Friday, July 20, 2018

Quiet Heroines


   Among the ranks of kick-ass heroines armed with martial arts, swords, and revolvers are the women and girls who are descendants of Jane Austen's female protagonists and Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. Like Nancy Drew, they use smarts, and, like Alice in Wonderland, they use curiosity to negotiate their stories.
   Here are some of my favorite bookish heroines:

Ariane in Moonwise by Greer Ilene Gilman 
Set in the contemporary British Isles, this lyrical tale is about Ariane, a gawky girl who must navigate a faery-haunted woods nearby to rescue her best friend. Language is the primary weapon here, and it is used beautifully.

Kate in The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope
In this Elizabethan fantasy, Kate, a handmaiden to the the exiled Princess Elizabeth, must use her wits to solve the mystery of a child's disappearance and rescue an arrogant boy she's reluctantly grown fond of from the faeries.

Eddi in War for the Oaks by Emma Bull
In contemporary Minneapolis, Eddi, a young musician, can see what she shouldn't. Like Kate, she must outwit the queen of an ancient race to save those she cares about.

Jenny Waynest in Dragonbane by Barbara Hambly
This woman and mother is a half-taught mage and a female version of those wizards in fantasy novels. She is the center of the story, not her be-spectacled dragonslaying husband. Jenny finds another way to defeat a dragon.

Jane in The Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee
In the future, sheltered Jane falls in love with a beautiful boy who happens to be an automaton. She must wage a futile battle against the establishment with a little help from her friends.

Wendy in Winterlong by Elizabeth Hand
In yet another future, Wendy, struggling with mental illness, makes her way across a broken chemical-damaged landscape, seeking her possessed twin brother. Her only weapon is her intellect and the poison within her.

Blue in The Raven Boys series by Maggie Stiefvater
Young Blue is a thoughtful, introverted girl raised by witchy women. Her friends are a group of unique boys. It is Blue who holds them together so none of them face some truly nasty characters alone.

While the quiet heroine might sometimes use magic or other special abilities, she rarely takes up arms. She uses her wits. Despite having a touch of the introvert, she establishes loyal friendships due to her curiosity and compassion for others. And, although it sometimes seems as if she'd rather curl up with a good book and a cup of tea, she will forge onward, against dragons, faery queens, and corrupt governments, fearless.
  

Sunday, March 25, 2018

11 Fantasy Books For Young Adults

Here are some excellent fantasy books that could be considered crossover YA. All of them our favorites of mine:)


The Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee
In a decadent future, a privileged girl falls in love with a beautiful boy, who happens to be a robot. A poignant tale about what makes a soul.

The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope
In Elizabethan England, a brave young woman must rescue a bitter young man from his suicidal pact with the faeries, depicted here as a strange, beautiful, and primitive race


A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
With its multi-dimensional Londons and trickster hero, Kell, this imaginative series has charismatic protagonists and intriguing villains. Lila is a friend to Kell and a thief to be reckoned with. Add to the mix a decadent prince who is Kell's friend and an inventive magical system.

Archon by Sabrina Benulis
A Gothic fantasy set in a college for witches in a rain-soaked future. Angels, demons, djinn, and rebel priests become problems for troubled student Angela Mathers, who must maneuver through a terrifying landscape to save her soul. For anyone who wondered what a Slytherin college might be like.

Rusalka by C.J. Cherryh
In old Russia, a young rogue named Pyetr is friends with Sasha, a young wizard. On the run, the two stay with an old wizard, and encounter a magical, perilous world. Most perilous is a strange girl who claims to be the wizard's daughter, who was murdered some time ago...A fabulous series based on Russian folk tales.


Godstalk by P.C. Hodgell
An anti-heroine who is a trickster and a killer when she needs to be. Set in a haunted, Gothic, maze-like city, amidst a college of thieves, this is a dark fantasy with complex characters and friendships and a villain named Bane, who is both seductive and horrifying, and perhaps related to Jame. For anyone who liked Sarah Maas's Throne of Glass series.

The Hound and the Falcon by Judith Tarr
The Elf Alfred has been raised as monk and a young man, but must journey into the Medieval world of knights and holy wars. With an excellent blend of history and fantasy involving King Richard, the Fair Folk, and Constantinople, it's epic fantasy with a fascinating protagonist who has to make agonizing choices.

Time of the Dark by Barbara Hambly
A scholarly young woman and a biker-gang young man from the wrong side of town are thrown into a Medieval, Game of Thrones world where survival is key. Their only guide is a tricky old wizard (one of the best wizards written). Gil and Rudy must negotiate feudal battles, a race of wizards, and terrifying, carnivorous creatures called The Dark.

Moonwise by Greer Ilene Gilman
Ariane and Sylvie are best friends. When Ariane arrives to visit her friend in the woods somewhere in contemporary Great Britain, she learns that Sylvie has been lured away into the otherworld by trickster folk. Ariane follows to retrieve her friend. With lush, almost Shakespearean prose, this is a tale to get lost in.


Maledicte by Lane Robins
Miranda is a thief who has traded her soul to a dark divinity so that she might rescue her lover. But not all is as it seems, including Miranda herself, who takes to disguising herself as a male aristocrat to negotiate the decadent court that might have corrupted the man she loves. And to exact her murderous revenge.

The Bordertown series by Terri Windling and other authors
An anthology of stories about a future where Faerie has returned and the border between Faerie and mortals has become an urban refuge for runaways seeking magic. With its punk elves, artists, musicians, and desperate kids, and a cast of eccentric regulars, this is a brilliant series.


Sunday, March 4, 2018

11 YA Fantasy Books You Should Read (If You've Never Read YA Fantasy)

If you think YA fantasy is all about supernatural love triangles and dystopian futures, you'd be doing yourself a disservice. There's some fine fantasy in the YA section. Here are 11 of my favorites:


The Raven Boys (Blue Lily, Lily Blue, The Dream Thieves, The Raven King) series by Maggie Stiefvater
     Five young people are on a quest in the rural south for a legendary Welsh king. The adults are interesting and add layers to the teen characters. The villains are fantastic and wholly original. In fact, everything about this story is pretty much weird and original, the protagonists journeys both fun and poignant.


The Hallowmere series by Tiffany Trent
     Set during the 1800s in America after the Civil War, this fantasy is about a group of young women who have been targeted by the malevolent faery folk. The faery prince, the villain, is seductive and terrifying, not the typical romantic antagonist. Each book features a different heroine and her struggle against these creatures. Unfortunately, this series was cut short by its publisher, but there are still 6 books: In the Serpent's Coils, By Venom's Sweet Sting, Between Golden Jaws, Maiden of the Wolf, Queen of the Masquerade, and Oracle of the Morrigan.


Servants of the Storm by Delilah S. Dawson
     Truly creepy and set in the contemporary south after a hurricane--which turns out to be a horrifying entity served by demons and other monsters that creep about in the ruined city. The heroine tries to save a dead friend's soul while discovering this underworld with another friend and a charming boy with a sinister secret.

The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman
     A race of good witches, martial and intelligent polar bears, animal familiars, and a tough young heroine and a hero who sacrifices for her make this an original fantasy for all ages.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
     A romance between an angel and a demon, but not what you think. The angels are a martial race who have tried to conquer what they feel as the inferior people--the Chimerae. Karou is a young woman living in Prague, raised by benevolent, if monstrous, Chimerae. When she meets Akiva, the angel, an ancient connection is revealed between them.

Tales of Beauty and Madness (Nameless, Wayfarer, Kin) by Lili St. Crow
     There are darker shades of Once Upon a time in this fantasy series set in a contemporary world that has seen a magical apocalypse. The series is about a friendship between three girls who are Cinderella, Snow White, and Red Riding Hood. Yes, there are boys, but they don't matter as much as the girls' fierce support of one another.

The Winter Prince by Elizabeth E. Wein
     A different and disturbing take on King Arthur, centering around Medraut, King Artos's eldest bastard son. His half-brother, Lleu, is their father's favorite. Artos's sister--Medraut's mother--is a truly unsettling villain. Themes of abuse and twisted family dynamics add new dimension to this myth, made all the darker because it's told from the anti-hero Medraut's point-of-view.


