Saturday, September 29, 2007
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
3,663 / 4,000 words. 92% done!
New words: 599
And we've landed on the planet Ferstdraaft. I'm still going to need to read through it one more time to make sure it all gels (and probably make a specific scene a tad more traumatizing), but otherwise it feels pretty solid to me. Still, this had been a tough piece for me, much more straining than anything else I've written and I don't know yet if that is a good or bad thing. Should writing be easy or hard? Does writing something easily inherently make it good? Does working hard and long ultimately produce a gem of a tale?
I can't come up with any compact answer. Whatcha think about it?
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
First up, Chuck. This is a somewhat thoughtful gov drama littered with comedy that is surprisingly a step beyond slapstick. Chuck and his videogaming buddy are quite funny together--that scene with them trying to "fight" off the ninja was laugh-out-loud worthy--and some of the other characters are interesting. I don't really understand the whole computer-in-his-brain thing, but that's okay. I can stretch it. The secret agent is kind of boring at the moment, but Jayne from Firefly makes me happy. So long as this comes on at 8 o'clock before you-know-what I'll continue to watch it.
Then the show that really matters to me: Heroes. The season two premiere actually mirrored the season one premiere. It's not about action and answering a lot of questions right away. It's about building its characters and storylines, and one has to remember that this is now Volume Two. A new volume means a new start. With that said, I liked a lot of things about it very much: Hiro in ancient Japan (though his storyline does not actually happen "Four Months Later," which confuses moi to no end); the new brother and sister team on the run from Meh-hee-co, complete with brain explosions; and I take back any bad things I said about Nathan because the ex-Congressman with a beard is beyond a curmudgeon now and that, my friends, is super great.
Some bad things that I know I won't like at all are Claire and more high school drama. So not needed, so blah. Also, her knowledgeable littler stalker boy that flies? Way to get creative with new powers, Tim Kring. Also, Molly Walker and her vagueness. Just find the bad guy that killed Hiro's pops! And Bitsy just called me to say that she thinks Peter is the villain since he had the symbol on his chest. I, personally, missed seeing that, but it's definitely a possibility. And if DL is dead-dead, I'll be kinda bummed.
Lastly, I have Journeyman a chance. It started out kind of formulaic and then just sort of meandered down a path of typical events and reactions. I'm so tired of seeing people being saved by an incoming truck. That whole dive across a street thing is far too silly to be believed. Anyways, this didn't hold my attention for very long and I shut it off after twenty minutes. If I want interesting time-traveling adventures, I'll just watch Heroes.
And that's all I'll say for now.
Monday, September 24, 2007
I've loved this story since I first read it back in my freshman year of high school. The adventure, the setting, the colorful and beyond dynamic characters--even now, after devouring Lord of the Rings many a times, I still find The Hobbit to be both Tolkien's great and most accessible creation. The sense of wonder that encompasses the book is, well, magical, and there's something about the chapter Riddles in the Dark that compels me to re-read it every now and then. Who ever knew that the plain ring young Bilbo stole from the cave freak Gollum would come to be such a pivotal item in the future? One wonders if Tolkien even suspected it then.
Currently, I have two copies of the book--one is a mass market paperback, but the other is by far one of my favorite things and I'm really not materialistic at all. A few Christmases ago my sister D got me this, a collector's edition:
I also have a graphic novel adaption of the story, as well as that bad-ish yet somewhat comforting animated movie. Yeah, I like The Hobbit. Well, love could actually be used it. It inspired me greatly, continues to do so, and is always a joy to go back and experience. Roads go ever ever on...
Sunday, September 23, 2007
3,064 / 4,000 words. 77% done!
New words: 819
All's been quiet here in Wistful Writings land, but that does not mean all is quiet elsewhere. Got some work done on the above story over the past week. Not much, but some. I also seemed to have finished a piece of creepy flash fiction called "The Unfilled" the other night. And that novel that I'm not talking about? Well, it's still moving forward, even if it's slower than a dying turtle on the run.
Will probably have a review of Jo Walton's Tooth and Claw up soon. I'm also reading the latest entry in Marion Zimmer Bradley's Sword and Sorceress series. Some excellent tales so far.
But I really don't see myself getting much done for the next two weeks. The day job has come in swiftly and kicked my ill-prepared butt. So, enjoy the silence.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
"The Weatherbugs of Mr. Grady" will not be published in the first issue of Grimoire...because there will be no first issue of Grimoire. I learned of this the hard way, via a tip on Ralan's Webstravaganza. A shame, really, as I was very much looking forward to seeing this eclectic tale in print. Reading over the contract that I signed back in April I see that I was supposed to be paid within 60 days of scribbling my John Hancock down. It's been 149 days since then today without any moolah. The contract also says that if my story is not published in 18 months, all rights revert back to me.
Do I really have to wait that long to start sending it back out considering Grimoire's editor hasn't even contacted me yet to inform his authors that he'll no longer be publishing the zine?
Yeah, I'm a bit annoyed. Not terribly, as it was bound to happen and it is sort of a milestone to kill a magazine, so to speak. Also, it's not like I was exactly pulling in the big bucks, but still. Come on. Have some audacity here. Luckily, being a writer prepares oneself for rejections of all kinds. This, the surprise one following a sale, is a new one. I'm going to savor it for no more than a few more minutes. Onwards and upwards...
Monday, September 17, 2007
A quick summary stolen from back cover: Book two of the Quantum Gravity series sees Lila Black drawn into the intoxicatingly dangerous demon realm. Capricious, in love with beauty, demons are best left to themselves. This is not easy when they can't resist tampering with humans.
How I'd sum it up to another reader: Simply, Lila goes to Hell. Her Latest mission has her going to Demonia to discover out how Zal, the elfin rockstar, became part demon. The task will prove to be harder than described, even deadlier than she first expected, and not without its surprises. Meanwhile, Zal is being an honest elf, and he goes out in search of Lila only to find himself in an entirely different realm.
The cover sez and shows: The New Bionic Woman II striking a pose. I think it's for a magazine ad. For Swiss Army knife arms. All the rad these days with the kiddos.
Number of dragons, wizards, and reluctant farmer boys: Nope. But plenty of demons, elves, and other fun fantasy creatures to hold you over for the ride.
Hardest name to pronounce in my head: Sarasilien. Other than that, nothing too troubling.
Best part: Spoiler alert for Keeping It Real! Spoiler alert for Keeping It Real! Tath, the dead elf living inside Lila's chest and encompassing her conscious, is simply good stuff. He pops up always at the right moment to lay the snark out on Lila or tell her something she doesn't know. His knowledge of demons is limited, but his history of Alfheim in tier one, making him both a clever way around exposition and a fun secret that both Lila and the reader have to constantly worry about being discovered.
Worst part: The ending. It fell kind of flat on its face. And by that I mean that it just didn't do anything. The whole tension of whether or not Zal and Lila are going to get to meet up or not by the end of the book is resolved so nonchalantly that it made me wonder why I read all that in the first place. To be fair, there's a fun plot involving Lila and some demoniacally creepy critters complicating everything along the way, but that storyline ended well and good. Same with the whole mystery of Zal's background and how he became part demon, part elf. But, surprisingly, I wanted the budding romance that started to blossom in Keeping It Real. Sadly, it wasn't here. Snartleblast.
Random thoughts and theories: Justina Robson's books here, Keeping It Real and Selling Out, have their moments. They can be silly, preposterously plotted SF adventures with people hopping to and fro, but they can also be quite serious. Almost touching. Like the reunion Lila finally gets with her family after they'd long thought she was dead. The language is heavy, then light; airy, then bloated. I think I much preferred Keeping It Real to Selling Out. Everything was more fresh then, and it was a fun experience traversing through the realm of Alfheim with Lila who was trying to win a Game and save herself at the same time. Meh. We'll see where the third book goes, if anywhere. I'd like to know more about the ghost busters and the Others, personally.
If said book were a ride at a Disney theme park: It'd be a bunch of them actually. Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin from Tomorrowland mixed with the Rock n' Roller Coaster from MGM Studios. Oh, and all this is done while on a dangerously high amount of acid. After that, everyone in the theme park will begin to appear to look like elves and demons and then blam! You're in Selling Out.
If in school its grade would be: B
Come on, write us a haiku:
O those low demons
Hurting human bots like our
Lila, still so lost
Overall, y'all: Selling Out is an admirable sequel to Keeping It Real, taking Lila Black and Zal and throwing them into another set of mysterious and deadly situations. Readers hungry for an adventure stuffed with futuristic technology, mystical magic, and engaging not run-of-the-mill characters need look no further--Selling Out delivers. It's not quite as rewarding as Robson's first book, and in the end it might suffer from the middle child syndrome, but for now it's an excellent read that'll challenge imaginations and hook its talons deep.
Books I might or might not compare to: Crossover by Joel Shepherd and Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow
Some linkage: Justina Robson's homepage, and the band The No Shows, which is the band Zal sings for inside the canon world of the book, have a website
Thursday, September 13, 2007
2,245 / 4,000 words. 56% done!
New words: 592
Woo. The counter meter says I'm halfway done, but now I'm thinking this might end a little bit sooner than 4K. We'll see. The ending is still swirling about in the ocean that is my thought process, but it's looking to be an abrupt one. Hopefully it's one that works. Also, there's a gun in this story. I'm not really a big fan of guns in my short stories, but this one is quite pivotal to the plot. But guess what? The darned thing is never fired once. Might as well be a water gun, eh?
And now I'll take a break from this story to enjoy the weekend with the family.
2007 Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge
2006 Spin by Robert Charles Wilson
2005 Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
2004 Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold
2003 Hominids by Robert J. Sawyer
2002 American Gods by Neil Gaiman (READ)
2001 Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling (READ)
2000 A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge
1999 To Say Nothing of the Dog: Or How We Found the Bishop's Bird Stump At Last by Connie Willis
1998 Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman
1997 Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
1996 The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson
1995 Mirror Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold
1994 Green Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
1993 Doomsday Book by Connie Willis and A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge
1992 Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold
1991 The Vor Game: The Continuing Adventures of Miles Vorkosigan by Lois McMaster Bujold
1990 Hyperion by Dan Simmons
1989 Cyteen by C. J. Cherryh
1988 The Uplift War by David Brin
1987 Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card
1986 Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
1985 Neuromancer by William Gibson
1984 Startide Rising by David Brin
1983 Foundation's Edge by Isaac Asimov
1982 Downbelow Station by C. J. Cherryh
1981 The Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge
1980 The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur Charles Clarke
1979 Dreamsnake by Vonda N. Mcintyre
1978 Gateway by Frederik Pohl
1977 Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm
1976 The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
1975 The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia by Ursula Le Guin
1974 Rendezvous With Rama by Arthur Charles Clarke
1973 The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov (READ)
1972 To Your Scattered Bodies by Philip Jose Farmer
1971 Ringworld by Larry Niven
1970 The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin (READ)
1969 Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner
1968 Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny
1967 The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein
1966 Dune by Frank Herbert (READ) and This Immortal by Roger Zelazny
1965 The Wanderer by Fritz Leiber
1964 Way Station by Clifford D. Simak
1963 The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
1962 Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein (READ)
1961 A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller
1960 Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein (READ)
1959 A Case of Conscience by James Blish
1958 The Big Time by Fritz Leiber
1957 No award was given.
1956 Double Star by Robert A Heinlein
1955 They'd Rather Be Right by Frank Riley
1954 No award was given.
1953 The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
1,653 / 4,000 words. 41% done!
Not much done tonight. About 400 words, but I think they're 400 of the right words. Which is really important because I'd like to believe that my writing is only getting better, and that I'm stronger on the first go than I was, say, two years ago. Makes for less editing later on, and also helps me stay focused when I can see clearly where I'm going. It was mostly talking heads in this scene, but they said important things while also revealing a couple of personality ticks that'll come to bite them in the ass in the end. Literally? Does he mean it literally? Bah.
I'll leave you all in suspense for now.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
1,205 / 4,000 words. 30% done!
Started a new story today. It's an idea that's been swelling in my head for the last few days, and it's turning out to be the hardest thing I've ever tried to write so far. Why? Hard science. Normally, if I toss something technical into my shorts I just leave it to the wayside, letting both the in-story characters and reader accept it as is. Makes it easier than figuring out the ramifications of such advancements. Well, I keep doing that, and while it works when it needs to, I'm trying something different here. Research, research, research...I'm up to my elbows in it, but it's all good. Let's just hope I survive this outing...
Your Score: Zach
You scored 41 Idealism, 58 Nonconformity, 45 Nerdiness
Congratulations, you're Zach! You're nerdy, strange, slightly snarky, and proud of it! You're also a nice guy and really trustworthy friend. Any cheerleader (or, well, anyone) should consider his or herself extremely fortunate to be friends with a person like you.
Your best quality: You're an all-around great friend
Your worst quality: You don't get along well with annoying little brothers
|Link: The Heroes Personality Test written by freedomdegrees on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the The Dating Persona Test|
A quick summary stolen from the back cover: Elantris was beautiful, once. It was called the city of the gods: a place of power, radiance, and magic. Visitors say that the very stones glowed with an inner light, and that the city contained wondrous arcane marvels. At night, Elantris shone like a great silvery fire, visible even from a great distance.
Yet, as magnificent as Elantris had been, its inhabitants had been more so. Their hair a brilliant white, their skin an almost metallic silver, the Elantrians seemed to shine like the city itself. Legend claimed they were immortal, or at least nearly so. Their bodies healed quickly, and they were blessed with great strength, insight, and speed. They could perform magics with a bare wave of the hand; men visited Elantris from all across Opelon to receive Elantrian healing, food, or wisdom. They were divinities.
And anyone could become one.
The Shaod, it was called. The Transformation. It struck randomly--usually at night, during the mysterious hours when life slowed to rest. The Shaod could take beggar, craftsman, nobleman, or warrior. When it came, the fortunate person's life ended and began anew; he would discard his old, mundane existence and move to Elantris. Elantris, where he could live in bliss, rule in wisdom, and be worshiped for eternity.
Eternity ended ten years ago.
How I'd sum it up to another reader: Whew! Good thing I'm here because that scene setting/history lesson on the back flap certainly tells us nothing about the book or its characters. So here's the skinny--Prince Raoden wakes up in the morning to discover he's been cursed by the Shaod, which forces the king to exile him to Arelon's neighboring walled-in city of Elantris while telling citizens he died of natural causes. His almost-to-be wife, Sarene, a princess from Teod, arrives too late to marry her fiancé. And then shortly after her appearance, the gyorn Hrathen pops up with a mission of genocide. Now, Raoden must survive inside Elantris, where survival is second-to-none to pain and torment. Princess Sarene must keep things together outside the city so that Teod and Arelon can unite as neighbors. And, well, Hrathen has to find the right people to help him with his deadly task.
The cover sez and shows: Two figures getting some fresh air outside while gigantic fireflies play tag with one another. Actually, those two figures would probably be Hrathen and Sarene, respectively, with the fireflies actually being Seons--sort of the magical animal companion except they are by no means animals. Towering buildings can be seen behind them though it's hard to make out where one structure ends and a new one begins. That crack down the middle keeps looking like a strike of lightning flying down! Merciful Domi!
Number of dragons, wizards, and reluctant farmer boys: Alas, no dragons or wizardly wizards per say. There is some spells and magical runes. Prince Raoden befriends a man inside Elantris who used to be a farmer. Guess that counts for something...
Hardest name to pronounce in my head: Hmm, where to start? Duke Roial? King Iadon? Fjordell? Lord Eondel? Hrathen? Eh, pick one. They all gave me headaches.
Best part: I really enjoyed how Sanderson took Hrathen, presented the gyorn to us as a devoted man bent on a mission of dire consequences, and that at the end have him twist so hard he became a completely different character to me. It was nice to see the villain, so to speak, handled aptly for a change. Also, the Seons--very neat even though we really only get to know Sarene's Ashe, but the idea of them and the way they handle themselves is fun. Definitely made for easier communication with Sarene's father who lived across the ocean.
Worst part: Prince Raoden. Period. He's too cheery, too optimistic, even in death. He thinks things like "I'm going to make these people happy!" and then does. Simple as that, no real struggle, no internal battle, no external crisis to thwart his ways. He's very much a fantasy, a nobleman doing noble things because noble things are the noble way of living a noble life. Yeah, he begins to get on your nerves after awhile. There's a few moments when he's not being himself that work better, but for the most part you have to follow this do-gooder around because he's pivotal to the plot.
Random thoughts and theories: It's definitely a stand-alone adventure, and for those that think Sanderson's novel Mistborn is a sequel--it isn't. But there's potential here for one. A richly imagined world with many offerings in the forms of further struggles or past battles. I, for one, would love to see how newly healed Elantrians make it in the living world once again.
If said book could smell like any scent: It'd be a mixture of a wondrous feast prepared by the top chefs of the world and that of rotted flesh. Yeah, how's that for you?
If in school its grade would be: B+
Come on, write us a haiku:
Locked in deep, us now
Hair gone, skin pale, Seons mad
Only pain remains
Overall, y'all: It was a fairly enjoyable read. My sister claimed she hated Elantris from the get-go, but I thought both the beginning and ending were rather gripping. The middle is where I worry folks will grow bored. All that happens is a bunch of wishful thinking on Raoden's part and some internal musing on Sarene's. It definitely drags then, but Sarene and Hrathen are very interesting characters, and even though I wanted to know more about the magic system that keeps Sanderson's world upright I found it both believable and original in form. Still, an adventure that is both fulfilling and diverting. Not ideal, but good. The themes are a bit wishy-washy, as are Sanderson's beliefs that people with a purpose in their doings will be most happy with themselves no matter what else surrounds them.
Books I might or might not compare to: Perdido Street Station by China Miéville, The Awakeners: Northshore & Southshore by Sheri S. Tepper, Mélusine by Sarah Monette
Some linkage: Brandon Sanderson's homepage and weblog, an interestingly deeper review of Elantris from the now extinct Emerald City
Monday, September 10, 2007
- Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton
- Windhaven by George R.R. Martin and Lisa Tuttle
- The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov
- Isaac Asimov's Mars, edited by Gardner Dozois
- Isaac Asimov's Halloween, edited by Gardner Dozois and Sheila Williams
- Asimov's Choice: Extraterrestrials & Eclipse, edited by George Scithers
Sunday, September 09, 2007
The Parting Shot for Apex Digest #9 is Sonorous by Paul Abbamondi. I have to say it's the first time I've been satisfied with a published piece that I've read in second person. I instantly thought of Gabriel's horn, only scifi, reproduced like a clone of an artifact. The story didn't entirely lean that way, but I enjoyed the lovely imagery that surfaces in the tale.
I'm very pleased that this little piece of flash fiction is hitting the mark. To date, it's the only work I've written in second person tense, and it'll probably be the last. Doubt I could do it again. And much like Seinfeld, best to go out while on top...
Saturday, September 08, 2007
"67442" by Paul Abbamondi is likely the shortest story in the issue. An android has its old personality thoroughly and graphically stripped away—the hair, the skin, the muscles, the memories—and a new one installed in preparation for its reentry into society. Excellent as a descriptive scene, but only makes a hesitant attempt to deliver a tiny plot in the last couple of paragraphs.
I received my contributor copies the other day, and yes, they're gorgeous. Strangely, they even smell good. The layout of each page is unique and well-down except for one section where it's hard to read the text due to a dark watermark in the background. Still, a neat looking magazine that is really more of a graphic novel than anything. More thoughts on the fiction once I finish reading them...
Friday, September 07, 2007
Your Score: House Stark
36% Dominant, 27% Extroverted, 54% Trustworthy
Responsible. Respectable. Dour. That’s not shit coming out of your ass--it’s honor. You are clearly of House Stark.
You are a submissive personality, meaning that you are more than willing to relinquish control to someone more qualified; you will unflinchingly accept any responsibility that is thrust upon you, including servitude. Unfortunately for you, your unending patience and accommodating nature often make people look to you for a leader. In essence, you are the perfect leader: someone who has no desire to lead, yet is substantially well-qualified to do it.
You are also introverted, which means that people sometimes have difficulty understanding your thought process. Your dependable nature makes you predictable, but you’ve probably got all sorts of emotional dysfunctions when it comes to more intimate relationships. There are very few people whom you trust unwaveringly, and you’re not the type to confide in other people. So cold, so aloof--so Stark.
Finally, you are trustworthy--the very definition of the word. All secrets are safe with you. All of your vows are unbreakable. True to your name, you world is a stark place; there is black, and there is white. Your rigidity tends to undercut your overall value as a friend and ally. Honesty such as yours is hard to come by, which is easy to understand when you consider how easily manipulated you are by less decent individuals. Essentially, you’re the nice guy, and you’ll always finish last.
Representative characters include: Eddard Stark, Jon Snow, and Sansa Stark
Similar Houses: Frey, Lannister and Tully
Opposite House: Baratheon
When playing the game of thrones, you play it with one sword in your hand and another up your ass.
|Link: The Song of Ice and Fire House Test written by Geeky_Stripper on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the The Dating Persona Test|
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
Monday, September 03, 2007
A trio of stories from Lavie Tidhar, Paul Abbamondi, and Douglas Warrick (oddly enough, all three are past Apex Digest contributors) earn nods of appreciation from me, as well. The Abbamondi story titled "67442" won't strike you as anything mind-blowingly original, but it's a micro-story that does its job, and does it well--presents a situation and resolves it with an entertaining twist.
Also, it seems that some mailman/mailwoman decided they'd rather steal my contributor copies than drop them off in front of my door. Some days I feel like the postal system exists to thwart my writerly ways. But not to worry...Terry Martin, managing editor and publisher, is super kind and sending me another two issues in the mail. Should have them by next weekend...and after constantly reading how well put together this zine is I am way past excited.
And I did very little laboring on Labor Day. That is all.
Saturday, September 01, 2007
I'm always eager to read a debut novel, whether it's low fantasy, epic, cyberpunk, New Weird, steamboat horror, or hard science fiction. Whatever it is, I'll read it. It's comforting to me to go into a book not knowing any of the author's other work. Just me and the newly born work, nothing else to distort my view. It's hard to describe, but the experience is somewhat akin to taking a first vacation to anywhere new--there's so much excitement and eagerness, a marveling sense that somehow, as if somehow, I'm the first person to experience this adventure. Eh, you know, this whole vacation analogy isn't working as best as I'd like. Oh well. The Princes of the Golden Cage by Nathalie Mallet is a good time, even if the trip doesn't last very long.
The book opens as so:
I sat straight up in my bed. I knew someone was coming because my two insane brothers, Jafer and Mir, were screaming bloody murder.Here, the action starts and then never stops. The Princes of the Golden Cage is told from the perspective of the over-assuming Prince Amir, and he has every right to be worried. See, in the Sultan's palace, there's an isolated section called the Cage where all the Sultan's sons are kept. They're stored here to determine which prince will attain the highest ranking and become the named heir of Telfar. Because of this public competition, duels to the death and sinister betrayals are as common as jaws dropping (more on that later). So when Prince Amir is summoned to see which prince had died recently, all is right in his mind. But then it becomes clear that dark magic was involved, and it is up to him and his brother Prince Erik to discover the man behind the gruesome murders.
The Princes of the Golden Cage is a hodgepodge of genres: it's a fantasy, it's a mystery, it's a romance, and one could argue that it's a tale highly reminiscent of Arabian Nights. The country of Telfar presents itself as a majestic palace in a hump of sand. This is all Prince Amir has ever known and he longs for freedom, for the chance to leave the Cage and see as many different places as possible. But before that notion could even come close to happening he has to solve the mystery of his murdered brothers before he himself is killed.
Despite spending the entire novel inside the Palace, there's never a feeling of claustrophobia. This is thanks to Mallet and her brilliant pacing. As I mentioned before, the action starts on page one and never hits a snag. Immediately after discovering the puzzling situation of one of his brother's death Prince Amir is accused of playing a part in it. The whisperings talk of his time in his room reading books about magic and spells. Then he stumbles into a friendship/enemyship with Prince Erik, who is certainly more eager than Amir to figure out what is going on. A little after first meeting, Erik says:
"Not all your brothers have murder in mind. Many of us just want to survive the succession and leave the Cage...is that so hard to believe?"
Yes, for Prince Amir, it is. Darius and Ibrahim, the two highest ranking princes, are easily offended and ardent for the chance to kill off any that get in their way. Just about everyone Amir meets gives off the impression that they wouldn't mind seeing him dead, you know, if something was to happen, not that they'd ever do it. This helped build the mystery of the whole thing, making every character a suspect or at least dangerous enough to end Amir's life before he could figure it all out.
And there's a lot to figure out. Every chapter offers a clue, a little nibble of information. One more step closer for Prince Amir and company. The plot quickly moves from just some murdered brothers to intricate internal politics to she-demons and assassin-like efreets showing up to cause some trouble. There's even a bit of learned lineage to unveil. Characters go from good to bad to somewhat good to somewhat bad to maybe really evil to evil to good to maybe sort of a nice guy to....you get the drift. It works excellently, making me second-guess every person Prince Amir crossed, whether it was his own father, the love of his captive life, or the brothers next door.
Mallet's strengths plainly are her ability to weave a both complicated and satisfying mystery, action scenes (loved the dueling, reminding me a bit of Tanith Lee's earlier work), and pacing. All three of these add up to a quick book, not even looking at the fact that it comes in under 300 pages already. Something is always happening, and I predict readers will have a hard time just stopping at the end of a chapter. I did. Mallet isn't teasing anyone here, but merely offering a chance to see what terrible or immensely stupid situation Prince Amir will get himself into next. My two cents--just because the palace has a bunch of hidden tunnels doesn't mean one should take a princess down them and expect not to be caught.
But to be honest, not all is perfect. I found myself struggling every few pages with Mallet's writing. Clichés abound, it seemed that many of these were allowed to survive the cutting room floor: jaws dropped (I spotted at least seven happenings of this), princes stopped dead in their tracks (despite walking inside a palace where no tracks could really be made), and the hairs on the back of Prince Amir's neck stand up when danger is near (holy spider-sense, Spider-Man!). Characterization is done lightly on background characters. Prince Amir is the most three-dimensional of the cast, and by the end of the book his life is fairly clear. His mysterious and blonde brother Erik is a bit fuzzy, much like his motivations for helping Amir discover the who and how of the Cage's most recent murders, and there seemed to be an endless amount of opportunities for Amir to ask the tough questions and get the needed answers--but he never did. A couple of typos crept up, which makes me wonder if a steadier copyedit would have made an already good debut novel into a much more superior debut novel.
Still, The Princes of the Golden Cage is a lot of fun and a literal page-turner. All the hints and aptly placed twists culminate with an ending that is completely shocking while making sense in the run of things. I've even forgiven Mallet for making me start another series (boy am I tired of book one of something reads), but for what it's worth this is definitely a standalone adventure. Wholly intriguing and richly imagined, it's one of the better reads of 2007 that I've been lucky to enjoy. If I was to keep that nonsensical vacation analogy going I might say here that it was a good trip and that in the next few weeks to come I'll think back fondly of it and the times we had. Anyways, check out the first chapter for free over at her website and see if it's for you.