The Shifter

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Oh wow.

I picked up The Shifter by Janice Hardy last week, but between retail holiday hours at work (long and late) and studying mystery techniques/medieval forensics (ok, ok, binge-watching some of the Brother Cadfael episodes I'd borrowed several times each, having finally "discovered" how good they are, more on this in a later post), I finally got around to reading the book today. Again, I say, "Wow!"

What an amazing story. I couldn't put it down. The premise hooked me in; the story whooshed me through the pages. Imagine me with a "come hither" eyebrow wiggle and a wicked grin.

Nya is a Taker, a person who can heal by taking a person's pain. However, she's flawed. Unlike her sister, Tali, and others who become Healer's League apprentices, she cannot push that pain into pynvium, a special metal that stores it. Instead, she can shift that pain into other people. In the war-torn, occupied island of Geveg, this is a dangerous ability that could be used against her own people. But Nya is faced with ethical quandaries when her sister and other apprentices go missing. What lengths will she go to save them all and what will it cost her?

This is book one of The Healing Wars, and I am eagerly looking forward to book two. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in a different sort of healing magic and tough ethical choices, good for ages 10 and up. After hearing about this book on The Other Side of the Story, Janice Hardy's blog, I was excited to find this at the bookstore where I work. (Gotta love employee discounts. Makes my book habit more affordable.) It was well worth it. Check out her blog for more details and helpful, interesting articles on writing, querying, and publishing from a writer's point of view. And pick up her book!

The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Many fantasy stories contain creatures of the very odd to the strangely familiar. Writers seeking to do something different from the norm or even put a new spin on the usual will find this compendium to be useful.

The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures: the ultimate a-z of fantastic beings from myth and magic by John and Caitlin Matthews is the place to begin your creature research. Discover creatures from South American traditions, Chinese folklore, Greek/Roman myths, and more. Some entries, like Boroka, are brief paragraphs, while others, such as Baba Yaga, are more detailed.

So far, I've only flipped around, stopping to read what catches my eye. Sometimes I find an unexpected origin to a creature or character in one of the books I've read. Such as right now. I have the page open to where Banshee/Beansidhe is listed. "The very first being to set up a keening cry was the Irish Goddess Brighid, one of the Tuatha de Danaan; she wailed for the death of her only son, Ruadan, and that was the first keening ever heard in Ireland."

In The Wandering Fire, book two of the Fionavar Tapestry, Guy Gavril Kay utilized a variant of this into his culture. Every Midsummer's Eve, the priestesses perform a ceremony honoring the death of the Beloved Son, Liadon. Dana's power holds sway on this sacred night, and this plays an important role in the events of the second half of the story.

Nor was that the only myth utilized in the Fionavar Tapestry. He also wrote about beings called the lios alfar and svart alfar. These are based on the two tribes of Alfa, or elves. Many of the Celtic gods and goddesses play nearly identical roles in Fionavar, some with slight twists to their names. Cernunnos/Herne is Cernan of the Beasts. Nemain is one of the goddesses of war.

Now there are many mythical figures left out. Apollo and Artemis have no entries of their own other than brief mentions in the entry for Cerynean Hind and Lords and Ladies of the Animals. I haven't been able to find a mention of Dana, the Great Mother, in some form at all. But over all, you will find many deities, larger than life characters, and creatures of all kinds you will likely be discovering for the first time.

If you are looking for a source of inspiration or just a bit of something to spice up your world, whether it be fantasy or science fiction, start with this book.

The Dark Is Rising sequence

Saturday, November 21, 2009

When I start thinking about what hooked me into fantasy, the first books that come to mind include Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising series. My sixth grade teacher choose book two, The Dark Is Rising, as one of our reading books for the year. Our whole class read it, but I almost feel like she chose it just for me. Not a far-fetched idea, considering that she loaned me books from her personal library once she saw how much I loved to read, though the reason was probably more because it's a Newbery Honor Book. Once I finished The Dark Is Rising, I sought out the other four books.

