|WORDS OF RADIANCE (The Stormlight Archive Book Two)
Brandon Sanderson (brandonsanderson.com)
Today on Reader Dad, we’re very pleased to present an exclusive extract from Brandon Sanderson’s new novel, Words of Radiance. Below you will find Part 1, Chapter 1 of the novel, following on from yesterday’s extract at Sci Fi Now. Alternatively, click on the cover image above to download a PDF file of the same text.
PART ONE: ALIGHT (SHALLAN – KALADIN – DALINAR)
To be perfectly frank, what has happened these last two months is upon my head. The death, destruction, loss, and pain are my burden. I should have seen it coming. And I should have stopped it.
—From the personal journal of Navani Kholin, Jeseses 1174
Shallan pinched the thin charcoal pencil and drew a series of straight lines radiating from a sphere on the horizon. That sphere wasn’t quite the sun, nor was it one of the moons. Clouds outlined in charcoal seemed to stream toward it. And the sea beneath them . . . A drawing could not convey the bizarre nature of that ocean, made not of water but of small beads of translucent glass.
Shallan shivered, remembering that place. Jasnah knew much more of it than she would speak of to her ward, and Shallan wasn’t certain how to ask. How did one demand answers after a betrayal such as Shallan’s? Only a few days had passed since that event, and Shallan still didn’t know exactly how her relationship with Jasnah would proceed.
The deck rocked as the ship tacked, enormous sails fluttering overhead. Shallan was forced to grab the railing with her clothed safehand to steady herself. Captain Tozbek said that so far, the seas hadn’t been bad for this part of Longbrow’s Straits. However, she might have to go below if the waves and motion got much worse.
Shallan exhaled and tried to relax as the ship settled. A chill wind blew, and windspren zipped past on invisible air currents. Every time the sea grew rough, Shallan remembered that day, that alien ocean of glass beads . . .
She looked down again at what she’d drawn. She had only glimpsed that place, and her sketch was not perfect. It—
She frowned. On her paper, a pattern had risen, like an embossing. What had she done? That pattern was almost as wide as the page, a sequence of complex lines with sharp angles and repeated arrowhead shapes. Was it an effect of drawing that weird place, the place Jasnah said was named Shadesmar? Shallan hesitantly moved her freehand to feel the unnatural ridges on the page.
The pattern moved, sliding across the page like an axehound pup under a bedsheet.
Shallan yelped and leapt from her seat, dropping her sketchpad to the deck. The loose pages slumped to the planks, fluttering and then scattering in the wind. Nearby sailors—Thaylen men with long white eyebrows they combed back over their ears— scrambled to help, snatching sheets from the air before they could blow overboard.
“You all right, young miss?” Tozbek asked, looking over from a conversation with one of his mates. The short, portly Tozbek wore a wide sash and a coat of gold and red matched by the cap on his head. He wore his eyebrows up and stiffened into a fanned shape above his eyes.
“I’m well, Captain,” Shallan said. “I was merely spooked.”
Yalb stepped up to her, proffering the pages. “Your accouterments, my lady.”
Shallan raised an eyebrow. “Accouterments?”
“Sure,” the young sailor said with a grin. “I’m practicing my fancy words. They help a fellow obtain reasonable feminine companionship. You know— the kind of young lady who doesn’t smell too bad an’ has at least a few teeth left.”
“Lovely,” Shallan said, taking the sheets back. “Well, depending on your definition of lovely, at least.” She suppressed further quips, suspiciously regarding the stack of pages in her hand. The picture she’d drawn of Shadesmar was on top, no longer bearing the strange embossed ridges.
“What happened?” Yalb said. “Did a cremling crawl out from under you or something?” As usual, he wore an open-fronted vest and a pair of loose trousers.
“It was nothing,” Shallan said softly, tucking the pages away into her satchel.
Yalb gave her a little salute— she had no idea why he had taken to doing that—and went back to tying rigging with the other sailors. She soon caught bursts of laughter from the men near him, and when she glanced at him, gloryspren danced around his head— they took the shape of little spheres of light. He was apparently very proud of the jape he’d just made.
She smiled. It was indeed fortunate that Tozbek had been delayed in Kharbranth. She liked this crew, and was happy that Jasnah had selected them for their voyage. Shallan sat back down on the box that Captain Tozbek had ordered lashed beside the railing so she could enjoy the sea as they sailed. She had to be wary of the spray, which wasn’t terribly good for her sketches, but so long as the seas weren’t rough, the opportunity to watch the waters was worth the trouble.
The scout atop the rigging let out a shout. Shallan squinted in the direction he pointed. They were within sight of the distant mainland, sailing parallel to it. In fact, they’d docked at port last night to shelter from the highstorm that had blown past. When sailing, you always wanted to be near to port— venturing into open seas when a highstorm could surprise you was suicidal.
The smear of darkness to the north was the Frostlands, a largely uninhabited area along the bottom edge of Roshar. Occasionally, she caught a glimpse of higher cliff s to the south. Thaylenah, the great island kingdom, made another barrier there. The straits passed between the two.
The lookout had spotted something in the waves just north of the ship, a bobbing shape that at first appeared to be a large log. No, it was much larger than that, and wider. Shallan stood, squinting, as it drew closer. It turned out to be a domed brown- green shell, about the size of three rowboats lashed together. As they passed by, the shell came up alongside the ship and somehow managed to keep pace, sticking up out of the water perhaps six or eight feet.
A santhid! Shallan leaned out over the rail, looking down as the sailors jabbered excitedly, several joining her in craning out to see the creature. Santhidyn were so reclusive that some of her books claimed they were extinct and all modern reports of them untrustworthy.
“You are good luck, young miss!” Yalb said to her with a laugh as he passed by with rope. “We ain’t seen a santhid in years.”
“You still aren’t seeing one,” Shallan said. “Only the top of its shell.” To her disappointment, waters hid anything else—save shadows of something in the depths that might have been long arms extending downward. Stories claimed the beasts would sometimes follow ships for days, waiting out in the sea as the vessel went into port, then following them again once the ship left.
“The shell is all you ever see of one,” Yalb said. “Passions, this is a good sign!”
Shallan clutched her satchel. She took a Memory of the creature down there beside the ship by closing her eyes, fixing the image of it in her head so she could draw it with precision.
Draw what, though? she thought. A lump in the water?
An idea started to form in her head. She spoke it aloud before she could think better. “Bring me that rope,” she said, turning to Yalb.
“Brightness?” he asked, stopping in place.
“Tie a loop in one end,” she said, hurriedly setting her satchel on her seat. “I need to get a look at the santhid. I’ve never actually put my head underwater in the ocean. Will the salt make it difficult to see?” “Underwater?” Yalb said, voice squeaking.
“You’re not tying the rope.”
“Because I’m not a storming fool! Captain will have my head if . . .”
“Get a friend,” Shallan said, ignoring him and taking the rope to tie one end into a small loop. “You’re going to lower me down over the side, and I’m going get a glimpse of what’s under the shell. Do you realize that nobody has ever produced a drawing of a live santhid? All the ones that have washed up on beaches were badly decomposed. And since sailors consider hunting the things to be bad luck—”
“It is!” Yalb said, voice growing more high pitched. “Ain’t nobody going to kill one.”
Shallan finished the loop and hurried to the side of the ship, her red hair whipping around her face as she leaned out over the rail. The santhid was still there. How did it keep up? She could see no fi ns.
She looked back at Yalb, who held the rope, grinning. “Ah, Brightness. Is this payback for what I said about your backside to Beznk? That was just in jest, but you got me good! I . . .” He trailed off as she met his eyes. “Storms. You’re serious.”
“I’ll not have another opportunity like this. Naladan chased these things for most of her life and never got a good look at one.”
“This is insanity!”
“No, this is scholarship! I don’t know what kind of view I can get through the water, but I have to try.”
Yalb sighed. “We have masks. Made from a tortoise shell with glass in hollowed-out holes on the front and bladders along the edges to keep the water out. You can duck your head underwater with one on and see. We use them to check over the hull at dock.”
“Of course, I’d have to go to the captain to get permission to take one. . . .”
She folded her arms. “Devious of you. Well, get to it.” It was unlikely she’d be able to go through with this without the captain finding out anyway.
Yalb grinned. “What happened to you in Kharbranth? Your first trip with us, you w ere so timid, you looked like you’d faint at the mere thought of sailing away from your homeland!”
Shallan hesitated, then found herself blushing. “This is somewhat fool-hardy, isn’t it?”
“Hanging from a moving ship and sticking your head in the water?”
Yalb said. “Yeah. Kind of a little.”
“Do you think . . . we could stop the ship?”
Yalb laughed, but went jogging off to speak with the captain, taking her query as an indication she was still determined to go through with her plan. And she was.
What did happen to me? she wondered.
The answer was simple. She’d lost everything. She’d stolen from Jasnah Kholin, one of the most powerful women in the world—and in so doing had not only lost her chance to study as she’d always dreamed, but had also doomed her brothers and her house. She had failed utterly and miserably.
And she’d pulled through it.
She wasn’t unscathed. Her credibility with Jasnah had been severely wounded, and she felt that she had all but abandoned her family. But something about the experience of stealing Jasnah’s Soulcaster— which had turned out to be a fake anyway— then nearly being killed by a man she’d thought was in love with her . . .
