From the Editor’s Desk: From Under the Mountain by Cait Spivey

 

Welcome to my first book review of the year! There will be lots more in the months to come, but I’m super excited that this one happens to be first. Yes, I may have some particular vested interest in it, seeing as its one I had the privilege of working on and its written by a talented author I’m lucky enough to call friend, but more than that, I just plain adored this one. Toward the end of last year, I found a string of amazing fantasy novels, including Uprooted by Naomi Novik and The Untold Tale by J.M. Frey, and Spivey’s offering fit right in.

So let’s get to all the reasons you should run out and read this book immediately, shall we?

From Under the Mountain

by Cait Spivey

From Under the Mountain by Cait Spivey

As the second child of the Aridan imperial family, nineteen-year-old Guerline knows exactly what is expected of her: be unobtrusive, be compliant, and do not fall in love with her low-born companion, Eva. She has succeeded at only two of those.

But before her feelings for Eva can become a point of contention for the royal house, Guerline’s calm and narrow life is ripped away from her—in the course of a single night—and she is abruptly cast in the role of empress.

Faced with a council that aggressively fears the four witch clans charged with protecting Arido and believes they are, in fact, waging war against the humans, Guerline struggles to maintain order. As her control over the land crumbles, she learns that the war is rooted in a conflict much older than she realized—one centuries in the making, which is now crawling from under the mountain and into the light. With the fate of Arido hanging in the balance, Guerline must decide who to trust when even her closest councilors seem to have an agenda.

Darkly cinematic, From Under the Mountain pairs the sweeping landscape of epic fantasy with the personal journey of finding one’s voice in the world, posing the question: how do you define evil, when everything society tells you is a lie?

There is so much to love about this novel that I almost don’t know where to start. But first, let me say that although Amazon and other retailers seem to be primarily classing this as f/f romance, it is not. There is romance, yes, and it does feature a beautifully rendered f/f love story, but this book is, in fact, a brilliant example of dark fantasy done well.

Spivey establishes her prowess in the genre right from the first page, where we’re introduced to protagonist Guerline standing over the decaying, yet alive, bodies of her parents. This horrifying, slightly gruesome scene is merely a harbinger for what’s to come though, as Spivey proceeds to kill off the entire Imperial family — with the exception of Guerline, of course — by the end of the first chapter.

Suddenly thrust into a role she never expected to fill, the young empress has to navigate not only the intricacies of unraveling her own identity from what others expect her to be but the nuances of running a country poised on the brink of war. Humanity is turning against the witch-lords who have guarded the empire’s borders for centuries, and Guerline finds herself dealing with radical opinions on both sides. But the rift between human and witch, magic and politics is only the beginning of Guerline’s problems, as a creature that has been sealed away from the world for a millennium is finally about to get its revenge.

Spivey’s writing sings off the page with a cinematic flair that evoked the feel of a Studio Ghibli film, but the rotating, more traditional approach to the POV and fact that no one is as safe as they seem brought up visions of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series. And I have to say that the blending of those two is nothing less than stunning.

But the thing that has always resonated most for me in Spivey’s work is her ability to create a fully realized cast of diverse characters and a world so richly textured it makes you want to live there indefinitely. Arido’s plight may encompass the standard sprawling map of high fantasy, but every detail is painstakingly accounted for, and the repercussions of what seem like small acts are felt throughout in an impressive example of the butterfly effect.

All in all, this is a gorgeous debut by an author who has clearly only begun her to literary stardom, and I cannot recommend it enough. If you’re a fan of high fantasy rife with political intrigue and the classic good vs evil scenario, if you enjoy dark fantasy with a fantastically creepy edge, or if you simply wish to escape into a world that treats everyone — regardless of gender or race or sexual orientation — with respect, then this is the book for you.  Seriously, go read it. It’s amazing.

Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

 

 

Hear Ye, Hear Ye! $20 Full Manuscript Critique Offer

I know, I’m posting a day early. But if you were on social media earlier, you already know that I’ve stepped off the deep end into a pool of utter (and awesome) madness. Hence the need to post a day earlier than normal this week.

See, one of my best friends — the brilliant and fabulous Cait Spivey — is trying something ambitious for the release of her debut full-length novel, From Under the Mountain. She’s putting together a high fantasy fashion show for her launch party. It’s a unique, fantastic way to bring readers into the world of her novel right from the get-go, and I’m always one to applaud innovation. (As does REUTS Publications, who — to the surprise of no one, I’m sure — is behind the book’s publication.)