Not only were the main characters the same age I was, but they were involved in events outside the knowledge and experience of ordinary humans: the conflict between the Dark and the Light over the issue of human free will. Not exactly a lightweight theme for an Intermediate level read, but it resonated with me. This deeper view into the human psyche through the use of fantasy played a pivotal role in broadening my understanding of real world issues and human behavior. More on this topic to come in a future post.

In The Dark Is Rising sequence, the Dark is preparing for one final push for dominance over the world. Those of the Light must prepare for that battle by gathering their allies and Items of Power in order to protect humanity's free will for all time.

The sequence begins with Over Sea, Under Stone. While on holiday in Cornwall, the Drew children explore the old house their family is renting. In the attic, they find an ancient map which turns out to be the key to finding an artifact needed by the Light. Though Simon, Jane, and Barney know little of the great conflict or the full identity of their mysterious relative, they know in their hearts that Great Uncle Merry is of the Light and that they want to be part of the quest to find the lost grail before the servants of the Dark despite the danger to themselves.

The Dark Is Rising explains more about the growing threat posed by the Dark. On his eleventh birthday, Will Stanton discovers that he is more than the youngest son of a large family but the youngest and last of the Old Ones, Lords of Light devoted to protecting mankind against the forces of evil known as the Dark. Though guided by Merriman Lyon, oldest of the Old Ones, Will is given no time to learn all he needs before he is thrust into the quest for the Six Signs. He must seek them across time in order to complete an Item of Power needed both for the future and to thwart the current rising of the Dark.

Simon, Jane, and Barney return to Cornwall with Great Uncle Merry in Greenwitch to help recover the grail of their previous adventure which had been stolen by an agent of the Dark. They are joined by an odd boy whose American aunt and uncle are renting the other half of the house. Jane is the only one to sense that Will may be more than he seems, and her impulsive wish at the Greenwitch ceremony may bring an unexpected result.

Sent to Wales to recover from a serious illness, Will struggles to remember something very important, something he has to do. Scraps of phrases tantalize his mind until he meets Bran and his white dog Cafall, whose silver eyes bring the verses and his quest back to Will's mind. Together, the three of them race to find the harp of gold and awaken the six Sleepers before The Grey King and his allies can prevent them from completing their quest.

In Silver On the Tree, warnings portend the coming battle, the Dark's rise for its last and most powerful bid to dominate the world. Will must return to Wales to join forces with Merriman, Bran, and the three Drews to complete their final quests through time and space for their chance to cast the Lords of the Dark out of Time forever.

Susan Cooper uses two sets of verses that serve both as prophesy and as clues to guide the characters on their quests to stop the Dark from rising. One set of three verses is revealed in sections in The Dark Is Rising, with the third one having references to Greenwitch and The Grey King. The other set of verses is revealed at the end of Greenwitch which play a role in both The Grey King and Silver On the Tree. Rather than the verses leading the characters from plot point to plot point, they are interpreted in snippets over the course of the story arc. They fit into the context. For more about these books, take a look here.

I still enjoy these books twenty years later. The stories are well written. What makes me mad is how badly the movie version bungled the plot. The preview didn't appeal to me, and the Wiki article on The Seeker just confirmed my impressions. I don't think I can stomach watching it.

For one thing, the producers decided that eleven was too young, so they made Will turn fourteen. Uh, wrooong. They also decided that Will's family was from America, recently moved to England and tried to make the story modern. Wrong again. They changed the location of the six Signs, in a bad way. And they really buggered over much of the plot and family relationships.

Over all, they tried to turn the story into a bad Harry Potter knockoff, with making The Rider into a Voldemort clone and Will into a Harry clone. *Growls* Though there are a few similarities between The Dark Is Rising and Harry Potter, they are not that parallel. Dark Is Rising has more parallels to Lords of the Rings than to HP. When this series came out, Psychology Today had this to say:

"Susan Cooper is one of the few contemporary writers who has the vivid imagination, the narrative powers, and the moral vision that permit her to create the kind of sweeping conflict between good and evil that lies at the heart of all great fantasy. Tolkien had it. So did C.S. Lewis. And Cooper writes in the same tradition."