Well, she now had a better idea of how bad things could get. It was as if . . . once she had feared the darkness, but now she had stepped into it. She had experienced some of the horrors that awaited her there. Terrible as they w ere, at least she knew.
You always knew, a voice whispered deep inside of her. You grew up with horrors, Shallan. You just won’t let yourself remember them.
“What is this?” Tozbek asked as he came up, his wife, Ashlv, at his side. The diminutive woman did not speak much; she dressed in a skirt and blouse of bright yellow, a headscarf covering all of her hair except the two white eyebrows, which she had curled down beside her cheeks.
“Young miss,” Tozbek said, “you want to go swimming? Can’t you wait until we get into port? I know of some nice areas where the water is not nearly so cold.”
“I won’t be swimming,” Shallan said, blushing further. What would she wear to go swimming with men about? Did people really do that? “I need to get a closer look at our companion.” She gestured toward the sea creature.
“Young miss, you know I can’t allow something so dangerous. Even if we stopped the ship, what if the beast harmed you?”
“They’re said to be harmless.”
“They are so rare, can we really know for certain? Besides, there are other animals in these seas that could harm you. Redwaters hunt this area for certain, and we might be in shallow enough water for khornaks to be a worry.” Tozbek shook his head. “I’m sorry, I just cannot allow it.”
Shallan bit her lip, and found her heart beating traitorously. She wanted to push harder, but that decisive look in his eyes made her wilt. “Very well.”
Tozbek smiled broadly. “I’ll take you to see some shells in the port at Amydlatn when we stop there, young miss. They have quite a collection!”
She didn’t know where that was, but from the jumble of consonants squished together, she assumed it would be on the Thaylen side. Most cities were, this far south. Though Thaylenah was nearly as frigid as the Frostlands, people seemed to enjoy living there.
Of course, Thaylens were all a little off. How else to describe Yalb and the others wearing no shirts despite the chill in the air?
They weren’t the ones contemplating a dip in the ocean, Shallan reminded herself. She looked over the side of the ship again, watching waves break against the shell of the gentle santhid. What was it? A great- shelled beast, like the fearsome chasmfiends of the Shattered Plains? Was it more like a fish under there, or more like a tortoise? The santhidyn were so rare— and the occasions when scholars had seen them in person so infrequent—t hat the theories all contradicted one another.
She sighed and opened her satchel, then set to organizing her papers, most of which w ere practice sketches of the sailors in various poses as they worked to maneuver the massive sails overhead, tacking against the wind. Her father would never have allowed her to spend a day sitting and watching a bunch of shirtless darkeyes. How much her life had changed in such a short time.
She was working on a sketch of the santhid’s shell when Jasnah stepped up onto the deck.
Like Shallan, Jasnah wore the havah, a Vorin dress of distinctive design. The hemline was down at her feet and the neckline almost at her chin. Some of the Thaylens— when they thought she wasn’t listening— referred to the clothing as prudish. Shallan disagreed; the havah wasn’t prudish, but elegant. Indeed, the silk hugged the body, particularly through the bust—and the way the sailors gawked at Jasnah indicated they didn’t find the garment unflattering.
Jasnah was pretty. Lush of figure, tan of skin. Immaculate eyebrows, lips painted a deep red, hair up in a fi ne braid. Though Jasnah was twice Shallan’s age, her mature beauty was something to be admired, even envied. Why did the woman have to be so perfect?
Jasnah ignored the eyes of the sailors. It wasn’t that she didn’t notice men. Jasnah noticed everything and everyone. She simply didn’t seem to care, one way or another, how men perceived her.
No, that’s not true, Shallan thought as Jasnah walked over. She wouldn’t take the time to do her hair, or put on makeup, if she didn’t care how she was perceived. In that, Jasnah was an enigma. On one hand, she seemed to be a scholar concerned only with her research. On the other hand, she cultivated the poise and dignity of a king’s daughter— and, at times, used it like a bludgeon.
“And here you are,” Jasnah said, walking to Shallan. A spray of water from the side of the ship chose that moment to fly up and sprinkle her. She frowned at the drops of water beading on her silk clothing, then looked back to Shallan and raised her eyebrow. “The ship, you may have noticed, has two very fi ne cabins that I hired out for us at no small expense.”
“Yes, but they’re inside.”
“As rooms usually are.”
“I’ve spent most of my life inside.”
“So you will spend much more of it, if you wish to be a scholar.”
Shallan bit her lip, waiting for the order to go below. Curiously, it did not come. Jasnah gestured for Captain Tozbek to approach, and he did so, groveling his way over with cap in hand.
“Yes, Brightness?” he asked.
“I should like another of these . . . seats,” Jasnah said, regarding Shallan’s box.
Tozbek quickly had one of his men lash a second box in place. As she waited for the seat to be ready, Jasnah waved for Shallan to hand over her sketches. Jasnah inspected the drawing of the santhid, then looked over the side of the ship. “No wonder the sailors were making such a fuss.”
“Luck, Brightness!” one of the sailors said. “It is a good omen for your trip, don’t you think?”
“I shall take any fortune provided me, Nanhel Eltorv,” she said. “Thank you for the seat.”
The sailor bowed awkwardly before retreating.
“You think they’re superstitious fools,” Shallan said softly, watching the sailor leave.
“From what I have observed,” Jasnah said, “these sailors are men who have found a purpose in life and now take simple plea sure in it.” Jasnah looked at the next drawing. “Many people make far less out of life. Captain Tozbek runs a good crew. You were wise in bringing him to my attention.”
Shallan smiled. “You didn’t answer my question.”
“You didn’t ask a question,” Jasnah said. “These sketches are characteristically skillful, Shallan, but weren’t you supposed to be reading?”
“I . . . h ad trouble concentrating.”
“So you came up on deck,” Jasnah said, “to sketch pictures of young men working without their shirts on. You expected this to help your concentration?”
Shallan blushed, as Jasnah stopped at one sheet of paper in the stack. 39 Shallan sat patiently—s he’d been well trained in that by her father— until Jasnah turned it toward her. The picture of Shadesmar, of course.
“You have respected my command not to peer into this realm again?” Jasnah asked.
“Yes, Brightness. That picture was drawn from a memory of my first . . . lapse.”
Jasnah lowered the page. Shallan thought she saw a hint of something in the woman’s expression. Was Jasnah wondering if she could trust Shallan’s word?
“I assume this is what is bothering you?” Jasnah asked.
“I suppose I should explain it to you, then.”
“Really? You would do this?”
“You needn’t sound so surprised.”
“It seems like powerful information,” Shallan said. “The way you forbade me . . . I assumed that knowledge of this place was secret, or at least not to be trusted to one of my age.”
Jasnah sniff ed. “I’ve found that refusing to explain secrets to young people makes them more prone to get themselves into trouble, not less. Your experimentation proves that you’ve already stumbled face-first into all of this— as I once did myself, I’ll have you know. I know through painful experience how dangerous Shadesmar can be. If I leave you in ignorance, I’ll be to blame if you get yourself killed there.”
“So you’d have explained about it if I’d asked earlier in our trip?”
“Probably not,” Jasnah admitted. “I had to see how willing you w ere to obey me. This time.”
Shallan wilted, and suppressed the urge to point out that back when she’d been a studious and obedient ward, Jasnah hadn’t divulged nearly as many secrets as she did now. “So what is it? That . . . p lace.”
“It’s not truly a location,” Jasnah said. “Not as we usually think of them. Shadesmar is h ere, all around us, right now. All things exist there in some form, as all things exist here.”
Shallan frowned. “I don’t—”
Jasnah held up a finger to quiet her. “All things have three components: the soul, the body, and the mind. That place you saw, Shadesmar, is what we call the Cognitive Realm— the place of the mind.
“All around us you see the physical world. You can touch it, see it, hear it. This is how your physical body experiences the world. Well, Shadesmar is the way that your cognitive self—y our unconscious self— experiences the world. Through your hidden senses touching that realm, you make intuitive leaps in logic and you form hopes. It is likely through those extra senses that you, Shallan, create art.”
Water splashed on the bow of the ship as it crossed a swell. Shallan wiped a drop of salty water from her cheek, trying to think through what Jasnah had just said. “That made almost no sense whatsoever to me, Brightness.”
“I should hope that it didn’t,” Jasnah said. “I’ve spent six years researching Shadesmar, and I still barely know what to make of it. I shall have to accompany you there several times before you can understand, even a little, the true significance of the place.”
Jasnah grimaced at the thought. Shallan was always surprised to see visible emotion from her. Emotion was something relatable, something human— and Shallan’s mental image of Jasnah Kholin was of someone almost divine. It was, upon reflection, an odd way to regard a determined atheist.
“Listen to me,” Jasnah said. “My own words betray my ignorance. I told you that Shadesmar wasn’t a place, and yet I call it one in my next breath. I speak of visiting it, though it is all around us. We simply don’t have the proper terminology to discuss it. Let me try another tactic.”
Jasnah stood up, and Shallan hastened to follow. They walked along the ship’s rail, feeling the deck sway beneath their feet. Sailors made way for Jasnah with quick bows. They regarded her with as much reverence as they would a king. How did she do it? How could she control her surroundings without seeming to do anything at all?
