The next in my series of Christmas reviews is the closing book of Audrey Driscoll’s Herbert West series, She Who Returns. I’ve read and reviewed the previous installment, She Who Comes Forth and I want to touch on this one, too.
The final book in the series is a well-plotted and fast-paced story full of thrilling twists and turns. Audrey Driscoll’s writing is quite elegant, smooth and atmospheric. I absolutely love the supernatural elements coiled within the story and I can’t help but notice the thorough research in Ancient Egypt mythology, language and history she must have done. Although not unexpected (where else would you find them if not in Egypt?) the paranormal components are original and intelligent.
What is really impressive in this novel is the setting, both in terms of time and location — Egypt in the early 1960s.
I can’t personally vouch for the time period, but…
Greetings, Audrey. Thanks so much for inviting me to join you on your blog to talk a bit about my new book The Necromancer’s Daughter. I wanted to share a little dilemma that I had at the start of the book and how I chose to handle it. It’s interesting to me how certain stories challenge us to try something different. The first section of the book, The Necromancer, is six chapters long, and it introduces Barus. For most of this section, Aster hasn’t been born, so the story unfolds in Barus’s POV. Then, the story takes a turn and jumps ahead to section two, called The Necromancer’s Daughter. Aster, as a young woman, takes over the story, and Barus fades from the spotlight. But I liked Barus, and I hoped readers would like him too. And though he isn’t present for the majority of the remaining action, he continues to be extremely important to the story. How would I keep him present and involved if he wasn’t, in fact, present and involved? Hmmm. I decided that while he fled the kingdom in search of a safe haven, he would write a letter to Aster, in installments similar to a diary. It was my little dive into epistolary storytelling (storytelling through letters). I’m crossing my fingers that it worked. Thanks again for having me along, and many thanks to your blog buddies for visiting. Happy Reading!
The word “necromancer” in the title captured my interest. My own writing has given me an acquaintance with such an individual, so I was intensely interested in Barus and how he returns the dead to life. Here is an excerpt in which Barus studies his mother Olma’s book of medicines, potions, and cures, specifically, the chapter titled Death Magic:
He turned the page and sighed with relief at the plainly written recipes employing common herbs and natural toxins, hallucinogens distilled from plants growing near his home. The many drawings included black henbane and jimson weed, moonseed and baneberry, all familiar to him. Instructions detailed methods for turning necromantic solutions into powders, determining portions, and administering them with… He froze. The last ingredient on the list stopped his breath. Human blood. He shut the book with a thump. Dawn flung golden spears through gaps in the thatch, and he sagged with fatigue, face in his hands. He’d wasted his time. Olma would never have stolen a life, never poisoned and bled one soul to save another. She must have discovered a different way. He dropped his hands and stared at the cut on his knuckle. Another bead of blood had smeared and dried. His own blood. He stroked the book’s leather cover as he grasped the nature of the scars on Olma’s arms, scars she’d never explained. Possibility coursed through his veins and lit a fire behind his eyes. Never again would he lose someone he loved.
I loved this! I loved it because it involves a book of esoteric lore, and names real plants used in magic. And the necromantic ritual is not a simple matter of following a recipe. The practitioner must suffer and risk losing his or her life. The scene in which Barus heals Aster from death is both harrowing and poignant. It is incredibly compelling. And it’s only the beginning of peril and fear for both Barus and Aster, as they are hunted by those who believe them to be abominations.
Book Description: A healer and dabbler in the dark arts of life and death, Barus is as gnarled as an ancient tree. Forgotten in the chaos of the dying queen’s chamber, he spirits away her stillborn infant, and in a hovel at the meadow’s edge, he breathes life into the wisp of a child. He names her Aster for the lea’s white flowers. Raised as his daughter, she learns to heal death. Then the day arrives when the widowed king, his own life nearing its end, defies the Red Order’s warning. He summons the necromancer’s daughter, his only heir, and for his boldness, he falls to an assassin’s blade. While Barus hides from the Order’s soldiers, Aster leads their masters beyond the wall into the Forest of Silvern Cats, a land of dragons and barbarian tribes. She seeks her mother’s people, the powerful rulers of Blackrock, uncertain whether she will find sanctuary or face a gallows’ noose. Unprepared for a world rife with danger, a world divided by those who practice magic and those who hunt them, she must choose whether to trust the one man offering her aid, the one man most likely to betray her—her enemy’s son. A healer with the talent to unravel death, a child reborn, a father lusting for vengeance, and a son torn between justice, faith, and love. Caught in a chase spanning kingdoms, each must decide the nature of good and evil, the lengths they will go to survive, and what they are willing to lose.
About Diana Wallace Peach: A long-time reader, best-selling author D. Wallace Peach started writing later in life when years of working in business surrendered to a full-time indulgence in the imaginative world of books. She was instantly hooked. In addition to fantasy books, Peach’s publishing career includes participation in various anthologies featuring short stories, flash fiction, and poetry. She’s an avid supporter of the arts in her local community, organizing and publishing annual anthologies of Oregon prose, poetry, and photography. Peach lives in a log cabin amongst the tall evergreens and emerald moss of Oregon’s rainforest with her husband, two owls, a horde of bats, and the occasional family of coyotes.
Like Mae, I received an email from Shepherd’s founder Ben Fox through the Contact form on my blog. Because of Mae’s favourable experience, I decided to contribute a list of recommended books on a theme similar to that of my novel The Friendship of Mortals, namely, the intrusion of the supernatural into real life.
The folks at Shepherd were great to work with. They created a beautiful page with my recommendations. The link is above, or you can find it HERE. The hardest part for me (but it was fun too!) was deciding on a theme and finding five books I’ve read that belong there. I can easily think of other themes and lists, so may contribute again.
Best of all, the service is completely free. Based on my experiences, I recommend it to fellow authors.
Summer is definitely in the rearview now, so I thought I would report on how I did with my list of intended summer reads.
I’m happy to say I finished reading all the books I named in my June 12th post. And a few others besides.
Here are one-sentence reviews (an exercise in brevity inspired by horror writer Priscilla Bettis). The book titles link to my full reviews on Goodreads.
Sunwielder by D. Wallace Peach In vivid, graphic prose, this book tells the story of a farmer turned soldier in a brutal and endless war, who receives a gift that grants him a unique relationship with death.
Best Friends and Other Lovers by J.F. Kaufmann A trio of spicy love stories, including a Christmas-themed tale that warms the heart as well as… other places.
Sailing to Redoubt by C. Litka A delightful old-fashioned adventure story in which an aspiring archaeologist finds himself on a sailboat in tropical seas with a pair of enigmatic twin sisters.
The Daemoniac by Kat Ross A twisty mystery in which a whip-smart young woman detective races around 1880s New York City to track down a diabolical killer who may not be human.
The Journey by Suzanne Miller A hopeful post-apocalyptic story in which two young people seek healing and truth in a world devastated by climate change.
Alchemy by Mark Ryan A sparse but intriguing story about an alchemist, unfortunately diluted by long sections of passionate poetry.
The Two-Blood Legacy by J.F. Kaufmann A detailed paranormal romance and family saga about gorgeous werewolves, wizards, and vampires in the present-day western U.S.
Hope by Terry Tyler A compelling and frighteningly realistic dystopian thriller in which a young woman becomes enmeshed in the heartless machinery of a near-future UK engaged in brutal social engineering.
Those were the books on my list, but I actually read several more.
Surviving Sanctuary by P.J. O’Brien A very long (nearly 500K words) but exceedingly engaging book in which a young American man looking for an ex-girlfriend’s missing sister visits a country (that doesn’t exist, but should) and learns a great deal about its customs and history. (Full disclosure: I started reading it quite a while before summer began.)
A Year in the Life of Leah Brand by Lucinda E. Clarke A page-turner about a woman having a really bad year that jolted me from schadenfreude to sympathy and back.
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart A fun read about children with special talents on a secret mission that was just the thing to read while recovering from That Virus.
The Necromancer’s Daughter by D. Wallace Peach A dramatic and beautifully written fantasy set in a gorgeously realized world that is not without perils, especially to those with the power to heal death.
There is a small scene in my novel Islands of the Gulf Volume 1, The Journey, in which two characters are talking about plants they’ve seen on a recent walk around the (fictitious) island on which the story is set. One of them rattles off several botanical names and asks whether he has pronounced them correctly. The other character (who is the narrator) responds by saying, “I must admit, I sometimes hesitate to say the Latin out loud. So often, there’s someone eager to jump in and correct one’s pronunciation. ‘No, my dear, the accent should fall on the first syllable.’ That sort of thing.”
That sort of thing probably occurs regularly in gatherings of serious gardeners, such as garden clubs and exhibitions. Most of my communication about plants happens on this blog, where all I have to worry about is spelling those sometimes lumpy botanical names. And italicizing them, of course.
Nevertheless, I sometimes find myself wondering about pronunciation. Like language in general, botanical Latin has its quirks. For example, many genus names are based on people’s surnames. Botanists’ names, I assume. Bergenia, Dahlia, Fuchsia, Mahonia. Lurking behind these pseudo-Latin monikers are dudes named Karl August von Bergen, Anders Dahl, Leonhart Fuchs, and Bernard McMahon.
But consider how those Latin genus names are usually pronounced: BerJEENia, DAYlia, FYOOshia. To be honest, I’m not sure whether the last one is MaHOnia or MahoNEEia, but I do know that Bernard’s surname was likely pronounced in a way that could be rendered as McMaan.
Maybe my suggested genus name pronunciations are not official, but only the way garden variety gardeners pronounce them. Maybe serious botanists simply add “-ia” to the correctly pronounced surnames? Somehow I doubt it, even though I don’t frequent gatherings of such individuals.
A few weeks ago, I attended an event at the Horticulture Centre of the Pacific. There was a plant sale. Even though my garden is full to bursting, I actually bought two plants. One of them was labelled Tweedia caerulea. Wikipedia tells me the correct name is actually Oxypetalum coeruleum. I think I’ll stick to Tweedia, as it’s easier to pronounce. Now all I have to worry about is making sure the little plant survives the winter, as its native region is southern Brazil to Uruguay. Its flowers are an unusual shade of blue, and of course I’m a sucker for blue flowers.
One of the benefits of publishing in today’s milieu is that book length is no longer as rigid it was in the days of print-only, trad-only publishing. Especially in the case of ebooks, where length is measured in time needed to read a book, rather than its physical bulk. If a writer is inspired to create in short forms, they shouldn’t hesitate to publish those works, or consider them inferior because they’re short.
Short fiction ranges from micro or flash (a few hundred words or less), through short stories (1,000 to 10,000 words) to novellas and novelettes (10,000 to about 50,000 words). Some say a novel has to be at least 80,000 words, but I figure anything over 50,000 may squeak into that category, as a “short novel,” perhaps.
Short fiction is generally published in the form of collections (single author), or in anthologies or journals (multi-author), as well as singly on writers’ blogs.
Now that’s out of the way, I can say that in general, I prefer long books to short, and novels to collections or anthologies. In high school, I was the kid lugging around the biggest, fattest books from the school library. I particularly recall Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, which was three inches thick and could injure your foot if you dropped it.
Why do I prefer long novels? Because reading is analogous to writing, it may be argued that by visualizing as they read, the reader continues the work of the writer. It takes a similar sort of mental effort for the reader to run a mind-movie as for the writer to create the script for it (the book).
But works of short fiction are not always worth the trouble. You get to know the characters and they’re gone. You appreciate a setting, but you’re kicked out of it when the story ends. Or it’s all minimalistic–a character in a situation, without much detail or context. In a novel, especially a long one, you can settle in, get to know the characters, become friends with some of them, return to their world day after day, and feel bereft when you close the book. (We’re talking about a well-written, interesting novel here, folks. We know that whether long or short, they aren’t all like that.)
Short fiction doesn’t linger in my memory the way long novels do.
A book of linked or interrelated short stories, on the other hand, has possibilities. They take place in the same setting, possibly in different time periods. The same characters may appear in more than one story. There may not be a unified plot, but figuring out how the various stories fit together can be interesting.
Fellow writers, what do you think? I see reviews of short books on your blogs, so I know you read and enjoy them. Long reads or short–which do you prefer, both to read and to write?
By the way, my 2018 novel, She Who Comes Forth, is having its final two free days on Amazon August 20th and 21st (today and tomorrow). It’s shorter than the books in the photos for this post. Click the cover image.
This is another in my occasional series called Local Author Book Reviews, featuring authors from the Greater Victoria (British Columbia) region whose books are included in the Greater Victoria Public Library’s Emerging Local Authors Collection.
Kate, Pearl and Colin are back for another wild adventure. Vacationing at her family’s remote cottage in northern Ontario, Kate rescues a stranger who’s been injured after losing a blueberry patch dispute with a bear. His captivating charm immerses them in a world of gold, murder, and real estate conspiracies. But is he the real deal? With night whispering its arrival, Kate is challenged to confront one of her greatest fears.
Kate O’Malley (first encountered in Clamming Up) is back, along with her friends Pearl and Colin. This time, the trio is vacationing in Kate’s family’s cabin (known as The Camp) on a lake near Timmins, in northern Ontario. This setting, clearly based on a real place known to and loved by the author, informs and illustrates the story. Even the mosquitoes and leeches are included, as well as bears, moose (there’s a really good scene with one of these), otters, and other wildlife.
Before the fun begins, though, a prologue shows the final moments of a woman’s life. The means of her death and the reasons for it constitute the mystery element of the book, one which emerges gradually amid activities such as fishing, swimming, and boating. Another character emerges as well—Ben Brodan, whom Kate rescues after he’s injured while eluding a mother bear. It turns out Ben was a friend of the deceased woman. As Kate and her friends help him out, they are drawn into a legal tangle involving gold, mining claims, property transactions, contracts, and shady enterprises. Kate and Ben are also drawn to one another, introducing an element of romance.
Even though it takes a while for the mystery to manifest, there is always something exciting going on. Kate and the others know how to enjoy themselves, whether they are fishing, cooking, playing board games, or imbibing an impressive array of beverages. (In fact, a complete menu for a stay at a rustic lakeside retreat may be derived from this book.)
The point of view and narrative voice is Kate’s, in short chapters with catchy titles. A few even shorter untitled chapters briefly show nameless persons carrying out sinister deeds. A couple of local eccentrics and an Ontario Provincial Police detective with the memorable name of Tuffanski round out the supporting cast.
The motives and methods are figured out after a number of harrowing situations and with the help of friends in the right places, a few lucky breaks, and some tech. The ending is satisfying. I recommend this book unreservedly to anyone looking for a realistic mystery with an upbeat style. The vicarious stay at The Camp is a bonus.