I completely agree.

At least the producers of The Seeker had the courtesy to give their movie a different name, as it no longer has much in common with the original story. My husband said that if I hate it that much, I should write my own screenplay. Well maybe I will. I may not be an accomplished writer, but I'm sure mine would be truer to the essence of the story.

Crafting with dragons and other fantasy creatures

Sunday, November 15, 2009

I have a dragon snorting over my shoulder about how long it's been since my last post. I have no excuses, won't even pretend to have one. My poor Dragon Month went half empty. So to do a bit more with dragons and open things up to the wider realm of fantasy, I give you a few books for fantasy needlework and other craft projects.

First up is Needlework Dragons and Other Mythical Creatures by Carol Gault. This book contains a range of projects incorporating needlework, cross-stitch, and quilting, though don't limit yourself to using the designs only as shown. The quilt design could be worked in satin stitch on a pillowcase, for example. It's all a matter of viewing the possibilities and scaling the pattern for the project in mind.

Some of the patterns in this book include: Dragon in the Sea needlepoint wall hanging, Taiyun needlepoint pillow, Dragon blackwork framed picture, and a Mythical Character Cross-stitch alphabet project. In addition to the directions for the projects, Carol Gault has chapters on choosing materials, helpful techniques, and finishing hints. This book was published in 1983, so it may be hard to find now. But if you enjoy needlework and fantasy, this would make a great addition to your library.

Next up is the Great Book of Dragon Patterns by Lora S. Irish. While this book has some instruction to drawing your own dragons, it is not to the level of the DragonArt book I reviewed last month. What makes this a great book is the multitude of patterns that can be traced for an assortment of projects. Carve the patterns in leather or wood, paint them on paper or clothing, or embroider them into a multitude of gifts. Patterns range from mean and scaly to cute and whimsical. A few dragons are arranged around a block of space, perfect for use on a plaque. This book should be easier to find as it was revised and rereleased in 2004. We bought our copy at The Leather Factory.

Another designer of fantasy patterns for cross-stitch is Tereza Wentzler. I have two of her books: Tereza Wentzler's Celestial Dragon and The Best of Tereza Wentzler Fantasy Collection. These are patterns for the experienced stitcher, being highly detailed. The Celestial Dragon takes 11 pages for a single pattern due to its intricacy. The fantasy collection includes patterns for Castle Sampler, Stroke of Midnight (Cinderella fleeing the ball), and Unicorn.

The patterns come with clear instructions, though I have not yet attempted any of them. They are beautiful, though. Before working any of these patterns, I recommend making a photocopy of the design in order to mark the stitches you've completed. I've been doing that with another cross stitch pattern. It really helps keep track of all the detail which leads to fewer errors and less need for unpicking stitches to fix a miscount.

Have fun exploring the options of crafting with fantasy creatures. Regardless of your skill level, these books should get you started on combining crafts with fantasy. Take a look through your local craft stores for patterns, kits, and more that incorporate fantastical elements. Perhaps you can design your own. Happy crafting.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

This is my second attempt to review Joust by Mercedes Lackey. So much that I love about this book, it's hard to narrow it down. First attempt was on the use of climate, but I'm going to save that topic for a later discussion so that I can focus on the dragons right now.

Ah yes, the dragons. In this world, dragons are animals, neither good nor evil, a bit like hunting cats and falcons in temperament. They are captured as fledglings and tamed, as much as you can tame any truly wild animal, then used as aerial mounts for the Jousters. Only the berries of the tala plant, dried and ground, keep the dragons calm enough to handle, though the powder has to be given at every meal.

If it weren't for the Jousters, the war would have stayed on even footing, neither side gaining or losing ground. Alta lay in the delta of the Great Mother River. Tians coveted the rich farmland of their Altans neighbors. Most of their own land was desert, once away from the vicinity of the river. Much like Egypt.

Jousters could swoop down on enemy commanders, snatching them up, then dropping them. They could make raids on enemy troops. They provided a mobile force to guard their own troops. And then there were the Jousts, where Jouster faced enemy Jouster in the air, armed only with their wits, lances, and control over their dragons. The face off ended when one side retreated, was forced to the ground, or unseated, which meant a messy death and a dragon fleeing back to the wilds.

Too bad for the Altans that Tia had more tala, dragons, and Jousters.

All Vetch knew about the war was that much of his family's crops had gone toward the war effort. Then the Altans armies leaving the area and Tian troops moving in. And though his father's family had tilled the land for five hundred years, winning the farm from the swamp one bucketful at a time, his father was provoked into attacking a Tian officer in front of his men. Thus Vetch's father was murdered and his family made into serfs.

Bound to the land and of less value than a slave, a serf worked for whoever owned the land. A slave had value; they could be trained and sold later for more money. A serf could only be sold with the land he or she was bound to. Laws governed what could be done to a slave in regards to housing, food, clothing, and punishments. No such laws protected the serfs, prisoners of war.

Vetch toiled under Khefti-the-Fat. His master beat him for the slightest misdeed and gave him tasks better suited for a larger boy. Only Vetch's anger sustained him through the overwork, exposure, and starvation.

His life changed again because of a dragon and his Jouster. With the words, "I need a boy," the Jouster plucked Vetch from the abuse of his former master and brought him to the compound to become dragon-boy to Kashet, the Jouster's dragon. It was paradise compared to Vetch's labors under Khefti; he could eat as much as he wanted and all he had to do was care for Kashet.

He soon realized that both dragon and Jouster were unusual. Kashet had no need of tala to make him tame, capable of affection and playfulness. And Jouster Ari did things for Vetch's benefit far beyond a master's normal role, showing real concern over the boy's welfare and interest in his past, his ethics running deeper than in most warriors. It didn't take long before Vetch was devoted them both.

No longer able to hate all Tians, Vetch prayed that his people would start winning in the Jousts but that Ari and Kashet would remain safe. His primary hope was that he could learn the secret to how Kashet had been tamed and find a way to bring that knowledge back to his people. For that secret could mean Alta's salvation.

Joust is the first of four in the Dragon Jousters series, followed by Alta, Sanctuary, and Aerie. If you love dragons, I highly recommend these books. A fascinating weaving of politics, climate, and dragons, all while keeping to just the single 3rd person viewpoint of Vetch.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Remember how I said that I love the visual art side of fantasy in addition to the other mediums?

Well here is a how-to-draw book on dragons. DragonArt: How to Draw Fantastic Dragons and Fantasy Creatures by J "NeonDragon" Peffer. I am not an artist; that's more of my sister's thing. (And she's gotten pretty good at it, too.) I prefer to write. But there is something about a well done picture that makes me wants to grab paper and pencil and attempt to draw something of my own.

I've been eyeing this book for weeks. Every time I was in the store, I'd flip through its glossy pages and think, "Maybe I could actually draw something." Since this is Dragon Month and all, I decided now was the time. I bought it a few days ago, and this morning, I made my first attempt at drawing a dragon. It's hard with no model, to see how the light falls on it, where the muscles bulge and the face creases. But this book is pretty good at showing and telling what to do to create more than mere copies of the specific examples in the book.

First step is to lay out some basic shapes and posture lines. I'm not talking about the outline; think rough stick figures. Then move on to creating the body outline, still keeping lines light, no erasing yet other than to fix what you don't like. Add in limbs, wings, facial detail and anything else your dragon needs. Erase out the extra lines. Color and shade. There are full dragon diagrams as well as ones for focusing on individual sections such wings, hind quarters, and claws.

In addition to the step by step diagrams, there are also verbal explanations, shading/highlighting/color tips, how to make your dragon unique, and bits of dragon facts. It is told as though Dolosus, the green dragon of awesomeness, is the one doing the teaching. He even agrees to explain how to draw a few other creatures besides dragons, including gargoyles, chimeras, and phoenixes. An entertaining as well as instructive read.

