Tag Archives: #Historicalfantasy

Vaughn, Carrie: Steel (2011)

steel-by-carrie-vaughn
Steel is a historical fantasy about a girl who is thrown into the past and desperately wants to return to what she had not realized she had. It is an action-filled coming of age story set in beautiful Bahamas on the Diana, captained by Marjorie Cooper. It is a story about choices, and how those choices end up defining us. What Steel is NOT is a swashbuckling romance.

A large wave surged under them then, sending the boat rocking steeply. Jill, the world-class athlete who’d never yet lost her balance in a fencing bout, fell. Stumbling back, she hit the side of the boat and went over. Grabbing uselessly for the edge, she rolled into the ocean. ….

Waves pitched her, her sunglasses were torn away, the water was cold, shocking after the tropical air. She couldn’t catch her breath – swallowed water instead. Flailing, she searched for up, groped for the surface – couldn’t find it. Her lungs were tightening. It had been sunny a moment ago – where was the sun?

Someone grabbed her. Hands twisted into her clothing and pulled her into the air. She clutched at her rescuers, gasped for air, heaving deep breaths that tasted of brine, slimy and salty. But she was out of the water. She was safe. She wasn’t going to die.

Many people talk about pirates as if they lived a romantic kind of life. I suppose many historical eras have people longing for them. But there was little romance going on in days that were usually all about survival. Marjorie Cooper is the Captain of the pirate ship Jill ends up on. Cooper and the rest of the crew quickly realize that Jill is completely at a loss about everything that has to do with a pirate’s life. Suspicions about her being a spy for Edmund Blane (another pirate) are soon squashed by her ineptitude. Even fencing, a sport Jill thought she excelled at, was of a whole different caliber in the Bahamas in the late 1800’s.

Jill could only shake her head – no, she’d never fought for blood. Not real blood. Only ranks, medals, and maybe a college scholarship. She bowed her head, embarrassed, when tears fell. She wiped them away quickly. Her still-wet hair stuck to her cheeks. Salt water crusted her clothing. However much she wanted to sit down, pass out – or drop the rapier, which she wouldn’t have been able to raise again if Henry came at her in another attack – she remained standing before the captain, as straight as she could, which wasn’t very at moment.

“What’s your name, lass?”

“Jill. Jill Archer,” she said, her voice scratching. She only just noticed that she was thirsty.

“And, Jill, how do you come to be adrift in the wide sea so far from home?”

The tears almost broke then, and she took a moment to answer. “I don’t know.”

Slowly, Jill learns what it means to be a pirate and also what it means to be an adult. Basically, that meant work. The kind that left her little time and energy to plan, to regret or to think about her family. Wood had to be kept free of mold, sails had to be mended, ropes had to be spliced, the ship had to be emptied and barnacles removed and repeat. Slaves were rescued, battles fought, magic rapier tips followed and lives were put on the line. All the time the Diana kept on chasing Blane and Jill became more and more part of most of the crew. But not all of it, the Diana‘s prisoner included.

On board, the pirates have a Doctor Emory. When Diana was landed to clean off barnacles, he tried to signal his friends in the hopes that they would see and come rescue him and kill the pirates. Having signed their articles, Jill does not feel the same.

Often, Jill finds herself thinking that she should tell her siblings Tom and Mandy about her experiences. She wonders if her family misses her. She regrets her moping, when, really, there was nothing to mope about. Slowly she goes from being an unaware, privileged, white, middle-class girl to learning some of life’s more difficult lessons. One is that very little in life can be taken for granted. A difficult lesson to learn is that when you feel helpless it is easier to follow orders you do not understand rather than to disobey. What happens when a point that seems like one of no return appears? What then? Jill learns what obsession looks like and how it brings danger to others. She learns about the dire consequences some choices have and how some of those consequences reach far into the future to bring a 16-year old girl into the past to right them.

Definitely recommended.


Reviews:


Steel can be found at Amazon

Rust, Angelika: Once a Rat (Istonnia III) (2014)

once-a-rat - Angelika Rust

Angelika Rust displays one of my favorite traits in an author. She evolves and improves over time. Once a Rat shows just how far Rust has come in her writing. The only thing she continues to do that annoys me is to overuse the word “whom”.

“It’s worse than I thought,” she groaned, rolling onto her back. “It isn’t innocence, it’s honor. You’re the son of a rich bastard of a trader and a madwoman. Whom, for fire’s sake did you inherit your honor from?”