White Cat by Holly Black
     Cassiel is a curse worker,a  young man in this contemporary fantasy who lives, gypsy-like, in an alternative world of almost gangster-like magic. Curse work has some truly horrifying consequences and Cassiel might have to betray his family to save a girl he loves.

The Dark Angel Trilogy by Meredith Ann Pierce
     Set in another world, on the moon, this strange and beautiful fantasy is about a girl named Aeriel who is stolen away, with her beautiful best friend, by one of the feared dark angels--heartless and lovely creatures who steal human girls to make their wives. He takes Aeriel as his servant because she isn't beautiful. His wives are all phantoms--he's a vampire. but Aeriel learns he's also captive to an evil witch.

The Silver Kiss by Annette Curtis Klause
     Zoe is losing her mother to cancer. She's targeted by a feral and strange young man named Simon--whose enemy, a creature that pretends to be an innocent little boy, stalks him. It's an exquisite tale of defeating monsters and an acceptance of what it means to live and let go of those you love.


Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
     This has shades of steampunk, set in a sort of Victorian world with shades of a Vermeer painting, with a dark anti-hero not expected in YA. Kaz is a teenage crime lord who must assemble a crew of young criminals to pull off a heist that might be impossible. Each character has a stake in this heist and failure means something different to each of them. The best scenes are when the young criminals are together, at odds, or saving one another.
  

Monday, December 4, 2017

WHY THE LURE OF FAERIE IS AGELESS


Faeries were once called the Good Neighbors, the Hidden Folk, the Kindly Ones, the Strangers,the Gentry.
   Fascination with these liminal beings who take the shapes of our fears, our desires, and our whims resurfaces on occasion. The glamour and enchantment of faerie has been alluded to in fashion by designers such as Alexander McQueen and Dolce and Gabbana; in cosmetic brands ELF and Pixi. Faery wedding dresses are available. Faeries are a popular theme for children's parties and toys. Faerie has gone commercial with the artists Alan Lee, Jasmine Becket Griffith, Amy Brown, and the Frouds, who have created an entire faery universe all their own.
   The original faeries were not so tame. They were a terrifying race who mingled with the dead, strange and dangerous demons featured in ballads and folk tales such as 'Tam Lin,' 'Isabella and the Elfin Knight,' and 'Long Lankin.' In Celtic and Scandinavian mythology, they were the Tuatha de Danaan and the Alfar, people close to gods. Before electricity, they were considered creatures of the night, of dusk and dawn, beings to be feared--a common Irish cant against the faeries used to be 'May their backs be towards us, their faces turned away from us, and may God save us from harm.'
   The faeries first revival occurred during the Elizabethan era, with Edmund Spenser's poem, 'The Faerie Queene,' a lengthy satire inspired by Queen Elizabeth and her court. And references to the faery folk are scattered throughout William Shakespeare's plays. The faeries are represented by the ethereal Ariel and the bestial Caliban in The Tempest, and, not only are they given center stage in A Midsummer Night's Dream, but emotions to rival those of the mortals who fascinate them.
  
The rendering of faeries as dangerous and seductive became the model in Victorian art and poetry. At the time, poetry was experiencing a Romantic period. 'La Belle Dame Sans Merci' by John Keats and Christina Rossetti's 'Goblin Market' became popular. Pre-Raphaelite artists such as John William Waterhouse depicted the faeries as beautiful women who haunted watery places and dusky woods. In John Duncan's works, they were the elegant Tuatha de Danaan. Edmund Dulac and Arthur Rackham illustrated the faeries as either luminous ladies or grotesque creatures. Yet, at the same time, faeries also became tiny winged elements of nature, harmless and playful, a metamorphosis that influenced the famous fake Cottingley photographs that so bewitched Artur Conan Doyle.
   The early 1900s in Ireland produced the Celtic Renaissance led by the poet William Butler Yeats. While faeries appeared in poems and collections of folk tales, they were once again sinister, borderline entities with mysterious agendas, not anything one would want to encounter on the road home. Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland (1920) by Yeats's friend Lady Gregory is a fascinating collection of such faery encounters.
   The faeries re-emerged during the Sixties, appropriately during the Flower Power/Hippie era, as the Elves in J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Resembling the Scandinavian Alfar and the divine Tuatha de Danaan of Celtic lore, these Elves, for all their strangeness, battled, loved, and grieved. And, in the end, unlike Faerie, they departed the mortal world forever.
   Yet another unlikely faerie Renaissance took place during the decade of New Wave and Preppy. Urban faeries were born in the rapidly expanding fantasy fiction genre of the 80s, most prominently in Charles de Lint's Newford series, where Celtic and Native American faeries vied for the attention of humans. Emma Bull's War for the Oaks and Terri Windling's Bordertown series introduced the punk elf. These faeries were inspired by the Gentry of Celtic folklore, the more civilized faery folk, who traveled the country in coaches while wearing fancy clothes. Faeries sloughed their shadows to become modern artists, musicians, motorcycle gangs, and people on the fringe. Faery love in these stories was a little less perilous than it had been in Victorian poems. Urban faeries were Mad Hatters and Cheshire Cats, tricksters with shady motivations. They were White Rabbits who led the protagonists into other worlds, and Red Queens who reflected the heroine's dark side.

