Driscoll blends learning and esoterica with complex characters, creating a story that evokes classic tales of occult scholarship without any of the dryness that can creep in.
This novel is the sequel to She Who Comes Forth and describes events in Driscoll’s Herbert West series. Possible spoilers for both ahead.
France Leighton has built a satisfying life reading Egyptology at Miskatonic University and working as a shelver in the library. However, the arrival of two half-brothers she never knew she had not only puts degree and job at risk but also threatens to drag her into her grandfather’s experimentations with reanimation and the occult.
With references to Nephren-Ka and Herbert West that are integrated into the story rather than veneered on, this novel is very much an homage to Lovecraft. The amount of Egyptology that appears and the academic protagonist similarly echo the sense of scholarliness that fills many of…
This time, friends, it’s my new novel, Three for a Girl, available today as a Kindle book ($2.99) or in paperback ($8.49).
Here’s the plot, in a nutshell:
LeeAnn Heartney, seventeen and desperate to get away from her dysfunctional family in the summer of 1973, cooks up a plan. Her mother, Arlene, has rented out the top floor of their quirky, ramshackle house to a three-man ambulance crew, and LeeAnn thinks their old beaut of a machine—a converted ‘58 Caddie—would make the perfect getaway car for her dreamed-of flight to California. The only kink in her strategy is what to do about her sister, Jeannie, three years younger and in no way ready to deal with the craziness of life in that house without LeeAnn to watch her back.
It’s the summer of the Senate Watergate hearings too, and Arlene Heartney is obsessed…
In a word (or two), not much. Or, a number of small things.
In the Garden…
The highest temperature so far this year—17C (63F). Not much rain; March has been dry. Anticipating summer drought, I’ve already laid out three of my six soaker hoses and acquired a new sprinkler. It can be set to about 1 foot from the ground or raised to 3 feet. A three-armed whirly-twirly thing on top flings water around generously. It’s definitely not a water-conserving model, but the idea is it will supplement the soaker hoses in seriously dry times.
Tomato seeds have sprouted, and the 1-inch tall seedlings are on a south-facing windowsill. Pepper seeds are still awaiting emergence on top of the hot water tank.
Ornamental cherry trees are in full bloom on the boulevards, adding a froth of pink to the scene. Daffodils are almost done, but tulips are about to bloom. So is the magnolia.
Last spring I congratulated myself on pulling up every single plant of shotweed (Cardamine oligosperma or maybe C. hirsuta) in the entire garden before they could bloom, thus ensuring no shotweed here this year. (Gardeners who know this weed will be laughing now.) I must have missed one or two, so have been pulling up tiny shotweeds for the past several weeks. They are pretty when young, but absolutely cannot be allowed to shoot their seeds all over the place.
The little plant of Rosa mutabilis that was deer-nipped to 2 inches from the ground in December appears to be alive. But two old pelargoniums, that survived many freezes in past winters, are dead. I should have brought them inside when temperatures of -8C (18F) were predicted last December, but told myself that they would be OK covered up. I was wrong. Pelargoniums (tender geraniums) are easy to replace, so it’s not a huge loss, except in principle.
Along with the sprinkler, on a whim I ordered this cute little pocket knife made in Czechia. It’s only 8 cm (about 3 in.) long, folded up, but feels surprisingly weighty.
I thoroughly enjoyed Jim Webster’s delightful adventure tale Tallis Steelyard. A Fear of Heights. I’m halfway through Once Upon a Tome, by Oliver Darkshire, a book of anecdotes about working in an antiquarian bookshop in London. And I’m more than halfway through A Rooster for Asklepios by Christopher D. Stanley, an absorbing historical novel set in Graeco-Roman times.
Not much. Yet.
Lots. Thoughts yet to be organized and turned into writing.
There are many books set in places that exist only in fiction. Most of these fictional lands are distant in time and/or space, in other galaxies or alternate universes. But for the past few months, I’ve been reading about a nonexistent country that—if it were real—would be in our present time and right here on Earth.
The country is called Sanctuary. Here is what its creator, author PJ O’Brien, says about it:
She was challenged to write a genre-bending mystery after losing an argument with ducks about the inevitability of violence. She dreamed up a country founded upon the ideals of fairness and peace, and then added characters that had to abide by the framework of their culture. They were given the traditional provocations to fighting (e.g. limited resources, invasions, religious & ideological differences) as well as some natural horrors that plague people. The characters were allowed to evolve on their own and respond to crises as they saw fit. They had only to be true to their culture, retain essential elements of modern humanity, and be charming when not dealing with threats that could potentially end the world as they knew it.
Now that I’m well into the fourth and last book of the series, I can list some basics about Sanctuary:
According to the author, Sanctuary may be located anywhere on Earth that readers would like it to be. I picture it somewhere in Asia, between India and China. My reasons: the languages named, customs relating to tea-drinking, etiquette involving bowing and an elaborate system of honorifics, the importance of martial arts. Also the climate, in which snow is rare and serious cold isn’t mentioned. There are dry, bare rocky places and sandstorms. Also, the country was occupied in WW2, so is not in the Americas or Australia/NZ.
Despite the above, the inhabitants are pretty up on American movies and popular music.
Everyone has a cell phone and many use the internet, but CDs are the main vehicle for recorded music. There are national TV and radio stations.
The only agricultural area is situated close to the country’s only forest. The Forest and the Purple Mountains are central to Sanctuary’s history and a source of conflict and mystery.
The Forest and its people occupy a unique position, especially its women, some of whom have special talents.
The country has a policy of pacifism and sends humanitarian missions to conflict zones.
Members of the Masters Guild are trained to different levels and types of martial arts. They carry out the roles of police, security, and (when needed) defensive armed forces.
The country’s monarchs are brother and sister, with succession through women. There is also an elected Assembly.
There is no capital punishment, even for serious crimes. Wrongdoers are confined in temple complexes for rehabilitation.
There are multiple religions, but no official faith (although the Royals have an official set of rituals). Much discussion of religion occurs in the books.
Courtiers are a somewhat privileged group focussed on the Palace (which is located away from the capital city), with an interest in gossip and intrigue. But the life of a Courtier isn’t always easy.
Sanctuary’s history goes back more than 1,000 years. Legendary and historic figures are often mentioned in discussions of contemporary matters.
Some pretty grim stuff is mentioned at times (war, starvation, massacre, murder, rape, etc.), but there is a lot of warmth and humour.
These books show individuals and groups working out large and small challenges and differences within the parameters as outlined above. Readers will find most of the situations relatable.
Dialogue is the primary mode of conveying the narrative, interleaved with brief scene-setting descriptions. In general, description of people, landscapes, buildings, etc. is minimal. This is hard to believe, considering each book is over 1,000 pages (between 400 and 500K words). The dialogue is often realistic and snappy.
There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of characters, with a core of a couple of dozen. Point of view shifts among them, with occasional out-zooms to omniscience. Each scene features an issue or situation of interest to someone, who talks it through with one or more other characters. This sounds like it might be confusing, but it’s not. The place and time of each chapter are always indicated.
By now, those reading this will have realized that the Sanctuary Series books deviate somewhat from the beaten track of fiction. I’m not sure what genre they belong to, if any. The author has used the term “speculative ethnology,” which certainly describes aspects of them. Keywords applied to the books include “mashups,” “utopias,” “fantasy,” and “mystery.” One might also call them speculative family sagas.
Why? Because of Sanctuary’s unique way of managing marriage and family life. Every adult must be part of a House, i.e., a family. And said House must consist of at least two, and often includes more than two, couples who are married to all the others. Everyone has several mothers and several fathers.
Ooh, group marriage! Yes, but don’t expect group sex. In fact, there are few sex scenes as such in these books, and none that could be described as explicit. There are strict rules around marriage and House formation, as well as a degree of flexibility and quite a few challenges. It’s certainly a different type of social organization and permeates the entire series. And House names are charming, interesting, and sometimes quirky.
There is also a concept of “teaching stories” woven into the plots of the four books. In a way, the books themselves perform this role. Instead of “Once upon a time…” we have “What if there was a country where…”
I have found these books to be engaging and will be sorry to finish reading the last one in the series. They are like a long-running TV series that becomes part of one’s life. I have looked forward to reading regular “episodes” in the past year. I recommend an unhurried approach to reading these books. There’s no need to race through them to find out how they end. Let the stories unfold slowly. Start with the first book, Surviving Sanctuary, and allow yourself to be drawn into life in this imaginary land.
More information about PJ O’Brien and the Sanctuary Series may be found at Goodreads and at Smashwords, where Read an Ebook Week has commenced!
Featured image from Pixabay. Cover images from Smashwords.
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.