Honor is a strange concept. For one thing, honor varies from person to person. There does seem to be a common denominator across nations, namely that to be considered honorable, one must keep promises/oaths made. Nivvo seems to have honor as an in-born character trait. Such a trait makes Nivvo perfect for some roles but disqualifies him when breaking promises might be needed. There are several high-status professions, in real life and in Istonnia, involving deception and deceit, that Nivvo could not fill.

In Once a Rat Nivvo is sent on a joint mission for the Regent and Underlord of Istonnia in the hopes that Istonnia might be saved from more fighting. Being the kind of story that Once a Rat is, the likelihood of Nivvo surviving that mission is in doubt. But Nivvo accepts that as his duty. Part of that duty has to do with his promises to obey Vicco, but Nivvo also seems to feel that his relationship with the Regent obliges him to serve Istonnia as best he can.

Part of his mission terrifies him. Practical experience of slavery turns out to be completely different from the theoretical understanding of its nature.

“…, he knew they’d come back to haunt him for the rest of his life … a child, little more than a toddler, on his hands and knees, and a soldier stomping on the tiny fingers till they broke with a sickening crunch … a woman his own age, tears streaming from her closed eyes as a slave handler cut her clothes away to reveal her body to a customer … a man hugging the pole he was tied to, screaming relentlessly as a lash opened up gash after gash on his already scarred back …”

Slavery, the objectification of people taken to extremes. The real world still embraces slavery and most of us are quietly complicit in letting it carry on. Nivvo’s mission is to get to the person trying to work against slavery in Baredi and help that person succeed. But the odds are against the abolitionists.

There are some very angry people left in Istonnia. Choosing to smother his loved ones in protectiveness happens to be one of Nivvo’s greatest failings. Even Vilores is kept in the dark. Shame on Nivvo and his father for breaking that law once again.

While Nivvo is gone Cambrosi is having fun trying to stay alive. Fedoro is helping him. Someone in his organization is trying to overthrow the Underlord. If it works, then Istonnia seems doomed to enter what might become a civil war.

Plenty of action, some violence, some sex – neither very explicit.

Definitely recommended.


Once a Rat available at Amazon US

Rust, Angelika: A Rat for a Rat (Istonnia II) (2014)

A Rat for a Rat - Angelika Rust

Everyone self-harms in one way or another. Calling ourselves names or making ourselves less is one way we love to harm our self-confidence. Others self-harm through physical means. In the there and then, self-harming usually relieves some kind of pressure or stress. Long-term, though, we damage ourselves. Taken to extremes we might even lose body parts or become permanently damaged in other ways. Autistic people know about self-harming that may come a part of a stim.

The Baredians see women as doormats. To them, women are to be used without regard for their feelings, growth or well-being. In A Rat for a Rat we meet Miniri, a seriously troubled girl. She is addicted to self-harm, even if that self-harm means putting herself in the way of being trampled on and sexually abused by the Baredi. Imagine what a person like that could get up to in striving to fill the void inside of her.

Healers are revered people in Istonnia. They may go where no other person may and expect no harm to come to them. Like all work groups, some healers are more popular than others. Inna Malduri is definitely lowest on the totem pole and only the worst students get sent to her. Which is why Anniscia is shocked when she is sent to be Malduri’s  apprentice. You see, Anniscia happens to be at the top of her class and feels she is much to good to serve the poorer part of town. She is about to be exposed to a side of life of life she is unused to.

The Regent, being used to living out in the desert with his group of followers, is having trouble adjusting to politics and people who have different goals. He forgets that in politics revealing the identity of people you love is dangerous to yourself and the one you care for, at least if that person is to be a secret. The world is not supposed to know that Nivvo is his son, but the Regent is not able to avoid reaching out to him.

Nivvo tries to protect his father and brother by being absent. He knows the way the city works and what a wonderful weapon Vicco Cambrosi gains in knowing how much the Regent cares about his long-lost son. Both father and son suffer from a need to over-protect, a trait that exasperates the people around them.

Reka is the one who is most annoyed by this father and son interaction. If she could beat some sense into their heads, she would. Instead she treats both like the brats they are. Nivvo is used to her way of showing anger. The Regent, however, is used to getting his own way, and is at a loss about what to do when Reka treats him the way she does.

A Rat for a Rat was an action-filled and fun story that also dealt with consequences that may arise from our actions.

Definitely recommended.


Reviews:


A Rat for a Rat available at Amazon US

Rust, Angelika: Ratpaths (Istonnia I) (2013)

Yes, I went looking for ratpaths and the history of the Sicilian Cosa Nostra. There really was no choice after reading what Ms. Rust had to say about her inspiration for the story.

Poverty is something I think about a lot. Not because I am poor, but because I have escaped it. My dad could have been Nivvo. When his father was arrested for underground work during WWII, my grandmother slowly but surely went mad with paranoia. My dad would have been six at the time his father was arrested and his little sister four. They went from getting by to being hungry a lot. But things never became as dire as they did for Nivvo and his mom (and soon after his sister).

I suppose this is one reason why I like Nivvo so much. There is no doubt in my mind that given the right/wrong people in his life, my dad could have become a Nivvo. Whether his sister would have been a Reka I do not know. Both characters are survivors and very likeable. Both love each other and do their best to take care of each other – and others in need. Again this is very much like my father and his sister.

Reka has grown up without her mother and was taken care of by a poor fire priest. At the beginning of the story, Bappo Andori had died not many months previously. At this point Reka is thirteen years old. In many places today being thirteen and poor grows you up awfully fast. With the help of Nivvo’s contractor, she gains control of the estate and keeps up the good work for the homeless.

Nivvo is a thief and a good one. The underworld’s boss, Vicco Cambrosi, wants Nivvo as part of his organization, but that would mean loss of freedom to choose assignments. Nivvo does not want this, but fears a point may be reached when he no longer has a choice.

Ratpaths is for the most part about Nivvo stealing a person, and the mess that makes of life in Istonnia and Nivvo’s life. Ratpaths also gives us a look at Nivvo’s past and gently prods us toward realizing a vital thing about him. Ratpaths was a fun and flowing story.

Definitely recommended.


Reviews:


Ratpaths available on Amazon


The Daily Mail: The secret world of Italy’s other Mafia. Jim Shelley goes underground to uncover the organisation that is scarier than La Cosa Nostra

The Seattle Times: Going underground: In Vienna, a maze of tunnels and cellars beneath the city contains variety of treasures

Wikipedia: Sicilian Mafia

Kay, Guy Gavriel: Under Heaven (2010)

Under Heaven

Under Heaven affected me profoundly. I believe it was the depth of Shen Tai’s mourning for his father and his offering to his father’s spirit that moved me most. Imagine setting yourself the task of burying all the bones from a battle twenty years past in order that those spirits might find peace. A more appropriate place for restless spirits than a battleground I cannot imagine.

Kay went on to say that he’s interested in how the course of a person’s life can change in a moment, and how “small moments and events can ripple outwards.” Whether it’s an individual or the life of a people, he pointed out, “significant consequences can begin very inconsequentially. That’s one thing that fascinates me. The other thing that fascinates me is how accident can undermine something that’s unfolding, something that might have played out differently otherwise.”

To Kay, “the human condition is redolent with this aspect of randomness, and I try to work that into all of my books.” (CBC Books)

The choices Shen Tai, his older brother and their younger sister, Shen Li-Mei, make end up having both intended and to a great extent unintended consequences. All three discover that assistance and opposition comes in many forms and sometimes from unexpected quarters.

In this story there aren’t any really bad people. There are mainly just people with the regular gamut of human emotions and with varying degrees of ability to do something about their desires. While the Tang Dynasty was a better place for women than the ones before it, women held less room in society than men. As with most places in the world today, women had to be a lot more creative in their maneuvering than men did. Their accepted roles were also very different from the one men were able to hold. To become a warrior like Wei Song, one who even guarded a man, was not something that was open to most women (much like today).

Reading about the role of women was both a painful process but also a delight. Delightful because of the intelligent and brave women I got to meet and painful due to the few changes that have happened in the world when it comes to the roles of women and how true their power is.

Under Heaven is a fairly dark story. Considering the times and the rebellion it portrays that is no wonder. I am trying to decide if I would call it dark fantasy, but I don’t know if that would be appropriate. I love its complexity and many threads that all come together one way or another in the end. What an awful race we humans are. It really is rather sad to see us revealed in all our terrible glory. Under Heaven was an intensely touching book that left me thankful for having found it. According to the author, his goal in writing is to keep the reader turning pages. It worked with me.


Reviews:


Women of the Tang Dynasty

Song Dynasty (the Kitai Empire in Under Heaven)

An Shi Rebellion (simplified Chinese: 安史之乱)

Hua Mulan (Chinese: 花木蘭): female warrior

Uyghur Khaganate


  • Winner of the 2011 Sunburst Award for Adult Litterature
  • Nominated for the 2011 World Fantasy Best Novel
  • Nominated for the 2011 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature