Tag Archives: history

The best historical who-dunnit…EVER!

Okay, I know the title of this post is a little over the top, but January must be the month for brilliant books. Seriously, I’ve just finished ‘A Star in the Sky’ and I’m in awe of the author’s talent. Under the ‘Look Inside’ you’ll find the review I just left for ‘A Star in the Sky’ on Amazon. 5/5 of course.

Not only does the author, Zichao Deng, [d.z.c. for short] make the world of the ancient Mayans come alive in all its barbaric splendour, he’s also created a murder mystery which could only have occurred in that time!

This is no ordinary murder disguised with a thin vineer of history. Every clue, every backward step, every twist and turn of the plot is woven out of the facts of that world:

  • The man who died was poisoned,
  • The poison was the same poison as used on darts, but he was not shot,
  • In fact, there did not appear to be any way for him to have been poisoned at all,
  • The politics of the situation could have seen the death explained away as ‘magic’, but
  • The female doctor who is charged with investigating the death refuses to allow either politics or superstition to get in the way of the facts, or logic.

And, like the very best who-dunnits, the clues are there all along, but the great reveal doesn’t happen until the very end. In fact, there are two reveals and the second is even more astonishing than the first.

‘A Star in the Sky’ kept me reading when I should have been doing other things, and that was despite not dumbing down the names and Mayan words sprinkled gently throughout the story.

I love alien sounding names, so I had no trouble with the female doctor being called ‘Lady Tz’unun’. I likewise had no trouble with the name of the Queen – Sak K’uk – at least, not inside my own head. As a reader, all I wanted to do was identify the character, so who cares whether my pronunciation was accurate or not? And those names were part of the reason I knew I was not in Kansas any more.

Another thing I loved about ‘A Star in the Sky’ was the richness of the characters. Lady Tz’unun may be the Sherlock Holmes of the story, but her servant Three Rabbits, plus the Queen’s councillor, the Ti’sakhuun are all part of an ensemble cast that just work, individually and as group. The story is finished but I still want to know more about them, and I definitely want to know more about their slice of history.

I sincerely hope that Zichao Deng has more murder mysteries for Lady Tz’unun and her team to solve. Simply brilliant.

My review won’t go live on Amazon for a few more hours, so I’ll just leave you with a concept drawing done by the author himself:

a-star-in-the-sky-concept-drawing

You’re welcome 😀

Meeks

 

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It took a prime minister to get Facebook to see the difference between child pornography and history — Quartz

Facebook just can’t seem to engineer news. Two weeks ago the best-selling Norwegian author Tom Egeland wrote a Facebook post about the “photographs that changed the history of warfare,” according to The Guardian. One of the photos Egeland included in his piece was “The Terror of War,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning photo showing a naked 9-year-old…

via It took a prime minister to get Facebook to see the difference between child pornography and history — Quartz

I dislike Facebook, always have, but until fairly recently that was simply a personal position – similar to not liking the colour pink. Now, though, I worry about its amoeba-like spread into all aspects of internet life.

It’s as if Facebook wants to become the ‘internet of media’, the one-stop-shop for all its users needs. But the glory and the power of the internet era is its diversity, and the ability for all voices to be heard. Concentrating all that power in one place means that news, and be extension, history will once again be capable of being vetted.

This incident was almost too ridiculous to worry about, but in the future, I expect Facebook to become a lot better at being Big Brother. And that worries me.

Meeks


#scifi ? Or the genuine history of a war yet to come?

 

I have been a fan of author, Chris James for some time. How could I not? He’s a very good sci-fi writer! Anyway, when I read this blog post of his, I was intrigued to say the least.  Read it and see for yourselves:

The Stranger and the Manuscript

ThumbI had the shock of my life a few days ago when I took the dogs for a walk in my local forest, only for a stranger to approach me and address me by name; in fact, by both my author name and my real name.  Much greater shocks were to come later in our brief discussion.

Standing slightly less than average height, the Stranger wore lose-fitting black garb which hid all body contours, and the hood fitted quite tightly over the head and wrapped around it to obscure the chin, mouth and nose.  Only two piercing blue eyes stared out at me.  In addition, the pitch and timbre of the muffled voice gave no indication of this person’s sex; it could’ve been a female with a low voice or a male with a high voice.  He/she spoke in a gender-neutral tone that would shortly become very frustrated with me.

CrazyMy disorientation at being denied clues to this person’s identity was compounded by the reactions from my dogs.  Normally they run and sniff everything in the forest.  Crazy in particular never stops moving for a millisecond, and flies through life with a constant expression of wondrous stupidity on her ugly face (well, they say dogs take after their owners *sigh*).  Now, however, I noticed that both dogs had become still, frozen…

– See more at: http://chrisjamesauthor.com/books/the-stranger-and-the-manuscript/#more-2334


Vokhtah, book 2 – some plotting

I’m a pantster not a plotter, however there comes a time in any story when I have to take a step back, and really think about the wider ramifications of the story I am trying to tell.  This usually involves thinking about the world as a whole. 

What outside forces are at work? And how will they impinge on the lives of my main characters? In particular, how will history, culture and politics help or hinder their personal stories?

The following excerpt is something I’ve been working on for days.  The scene will impact two of my main  characters. One, the Apprentice/Kaati you already know. The other is a character I introduced in book 1, but only in passing. As such, the information in this scene is vital, so it needs to be clear. But I did not want to write just an info dump. 😦

I’d really appreciate your feedback on whether I got the balance more or less right.

***

The Master of Acolytes was something of an anomaly amongst the higher ranked healers of the Guild because it had a powerful talent, but very little personal ambition. It did not attempt to curry favour with either the Yellows or the Blues, and tended to avoid Guild politics where possible.

Nonetheless, even this mild, self-effacing healer nurtured one, powerful ambition – it longed to be the healer who finally freed the Guild from the Traders forever.

The Master did not hate the Traders. It did not even object to sharing the Settlement with them, but it did fear another Great Unrest, and knew the Guild would never be truly safe while it was dependant on outsiders for any of its important needs. And Traders held a monopoly on two of the Guild’s most critical needs.

Ever since the time of the Rogue, the Traders had been the Guild’s only link with the outside world. Traders kept the Guild’s maps up-to-date, and the Trader Quartermaster made it possible for the Guild to know where and when its Triads were needed. In return the Guild offered the Traders shelter and food.

This symbiotic relationship had worked well until the Great Unrest had disrupted the Guild’s ability to service the needs of the eyries, and their Vokh. The Guild had acted quickly, yet even so, the Nine had promised to withdraw the Vokh’s protection of the Settlement if such a disturbance ever happened again.

That was when it had become obvious the Guild’s dependence on the Traders was a weakness, a dangerous weakness. Nonetheless, despite over two hundred years of trying, the Guild had not been able to breed even one healer-seneschal. The two talents could not seem to co-exist in the one body. Those Initiates with healing talents strong enough to survive the Quickening could not mind-speak, while those who could always died because they lacked the healing talents that should have kept them alive.

The Master of Acolytes was well aware of this long, long history of failure. It had personally nurtured six young candidates with the ability to mind-speak, and had watched five of them die during the Quickening. Yet despite these failures, it continued to believe the mix of talents was possible. It was convinced the answer lay in finding candidates who had the potential for both talents… before the Quickening.

All five failures had been first rate apprentices who should have made good healers, yet they had still died. And now there was just one hopeful left. It possessed a very strong talent for mind-speaking, however it was the young iVokh’s empathy that made it truly special. Even as a first year apprentice, it had shown a natural ‘knack’ for soothing fractious newborn that was unmatched by any of the other apprentices.

Of course, empathy alone did not guarantee the Quickening would trigger the full range of healer talents. Nonetheless, experience had shown that natural empathy was the best indicator of latent talents.

In an effort to release more of this latent potential, the Master had arranged for the sixth candidate to work with a powerful healer in a safe eyrie. Unfortunately Needlepoint had turned out to be anything but safe, and now no-one seemed to know whether the Triad, and its precious Acolyte, were still alive.

The only one who might know was the Yellow Councillor, but it was the least approachable, and most feared healer in the Guild.

The Master had never spoken to the Yellow, nor had it ever wanted to, but after almost two ti’m’akh of fearful waiting it could wait no longer. It had to find out if its life’s work was over.

Taking a deep, tremulous breath, the old healer raised its hand and knocked on the Yellow’s door.


The Sable City – a review

I can’t remember how I found my way to Indies Unlimited but once there I was hooked. One of the features I liked the most was [and is] ‘Ed’s Casual Friday’, a weekly post written by M.Edward McNally. Witty and always beautifully written McNally’s articles made me wonder what kind of a writer he was when he was ‘at home’, slaving over a hot keyboard. After a little diligent searching I discovered that he writes fantasy. Yay! After sci-fi, fantasy is my next favourite genre so buying one of his books was a natural progression.

So which book did I buy and what did I think of it? The book was The Sable City, book 1 of The Norothian Cycle and I was so impressed with it that I will soon be buying book 2!

As a genre, Fantasy is a strange beast; when it’s done well it’s wonderful [think Robin Hobb, Tad Williams etc], however getting it right is not easy. Not only must the author create vivid characters who leap off the page and demand to be loved, or hated, those characters must also live in a world that has depth and a sense of solid reality to it. McNally has achieved both with The Sable City. The characters are well written and each has a past and little quirks that make them immediately recognizable. One of my favourites is a devil named Balan. Despite being one of the ‘villains’ of the piece his wit and sartorial elegance make his every appearance a joy to read. Tilda, the main character in the book is strong, honourable and tenacious yet at the same time believably female, a rarity amongst male authors. She grows as a person in response to the events of the book, as do the two male characters – Dugan and Zebulon – but the growth never seems forced, rather it is a seamless, natural process that you would expect from ‘real’ people. The less major characters also experience growth. None of them remain static and that is one of the things that makes the book such a pleasure to read.

A good story however, requires more than just good characters. A good story also requires a believable world for those characters to inhabit. That world has to have geography. It has to have climate. It has to have varied and interesting cultures. And it has to have history. In the real world everyone has a sense of the past, even those who have no interest in formal History. The past is where we came from. It not only tells us where we have been as a people or a race, it informs our present. In many ways history is what motivates a whole people so a story without history is like a painting with only the main features coloured in. McNally knows this and his world is rich in references to the past, making the reader feel that the present is just an extension of what came before. As it should be.

But what is The Sable City about? What is the story that pulls us along?

In essence The Sable City is the story of a quest. The quest begins in the island state of Miilark where the trader family of Deskata suddenly finds itself without a direct blood heir. The only Deskata left who could save the family was exiled years before so Captain Block is sent on a mission to try and find the exile and bring him home. Block chooses only a Guilder apprentice by the name of Matilda Lanai to help him as secrecy is paramount. And so the quest to find John Deskata begins. They do not have much to go on. They know that Deskata has brilliant green eyes, a family trait, but not much else. Along the way they meet a deserter from the Legionnaires called Dugan who seems to know where Deskata may have gone but he has his own agenda and the plot soon thickens with deceptions large and small that add an interesting element of  ‘who dunnit’ to the story. As the plot unfolds we are introduced to a colourful array of characters that includes a samurai from the Far West,  a bored Circle Mage, a Duchess incognito and a mysterious woman called Nesha Tarii who has a seductive effect on all the men she comes in contact with… but she is not what she seems. And then of course there are the dragons.

I could say more but that would be giving too much away so I will content myself with saying that all these strange characters are brought together by fate and their own personal quests in a mysterious city of black stone called Vod’ Adia but the ending is not something you will be able to predict. That is one of the things I liked most about the book. I like being surprised and I think you will too.

The only small criticism I have of The Sable City is that at times the dialogue feels too… modern. Or to be more exact, too familiar, as if the banter was happening between two people in present day New York or some other large city. It did not happen often but when it did I would lose that sense of being elsewhere, just for a moment or two. I know many people will consider this criticism to be nit-picking but for me it was a little disconcerting. Other than that The Sable City did not jar with typos or poor grammar or awkward phrasing. It was well written and well edited and the story flowed just the way a good story should.

I think I can honestly say that this is the first fantasy book I have read in a while that I enjoyed and it is definitely the first indie fantasy that I have finished with a warm sense of satisfaction. The Sable City is a good story and I am looking forward to returning to the world to learn more.  I recommend it to anyone who wants more from fantasy than just magic and battles.  There is magic and there are battles but there is also much, much more. You will not be disappointed.


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