The thing is, she can’t do it alone. She needs help to make this ambitious dream a reality. And, with the aid of IndieGoGo, she’s created a way for you to be involved, offering a variety of bonuses and extra perks in exchange for a small-to-generous donation to the cause. (Which, in case you’re curious, funds only the event’s production and not the book’s.) From custom art to autographed copies and exclusive bonus content, there’s a lot to choose from.

But I have one more to add to the pile:

Anyone who donates $20 – $50 to the campaign between 9/3/15 and 10/1/15 will receive a FULL MANUSCRIPT CRITIQUE from me.

Check my Freelance Editing Page, that’s worth $200-$500 dollars all on its own, without the added value of the perks Cait is offering too. That’s a crazy good deal, right? You know you want it. 😉

Here’s how it works:

Between now and the end of the campaign on 10/1, Cait and I will keep track of the eligible donations. I’ll add them to a special two-week schedule on a first come, first serve basis. So the sooner you donate, the higher up on the list you’ll be.

Then, starting 10/2, I’ll contact everyone and work will begin. Due to the other constraints on my schedule, I will be working on them one at a time, so the closer to the top of the list you are, the faster the turnaround time will be.

(Side note: if you won something from me previously and have not received it yet, don’t worry. I have not forgotten you and will be working on those first. You’ll even receive a bonus for your patience and the inconvenience.)

All right, that’s pretty much all you need to know about the terms and conditions of my offer. As always, if you have questions, feel free to contact me directly or leave a comment below. I’ll be back next week with more book reviews, editing/writing advice, or whatever other randomness grabs my attention. But for now, what are you waiting for? GO DONATE!

About From Under the Mountain

ivy cropped

The novel follows Guerline, a young woman who ascends to the throne of the empire after her entire family dies in one fell swoop. Now Empress, Guerline must address the suspicion growing in her court toward the four witch clans that protect the empire’s borders. Among the seditionists is Guerline’s best friend and lover, Evadine.

Guerline’s political balancing act is upset when the palace is attacked by powerful magic, bringing all Evadine’s fears to bear—but magic saves them too. In the wake of the attack, with an even greater threat looming, Guerline must decide who to trust, and summon all her strength to meet the challenge.

From Under the Mountain is a high fantasy for the modern world, drawing on the foundations laid by great female fantasy writers of the past twenty years to tell the story of one young woman. Guerline’s journey to establish her place, protect what she loves, and do right by her people will resonate with readers across the board.

Book Review Wednesday: The Ties Eternal by Cait Spivey

Despite the fact that this four-day work week has left me nothing if not continually confused about what day it is and stressed about being a full day behind (three-day weekends are awesome, aren’t they? Until you have to start your week on Tues . . . then, not so awesome), I did manage to meet the Wednesday deadline for the final installment in my review series for Cait Spivey’s Web novellas. So let’s get to it, shall we?

The Ties Eternal

by Cait Spivey

The Ties Eternal by Cait Spivey

My Rating: 5/5 Stars

Seventeen-year-old Miranda Wolford was born Deaf, though it took her years to realize it. She thought everyone could hear the cacophony of voices that surrounded her—but those voices belong to the dead, and they are the only things Miranda can hear.

When a ghost leads Miranda to a missing child and his murderer, she tries to enlist the police; but between the communication barrier and the insane story, she can’t make them understand.

The murderer is on the loose. To stop them, Miranda will have to take matters into her own hands.

The Ties Eternal is the third Web novella, and unlike the first two, it does not feature the Fletcher siblings at all. Instead, it introduces us to Miranda Wolford, a young Latina who was born Deaf but has the intriguing ability to see and communicate with the dead. We’re not talking Ghost Whisperer style, either. No, Miranda sees the dead in all their gruesome glory and is surrounded by their cries for her help. One in particular becomes more incessant than the others, and Miranda soon discovers that hearing the dead isn’t the only ability she possesses.

This was definitely my favorite of the series, for two very distinct reasons. The first is how beautifully written Miranda is. Spivey has masterfully captured what it would be like to live in a world you can’t hear, but without making the story solely about Miranda’s Deafness. Instead, it’s simply part of her identity, and we are given a glimpse into everyday, subtle things, like the worry over injury to her hands, which would affect her ability to sign, her frustration when her cousin resorts to words Miranda can’t hear in order to yell at her, her isolation when surrounded by a room full of boisterous family that isn’t translating anything into sign language. All of these things held the essence of truth and painted an eye-opening picture for those of us who otherwise have no way to understand. That’s always been the brilliance of Spivey’s writing, to me, and this novella showcases that phenomenally.

The second thing that really elevated this installment above the others was the opportunity to see how events overlap. I can’t reveal much without giving away spoilers, but there is definite cross-over between this novella and certain scenes in both of the previous ones. The resulting effect is impressive realism. These characters feel real; the world they live in feels real. Lives intersect all the time without those involved realizing, and Spivey mimics that perfectly.

We still aren’t given resolution in the traditional sense, and none of the questions from the previous installments are answered in this one, but that’s okay. Because somehow, Spivey manages to continually build on these origin stories, moving us ever closer to a fully realized, highly intricate world. I did find this one to be the most satisfying in terms of overall plot arc, but Miranda’s story is clearly just getting started. I can’t wait to see where the series goes from here.

Next up will be the forthcoming fourth novella, From This Calligraphy, and from there, I’ve heard rumor there will be novels. For those who don’t know, Cait has recruited me for the fourth installment, so I obviously won’t be reviewing that one. But I hope you’ve all enjoyed these reviews and that you have or will be checking the series out for yourself. I highly recommend it! And not just because I’m assisting with the last one. 😉

Book Review Wednesday: A Single Thread by Cait Spivey

I know what you’re thinking: It’s not Wednesday, it’s Friday. Believe me, I know. But I decided against changing the title of this post because a) it was supposed to go up on Wednesday, hence the “Book Review Wednesday” portion in the title, and b) it perfectly reflects the way my week has gone, which can be summed up like so: “WTF day is it? You’re kidding! Where did this week go, OMG.” Basically, this week made it a mission to subvert every single schedule and plan I had, to the point that I seriously don’t know what day it is. It’s quite disconcerting. I almost feel like I must have been kidnapped by a TARDIS in the night and dropped off before I could see all the awesome.

Anyway, today’s post is, much like myself, a few day’s off track and will be replacing whatever it is I would have written for today. (In an effort to somehow correct the flat tire of time I have occurring, I’m just going to bypass this week’s Friday post. You’ll get editing/writing/whatever insights next week, promise. 😉 ) So, now that I’ve set the story straight on why I’m posting this two days late, on to the review!

A Single Thread

By Cait Spivey

A Single Thread by Cait Spivey

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

It’s been two weeks since Morgan Fletcher’s little sister, Erin, disappeared before his eyes in a flurry of spidersilk and blood. Probability says she’s dead; but when Erin comes to him in a dream, Morgan’s eyes are opened to a level of reality where probability doesn’t mean jack. His sister sees the web of time, and she’s got news for him: trouble is coming.

A cryptic riddle and flashing images of the future are all Morgan has to go on in order to save a mystery boy from a gruesome death. That’s if he even believes what’s happened to Erin. Is her spider-whisperer persona for real, or has his grief at losing her caused him to totally crack?

With a life at stake, Morgan isn’t taking any chances. Madness or no madness, he has to solve Erin’s riddle before it’s too late.

 A Single Thread picks up right after I See the Web, answering some of the questions I was left with at the end of first installment within the first few chapters. Some, but not all. Still, I was excited by the resolution of things like why no one noticed the climatic moment at the end of the first book (they did, and the aftermath of that is explained in lots of satisfactory detail), what’s up with the neck-tingling danger thing (it’s not completely explained, but enough that I felt I had a better understanding of what it means and how it works), and even what’s next for Erin and Dawn.

But this book doesn’t center on the protagonist from the first one; instead, she’s more of a catalyst for Morgan’s story, sending her brother on a mission with an ominous riddle and final warning that speaks loads to the mystery about to unfold:

“Dance for the boy’s life. Dance for yours.”

That was perhaps my favorite line from the book, though the entire thing is riddled with Spivey’s usual brilliance. There were only two aspects that left me feeling a bit torn about the story, warranting the loss of the fifth star I desperately wanted to give it. On the one hand, I loved many of the elements more than the first — the plot arc, Morgan’s character, the way it further fleshed out the world. But on the other, there were a few things I struggled with.

While I liked Morgan as a character and felt Spivey showcased his emotional turmoil well, I did feel like she struggled with maintaining his voice more than I’ve seen her do in other works. There are still glittering gems of wit that leap off the page, but there are also moments where the character voice seemed to vacillate. Not a lot, but some.