“Look down into the waters,” Jasnah said as they reached the bow. “What do you see?”
Shallan stopped beside the rail and stared down at the blue waters, foaming as they were broken by the ship’s prow. Here at the bow, she could see a deepness to the swells. An unfathomable expanse that extended not just outward, but downward.
“I see eternity,” Shallan said.
“Spoken like an artist,” Jasnah said. “This ship sails across depths we cannot know. Beneath these waves is a bustling, frantic, unseen world.”
Jasnah leaned forward, gripping the rail with one hand unclothed and the other veiled within the safehand sleeve. She looked outward. Not at the depths, and not at the land distantly peeking over both the northern and southern horizons. She looked toward the east. Toward the storms.
“There is an entire world, Shallan,” Jasnah said, “of which our minds skim but the surface. A world of deep, profound thought. A world created by deep, profound thoughts. When you see Shadesmar, you enter those depths. It is an alien place to us in some ways, but at the same time we formed it. With some help.”
“We did what?”
“What are spren?” Jasnah asked.
The question caught Shallan off guard, but by now she was accustomed to challenging questions from Jasnah. She took time to think and consider her answer.
“Nobody knows what spren are,” Shallan said, “though many philosophers have different opinions on—”
“No,” Jasnah said. “What are they?”
“I . . .” Shallan looked up at a pair of windspren spinning through the air above. They looked like tiny ribbons of light, glowing softly, dancing around one another. “They’re living ideas.” Jasnah spun on her.
“What?” Shallan said, jumping. “Am I wrong?”
“No,” Jasnah said. “You’re right.” The woman narrowed her eyes. “By my best guess, spren are elements of the Cognitive Realm that have leaked into the physical world. They’re concepts that have gained a fragment of sentience, perhaps because of human intervention.
“Think of a man who gets angry often. Think of how his friends and family might start referring to that anger as a beast, as a thing that possesses him, as something external to him. Humans personify. We speak of the wind as if it has a will of its own.
“Spren are those ideas—t he ideas of collective human experience— somehow come alive. Shadesmar is where that first happens, and it is their place. Though we created it, they shaped it. They live there; they rule there, within their own cities.”
“Yes,” Jasnah said, looking back out over the ocean. She seemed troubled. “Spren are wild in their variety. Some are as clever as humans and create cities. Others are like fish and simply swim in the currents.”
Shallan nodded. Though in truth she was having trouble grasping any of this, she didn’t want Jasnah to stop talking. This was the sort of knowledge that Shallan needed, the kind of thing she craved. “Does this have to do with what you discovered? About the parshmen, the Voidbringers?”
“I haven’t been able to determine that yet. The spren are not always forthcoming. In some cases, they do not know. In others, they do not trust me because of our ancient betrayal.”
Shallan frowned, looking to her teacher. “Betrayal?”
“They tell me of it,” Jasnah said, “but they won’t say what it was. We broke an oath, and in so doing off ended them greatly. I think some of them may have died, though how a concept can die, I do not know.” Jasnah turned to Shallan with a solemn expression. “I realize this is overwhelming. You will have to learn this, all of it, if you are to help me. Are you still willing?”
“Do I have a choice?”
A smile tugged at the edges of Jasnah’s lips. “I doubt it. You Soulcast on your own, without the aid of a fabrial. You are like me.”
Shallan stared out over the waters. Like Jasnah. What did it mean?
She froze, blinking. For a moment, she thought she’d seen the same pattern as before, the one that had made ridges on her sheet of paper. This time it had been in the water, impossibly formed on the surface of a wave.
“Brightness . . .” she said, resting her fingers on Jasnah’s arm. “I thought
I saw something in the water, just now. A pattern of sharp lines, like a maze.”
“Show me where.”
“It was on one of the waves, and we’ve passed it now. But I think I saw it earlier, on one of my pages. Does it mean something?”
“Most certainly. I must admit, Shallan, I find the coincidence of our meeting to be startling. Suspiciously so.”
“They were involved,” Jasnah said. “They brought you to me. And they are still watching you, it appears. So no, Shallan, you no longer have a choice. The old ways are returning, and I don’t see it as a hopeful sign. It’s an act of self-p reservation. The spren sense impending danger, and so they return to us. Our attention now must turn to the Shattered Plains and the relics of Urithiru. It will be a long, long time before you return to your homeland.”
Shallan nodded mutely.
“This worries you,” Jasnah said.
“Yes, Brightness. My family . . .”
Shallan felt like a traitor in abandoning her brothers, who had been depending on her for wealth. She’d written to them and explained, without many specifics, that she’d had to return the stolen Soulcaster—and was now required to help Jasnah with her work.
Balat’s reply had been positive, after a fashion. He said he was glad at least one of them had escaped the fate that was coming to the house. He thought that the rest of them— her three brothers and Balat’s betrothed— were doomed.
They might be right. Not only would Father’s debts crush them, but there was the matter of her father’s broken Soulcaster. The group that had given it to him wanted it back.
Unfortunately, Shallan was convinced that Jasnah’s quest was of the utmost importance. The Voidbringers would soon return— indeed, they were not some distant threat from stories. They lived among men, and had for centuries. The gentle, quiet parshmen who worked as perfect servants and slaves were really destroyers.
Stopping the catastrophe of the return of the Voidbringers was a greater duty than even protecting her brothers. It was still painful to admit that.
Jasnah studied her. “With regard to your family, Shallan. I have taken some action.”
“Action?” Shallan said, taking the taller woman’s arm. “You’ve helped my brothers?”
“After a fashion,” Jasnah said. “Wealth would not truly solve this problem, I suspect, though I have arranged for a small gift to be sent. From what you’ve said, your family’s problems really stem from two issues. First, the Ghostbloods desire their Soulcaster—which you have broken— to be returned. Second, your house is without allies and deeply in debt.”
Jasnah proffered a sheet of paper. “This,” she continued, “is from a conversation I had with my mother via spanreed this morning.”
Shallan traced it with her eyes, noting Jasnah’s explanation of the broken Soulcaster and her request for help.
This happens more often than you’d think, Navani had replied. The failing likely has to do with the alignment of the gem housings. Bring me the device, and we shall see.
“My mother,” Jasnah said, “is a renowned artifabrian. I suspect she can make yours function again. We can send it to your brothers, who can return it to its owners.”
“You’d let me do that?” Shallan asked. During their days sailing, Shallan had cautiously pried for more information about the sect, hoping to understand her father and his motives. Jasnah claimed to know very little of them beyond the fact that they wanted her research, and were willing to kill for it.
“I don’t particularly want them having access to such a valuable device,” Jasnah said. “But I don’t have time to protect your family right now directly. This is a workable solution, assuming your brothers can stall a while longer. Have them tell the truth, if they must—t hat you, knowing I was a scholar, came to me and asked me to fi x the Soulcaster. Perhaps that will sate them for now.”
“Thank you, Brightness.” Storms. If she’d just gone to Jasnah in the first place, after being accepted as her ward, how much easier would it have been? Shallan looked down at the paper, noticing that the conversation continued.
As for the other matter, Navani wrote, I’m very fond of this suggestion. I believe I can persuade the boy to at least consider it, as his most recent affair ended quite abruptly— as is common with him— earlier in the week.
“What is this second part?” Shallan asked, looking up from the paper.
“Sating the Ghostbloods alone will not save your house,” Jasnah said. “Your debts are too great, particularly considering your father’s actions in alienating so many. I have therefore arranged a powerful alliance for your house.”
Jasnah took a deep breath. She seemed reluctant to explain. “I have taken the initial steps in arranging for you to be betrothed to one of my cousins, son of my uncle Dalinar Kholin. The boy’s name is Adolin. He is handsome and well- acquainted with amiable discourse.”
“Betrothed?” Shallan said. “You’ve promised him my hand?”
“I have started the pro cess,” Jasnah said, speaking with uncharacteristic anxiety. “Though at times he lacks foresight, Adolin has a good heart— as good as that of his father, who may be the best man I have ever known. He is considered Alethkar’s most eligible son, and my mother has long wanted him wed.”
“Betrothed,” Shallan repeated.
“Yes. Is that distressing?”
“It’s wonderful!” Shallan exclaimed, grabbing Jasnah’s arm more tightly. “So easy. If I’m married to someone so powerful . . . Storms! Nobody would dare touch us in Jah Keved. It would solve many of our problems. Brightness Jasnah, you’re a genius!”
Jasnah relaxed visibly. “Yes, well, it did seem a workable solution. I had wondered, however, if you’d be off ended.”
“Why on the winds would I be off ended?”
“Because of the restriction of freedom implicit in a marriage,” Jasnah said. “And if not that, because the offer was made without consulting you. I had to see if the possibility was even open first. It has proceeded further than I’d expected, as my mother has seized on the idea. Navani has . . . a tendency toward the overwhelming.”
Shallan had trouble imagining anyone overwhelming Jasnah. “Stormfather! You’re worried I’d be off ended? Brightness, I spent my entire life locked in my father’s manor— I grew up assuming he’d pick my husband.”
“But you’re free of your father now.”
“Yes, and I was so perfectly wise in my own pursuit of relationships,” Shallan said. “The first man I chose was not only an ardent, but secretly an assassin.”
“It doesn’t bother you at all?” Jasnah said. “The idea of being beholden to another, particularly a man?”
“It’s not like I’m being sold into slavery,” Shallan said with a laugh.
“No. I suppose not.” Jasnah shook herself, her poise returning. “Well, I will let Navani know you are amenable to the engagement, and we should have a causal in place within the day.”
A causal—a conditional betrothal, in Vorin terminology. She would be, for all intents and purposes, engaged, but would have no legal footing until an official betrothal was signed and verified by the ardents.
“The boy’s father has said he will not force Adolin into anything,” Jasnah explained, “though the boy is recently single, as he has managed to offend yet another young lady. Regardless, Dalinar would rather you two meet before anything more binding is agreed upon. There have been . . . shifts in the political climate of the Shattered Plains. A great loss to my uncle’s army. Another reason for us to hasten to the Plains.”
“Adolin Kholin,” Shallan said, listening with half an ear. “A duelist. A fantastic one. And even a Shardbearer.”
“Ah, so you were paying attention to your readings about my father and family.”
“I was—but I knew about your family before that. The Alethi are the center of society! Even girls from rural houses know the names of the Alethi princes.” And she’d be lying if she denied youthful daydreams of meeting one. “But Brightness, are you certain this match will be wise? I mean, I’m hardly the most important of individuals.”
“Well, yes. The daughter of another highprince might have been preferable for Adolin. However, it seems that he has managed to offend each and every one of the eligible women of that rank. The boy is, shall we say, somewhat over eager about relationships. Nothing you can’t work through, I’m sure.”
“Stormfather,” Shallan said, feeling her legs go weak. “He’s heir to a princedom! He’s in line to the throne of Alethkar itself!”
“Third in line,” Jasnah said, “behind my brother’s infant son and Dalinar, my uncle.”
“Brightness, I have to ask. Why Adolin? Why not the younger son? I— I have nothing to offer Adolin, or the house.”
“On the contrary,” Jasnah said, “if you are what I think you are, then you will be able to offer him something nobody else can. Something more important than riches.”
“What is it you think that I am?” Shallan whispered, meeting the older woman’s eyes, finally asking the question that she hadn’t dared.
“Right now, you are but a promise,” Jasnah said. “A chrysalis with the potential for grandeur inside. When once humans and spren bonded, the results were women who danced in the skies and men who could destroy the stones with a touch.”
“The Lost Radiants. Traitors to mankind.” She couldn’t absorb it all. The betrothal, Shadesmar and the spren, and this, her mysterious destiny. She’d known. But speaking it . . .
She sank down, heedless of getting her dress wet on the deck, and sat with her back against the bulwark. Jasnah allowed her to compose herself before, amazingly, sitting down herself. She did so with far more poise, tucking her dress underneath her legs as she sat sideways. They both drew looks from the sailors.
“They’re going to chew me to pieces,” Shallan said. “The Alethi court.
It’s the most ferocious in the world.”
Jasnah snorted. “It’s more bluster than storm, Shallan. I will train you.” “I’ll never be like you, Brightness. You have power, authority, wealth.
Just look how the sailors respond to you.”
“Am I specifically using said power, authority, or wealth right now?”
“You paid for this trip.”
“Did you not pay for several trips on this ship?” Jasnah asked. “They did not treat you the same as they do me?”
“No. Oh, they are fond of me. But I don’t have your weight, Jasnah.”
“I will assume that did not have implications toward my girth,” Jasnah said with a hint of a smile. “I understand your argument, Shallan. It is, however, dead wrong.”
Shallan turned to her. Jasnah sat upon the deck of the ship as if it were a throne, back straight, head up, commanding. Shallan sat with her legs against her chest, arms around them below the knees. Even the ways they sat were different. She was nothing like this woman.
“There is a secret you must learn, child,” Jasnah said. “A secret that is even more important than those relating to Shadesmar and spren. Power is an illusion of perception.” Shallan frowned.
“Don’t mistake me,” Jasnah continued. “Some kinds of power are real— power to command armies, power to Soulcast. These come into play far less often than you would think. On an individual basis, in most interactions, this thing we call power— authority—exists only as it is perceived.
“You say I have wealth. This is true, but you have also seen that I do not often use it. You say I have authority as the sister of a king. I do. And yet, the men of this ship would treat me exactly the same way if I w ere a beggar who had convinced them I was the sister to a king. In that case, my authority is not a real thing. It is mere vapors—an illusion. I can create that illusion for them, as can you.”
“I’m not convinced, Brightness.”
“I know. If you w ere, you would be doing it already.” Jasnah stood up, brushing off her skirt. “You will tell me if you see that pattern— the one that appeared on the waves— again?”
“Yes, Brightness,” Shallan said, distracted.
“Then take the rest of the day for your art. I need to consider how to best teach you of Shadesmar.” The older woman retreated, nodding at the bows of sailors as she passed and went back down belowdecks.
Shallan rose, then turned and grabbed the railing, one hand to either side of the bowsprit. The ocean spread before her, rippling waves, a scent of cold freshness. Rhythmic crashing as the sloop pushed through the waves.
Jasnah’s words fought in her mind, like skyeels with only one rat between them. Spren with cities? Shadesmar, a realm that was h ere, but unseen? Shallan, suddenly betrothed to the single most important bachelor in the world?
She left the bow, walking along the side of the ship, freehand trailing on the railing. How did the sailors regard her? They smiled, they waved. They liked her. Yalb, who hung lazily from the rigging nearby, called to her, telling her that in the next port, there was a statue she had to go visit. “It’s this giant foot, young miss. Just a foot! Never finished the blustering statue . . .”
She smiled to him and continued. Did she want them to look at her as they looked at Jasnah? Always afraid, always worried that they might do something wrong? Was that power?
When I first sailed from Vedenar, she thought, reaching the place where her box had been tied, the captain kept urging me to go home. He saw my mission as a fool’s errand.
Tozbek had always acted as if he were doing her a favor in conveying her after Jasnah. Should she have had to spend that entire time feeling as if she’d imposed upon him and his crew by hiring them? Yes, he had offered a discount to her because of her father’s business with him in the past—but she’d still been employing him.
The way he’d treated her was probably a thing of Thaylen merchants. If a captain could make you feel like you w ere imposing on him, you’d pay better. She liked the man, but their relationship left something to be desired. Jasnah would never have stood for being treated in such a way.
That santhid still swam alongside. It was like a tiny, mobile island, its back overgrown with seaweed, small crystals jutting up from the shell.
Shallan turned and walked toward the stern, where Captain Tozbek spoke with one of his mates, pointing at a map covered with glyphs. He nodded to her as she approached. “Just a warning, young miss,” he said. “The ports will soon grow less accommodating. We’ll be leaving Longbrow’s Straits, curving around the eastern edge of the continent, toward New Natanan. There’s nothing of worth between h ere and the Shallow Crypts— and even that’s not much of a sight. I wouldn’t send my own brother ashore there without guards, and he’s killed seventeen men with his bare hands, he has.”
“I understand, Captain,” Shallan said. “And thank you. I’ve revised my earlier decision. I need you to halt the ship and let me inspect the specimen swimming beside us.”
He sighed, reaching up and running his fingers along one of his stiff, spiked eyebrows— much as other men might play with their mustaches. “Brightness, that’s not advisable. Stormfather! If I dropped you in the ocean . . .”
“Then I would be wet,” Shallan said. “It is a state I’ve experienced one or two times in my life.”
“No, I simply cannot allow it. Like I said, we’ll take you to see some shells in—”
“Cannot allow it?” Shallan interrupted. She regarded him with what she hoped was a look of puzzlement, hoping he didn’t see how tightly she squeezed her hands closed at her sides. Storms, but she hated confrontation. “I wasn’t aware I had made a request you had the power to allow or disallow, Captain. Stop the ship. Lower me down. That is your order.” She tried to say it as forcefully as Jasnah would. The woman could make it seem easier to resist a full highstorm than to disagree with her.
Tozbek worked his mouth for a moment, no sound coming out, as if his body were trying to continue his earlier objection but his mind had been delayed. “It is my ship . . .” he finally said.
“Nothing will be done to your ship,” Shallan said. “Let’s be quick about it, Captain. I do not wish to overly delay our arrival in port to night.”
She left him, walking back to her box, heart thumping, hands trembling. She sat down, partially to calm herself.
Tozbek, sounding profoundly annoyed, began calling orders. The sails were lowered, the ship slowed. Shallan breathed out, feeling a fool.
And yet, what Jasnah said worked. The way Shallan acted created something in the eyes of Tozbek. An illusion? Like the spren themselves, perhaps? Fragments of human expectation, given life?
The santhid slowed with them. Shallan rose, nervous, as sailors approached with rope. They reluctantly tied a loop at the bottom she could put her foot in, then explained that she should hold tightly to the rope as she was lowered. They tied a second, smaller rope securely around her waist— the means by which to haul her, wet and humiliated, back onto the deck. An inevitability, in their eyes.
She took off her shoes, then climbed up over the railing as instructed. Had it been this windy before? She had a moment of vertigo, standing there with socked toes gripping a tiny rim, dress fluttering in the coursing winds. A windspren zipped up to her, then formed into the shape of a face with clouds behind it. Storms, the thing had better not interfere. Was it human imagination that had given windspren their mischievous spark?
She stepped unsteadily into the rope loop as the sailors lowered it down beside her feet, then Yalb handed her the mask he’d told her of.
Jasnah appeared from belowdecks, looking about in confusion. She saw Shallan standing off the side of the ship, and then cocked an eyebrow.
Pierre Lemaitre (www.pierrelemaitre.com)
Translated by Frank Wynne (www.terribleman.com)
MacLehose Press (maclehosepress.com)
Released: 13th March 2014
Commandant Camille Verhœven’s team are called to the scene of a grisly murder in a well-appointed apartment set in the middle of a largely deserted industrial estate. Two women have, quite literally, been torn apart and the only clue is the fake fingerprint left deliberately at the scene. This single clue links this case with an earlier case, and soon afterwards a third. There seems to be no rhyme nor reason for these murders, until Verhœven discovers that one of the murders bears a striking resemblance to the murder scene described in James Ellroy’s classic novel, The Black Dahlia. From there, it’s a matter of identifying the other books to which he is paying grisly homage in an attempt to understand what the killer is trying to do so they can have some chance of stopping him.
Pierre Lemaitre burst onto the scene in the English-speaking parts of the world in a big way last year with his novel, Alex. I’m one of the few people who missed the earlier novel, but the publication of Irène makes me glad that I did, since this, originally published in French as Travail soigné (Careful Work, if Google translate is to be believed), is the first of the Camille Verhœven novels, and I can only assume that the consequences of this first novel spill over into the second, meaning that people who have already read Alex may already have some inkling of what to expect. I could, of course, be very wrong; I’ll be reading Alex very soon to find out for myself.
From the beginning, Irène is a straightforward police procedural. For fans of the genre, it gives a slightly fresh perspective given the differences between the UK/US judicial systems and that of France (which bears some resemblance to that of Sweden, for fans of Scandi-crime). We meet the team as they begin the investigation into the first brutal pair of murders. Verhœven is an unconventional man, a man who barely reaches four foot eleven inches, but who commands the respect of the men under his command and, quite quickly, most people who come under his scrutiny. He is happily married, and his wife is expecting a child, and this adds a human touch to the plodding detective that we see in the workplace, and introduces a familiar thread that will ring true for many fathers and expectant fathers: the thought that we’re spending too much time in work, and not enough time with our family, missing vital moments that we will never be able to regain.
In some ways Irène is a love letter to the crime fiction genre, and Lemaitre takes the somewhat unexpected approach of making his killer, who recreates crime scenes from fiction, use scenes from some of the best known novels in the genre: the aforementioned The Black Dahlia, Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho (which will be recognisable to anyone who has read that novel as soon as they find themselves in the crime scene), William McIlvaney’s Laidlaw and Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s first Martin Beck novel, Roseanna. These scenes in some ways act as Easter eggs for people who have already read these novels, and gives us food for thought as we try to outthink the killer, or reach a conclusion before Verhœven and his team does. As you might expect from the list of inspirations, Irène is not for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach.
From the first page, there is an impending sense of doom which may not have existed in the novel’s original form. Despite that, Lemaitre still manages to take all of the reader’s expectations and grind them into dust in a single masterful stroke. Turning the conventional crime novel on its head, the author pulls the rug from under our feet and leaves us uncertain not only whom to trust, but whether anything we’ve read has actually happened or, crucially, whether any of it actually matters. Which is about all I can say without introducing spoilers. Suffice it to say that, bad as that statement sounds, it’s a moment of sheer genius that will leave the reader, jaw slack in admiration, realising that as well as penning a love letter to the genre, Lemaitre has set out to prove that he can go one better than anything that has gone before, and succeeds with verve.
The dynamics of the police team,the individual personalities that make it up, are what drive this story forward. Camille Verhœven himself is a protagonist that will stick with the reader and make us want to read the other books in the series (can MacLehose Press have them translated quickly enough to keep us satisfied?). This is a novel where very little actually happens – the murders have already been committed and, with the exception of two of them, we don’t even get to visit the crime scenes. It’s the very definition of a police procedural, a very cerebral mystery rather than one with lots of action. There are parallels with the television show Whitechapel, which has a similar atmosphere about it, not to mention a very similar setting (large room, plenty of desks and whiteboards and whatnot).
While Alex received critical acclaim on its release last year, Irène, Pierre Lemaitre’s first novel, will be the book that people will remember in years to come. Intelligent and engrossing, it’s a worthwhile read primarily for that sense of amazement that will have you flicking back through pages looking for the mirrors or trapdoors, but also because of the mystery itself. A crime novel for genre fans penned by a man who is obviously a fan himself, Irène is beautifully translated by the always-reliable Frank Wynne and stunningly presented in the usual high-standard MacLehose package. If you were one of the people who enjoyed Alex, you’re going to love Irène, despite what you think you already know. If you’re lucky enough to still be a Lemaitre virgin, do yourself a favour and read a book that is sure to be high on many peoples’ (my own included) "best of the year" lists come December.
|THE BLACK-EYED BLONDE
Benjamin Black (www.benjaminblackbooks.com)
It seems like a straightforward case: Nico Peterson, the boyfriend of Philip Marlowe’s married client, has disappeared. It’s a scenario Marlowe has investigated often and it usually means the boyfriend has wanted to end the affair and decided disappearing might be an easier option than going through the process of ending it. So Marlowe takes the case, mainly because he can’t bear the thought of Clare Cavendish walking out of his office and never seeing her again. But as he investigates, things don’t quite add up. For one thing, Nico Peterson is dead and buried. For another, something isn’t quite right about Clare Cavendish’s story. Throw in a pair of Mexican heavies, one of L.A.’s top gangsters and a country club that seems to be a front for something less than legal, and Marlowe is up to his hat-brim in trouble. And he hasn’t even been paid for the job.
Once upon a long time ago, at the tender age of about fifteen, I discovered the novels of Raymond Chandler. Immediately entranced, I immersed myself in the L.A. of the mid-twentieth century in the company of one of the most iconic and entertaining characters in crime fiction. I loved every word, but have never gone back to the books since: Poodle Springs, of which Chandler wrote the first few chapters and which was finished by another crime fiction stalwart, Robert B. Parker, left a bad taste in my mouth. When I heard that Marlowe was once again being resurrected, I was less than thrilled by the idea and will freely admit that I stepped into Benjamin Black’s The Black-Eyed Blonde fully expecting to hate it from page one.
In the time-honoured tradition of Chandler’s novels, and the thousands of copycat private eyes that came after, we find ourselves in the head of the wise-cracking Philip Marlowe as he meets his client. Black – the open pseudonym of Irish Booker winner John Banville – has done his homework, and has obviously spent many hours in the company of Chandler’s prose and his most famous creation. Marlowe’s voice is spot on, the atmosphere perfect, the language almost indistinguishable from that used in the original series of novels. Marlowe has a way with words that, while not always eloquent, gets his point across perfectly to the reader, as when describing his client early in the novel.
That smile: it was like something she had set a match to a long time ago and then left to smolder on by itself. She had a lovely upper lip, prominent, like a baby’s, soft-looking and a little swollen, as if she had done a lot of kissing recently, and not kissing babies, either.
The Black-Eyed Blonde follows on from Chandler’s sixth Marlowe novel, The Long Goodbye and references some of the events and characters from that novel. Cavendish, it turns out, has been recommended to Marlowe by Linda Loring, a woman that Chandler met during the events of The Long Goodbye and who he would later (heaven forfend) marry. That said, it’s not necessary to have read that earlier novel (or, for that matter, any of Chandler’s oeuvre) to enjoy Black’s addition to the series but, as with all these things, prior knowledge brings increased enjoyment.
Like many of Marlowe’s cases, this one soon becomes convoluted and our private eye hero finds himself on the end of more than one beating and more often the suspect in police investigations than the criminals with whom he consorts. Black has populated the story with a mix of old friends and enemies, and new characters alike. There’s even an Irish connection, in the guise of Ma Langrishe, Clare Cavendish’s mother, a woman sharp of both wit and tongue. But the star is, as you’d fully expect, Marlowe himself. It’s been a long time since he has had an outing, but Black manages to make him as fresh and interesting as ever, part detective, part philosopher, the fount of wit and wisdom that long-term fans have come to know and love. And for readers like me, who haven’t visited in a while, there are reminders of the little tics and tricks that Marlowe employs when dealing with people.
I nodded – sagely, I hoped – then took up my pipe and did some business with it, tamping the dottle, and so on. A tobacco pipe is a very handy prop, when you want to seem thoughtful and wise.
In all, it’s a satisfying addition to the Marlowe canon and Banville/Black has proved he is a more-than-capable successor to Chandler. There is one unfortunate passage close to the end of the novel in which he all-but-telegraphs the mystery’s outcome, but it’s a forgivable sin given what he has accomplished. I’m a convert; I’ve gone from wanting to hate this novel to wanting everyone to read it, and I would love to see Marlowe return yet again under the control of Mr Black.
With the classic mix of wit and violence that we’ve come to expect from Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe novels, Benjamin Black takes us back to 1950s Los Angeles to catch up with a man being hailed as "the world’s greatest private investigator" and, for many, an old friend. More than just a pastiche, The Black-Eyed Blonde reintroduces Marlowe to a modern audience with a degree of success that I don’t think anyone could have predicted. Where Black succeeds admirably is in making me want to go back and re-read those novels I first discovered almost twenty-five years ago. I suspect people new to Marlowe will feel the same. More importantly, perhaps, is the fact that we now live in a world where Poodle Springs never happened or, at the very least, hasn’t happened yet. That can’t be a bad thing. Whether a long term fan or a relative newcomer, The Black-Eyed Blonde is the perfect place to get (re)acquainted with Philip Marlowe, Private Eye.
April 5th 2014, 40 days from now, marks the 40th anniversary of the original publication of Stephen King’s first novel, Carrie. As a lifelong fan of King’s work, I can’t let this publishing landmark go past without comment. So, to celebrate, I have asked some friends to tell me what Carrie in particular, or the works of Stephen King in general, mean to them. Expect to hear from authors inspired by King’s work; die-hard fans whose reading has been shaped by forty years of the man’s work, amounting to over fifty novels and countless short stories; and even some people from the publishing industry, who will have their own unique perspective on what Carrie means to genre fiction as a whole.
The first post will go live on Reader Dad around April 1st, and a new post will be added daily until we run out of opinions. We’ll be running giveaways in parallel, so be sure to keep checking back throughout the celebrations. On April 5th, Reader Dad will be posting a review of the book in question, as well as links to reviews written by other bloggers who have agreed to take part.
We hope you’ll join us, and take this opportunity to (re)read a book that, whether we like it or not, changed the face of genre publishing for the better. If you’d like to take part, drop me an email.
|THE COPPER PROMISE
Jen Williams (sennydreadful.co.uk)
For the fifth title in the Hodderscape Review Project, we move into the realms of fantasy with the debut novel from Jen Williams, The Copper Promise, released this month by Headline. Don’t forget to check in to the Review Project site to find out what my fellow reviewers thought of this title.
The Citadel of Creos has stood for centuries, a remnant and constant reminder of the ancient mages, reputed to have been built as a prison for the gods. Aaron Frith, Lord of the Blackwood and last remaining member of his family, has endured hardship and torture, and now wants revenge. He believes that the secrets that lie within the Citadel will give him the power he needs to find and defeat the monsters who destroyed his family and stole his lands. Hiring Wydrin and Sir Sebastian, a pair of sell-swords, the trio head into the depths of the Citadel. In finding the power of the mages, they unwittingly release Y’Ruen, a dragon goddess, and the army of lizard-like women she has spent her centuries of imprisonment creating. Now revenge must take a back seat: Y’Ruen must by stopped before she lays the entire world of Ede to waste.
I can be a bit hard to convince when it comes to so-called “high fantasy”, the type of novels which take Tolkien as their inspiration and spend more time creating races of funny-looking people and languages to go with them than they do developing a plot outside the basic quest structure. Thankfully, Jen Williams’ debut, The Copper Promise, is nothing like that sort of book. Yes, there is an element of the quest novel here, though it is abandoned and picked up and abandoned again as the novel progresses; yes, there are strange new creatures, but it is how Williams handles them that sets this apart from the norm. The emphasis here is on the characters and how their decisions impact on the world around them, while still managing to tell a story that moves at a rollicking pace and provides the requisite amount of wit, blood and fire-breathing dragons to keep even the most sceptical of fantasy readers turning the pages as fast as they can.
At the heart of the story is the Frith family, all but young Aaron tortured to death by invaders whose sole aim is to find the location of the family’s secret vault. Left for dead, Aaron makes his way to Creos, having heard the rumours and stories about the Citadel, and hoping to gain some of the mages’ magic for himself in order to get vengeance for his murdered father and brothers. When it turns out that all of the rumours about the Citadel are true, and Frith and his hired muscle release the savage dragon-god, Y’Ruen on the world, Aaron finds himself faced with the choice between getting his revenge, or saving the world. Aaron’s companions are Wydrin, who styles herself the Copper Cat, and Sir Sebastian, a disgraced knight who was once a member of the revered order of Ynnsmouth Knights. Where Williams sets herself apart is that the majority of the development of these characters happens when they are apart. Unlike the standard quest structure of “here to here to here”, the band fractures quite early in the novel, the three individuals going their own way to seek their own adventures. This is a pattern that will repeat later in the novel, and the story feels much fresher for it, a proper examination of these unique personalities, rather than a constant trading of banter and insults.
Along with the dragon, the trio find themselves faced with an army of lizard-like women who have been created by the god during her captivity in the Citadel. These creatures have been brought to life as a result of Sebastian almost bleeding to death within the confines of the monstrous edifice. This has an unexpected side-effect, and Williams gives us some insight into this process, as members of the army gain self-awareness and develop their own unique personalities, to the point that they are choosing names for themselves.
‘I want to keep these words with me,’ said the Twelfth. She tried to gather up all the books and dropped them again.
‘Tear out the pages?’ suggested the Ninety-Seventh. The Thirty-Third frowned. Somehow she felt their father wouldn’t approve of that.
‘No,’ said the Twelfth, who apparently felt the same. ‘I will make them my name. You will call me Crocus from now on.’
This in strong counterpoint to the journey that their father, Sebastian, is taking, sinking ever deeper into darkness until the point where he swears his sword, and all the blood that it spills, to a demon, as if his daughters are sucking the humanity from him in their own bid to become more like him.
While not quite as “un-fantasy” as George R R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, Jen Williams’ The Copper Promise is certainly a lot more grounded than most swords and sorcery-type fiction. Perhaps the most surprising thing about this book – and one of its biggest selling points for me – is the fact that it does in a single volume what many fantasy authors might try to do over the course of three or four books (five hundred pages before the dragon makes an appearance and our heroic trio finally escape from the Citadel, for example), while still leaving us with the promise of much more to come. The characters are well-rounded, fully fleshed-out and we find ourselves wanting to know what will happen to them next – this is most prevalent when they are apart, and we find ourselves wondering if they’re likely to get back together again, or whether they will continue on separate paths for the duration.
Fast-paced and wonderfully-realised, Jen Williams’ first novel is a delight, even for one so jaded as me when it comes to fantasy fiction. An intriguing premise made more so by the neat touches Williams adds to the story – the Secret Keeper is a prime example of these – the reader will encounter pirates, dragons, zombies, gods and demons, to name but a few, on their journey through this exciting new world. Not for the faint of heart, but you probably knew that already.
|THE GOSPEL OF LOKI
Joanne M. Harris (joanne-harris.co.uk)
Celebrating the publication of Joanne M. Harris’s first epic adult fantasy novel, The Gospel of Loki (Feb 13 2014), comes Joanne M. Harris’s #AskLoki Blog Tour.
Gollancz and a collection of the UKs leading websites are teaming up to share Loki’s opinions of his fellow inhabitants of Aesgard. BUT that’s not all…
We’ll also be sharing TEN Gospel of Loki gift bags complete with a signed book, tote bag, book mark and poster.
To win one of the bags, just tweet the correct answer to the question below using the hashtag #AskLoki and making sure to include @Joannechocolat @gollancz @MattGCraig
TODAY’S #ASKLOKI QUESTION
Loki describes this god as: “Not a bad guy, but a fool for blondes.”
Is he talking about: 1)Thor 2)Hodor 3)Frey ?
If you need a refresher on the trickster god’s opinion of the characters that you’ll meet in The Gospel of Loki, you can visit the Gollancz blog.
Please note one tweeter will be picked at random each day from the 3 – 14 February 2014. There are ten chances to win to in total. Good luck!
Audrey Magee (audreymagee.com)
Atlantic Books (atlantic-books.co.uk)
In order to temporarily escape the madness of the Eastern Front, German soldier Peter Faber turns to marriage. It is a marriage of convenience, the bride one Katharina Spinell, chosen from a catalogue, a girl he has never met. The benefits are mutual: ten days’ honeymoon leave for him; a war pension for her should he die on the battlefield. In Berlin, the attraction between them is immediate and mutual, and when Peter returns to the front, he leaves more than a memory; Katharina is pregnant and must raise the child alone while Peter moves ever eastwards, fighting a war that is always on the verge of being over.
Audrey Magee’s first novel is a thing of beauty. Split between the ever-shifting Eastern Front, and the relative comfort of Berlin, it shows two sides to the horrors faced by ordinary Germans during the Second World War, horrors often forgotten in favour of the atrocities committed by the upper echelons of the same army for which Peter Faber fights. On the one hand, we have Peter and the small unit of men with whom he lives and fights. Here is the reality of war: the front line, manned by the soldiers at the bottom of the pecking order, while those further up give orders from positions of relative safety. Magee presents these as a series of almost surreal, horrific snapshots, brief glimpses of battle and the aftermath, all seen from the point of view of the ordinary soldier. Why, exactly are they fighting? What will they gain? For Peter, at least, there is good enough reason in the form of his wife and child back in Berlin.
‘Why are you here?’
‘Cannon fodder for that lot in Berlin.’
‘Not that again.’
‘It’s all there is. You can hide behind your wife and child, kill all around you for your wife and child, but you’re really not doing it for them. You’re doing it for the fat bastards in Berlin.’
The other half of the story focuses on Katharina and her family in Berlin. Katharina’s father works for an important member of the Nazi Party and, as a result, receives certain perks that make the lives of the Spinells more comfortable than those of many people around them. We get a brief glimpse of the type of work Mr Spinell, on the orders of the charismatic Dr Weinart, does when Peter is on leave: their job is to evict the Jewish population of Berlin from their homes and send them packing to points east. A large apartment, plenty of food, even a Russian girl to take the pressure of housework from Katharina and her mother, turn out to be less than sufficient payment for the sacrifice the Spinells will ultimately make in the form of their son, Katharina’s brother, a solider also fighting on the Eastern Front. Set against the nightly bombing of the city, and the increasing scarcity of food, the story of the rise and fall of the Spinell family is strangely inevitable while also being heart-breaking to watch. Close to the book’s end, Magee manages to destroy us completely with one single sentence.
For the most part, dialogue forms the backbone of the story, with descriptive narrative very much taking a back seat. Magee’s ability to present a situation purely in dialogue (often without dialogue tags – ‘he said’, ‘she said’) is second to none, scenes running for pages at a time consisting of little more than fragments of speech spoken by two, three, four characters at a time. In these scenes, Magee accomplishes two things: to convey to the reader exactly what is going on, and what the context is; and to simulate a realistic conversation without ever leaving the reader wondering who said what, despite that fact that we’re rarely told explicitly. The characters in this remarkable novel, despite the subject – let’s face it, what could be more generic than a group of soldiers in the midst of war? – are all fully-drawn, each with a unique personality and recognisable voice.
The tone of The Undertaking has an element of the light-hearted. In many ways, this is a consequence of the dialogue-led nature of the story. Despite that, Magee never lets us forget exactly what is going on. We, the reader, find ourselves on the front lines with the men of Faber’s unit, filthy, hungry and cold with no idea if we’ll make it through the next five minutes, let alone to the end of the day. Halfway through, the story takes a sinister twist as Faber finds himself in the centre of the clusterfuck that was the Battle of Stalingrad. Around the same time, Katharina and her family seem to fall out of favour and things take a turn for the disastrous as shortages of food, fuel and medication take their toll on a family already torn apart by personal loss. The disappearance of Katharina’s husband compounds their problems, branding them, by association, as cowards and denying Katharina – due to the lack of any evidence that he ever died – of the war pension that was hers by right of marriage.
Despite the early tone, Audrey Magee’s debut novel, The Undertaking, is as bleak and devastating as they come. A window into a small, personal part of World War II, Magee shows us horrors that we are never likely to forget, brief throw-away lines that will haunt and, in many ways, traumatise us long after we have put the book aside. The writing is beautiful, the dialogue perfectly measured and perfectly natural, the setting and background one we know well enough that the briefest glimpse of an event conveys all we need to know about what is going on outside the story of these entirely captivating – despite their ordinariness – characters around whom the story revolves. One of the strongest debuts I’ve seen in some time, The Undertaking marks Audrey Magee as an extremely talented writer to watch very closely in the future.
|THE WIND IS NOT A RIVER
Brian Payton (brianpayton.com)
John Easley, a reporter for the National Geographic is ejected – along with every other journalist in the region – from the Aleutian Islands when the Japanese make their first incursion onto American soil. When his brother, a Royal Canadian Air Force pilot, is later shot down over the English Channel, John’s grief leads him to the decision that the people of America deserve to know the truth about what is happening in the Aleutians. Sneaking into Alaska and thence onto the archipelago, John finds himself stranded on the island of Attu when the plane he is on is shot down by the occupying forces. Given the choice between survival in this barren land or torture at the hands of the Chinese, John decides to take his chance with the elements. Back in his home town of Seattle, his wife, Helen, is beginning to worry about his silence, and about their parting words on the night he left to return to Alaska. Signing up with a USO troop, Helen leaves everything behind – including her ailing father – to go in search of her missing husband, convinced that he needs her help.
When Brian Payton’s The Wind Is Not a River opens, we find John Easley waking from unconsciousness following his parachute jump from a fatally-wounded plane. His knowledge of the chain, and the proximity of Japanese anti-aircraft fire lead him quickly to understand that he has found himself on Attu, one of the few islands in the long chain that is known to be occupied by enemy forces. Forced to remain on the beach where he has awakened in order to avoid the attention of the small army that is just over the ridge, he sets up camp in a small cave, the limited supply of driftwood his only source of fuel and the mussels and slower seabirds his only source of sustenance. This is a barren land, and Payton goes to great lengths to ensure that we are aware of just how much trouble Easley is likely to be in this little-known part of the world: the lack of food, the less-than-clement weather, the lack of wood for burning.
"You’ll be attracting plenty of attention," Cooper observes [to John's wife, Helen]. "We have a saying out here: ‘There’s a woman hiding behind every tree in the Aleutian Islands.’"
When John discovers a tea tin buried at the edge of the beach containing all the worldly possessions of a young native woman called Tatiana, along with a letter to her lover, John finds himself falling love with this person he has never met, while all the time wondering what has become of her and the people with whom she shared the small village now occupied by the Japanese. It is the thought of Tatiana, rather than his wife, that keeps him going through his darkest hours, and yet there can be no doubt that this man loves the woman he has left behind in Seattle. The letter in the tin contains the line that gives the novel its title, and its meaning – when John finally works it out – comes as something of a revelation that puts the entire situation into some kind of perspective.
But the story of John is only half the tale told in this remarkable novel. Alternate chapters are told from the point of view of Helen, and we follow her as she decides to leave her home and her ill father behind to go off in search of her missing husband. There is something deeply touching, irredeemably romantic, in this gesture and, despite the long shot we know Helen is taking, we can’t help but wish her luck and hope that the two lonely protagonists at the centre of this beautiful tale do finally connect. With the help of a USO troop, and a doctored CV, Helen finds herself heading to Alaska and points beyond not only at no cost to herself, but with the full blessing and protection of the United States military. Determined to speak to as many people – both on and off the military bases she will be visiting – as she can in the short time she has available, Helen’s determination to find her husband is matched only by her husband’s determination to stay alive and out of the hands of the Japanese.
Brian Payton centres his story in one of the most remote locations on the planet – the beautiful but desolate chain of islands that almost joins Alaska with Russia – during one of the least known battles of the Pacific Theatre. Combining the cruelties of war – and, as history has shown, there were few more cruel than the Japanese military – with the cruelties of nature, the author presents a story that is as stark and beautiful as the landscape in which it is set.
"This is how they fight." The staff sergeant points at the gruesome sight. "First, they kill their own wounded before coming after ours. Kill the helpless men, then blow themselves to smithereens. This is the value they place on human life. Even their own. Where’s the honour in that?"
The third-person narrative means that nothing is predictable, nothing certain. The ending, when it comes, is handled perfectly despite being absolutely devastating (make sure you have some tissues handy), and the story throughout is intimate, touching and, often, more than a little playful.
Together they tried pitching stones baseball-style at gulls and puffins. The boy had superior accuracy, owing to his American childhood. Easley grew up playing hockey, a sport with no obvious correlation to hunting, unless they were hunting dark mice scurrying across a frozen pond.
The Wind Is Not a River is a book that will draw you into the story of these separated lovers and their quest – however oblique – to be reunited. Entirely captivating and beautifully told it draws the reader in slowly, alternating between the two stories as the distance between their protagonists grows gradually smaller, until the book is almost impossible to set aside for anything but the briefest moment. At its heart, it is a beautiful tale of love and devotion – not, you’re probably thinking, the usual fare for Reader Dad (and you’d be right) – but it also shines a light on humanity in one of its recent dark periods. Between the cruelty of the Imperial Japanese Army and the individual cruelties of American men long separated from civilisation, Payton shows that nature at its worst doesn’t even compare. A surprising choice for me, I don’t expect to be this invested in a piece of fiction for the foreseeable future. Miss at your peril, but do keep the tissues handy.
Pierce Brown (pierce-brown.com)
Hodder & Stoughton (www.hodder.co.uk)
I would have lived in peace. But my enemies brought me war.
It is a world in which humanity has evolved into a colour-coded caste system, with Reds – manual labourers and menial workers – at the bottom, and the spoilt, rich Golds at the top. Deep under the surface of Mars, mining colonies, manned by Reds, are involved in the excavation of helium-3, a mineral that is crucial for the terraforming of Mars, and further colonies beyond. The Reds are heroes – or so the propaganda tells them – sacrificing themselves for the betterment and continued existence of their fellow human beings.
Darrow is a Helldiver, a drill operator on a mining crew, who is happy with his lot. When his wife is executed for sedition, Darrow decides to do the unthinkable – he steals her body from the gallows and buries her. Sentenced to hang himself, Darrow is surprised to find himself alive and well, and in the company of the Sons of Ares, a terrorist band whose sole purpose is the freedom of the Reds of Mars. The propaganda is not true: Mars has been settled for hundreds of years and the Reds continue to toil underground with no hope of ever claiming the reward they have been promised for all these years. But this is their chance to get what is rightfully theirs, and Darrow is the only man who can help them achieve their ends. There is only one catch: he must become a Gold and force change from the inside.
From the opening of Pierce Brown’s debut novel, Red Rising, we find ourselves in the head of Darrow, a young hothead who is dedicated to his job and his colony, and deeply in love with his young wife. It is through the eyes of this young man that we first discover the underground world of Mars and – much later – the planet of beautiful, towering cities that exists above their heads. The son of a man hanged for trying to help his people gain their freedom, it quickly becomes apparent that Darrow has married a young girl who shares the same views. "Live for more" she tells her husband at the heart-breaking moment of her death – heart-breaking for the reader despite how early in the book it comes, purely because of how invested we become in the world that Darrow inhabits. When, shortly afterwards, Darrow learns the truth of the Reds’ situation, we watch as understanding slowly dawns and a thirst for vengeance becomes moulded by the Sons of Ares into a desire for freedom for his people, at any cost.
Brown has created a fantastical world where racism has been taken to the extreme. No longer is a person’s race simply an accident of birth, but the result of genetic engineering that defines not only one’s station in life, but also one’s skill-set and vocational leanings – Red for manual work; Copper for bureaucracy; Black for military service; Pink for pleasure. At the top of the pyramid, the cruel and cold Golds, who have practically destroyed the human race as we, the reader, know it,in their quest for complete control, the overthrow of Demokracy, and the founding of the Society. There is something faintly suggestive in Brown’s language, and the naming of the various factions that exist in this brave new world; a warning for Twenty-first Century humanity, a brief glimpse of what may lie in our – admittedly distant – future.
When Darrow finds himself inducted into the Institute – the school that selects the cream of the Gold population – we begin to see a world much different to the colonies below Mars’ surface. There is a distinctly Roman feel to this rich society, even down to the names of its members (Cassius, Julian, Virginia) and it becomes clear quite quickly that that ancient civilisation has been used as a role model for this new one. At the Institute, the students are split into Houses based on their traits, and set against each other in a year-long battle that will see only one victor. Darrow is under immense pressure to win if his plans to defeat the Golds from the inside is to have any chance of success. Despite the fact that there is no secret that this is the first book of a trilogy, there is still no certainty that Darrow will be successful in his mission. Let’s face it, when your narrator dies at the end of the first section of the first book, nothing is ever guaranteed.
I feel the door beneath me open. My body falls. Rope flays my neck. My spine creaks. Needles lance my lumbar. Kieran stumbles forward. Uncle Narol shoves him away. With a wink, he touches my feet and pulls.
I hope they do not bury me.
There is an indefinable quality to Red Rising that sets it above other novels in the same genre (it has been favourably compared with Orson Scott Card’s Ender novels – with a sly mention of young Master Wiggin in the same breath as the likes of Alexander and Caeser – and The Hunger Games, to name but a few). Once we meet Darrow and understand the position he is in, the book is almost impossible to set aside, for even the briefest of moments. The action is relentless, despite the span of time it covers (this first book in the trilogy runs from an arbitrary point shortly before everything changes for Darrow, through his transformation from Red to Gold, and the duration of his stay at the Institute) and with every turn of the page we find out something new about this strange new world. The fact that we find ourselves in Darrow’s head means that we’re learning the ropes here along with him, and unnecessary exposition is kept to a minimum.
The mix of far-future science fiction and ancient civilisation is reminiscent of Dan Simmons’ Ilium/Olympus novels (Roman here rather than Simmons’ Greek story), although the similarity ends there. Pierce Brown has very quickly and very adeptly created a world and a people that feels like a natural evolution of the world in which we live today, and which we find ourselves accepting without question. In Darrow he has created a leading man that we can follow without question, a man who will always be the hero, despite the difficult choices he must make. As he settles into the mind-set of the Golds who surround him, he becomes more like them, without ever losing the core that makes us root for his success. The themes of oppression and slavery are the obvious ones to take away from this story, but there is a deeper, more tender core built around love, family and, most of all, trust – the simple fact that not everyone is the same, despite their heritage, their genes; a message that should be obvious to all, but is often lost in the very black and white world in which we live.
Red Rising is a spectacular debut that endures beyond the final page. Set in an interesting world that, despite the obvious differences, really isn’t that far removed from our own, and peopled by characters that warrant our continued attention, it is a novel that demands to be read in as few sittings as possible. Fast-paced, action-packed, engrossing and wonderfully addictive, Red Rising marks the entrance of a fine new voice in science fiction, a young writer of immense talent who knows how to tell a story, and how to keep us coming back for more. This is a book you won’t want to miss, but be warned: once you’ve finished, you won’t want to wait for the next instalment of the trilogy.
|SEASON TO TASTE or HOW TO EAT YOUR HUSBAND
Tinder Press (www.tinderpress.co.uk)
She cleaned the nails with a nailbrush, rinsing in the sink; and then she brushed the skin with an oil brush to give it a good crisp. She rubbed all over the hand with olive oil and salt and then twisted the pepper grinder; and she laid his hand on a non-stick roasting tray, carefully straightening the fingers out.
And so we are introduced to the remarkable central character of this beautifully-written but often hard-to-stomach novel: murderess; cannibal; role model. After thirty years living with her husband, Lizzie Prain has had enough and so, one Monday morning when he is out in the garden, she quickly dresses, goes outside and staves his head in with a shovel. Determined that one type of incarceration will not be replaced with another, Lizzie – always practical – comes up with the perfect means of disposing of Jacob’s body: she will eat it, and then she will head to Scotland to start her life anew.
When we are introduced to Lizzie, she has already killed and dismembered her husband, and stored him, in sixteen individually wrapped and labelled packages, in the freezer in the garage. Now, free for the first time in over thirty years, we watch as this fifty-something woman adapts to life outside the shadow of her overbearing and often outright abusive husband. Stolid and practical, she has set herself an almost impossible task, and the reader is carried along as she sets about accomplishing it.
As the story progresses, and Lizzie slowly makes her way through the gruesome packages in the freezer, we learn in flashback what kind of life she has lived, how she met her husband and it becomes clear that the marriage has never been a happy one. Jacob’s overbearing personality, combined with constant jibes about Lizzie’s looks and manner, mean that this is by no means an equal partnership. And yet, on the occasions where Lizzie has walked out, she has never made it very far before returning home to the small cottage on the bend that has been their home since they met. There are moments – few and far between – of true tenderness between them, but they are constantly overshadowed by the darker times (like the time Lizzie watches, emotionless, from the kitchen window as Jacob attempts to hang himself from the tree at the end of the garden) and by the sheer mundanity of everyday life.
‘I’ll put the kettle on,’ he’d say.
‘Fuck’s sake, tea?’
‘You having tea?’
The story is driven by three distinct narratives. The first, and most prevalent, focuses on Lizzie herself and, while it isn’t told in her voice, it does give us some insight into the workings of this remarkable woman’s mind. It is in this narrative that we see the flashbacks and also Lizzie’s thoughts as she first prepares, then cooks, then eats the various pieces of her late husband. Interspersed with this are a handful of trips inside the head of Tom, the young man who lives on the farm at the end of the lane, and who works at the local garden centre. A friendship – a strange and fraught relationship – blossoms between these two central characters, interfering with Lizzie’s careful plans, and planting a seed in the mind of the reader that Jacob may not be Lizzie’s final victim. Alongside these, there are a set of notes, a numbered list of instructions and thoughts, written by Lizzie, presumably for Lizzie; there is something about them, though, that reads like a How To manual, which is presumably where the novel’s alternative title came from.
And so to the novel’s core, and the simple fact of cannibalism that drives it. Natalie Young has attempted to encapsulate the absurd premise of Season to Taste in a story that is grounded in reality and which, once you start, is almost impossible to put down. There is something surreal about the world in which we find ourselves as Young injects the unthinkable into the everyday. Like Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho, we come across the gruesome reality of the situation, almost unexpectedly, in he midst of the normal, the boring, the completely innocuous. As she describes the preparation of the “meat”, taking great delight in explaining Lizzie’s recipes, we find ourselves reading with a constant grimace plastered on our faces, a sick feeling deep in our stomachs that probably comes close to Lizzie’s own. And yet. And yet, Young is obviously someone who knows her way around a kitchen and enjoys the simple pleasures of preparing meals. There’s something about her descriptive power that we find ourselves salivating at the thought of the meal being prepared, despite the knowledge of what it contains. Perhaps the most shocking thing about Season to Taste is the revelation, not entirely unexpected, and mentioned only in a single throwaway line, that Lizzie is not partaking of these meals alone.
At once gripping, wholeheartedly gruesome (Young seems to revel in the fact that just when you think you’ve experienced the worst there is, there is always something more still to be eked out of this incredible scenario) and darkly comic, Season to Taste or How to Eat Your Husband is one of the most original novels you’re likely to read, ever. With an attention to detail that is slightly scary, given the subject matter (Young has obviously done some thorough research), and the ability to make you want to simultaneously stop reading, and read faster, Natalie Young has done the unthinkable: she has taken an ordinary human being, placed her in an extraordinary situation, making her the villain of the piece in the process, and still manages to make the reader love her, root for her, want to see her succeed in her endeavours and, most importantly, get away with it. Often – and I know you’ll pardon the pun – hard to stomach, Season to Taste is like nothing you’ve ever read before, and pays dividends for those willing to stick with it and forge through the discomfort. It’s one of the best books you’ll read this year, and is guaranteed to stay with you for many years to come. I’m sure I’m not alone in being excited to see what Natalie Young has up her sleeve next; let’s just hope it doesn’t involve dinner.