   Faeries have infiltrated non-fantasy literature as well, becoming symbols of mortal fears: death, the shadow lover, the unknown, nature. A faery shapeshifter symbolizes the awakening sexuality of the protagonist in Graham Joyce's The Tooth Fairy. And, are they a cult, or, as Shakespeare describes, 'a team of little atomies' representing nature, in Joyce's Some Kind of Fairy Tale? The remnants of faerie live as a mysterious family in John Crowley's magnificent Little Big. In Sylvia Townsend Warner's dark satire Lolly Willowes, the faeries are synonymous with witches and devil worship, and haunt a spinster until she joins them. The Horned Herne the hunter might be a malevolent, murderous force in Tana French's thriller In the Woods.
   Urban faeries are a perfect example of the old world adapting to the new. With the surge in YA literature, the faerie folk have been reborn again as demon lovers, monsters, the ultimate Mean Girl. Because they are border creatures, they're also rule breakers, and what teen doesn't love a character who shatters the rules and has no respect for an authority such as reality? The faery folk are danger, the thrill of the unknown. As Jung writes of fairy tales: They teach us to 'turn directly toward the approaching darkness without prejudice and totally naively, and try to find out what its secret aim is and what it wants from you.' Which is a perfect summary of faery encounters in YA or anywhere else.

   Aside from that tiny granddame Tinker Bell, faeries have not fared so well onscreen,where goblins and other grotesques have been more prevalent. Labyrinth, Legend, and Guillero del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth have been the most successful in portraying the land of Faerie, combining all its wonders and terrors. With the exception of the Elves of The Lord of the Rings movies and Victor Jory's darkly luminous and eerie Oberon in the 1935 film A Midsummer Night's Dream, the faery folk themselves have been more elusive in a medium where fantasy must translate so literally to solid form. It is this elusiveness, this refusal to bond to any shape, which has intrigued artists and writers for centuries. The faeries are indeed ageless--and, by adapting to each era, have kept themselves forever alive in our imaginations.
   "For spirits when they please,
   Can either sex assume, or both, so soft
   And uncompounded in their essence pure,
   Not ty'd or manacled with joint or limb,
   Nor founded on the brittle strength of bones,
   Like cumbrous flesh; but, in what shape they choose,
   Dilated or condensed, bright or obscure,
   Can execute their aery purposes,
   and works of love or enmity fulfill."
                                    John Milton

Monday, August 21, 2017

Thorn Jack Instagrams

Earlier, one of my fav writers did this for her characters, and I thought it was a great idea. So here are what 6 of my main Thorn Jack characters would post on their Instagrams.

FINN: Piles of books she's reading. Interesting shots of the woods. Antique objects in moody lighting, casually staged.

JACK: Random shots of his boots, rings, and sedan. Moody pics of nature. Pics of his cat Black Jack Slade being ruthless or lazy.

CHRISTIE: Shots of his poems, handwritten in calligraphy. Pics of his favorite junk food. Artsy shots of his girlfriends' hair because he really loves their hair. And their lips.

SYLVIE: Selfies of her artfully mascaraed eyes. Pics of crazy theater friends. Shots of chic shoes with chunky heels she can't afford, ever.

PHOUKA: Pics of glittery things and anything elegant. Glamour shots of friends. Gorgeous pics of people and places that interest her in the moment.

ABSALOM: Random pictures he's taken of strange people. Edgy shots of architecture and statuary. Ironic pics of heart-shaped things.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Character of Objects

  
Set design has always fascinated me. In film, the background can be a glorious experience: period pieces with sumptuous detail, majestic landscapes, fantasy worlds rich with history. Think Harry Potter, the Star Wars movies, The Lord of the Rings, Avatar. These are universes the audience becomes immersed in.
   But it's the little details that I love. Set designers not only create a world for the characters to inhabit, but a world created around the characters. One of my favorite films, The Company of Wolves, uses objects with an almost fetishistic symbolism. Lipstick, a baby doll, a white limousine...they're more than set decorations. They exist to convey meaning, or as a tool to create character. Objects not only seem to be characters themselves, but are used to convey characters' inner lives in  Wes Anderson's films  (The Royal Tenenbaums.) In Beauty and the Beast, objects such as candlesticks and tea pots actually are characters.

 
   Objects became significant when our primitive ancestors began using natural things as weapons, toys, tools, and talismans. Anthropologist Daniel Miller describes objects/artifacts as being simultaneously material force and symbol. What a character carries on his/her person or what decorates their living space can pinpoint their personality and add a bit of history. Have you ever watched a film or television show again and looked at a character's living space? Notice the posters on the walls, the color scheme, the personal items. On paper, such things might seem superficial, but a few dashes here and there of a character's space can enhance their personality. Bright colors or dark? Antique or modern? Clutter or Spartan? If writing a fantasy, what kind of weapons does your character favor? How did they acquire the weapon? Do they carry talismans? Does a character carry a certain object that has special significance for them? Bedrooms are the best places to display personality. Even if you don't use the details in the actual story, envision a room for a character journal. What would Voldemort's bedchamber look like? Or Han Solo's? The first Queen Elizabeth's?


      A well-read copy of a favorite book. A pair of favorite shoes. An heirloom hair clip. A battered laptop. Worry beads. A paperweight. What do these say about your character? Do they carry Gummi Bears in their pockets? Think Indiana Jones's fedora, Doctor Who's screwdriver, the wands in Harry Potter. As with any detail, deliberate and sparse touches can enhance the world you're trying to create, the sensory experience for the reader that either draws them into an exotic place or a nostalgic one.
   We choose what we surround ourselves with, as if we're building an altar, with each object selected for what it makes us feel, identify with, signify. Objects can be the altar that tell the story of your character's inner world, their psyche, how they see life.
   When I found a cow creamer like the one from Buffy's kitchen and the monarch butterfly pillows from Willow's bedroom, I felt as if I'd found pieces of the world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Like memorabilia or collectors' items, these took on an almost magical significance. No matter what your character is, human or not, from this world or not, the things they choose to identify with can add a subtle touch of personality to their story.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Fantastic Fantasy Finds: Moonheart by Charles de Lint (1981)


One of the first fantasy books I ever read, this dark urban tale is set in Ottawa, Canada. And one of its main characters is a house. (I love mysterious, weird houses, from Shirley Jackson's Hill House, to Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves.)
   Tamson House takes up an entire block in Ottawa. Its residents are eccentric. Sara, a young woman who lives in the house, is used to all this.

   Then something evil arrives after Sara meets a young man named Kieran Foy. Kieran knows all about otherworldly things--such as the native spirits of the land. Sara soon finds herself in another world, meeting Taliesin, the famous bard, speaking with native spirits called quin'on'a. She and Kieran both meet faery lovers of a sort. But there's dissent among the native spirits, some of whom hate the immigrant faeries and anyone who isn't from the land. Kieran and Sara return to Tamson House in time to battle the dark thing invading it. As the evil seeks to take over Tamson House, the eccentric residents are soon under siege, and some of them discover their own connections to the otherworld.

 
   With a rich, original mythology of Celtic and native folklore, Moonheart is an urban fantasy touched with horror and filled with intriguing characters, its atmosphere one of dream-touched realism. This isn't exactly a fantasy find, since anyone who reads fantasy knows this is one of the best. If you liked American Gods, or urban fantasy, you'll love this one.