maledicte, there). And sure, sure, Maledicte was desperately in love with him, and that's why he can never kill him, because the god he made the pact with is both the god of love and vengeance. But there's a scene where Maledicte slays an enchanted child of himself, a shade that represents who he used to be. Couldn't he then be free of the love that originated in his childhood?

Anyway, I was left deeply annoyed. But this is a first novel, and I did like it enough to finish it, so maybe I'll give Lane Robins another try, if I run out of other authors to read. Which actually seems pretty likely, given my reading habits.

*FWIW, if you are a cat lover like me, and you like fantasy and don't mind when it gets pretty violent, check out Scott Lynch's Gentlemen Bastards novels, starting with The Lies of Locke Lamora. Cats figure more prominently in the second book, but the first is very enjoyable.