The other thing I struggled with were the intuitive connections the characters made. In some ways, I wish this story had been longer and given more space to breathe, as there were several times where the characters made leaps in logic that didn’t feel believable, like they had inside knowledge they shouldn’t have had. I wanted a little more resistance to their suddenly being thrust into a supernatural world no one was aware of and for the unraveling of the riddle to be a little harder for the characters to figure out.

That said, there were a lot of things I loved more than the first installment in the series. My favorite element is the way Spivey’s work builds on its fellow stories, interconnecting and weaving together in ways that definitely enrich not only the world-building, but the reading experience as well. Similar to the first, there’s a distinct feeling that this is an origin story, and it can definitely be read alone, but I recommend reading the series in order. The Easter eggs Spivey has hidden can only be truly appreciated against the backdrop of the entire series.

**Content Note: Contains a lot of swearing and mild violence.**

Book Review Wednesday: I See the Web by Cait Spivey

As promised in the author spotlight I did a couple Fridays back, I’m resurrecting the book review portion of this blog — a section that I’ve been woefully lax in maintaining. And since Friday is generally kept for writing/editing advice or whatever other shenanigans I decide to write about, the book reviews will keep their designated day of Wednesday. Why does this matter? I suppose it doesn’t; I just wanted to give you a quick reminder of how I divide the content so you can know which day to tune in. With that done and out of the way, on to the book review!

I See the Web

By Cait Spivey

I See the Web by Cait Spivey

 

My Rating: 5/5 Stars

Seventeen-year-old Erin has a lot to look forward to, even if it suddenly seems like everywhere she turns there’s a spider staring at her. She’s finally out to her friends and family, surprising exactly no one. When Dawn, the love of her tender teenage dreams, corners her in the library, a whole new world opens up to Erin. From here on out, it’s all make-out sessions with her beautiful girlfriend in rooms stacked high with books.
Until the spiders start whispering.

Turns out the spiders aren’t just stalking her for kicks. They need her to be their voice, their vessel, whatever that means. But their timing is crap, because there’s no way Erin is giving up her human life just when things are starting to get amazing. Too bad the spiders just won’t quit. Like it or not, Erin will have to choose, and it won’t be nearly as easy as she thinks.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I loathe spiders. Not quite to the scream-bloody-murder-every-time-I-see-one level, but I definitely qualify for arachnophobia. So when I first heard about this novella, I had distinct misgivings over the very obvious inclusion of my eight-legged enemies.

Still, having read some of Spivey’s other work, I really wanted to give it a try, especially since it’s the first in a series I’ve rapidly come to expect great things from. So I braced myself for the worst and dove in, opening the file to see this as the first line:

“No one likes spiders.”

The MC, Erin, goes on to express all the things I’ve often thought about the multi-legged abominations, instantly putting me at ease and creating a bond that held throughout the story. This is the thing I love most about Spivey’s writing — her ability to craft rich, realistic characters that are entirely believable.

Erin’s voice is modern, but perfectly crafted to emulate that of a seventeen-year-old, and her internal struggle as she wrestles with understanding her sexuality and identity resonate without overpowering the plot. We watch as Erin discovers the innocence of first love, all while Spivey weaves a web of foreshadowing around it.

This novella serves as an origin story for what is clearly a much more complicated mythology/universe, and I was left with a lot of unanswered questions. What exactly is The Web? Why can the people on this street sense danger and how does that work? Why doesn’t anyone notice the drama on Dawn’s front lawn, or the aftermath that follows? I can’t list them all without giving away some significant spoilers (which is also why I haven’t said much about the plot itself), but suffice it to say that this is not a story you want to read if you’re looking for a self-contained tale with a satisfying, close-ended resolution. Instead, it’s an introduction to what is definitely a unique and intriguing new concept. The glimpses we were given into the mythos behind the spiders is enough to convince me that I’ve never seen anything quite like this. It’s refreshing and original, and I’m definitely looking forward to the return of Erin and Dawn later in the series.

And for all my fellow arachnophobes out there, the spiders really aren’t that bad. Spivey does a fantastic job of creating an atmosphere that is both terrifying and creepy without triggering that horrifying sensation of spiders crawling on your skin.

I highly recommend this to people looking for a short afternoon read or those looking to be introduced to a promising new author.

Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads