Leading Ladies of Fantasy Storybundle

THE LEADING LADIES FANTASY BUNDLE

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The Leading Ladies Fantasy Bundle – Curated by Charlotte E. English

You know how it goes. There’s one female character in the book, and she’s someone’s love interest. She’s given little to do and less to wear. She has no good lines, and nothing to contribute save her helplessness.

These are not those stories.

This year, I wanted to champion the kind of great, riveting fantasy which doesn’t sideline the ladies. Happily, indie fantasy has absolutely masses to offer. I’ve assembled some of my favourite books by some of my favourite authors, every one of which offers somebody memorable, vivid and real to spend time with.

In these tales of derring-do, the ladies have stepped firmly out of the background. Not every story is female-led, though many are. In some of these books, they’re taking centre stage and rocking it. In others, it’s a supporting cast of women that shines.

I have for you an aristocratic amateur sleuth and a wayward forest witch from W. R. Gingell; a top mathematician and codebreaker from Lindsay Buroker; and from Joseph Robert Lewis and J. Zachary Pike, elf ladies as we’ve never seen them before. There’s a cursed princess from Annie Bellet, a brilliant scholarly mage from Rachel Cotterill, and a cast of wizards, necromancers and dragons from Joseph Lallo. And from me, there’s a predominantly female team of wily masqueraders with a grand mystery to solve.

These books cover a range of fantasy sub-genres, from comic to epic to romantic to adventure fantasy. They’ll take you to diverse fantasy worlds, and show you how spectacular leading ladies can be. – Charlotte E. English

The initial titles in the Leading Ladies Fantasy Bundle (minimum $5 to purchase) are:

  • Elf Saga – Doomsday (Omnibus Edition) by Joseph Robert Lewis
  • The D’Karon Apprentice by Joseph R. Lallo
  • Watersmeet by Rachel Cotterill
  • Masque by W.R. Gingell
  • Encrypted – Forgotten Ages Book 1 by Lindsay Buroker

If you pay more than the bonus price of just $15, you get all five of the regular titles, plus five more!

  • Orconomics by J. Zachary Pike
  • Seven Dreams by Charlotte E. English
  • Gryphonpike Chronicles Volume 1: The Barrows by Annie Bellet
  • Wolfskin by W.R. Gingell
  • Decrypted – Forgotten Ages Book 2 by Lindsay Buroker

And as a special bonus for our newsletter subscribers, we’re giving away a free copy of Jo Lallo’s The Book of Deacon Anthology, which includes the entire Book of Deacon trilogy as well as Jade, a short novel set after the events of The Book of Deacon, The Rise of the Red Shadow, a prequel to the trilogy, and more! Did we mention that it’s free?

This bundle is available only for a limited time via http://www.storybundle.com. It allows easy reading on computers, smartphones, and tablets as well as Kindle and other ereaders via file transfer, email, and other methods. You get multiple DRM-free formats (.epub and .mobi) for all books!

It’s also super easy to give the gift of reading with StoryBundle, thanks to our gift cards – which allow you to send someone a code that they can redeem for any future StoryBundle bundle – and timed delivery, which allows you to control exactly when your recipient will get the gift of StoryBundle.

Why StoryBundle? Here are just a few benefits StoryBundle provides.

  • Get quality reads: We’ve chosen works from excellent authors to bundle together in one convenient package.
  • Pay what you want (minimum $5): You decide how much these fantastic books are worth. If you can only spare a little, that’s fine! You’ll still get access to a batch of exceptional titles.
  • Support authors who support DRM-free books: StoryBundle is a platform for authors to get exposure for their works, both for the titles featured in the bundle and for the rest of their catalog. Supporting authors who let you read their books on any device you want—restriction free—will show everyone there’s nothing wrong with ditching DRM.
  • Give to worthy causes: Bundle buyers have a chance to donate a portion of their proceeds to Mighty Writers and Girls Write Now!
  • Receive extra books: If you beat the bonus price, you’ll get the bonus books!

StoryBundle was created to give a platform for independent authors to showcase their work, and a source of quality titles for thirsty readers. StoryBundle works with authors to create bundles of ebooks that can be purchased by readers at their desired price. Before starting StoryBundle, Founder Jason Chen covered technology and software as an editor for Gizmodo.com and Lifehacker.com.

For more information, visit our website at storybundle.com, tweet us at @storybundle and like us on Facebook.

These are a Few of my Favourite Things: MAIRELON THE MAGICIAN

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Mairelon the Magician by Patricia Wrede

Mairelon the Magician. What can I say about it? Well, it’s by Patricia Wrede, which almost guaranteed that I’d like it, even if I hadn’t, you know, liked it. It’s Fantasy. But it’s Regency. Well, it’s a Mystery, though. Oh, and also Adventure. Comedy. Did I mention it’s a Regency?!

There aren’t that many Fantasy/Regency blends out there–well, not many GOOD ones, anyway–so when I find one that’s good, I tend to enjoy it a great deal and re-read it often. Mairelon the Magician (and its sequel, The Magician’s Ward) are no exception to that rule. They’re two of the best Fantasy/Regency books you’ll find, and are even more enjoyable than the rather better known Fantasy/Regency blend Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer.

“What have you done with the Sacred Dish?” Jon grated.

“Lost it in a card game,” Meredith said.

Things I like about Mairelon?

Well.

There’s a street urchin boy who is actually a girl. That’s always a winner with me. (It’s not a spoiler, you know in the first page–relax). Maybe it’s because I wanted to be a boy when I was a kid, or maybe it’s because I always wanted to be a street urchin: whatever the reason, I’ll almost never say no to an MC street urchin girl-pretending-to-be-boy.

There’s a plump-faced, magician, main character (Mairelon himself, in case you were wondering) who is delightfully irritating and deceptively ineffectual. He is SUCH a fun character. He has me laughing the whole way through every re-read.

Oh. And Mairelon has a henchman called Hunch. I’m not sure why I find this so incredibly satisfying, but I do. I find it even more satisfying that his henchman called Hunch has a mustache–and I can only hope it’s a handlebar one (we are told that he frequently chews the ends of it, so I’m gonna believe what I want to believe).

Avid Heyerites will recognise many familiar words, phrases, and themes. Even the structure will be familiar. Despite that, the whole thing has an original feel to it that is very hard to achieve with anything that can (and will always) be compared to Heyer. It’s madcap and ridiculous and just outright FUN. You should definitely read it.

Favourite Authors: NICHOLAS FISK

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I actually started writing this blog post quite a while ago, but it never got finished because I didn’t find myself as eloquent as I would have liked to be. I’m resurrecting it now because I learned just a few days ago that Nicholas Fisk has died. The news made me sad for a couple of reasons (and no disrespect intended to his family, who have many more–and far more important–reasons to grieve).

The first of those reasons is purely selfish: a reader’s reaction. That hollow, sad feeling that there will be no more books. I’m very well aware that there are, and will be, many more books; but they won’t be books like that. The Nicholas Fisk books are now a finite, fixed number. And that’s a real shame, because there are very few people who can write with the kind of clarity, simplicity, and at the same time incredible depth that Nicholas Fisk managed.

My second reason is even more regretful: it’s a writer’s reaction. There are only about ten authors who have really influenced me in terms of style, content, or characterisation; and Nicholas Fisk is one of those. Quite a few of those influencers have also died in the last few years, without me ever having the chance to meet them, shake them by the hand, and tell them how much I learnt from their writing, and how much I enjoyed their art. I didn’t even get the chance to write to them and tell them that. My fault, of course, but you don’t expect your heroes to die. I regret that I never took the opportunity to write and tell them each how much they’ve meant to me.

Nicholas Fisk’s books are, ostensibly, children’s books. Sci-fi, too, which I very rarely read unless I’m immediately caught by the idea or the characters. The main characters are children, and although the subjects can range from simple to quite complex, the writing is never such as to either condescend or confuse. The adult characters are drawn with the kind of nuance that you don’t notice as a child but very much appreciate as an adult. One and all, the characters are complete, real people. The bad guys are complex, detailed, and sometimes not so much bad as on the other side. The protagonists see them as bad because they’re on the opposite side of the fence. Sometimes that realisation is made by the characters, other times, not.

I can’t now remember which Nicholas Fisk book I first read: it was either A RAG, A BONE, AND A HANK OF HAIR; BACKLASH; or MINDBENDERS. Each of them was a revelation for me, and I hold special memories from each. A RAG, A BONE, AND A HANK OF HAIR appalled and horrified me, and at the same time fascinated me. I was thinking about it for months after I first read it, and I knew it was a book that I would love forever. I don’t want to say too much more, because Spoilers, Sweetie. BACKLASH was amazing in a totally different way: the character I remember most was a mechanical princess who had no idea of pain, or growing up, or humanity. She wanted a little mechanical baby, and I remember one of the characters worrying about that at the end, because the princess was beginning to learn, and he wondered how it would affect her when she realised her ‘baby’ would never grow, or learn, or develop. MINDBENDERS was just weird, and cool, and fascinating. Because, you know, when you’re ten, ants could take over the world.

Like Terry Pratchett and Diana Wynne Jones, Nicholas Fisk is one of those people who shaped my writing and my reading at a very important time in my life. He’s one of the reasons I’m an author today: his imagination made mine want to grow wings and fly.

These Are A Few Of My Favourite Things #2: THE LOST CONSPIRACY by Frances Hardinge

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Who’s up for round 2 of These Are A Few Of My Favourite Things?

What? You’re gonna have to speak up. I can’t hear you over the sound of all that deafening silence.

I honestly don’t read a huge amount of middle grade fiction. Even as a kid I was more inclined to read teen and adult fiction–or classics–than I was to read middle grade. There were exceptions, but by and large I didn’t read a huge amount of it (Nicholas Fisk, Diana Wynne Jones, and Joan Aiken being three HUGE exceptions, because they’re amazing).

Frances Hardinge is a new, huge exception. THE LOST CONSPIRACY (also known as GULLSTRUCK ISLAND, depending upon which country you live in) was the first book of Frances Hardinge’s that I ever read (I think. Maybe it was TWILIGHT ROBBERY, which I also love).

lost conspiracyHathin belongs to a tribe called The Lace, whose perennially smiling faces and Sweeny-Todd-like legacy of human sacrifice behind those smiling faces have left them to be widely regarded in suspicion and horrified fear by the peoples around them. Hathin’s chief difficulty and chief responsibility are one and the same: her older sister, Arilou. They are described thusly:

“Her name was Hathin. While Arilou’s name was meant to sound like the call of an owl, the fluting of a bird of prophecy, Hathin’s name imitated the whisper of settling dust. Dust-like she was indeed, unremarkable, quiet, all but invisible.”

Arilou is The Lady Lost, considered special; a lady of prophecy, possessed of great gullstruckand awesome powers. Her powers are the reason that Hathin’s village has enough food for the winter and a place to live, not to mention a small income from selling relics and suchlike. Unfortunately, those powers are entirely faked. Hathin and the Lace have been keeping Arilou’s lacking mental capacities a secret, ‘translating’ her drooling and moaning to seem as though they’re prophecies. But now an inspector is arriving to test Arilou’s ‘powers’, and it may not be long before they’re all exposed.

Things happen very quickly after the opening is set up. The inspector is murdered. Then almost the entirety of Hathin’s village is also murdered, leaving her on the run and dragging the mentally lacking Arilou along behind her.

What I love about Frances Hardinge is the fact that she’s not afraid to have ugly characters. I don’t mean physically ugly, though she’s not afraid of that as well. I mean the whole setup of a young girl from a people with human sacrifice in their (not too distant) past. There are a lot of stories about the Nazis, and fighting the Nazis, but what would it be like to grow up in the next generation, knowing your people were responsible for such atrocities? There are a lot of countries in real life that have done similar things: my own country of Australia, and the hunting and murder of Aboriginals; the ‘settlement’ of America, where Native Indians were murdered and pushed out of their own land; the Nazis, as previously mentioned; and so on. THE LOST CONSPIRACY was the first time I’d seen anything like this in fiction.

Added to the interest of the subject matter (and the fact that Frances Hardinge is one of the few authors who can still surprise me with the direction a book takes), is the fact that the writing is so absolutely beautiful. For style as well as substance, Frances Hardinge’s books are some of the best out there.

There’s so much more I could say about this book, but the most important thing I have to say is: BUY IT. READ IT. This is one of my favourite books. It’s also eminently re-readable, which is one of the biggest tests of the worth of a book.

Comfort Reads

There’s something about reading a favourite book. It makes you feel warm and comfortable and peaceful. It’s the intellectual equivalent to a cup of tea, or sliding between newly washed sheets, or cuddling up in front of the fire on a rainy night.

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It’s that feeling of contentment. Whether it’s the story, characters, writing style, or a combination of all three, there are just some books that are long time favourite comfort reads. They touch us on an emotional level; and that, like favourite memories linked to smells and tastes, brings back the delight we first felt when reading them again. Out of all the fiction I own (and I own a couple thousand – pysical – books) I have one that I re-read more than any other. That’s my all time favourite comfort read. I do have nine runners-up, though. Maybe you’ll see some of your own comfort reads on the list.

10.Steven Brust’s Dragon. Odd to equate a comfort read to something that contains so much death and killing and slaughtering and mayhem and death and- well, you get the picture. But I love the structure, story, and characters. I can read this one again and again.

9. Diana Wynne Jones’ Hexwood, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Year of the Gryphon. I adore Diana Wynne Jones’ books. I have so many favourites of her books. Hexwood is a glorious confusion that doesn’t quite make sense until the end, but keeps you hooked anyway, Howl’s Moving Castle is a delightful fairytale of a shy girl who makes magic hats and is turned into an old woman by a nasty witch (and is a lot less shy as an old woman), and Year of the Gryphon is one of the best ‘school stories’ I have ever read. Think tiny assassins, gryphon crushes, and schoolmates who are as likely to use orange peel as bat’s teeth in a spell.

8.C.S. Lewis’ Narnia Series. These were one of the first fantasy series I read. I read them over and over again, particularly The Horse and His Boy. So much adventure! Such a new world! And delightful, old-fashioned characters who spoke in old-fashioned ways. These are still a huge favourite with me, along with Lewis’ Perelandra trilogy, which I can also read over and over.

7. Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Series. This is a series following the adventures of Taran, Assistant Pig Keeper, and his friends Fflewdder Fflam and Princess Eilonwy. They are simply wonderful. The Chronicles of Prydain were the first fantasy books that taught me there could be depth to character, that not all bad guys are completely bad, and that not all the good guys stay good. Taran, with his striving to be a hero and his journey to wisdom, is one of my favourite book characters.

6. Antonia Forest’s Entire Marlow Series. In fact, everything by Antonia Forest. I can’t say enough good things about Antonia Forest. Ostensibly, most of her books are school stories. Don’t let that deceive you, and don’t think Enid Blyton. The range and scope of Antonia Forest’s books is far beyond that. Her characters are real, believeable, and entirely loveable. There are the twins, Nicola and Laurie, the older sisters Kay, Rowan, and Ginty, and brothers Peter and Giles. Then there is the next door neighbour Patrick . . . At school or at home, these are some of the best books you’ll read.

5. Kate Stradling’s Kingdom of Ruses. A deceptively simple fantasy. Viola’s family have been serving the Eternal Prince of Lenore for generations. A buffer between the Prince and the people, they basically run the country. There’s only one problem- the Prince doesn’t exist. So what happens when a Prince turns up? Fun and danger and romance, of course, with a good dash of hilarious dialogue. This is a quiet, delightful story with entirely loveable characters that I can read again and again.

4. Frances Hardinge’s Twilight Robbery. Every time I read a book by Frances Hardinge, I’m convinced that it’s my favourite. Twilight Robbery and Mosca Mye, however, I keep going back to read. Mosca Mye and Eponymous Clent almost defy description, but I’m so glad they exist. I will gobble up any and every book about them as they come out, but I believe Twilight Robbery will always be my favourite. I’ve already read it a few times since buying it, and I’m certain I’ll read it many more times.

3. JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit (and LOTR, but especially The Hobbit). The moral of the story is, of course, never set out on an adventure without your pocket handkerchief. I’m very much distressed with the rather dreadful job Peter Jackson made with the movies of The Hobbit, but I’ll always be glad to sit down and re-read it with a cuppa tea and a plate of good things. I made sure I bought the lovely big version with beautiful colour illustrations for that very reason.

2. Patricia Wrede’s The Raven Ring. I love Patricia Wrede’s writing. Her books were the first fantasy I read in which it was perfectly obvious that princesses and other females actually could save the day. All her books are favourites. However, The Raven Ring is the one I read again and again for its simplicity, amazing world-building, and wonderful characters. It’s a setting in which I feel immediately comfortable.

My all-time favourite at #1? That would be (fanfare, please!):

1. Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice All of the others are interchangeable as regards their place on the list. P&P is not. It’s the one book I go to again and again. I’ve read it more than ten times since I first read it at the age of nine or ten. That’s about once every two years. I love the feel of the book. I love the dialogue. I love how fallible and prickly and teachable Lizzy is. I love that she can hold her own against the clever Mr. Darcy. I love that she can see the foibles and failings not just of her family, but of herself. She’s a beautifully well-rounded character for any age. I love all of Austen’s books, and I adore her Juvenalia, but P&P is the book I consistently read over and over again.

What about you guys? What are some of your favourite fiction comfort reads? It’s okay if you have some of the same as mine. I’ll share. Just don’t try to read my copy.

Sound And Fury

I couldn’t really think of a blog post this week. Yanno: work, the dog, the hubby . . . a new tv show . . .

So you’re going to get 250-500 words of sound and fury, signifying nothing* about my week so far.

#1 on my list of nonsense is that my husband makes a great roast.**

#2 is that my dog stinks. I mean really honks. Can’t give her a bath because a.) no time and b.)when there is time it’s too late in the day for her to dry without leaving the whole house smelling of wet dog.***

#3 is kept for the smug, happy thought of the book I’m planning on reading next.****

#4’s job is to mention that I’m dying for a cuppa.

#5: Did I mention I really want a cuppa? A cup of tea is the best medicine. And I won’t say no to a couple of scotch fingers with that.

#6 would like to offer up the proud knowledge that I’ve figured out the kinks in a story I’ve been thinking about for years, making it properly writable at last *****

#7 is, happily for you, the end of this nonsense. Go do something productive with your day. I’ll be over here having a cuppa.

*Yup. You got it. I’m the idiot. You’re very clever.

**By this I mean that he cooked me a great roast, not that I cooked and ate him.

***Yes. Stinky dog smell is infinitely preferable to wet dog smell. Wet dog smell burrows into stuff.

****Re-reading Diana Wynne Jones’ Deep Secret, in case you wanted to know.

*****I have no time to write said book, of course. I have a schedule of four publications for next year, one of which I have yet to write, one of which is yet to be quite finished, and the third of which is on its last edits. The fourth is done, though. Go me!

In Appreciation of Jon Bokenkamp

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As you may or may not remember, I have written about different approaches to writing: ie, pantsing, planning, outlining, etc. No two people are exactly the same, and there is no ‘one size fits all’. (There isn’t with clothes, either, but try and convince the clothing industry of that.)

So, what does that have to do with Jon Bokenkamp? Patience, grasshopper.

Not only are there different approaches to writing, there are different styles of writing. There are writers who focus on exposition, and others who focus on dialogue. There are those who rock the stream-of-consciousness thing (think Patrick Ness) and those who absolutely own the grand fantasy with it’s fully realised history/language/quest/thing (yeah, I’m looking at you, Lord of the Rings).

And no, that’s not what I’m going to talk about, either. So if I’m not talking about approach or style, what am I talking about? And what does it have to do with Jon Bokenkamp?

Allow me to get to the point. Besides approach to writing and style of writing, there is another point of difference for writers. That difference is whether you are primarily a character-driven writer or primarily a plot-driven writer. If you’re lucky, or if you work really hard, you can be both; but it’s uncommon enough for me to find such a writer that when I do find one, they immediately spring into my Fluid Top Three Writers category. (Think Kate Stradling, for instance, one of the best indie authors I’ve ever read.) I’m a character-driven writer mostly. I’ve had to work very hard to become so, and I worked myself so hard because I like to read and watch things that are character-driven. Don’t get me wrong: I love a clever plot-line. But if that clever plot-line has no interesting/engaging characters, I’ll lose interest.

This is where I get to my appreciation of Jon Bokenkamp. I started watching The Blacklist primarily because the TV ads appealed to me. They looked cool, amusing, and interesting. Also, James Spader is a great actor. What kept me watching it, however, was a single, great character. Jon describes The Blacklist as a ‘chosen one’ storyline, which interested me very much, since Red isn’t the sort of character one immediately thinks of as a mentor-figure (yeah, take that, Yoda), and since until I heard him say that, I had thought of The Blacklist as primarily Red’s story.

At first it was all about Red for me. But Jon didn’t leave the characterisation at just one cool, fully realised character. He built the others up as well. Lizzy started growing, Cooper developed layers, and even Ressler, who I initially disliked because he seemed to be there simply as the scowling pretty-boy, began to get interesting. As a writer who appreciates characterisation more than almost anything else in a story-line, I found myself delighted.

Now, if The Blacklist had been merely about the great characters, I would have enjoyed it anyway. There are so many little conversational touches used to advance the characterisation; so many implied, unspoken moments that speak to motive and feeling. It’s a beautifully, beautifully done show.

The thing is, it doesn’t stop there. The plot lines (and especially the plot-line for The Freelancer, which I greatly enjoyed) are amazing. There are times when, watching The Blacklist, I find myself grinning like an idiot and saying: “Oh, that’s brilliant!” I don’t want to put down any of the actors (they do a fantastic job) but most of the time, that reaction is purely from the writing of the episode. As a writer myself, there are things I’ve learned from watching The Blacklist that I never expected to learn.

In closing, I’d like to say that Yes, I do know that Jon Bokenkamp is not the only writer for The Blacklist. To all of the writers I could find listed on the internets- you guys are doing an amazing job. But mostly I want to express my appreciation to Jon Bokenkamp, whose writing and direction have taught me things about writing I didn’t realise could be learned from screenwriting.

Also my disappointment that Jon isn’t fifty-odd with a huge beard, cos I kinda expected that.

Fairytale Tropes

I love fairytale tropes. I love the stories that take well-known fairytales like Beauty and the Beast and turn them into something new but the same, and I love the stories that reference the oddest, most out-of-the-way fairytales I haven’t heard before. So I suppose it was only natural that when I began writing, I would eventually begin to write a series of them myself. There’s just something so enjoyable about taking a well-known trope and expanding it, building on it, until it’s become its own story with its own aims and ideas. It’s fun to turn that trope on its head, or to deepen its characters, and make it all my own. Funnily enough, that’s not how I began to write the book that was easiest of all my books to write. I’d already written a reworking of Little Red Riding-Hood and was partway through re-writing my spin on Sleeping Beauty, and I was thinking about other fairytales that I wanted to play with. The Little Mermaid was high on the list (now lightly sketched out), but it occurred to me that my favourite fairytale (aka Beauty and the Beast), was the one fairytale I wouldn’t really want to rewrite. I’d no sooner thought that, than my brain said: ‘Yes, but if I did, this is how I’d do it.’  When I began to write the book, it was the quickest, most enjoyable book I’ve ever written.

There’s a heck of a lot of rewritten fairytales floating around out there. Some are good, some are bad, and some are downright ugly. I don’t know if mine will sell well at all, but I just got the cover for the first in the sequence, and I can’t stop sneaking looks at it whenever I think I’ve gone long enough without looking at it. Once I’m done with my first ebook release, I’ll probably even share it here.

But for now: if you like a really good fractured fairytale read, don’t walk past these ones-

The Perilous Gard by Elisabeth Marie Pope

Fire and Hemlock by the amazing Diana Wynne Jones

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

and last but certainly not least, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. (Skip the movie. Just read the book. Really.)

Edit: Can’t believe I forgot Goldenmayne by Kate Stradling!