Tuesday: Tea and a Tale

JudyBearwithTea

Studio Assistant Judy Bear is a fan of chai, too.

It’s Tuesday and the hours have been dotted with spitting rainstorms, and I’ve spent the day organizing files and little pieces of the flotsam and jetsam that wash up in the course of living. Not my favorite task, but I’ve done it! As my reward and escape, I’m bundling up with a cat, a blanket, a book, and a lovely serving of chai tea. The tea was delivered with courtesy by my newly-driving-solo teen son, and it was both memorable and delicious.

The book was found courtesy of a suggestion on Goodread’s Vaginal Book Club forum (yes, it’s a thing). I’m reading Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner. Shoutout to that great Thomas Canty cover I remember from years ago still showing up on the digital version. I spotted a comment in an online discussion (I don’t remember the site, just my indignant harrumph in response) that claimed that this style is dated and should be replaced, but I find the Belle Epoch-influenced delicacy of Canty’s covers delightful. I remember that Alponse Mucha fell out of fashion, too, but tastes swing around, and I fully expect the future to justify my admiration for Canty’s distinct style. (Ask to see my Canty card collection; I’ve got the whole set!)

Bertie MacAvoy was commenting on the gender of a writer’s narrative voice on facebook earlier today, so I returned to the book with an ear out for the authorial voice. Perhaps I’m tired, or just too engrossed in the story to pay proper attention, but I’m hearing this narrative voice in the neutral “in my head” narrator, rather than a specific male or female timbre. I point to this as a sign of a most competent writer; when the narrator manages to disappear in the story, something’s going very right.

Summary in brief: it’s a good book, and worked well with the tea, and the cat, and the rain.

There’s plenty of fighting (did the “swordspoint” in the title tip you off?) with the fencing scenes written with interest, and brevity, both of which are important in a good battle. Engaging portrayal of a city, from the slums  to the halls of the wealthy, with sharp clear descriptions that catch and hold the mind without overwhelming. Some lovely descriptions, evocative, throughout, but not in a way that would bog down the story. The unnamed City is built up into a living, breathing place over the course of the book.

There’s political intrigue, romance, theater, and a bit of fashion. Primarily, though, this book is driven by its characters.

Deft characterization, built up through interactions and conversations between individuals as much as descriptions and direct actions, so very well balanced that way. Some homoerotic scenes, applied with discretion and most of the action implied rather than graphically described. Refreshingly casual approach to non-binary preferences.

Interesting use of power dynamics here, with sex acts, or sexual violence, threaded through as reward and threat, and the difference in the manifesting of power in this way by men versus women, against men and against women. (There’s probably a solid research paper in here, but it won’t be written by me. At least not without an additional vat of tea.)

I quite liked the two main characters, and would enjoy reading more of their adventures and interactions. A third major character in whom quite a bit of time is invested is removed from the action rather sooner than I might have expected, and I wonder if he’s going to appear in a follow-up novel. Even if this early departure wasn’t intentional as a teaser, though, he IS cited near the end; I can accept this as closing the circle, even if I’d have liked a bit more of him.

I’d love to tell you more except the tea has stopped working and I’m likely to fall asleep at the computer, which would be pleasant for none of us, but most especially the cat. So I’ll tell you goodnight, and happy reading!

GBR #15: R.A. MacAvoy

image

Self-portrait as a Pony —R. A. MacAvoy. Used with kind permission.

I’ve never been quiet about my love for the writing of R. A. MacAvoy. Back in my bookstore days, I pressed these volumes into the hands of many customers. As Bertie and I have been collaborating on Albatross and its sequel, she worries it would seem self-serving if I write much about her. And now I love not just the writing, but the person herself. Impossible to be unbiased, says Bertie, and she’s right. So I’ve called in the calvary! You can read R. A. MacAvoy’s bio on her blog.

The following is a  gracious guest post from my long-time friend and reading buddy, Kirsten M. Blair. When I asked Kirsten (@Lorac625) if she’d take time away from making tiny things and shiny things (some Steampunk in her Etsy shop, ya’ll!) to give me a reader’s response to R. A. MacAvoy’s Tea with the Black Dragon, she quickly agreed. We both thought that she’d read it previously. When we discovered she hadn’t, I was going to let her off the hook. But she sent me this the next day:

Amazon has this categorized as romance (probably why I hadn’t found it before) which it is, but… it is so much more. I couldn’t put it down. It took until the following day to start this review because I had to come back from the state of mind generated by reading it, and recover from the awe its excellence left with me. I didn’t expect this at the very beginning, as I find it frustrating not be able to instantly grasp where a story is going, but enough was quickly revealed — and was intriguing enough — to keep me going until I finished it.

It has fantasy, mystery, crime, romance, history and a gritty kind of reality soundly grounded in our ‘real’ world — like Charles de Lint’s urban books or Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill’s Bedlam Bards series. There are good, evil and in between characters — the main ones are fully fleshed in 4D (pasts and possible futures included or hinted at — I like knowing where/what characters have been/will be), but mostly it has a spell which only the best books cast, i.e., drawing you into itself and its world and out of your own. Definitely one to return to, and an author I need to read more of.

Thanks for “Yet another fine world ye’ve embroiled me in!” — KMB

Thank you, Kirsten! I’m so glad to have introduced you to another great book! You’ve got a lot of fantastic reading ahead of you. ((cue maniacal laughter)) The Great Balticon Readathon extends its power to embrace yet another with amazing literature! Bwaahaahaa!

Cat Status (because Laura Sue will be looking for it): confirmed, historically, and horses too. Presently, dogs. And the intermittent visiting bear.

GBR # 13: Kaja and Phil Foglio

imageMy first exposure to Phil Foglio was back in 198mumbletymumble, when I’d bum my friend’s incoming issues of Dragon Magazine and, very first thing, seek out What’s New with Phil & Dixie, his humorous comic strip. At the tail end of that same decade, I was working in a scifi/fantasy comics and gaming shop and started seeing his work illustrating Robert Asprin’s MythAdventures series. Oh, and XXXenophile, which was kept behind the counter under glass in the same section with Anne Rice’s naughty fairy tale books.

As I’m not a Magic: The Gathering player, I hadn’t run across any of Kaja Foglio’s work until (blushing to admit it) this project. But that’s sort of the idea behind the Great Balticon Readathon: there’s such a lot of diverse material out there, and I knew I was missing many opportunities to experience it. And I can’t believe I was missing Girl Genius!

Girl Genius, Volume 8: Agatha Heterodyne and the Chapel of Bones won the first Hugo Award for Best Graphic Novel. Then, with subsequent volumes, the couple kept winning this award. After three years straight, they declined nomination in 2012. Now they’re back in the running, and have just completed a Kickstarter project to get a new volume out! They started their own press to be able to publish Girl Genius; it seems to be working out for them. Additionally, there are text volumes of Agatha Heterodyne’s adventures now. The Foglios have been keeping busy!  From multiple sources online, their work structure is largely Kaja doing the writing, Phil doing art old-school in pencil on Strathmore Bristol 2-ply, a little digital magic between them, then off to the colorist. Seems an equitable division of labor, to an outsider, with Kaja finishing up with much of the file management. It’s good to have at least one person who knows how to do that.

Kaja has said she’s not making much visual art right now. As a creative person with a kid, I get this: time constraints change. AND they’ve got Girl Genius coming out (I believe) three times a week. That’s a tight schedule. I hope that someday she’ll consider returning to the visual art side;  what I’ve seen of her work I’ve quite liked. Up to her entirely though, of course. Maybe the words are just calling more loudly now. Sometimes it’s that simple.

Cat status: internet sighting confirmed: a photograph of multiple black cats chilling in their office. With a dog. (I consider the dog bonus content.) Additionally, if you read Girl Genius, you will find a cat who is a Character. Come for the cat, stay for the Steampunk. Girl Genius is set in a different-but-similar world to ours. A certain rare inborn ability, Spark, allows the possessor to use mad-scientist type abilities to create incredible machines that appear to defy physics as we know them. Given the series title, it’s not really a spoiler when I tell you that Agatha, our primary protagonist, is a keen inventor. It’s fun to watch her in action. Girl power! Swashbuckling and adventures, with kids included in non-token ways. Wackiness ensues.

Agatha appears in her underwear a lot, which a friend says just shows that some things don’t really change. Although honestly, Phil didn’t draw much underwear in XXXenophile that I recall. (The centaurs especially, I think, didn’t wear any, did they?) While I haven’t read the whole series yet, what I’ve seen so far has certainly been appropriate for mid-teens and up. It’s Victorian underwear, for mercy’s sake. If you’re wondering if it’s okay for your kids, go take a look for yourself. Because…

Girl Genius is now available online for FREE reading! And then you can go grab hard copies once you’ve fallen under its spell. There’s also a selection of plushies and T-shirts and so on. Years of material here, so there’s an established fandom. The Foglios seem to do a number of conventions, too, so chances seem pretty good you can hunt them up for signings and meeting your tribe of fellow GG fans.

If I meet the Foglios at Balticon, and need something to discuss, I will probably get into a GeekMom chat with Kaja. I believe she actually has outdone me in this department.  We celebrate Bilbo/Frodo’s birthday, but KAJA made an awesome Zelda cake for her kid’s cakewalk. I acknowledge a master. Oh, and they do things like having Pat Rothfuss over to play Tak. As one does. I wonder if she and Phil have 3DS systems, and if they’re bringing them to Balticon? Would LOVE to see their Miis.