Thursday, May 16, 2019

Choose Your Poison

Poison in a Bottle
As synchronicity would have it, the last three books I've read had much to do about poisons, toxic substances that caused grievous harm. Some of the results are accidental, some intentional, but what ties all three reads together is the way the poison itself becomes a character.

Sure, you could say that chemical/magical substances are just tools, good or evil depending on who wields them. But in these books, I found the alchemy so unique and essential to the plot that it warrants a life of its own. 

I'll highlight them here so you can judge for yourself if you want to partake. I liked them all very much, in different ways.

Poison Study by Maria V Snider -

Book one of nine in the Poison Study Series

In this dance with poisons, the hero, Yelena, convicted of murder, is offered the option of becoming a taste tester to the Commander of Ixia. The other choice is death. Being a taster means she's well housed and very well fed. Of course, it also means she will die at any moment if she can't identify a poison quickly.

There's another twist to the plot that keeps her from running away, an ingenious addition by Snider that keeps the story moving as well as elevating the poison to a supreme 'power over.'

Fabulous writing. I love how you can settle in for nine whole books in this series!

An Affair of Poisons by Addie Thorley

YA Historical Fantasy

This debut story whisks us away to the time of King Louis XIV, focusing on a seventeen-year-old who is shocked when she learns the truth about her mother's once-revered Shadow Society. Mirabelle Monvoisin is an alchemist, after her father, whose love of chemistry and magic, life-saving and life-taking, brings to life the plants and herbs and elements she works with.

While she struggles with a life or death situation, she meets the
Royal bastard Josse de Bourbon, loathed by his father the Sun King but devoted to his siblings who are in desperate need of saving.

As the captions reads: "She’s a deadly poisoner. He’s a bastard prince. As sworn enemies, they form a tenuous pact to unite the commoners and nobility against the Shadow Society. But can a rebellion built on mistrust ever hope to succeed?"

A rich and entertaining read. It made me dust off a history book to learn more about the French Revolution.

A Beautiful Poison - Lydia Kang

YA Historical Fiction/Mystery

I just realized this is one of the few non-fantasy novels I've read in some time. I was drawn to the author by reading her YA fantasy title - The November Girl - and although this story is very different, the writing is every bit as engaging and immersive.

Set in the early 1900s, in both the homes of upper-class New Yorkers and those less fortunate, we meet Allene, smart, educated, entitled and out to solve a murder mystery. She teams up with two old friends, the fragile and stunning Birdy, and Jasper, a young apprentice medical examiner at Bellevue Hospital. 

As the story deepens, I found myself guessing 'who done it?' but oh boy, was I surprised at the very end. Brilliant writing. Amazing toxins and characters so real it makes you cry. Set in the era of NY jazz and the Spanish flu... Highly recommended.

As I think on these three authors and how they have weaved their poisons into the plots, I am reminded of Paracelsus when he said:

Poison is in everything, and no thing is without poison. The dosage makes it either deleterious or healing... 

Have you read any books about poison lately? Authors, how do you use toxins in your books? I'd love to hear about it in the comments.

* * * 

Kim Falconer's New YA Fantasy Series is out in 2019 - The Bone Throwers. 

Also, check her urban fantasy out now - The Blood in the Beginning - and Ava Sykes Novel and the SFF Quantum Enchantment Series

You can find Kim on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

High Fives from Amanda: Conference Season!!!!

Five things to take to writer conferences

The season is upon us for writing conferences. The one time of the year that us hermits dust off our extroversion hat and meet other writers.

Personally, I love going to conferences. But I'm that perpetual nerd who loves learning and, as an instructor, I really love listening to how others have figured out something or how they frame a concept. I love the energy that conferences give me. Much like meeting with a writers group, there is a buzz that seeps into your skin and just makes you want to write, write, write.

In fact, I'm running a little behind schedule on my blog post because I'm headed out to Inkerscon tomorrow!

But there are some essentials to conference season, so here are my top five things to make sure you have when you attend any conference.

1). A TARDIS bag. Not in that it is a police box blue, but a bag big enough to hide the water bottle, snacks, notebooks, swag, free books, and computer with charger that you are going to be hauling around with you all day. There might even be another pair of shoes. You just don't know.
This thing needs to be like Mary Poppin's carpet bag and be HUGE on the inside.
2). Author Identification. Yes, self promotion can be icky, but always be on the ready when someone asks for your contact info or the books you have written. Don't shove them at people, but other attendees might actually keep hold of a business card for a day or two instead of that bar napkin that you write your email on. Also, sparkly business card holder for the win.

3). A scarf, sweater, or pashmina. The hotel industry has yet to find a way to regulate temperatures in conference settings. I'm either too hot or too cold, so I always have a scarf or something to wrap up in. And bonus points for any literary themed wear.
Also very helpful for hiding stains for when you accidentally spill coffee on yourself first thing in the morning or drop a carrot down your shirt during the keynote speaker. Trust me on this one.

4). Special notebook. Notebooks are precious to writers, so I always buy a new one for each conference, because I don't want notes getting lost in the back of some notebook that I'm using for plotting. I've also got the current novel notebook in tow as well just in case a presentation knocks loose a brilliant idea  and I must scribble it down now.
And of course post-its. Are there people who actually leave home without post-its?

5). Something interesting to read at break time. Conferences are hard. Lots of people in a tiny space. Lots of human noise. So I always take something to read. Something to use to help disconnect my brain from the conference even if its only over lunch or a small break in the afternoon. Doing something even for a few moments that isn't siting, smiling, or taking notes helps with my energy over the course of the conference. Just a few moments to focus, center-yourself, and in this case, get a little research done as well!

What do you take? Let me know if there is an essential that is essential to you at conference!

If you have a Top Five list you'd like me to cultivate, please let me know in the comments below or at @pantherista

In the meantime, give yourself a high five!

Amanda Arista

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Romance In Fantasy Fiction: Constancy Amid Tumult & Patricia McKillip’s “Riddle-Master” Series


I have dedicated 2019 as my Year of Romance (#YOR) here on Supernatural Underground, specifically Romance in Fantasy Fiction (#RIFF) because Fantasy fiction is how I roll. ;-)

I began in March with JRR Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings (aka when romance is missing-in-action) and continued last month with Laini Taylor’sDaughter of Smoke and Bone, which is romance of the kind I loosely describe as “my enemy, my love.”

This month’s story, which is in fact a trilogy like both the preceding works, is Patricia McKillip’s Riddlemaster series, which comprises three instalments: The Riddlemaster of Hed, Heir of Sea and Fire, and Harpist In The Wind. It also (roughly) bridges the first two books covered in terms of time period, with The Riddlemaster of Hed published in 1979. And it’s one of my favorite romances, as well as my favorite Fantasy series, so it had to be part of my #RIFF on #YOR. J

When I first read The Riddle-Master of Hed, I thought this was going to be very much in the style of The Lord Of The Rings (LoTR) with the romance very much in the background. (Don’t get me wrong, btw, I adored the story anyway, and still do.) In fact the treatment of Raederle, the romantic interest for our hero, Morgon, the eponymous Riddle Master of Hed, is initially very similar to that of Arwen in LoTR, i.e. she’s there in the background but she doesn’t play an active part in the story.

Although at least the reader knows that Morgon cherishes romantic notions in that direction – in fact it’s what kicks off the story. Morgon, who has won a supposedly unwinnable riddle game, learns that the King of neighboring An had promised to marry his daughter, Raederle, to whoever wins that game. I am sure you pick up on the classic fairytale overtones here! As it turns out, Morgon has actually met Raederle because he and her brother studied together at the Riddle-Master’s College, and yes, he is definitely interested in marrying her – although somewhat less sure of her views on the same matter. (In a very unfairytale-like way he actually thinks she should have a say in the matter…)

So he sets sail to meet Raederle again and ascertain her inclination, which is when (of course!) matters gang awry, with Morgon first being shipwrecked then finding out that a mysterious and powerful people are trying to murder him. Rather than marrying the woman of his dreams, he is instead swept up in a complex and dangerous riddle game, which takes him a quest journey across the face of the Realm (which is the name of the world in this series.)

So we never get to meet Raederle at all in Book 1, although she’s always there in the background of the story. He also makes friends with another young woman called Lira, so as reader you think maybe that’s where the real romance going to be, although she reminds Morgon of his kid sister, which is hardly a promising indication…

So you can imagine my surprise – and yes, delight, dear readers – when I opened Heir Of Sea and Fire and started reading, and boom!, there I was in Raederle’s point of view. And not only is she the main character in this book, she’s setting out – with Lira and Tristan, Morgon’s kid sister – to find and rescue him. This mission naturally takes them on a quest-journey across the Realm where they also run foul of Morgon’s mysterious enemies and Raederle finds out that she, too, has a destiny…

I mean, only think, dear readers – a heroine and love interest with a destiny as well. If not for Eowyn, I would have thought the great JRR must be spinning in his grave at this point. It’s nothing new now, but back in 1979 I imagine it must have been quite revolutionary, especially in epic fantasy literature.

The third book, Harpist In The Wind, returns to Morgon as the point-of-view character, but he and Raederle are together throughout most of the story  and part of why they ultimately win through is because they’re together. I’ve always found their romance really satisfying for that reason, but also because it’s very much a relationship between equals. In terms of the style of romance, because of Morgon and Raederle’s relationship before the story starts, I think it has elements of the “boy and girl next door”, as well as “friends and lovers” that transitions into “ever after.”

As romances go, I would also describe Raederle and Morgon’s love as gentle, rather than tumultuous. The events of the story provide the tumult, while Morgon and Raederle’s constancy, as well as their power, enable them to ride the storm – and yanno, that makes for pretty satisfying reading.

So if you haven’t read the Riddle-Master series yet – which you probably have since it’s now regarded as a classic – hie thee and read it. It’s a gorgeous tale, with gorgeous writing, and a worthy addition to the #YOR look at #RIFF.


Helen Lowe is a novelist, poet, and blogger whose first novel, Thornspell (Knopf), was published to critical praise in 2008. Her second, The Heir of Night (The Wall Of Night Series, Book One) won the Gemmell Morningstar Award 2012. The sequel, The Gathering Of The Lost, was shortlisted for the Gemmell Legend Award in 2013. Daughter Of Blood, (The Wall Of Night, Book Three) is Helen's most recent book and she is currently working on the fourth and final novel in The Wall Of Night series. Helen posts regularly on her “…on Anything, Really” blog and is also on Twitter: @helenl0we