Here's my first attempt at drawing a dragon.

Made the little fellow blue like Azuranna. Took lots of erasing while I figured out the pose and how to make it look good. But I'm pretty satisfied with the result. A tip I would add is to have a scrap sheet of paper to lay over the drawing for resting your hand on. Less smudging that way. I may have to take an art class to learn more of the drawing basics (or another drawing book). But overall, this book still gets two claws, er, thumbs up from me.

If you want to know more about the author/artist of this book, go to for her gallery, tutorials, and items for sale. Very talented.

Another Fine Myth

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Just wanted to let you all know, I just got back from the most amazing place: the Bazaar on Deva. I believe P.T. Barnum described it best: "The wonders of the ages assembled for your edification, education, and enjoyment--for a price." (chapter 17 header) You had better be prepared to haggle fiercely. Be sure to check often that you haven't lost any arms or legs. And if you think you got a good deal, be wary. Those Deveels are wily sharpsters. And don't feed a dragon (or let it nibble your clothes) unless you are buying it; they become attached after feeding.

Ok, so I didn't really go anywhere physically. I picked up a book. Robert Asprin's Another Fine Myth, book one of an entertaining fantasy series. The tagline on the cover is "Take the universe as it is. Add devils, dragons, and magic. Then stand back." My addition would be: "and let the hilarity ensue."

The Myth books follow Skeeve, Aahz and other friends they pick up along the way. Skeeve begins as a magician's apprentice on Klah. Yes, that means he's a Klahd, poor kid. To motivate Skeeve into practicing more, Garkin sets up a demonstration. He will summon a demon: powerful, cruel, and vicious. Too bad for Skeeve that his master is a bit of a practical joker. Too bad for Garkin that an assassin from his old enemy, Isstvan, finds him in the middle of the summons.

Skeeve is left facing a green scaled, purple tongued demon. One who finds his panicked reaction highly amusing. After explaining that he was an old buddy of Garkin's and that being a demon simply meant dimension traveler--the summoning being a joke between them--Aahz takes control of investigating Garkin's murder. And then finds out the joke had been on him as well. Garkin had taken away Aahz's powers during the summoning. And all Skeeve can do is levitate small objects and light a candle, barely. What's a Prevect to do? Why, take over the training of a fledgling magician, of course.

Imps, Deveels, and dragons, oh my. Can Skeeve learn magik fast enough to survive an angry mob, merchants on Deva, and a demon intent on dimension domination? Read Another Fine Myth to find out. Oh and watch out for Gleep's breath. To say that Skeeve's pet baby dragon has bad breath is an understatement.

Month of the Dragon

Saturday, September 26, 2009

This October will be Dragon Month to honor the lovely Azuranna who has opened her library to visitors for the first time in centuries. Just starting the party a bit early. Don't mind the leprechauns doing jigs in the rafters. Dragonhunters, remember that Azuranna is off limits. You really don't want to set off the fire lizard alarm.

To commemorate the occasion, a tidbit about dragons themselves. Depending on the world or culture they originate, they may take on different forms and sizes. They don't even all breathe fire or have wings. Some are even shapeshifters. The one thing held in common is that they are reptilian in nature, most often referenced as serpentine.

Dragons are a common fixture in fantasy stories. However, their presence is not limited to children's fairy tales or even just to fantasy. They appear in mythologies around our world, in science fiction, adult fantasy, and more. Dragons range in intelligence, sentience, and alignment. That's right; they aren't all evil. In some stories, dragons have their own societies filled with an assortment of good, bad, and misunderstood members.

I will try to go into more detail later this month, once I find where the pixies hid the dragon scrolls.

A sampling of books featuring dragons in some form:
Another Fine Myth (and other Myth books) by Robert Asprin
Dealing With Dragons (and the other Enchanted Forest Chronicles) by Patricia Wrede
Dragon on a Pedestal (and other Xanth books) by Piers Anthony
Dragon Slippers (and the rest of the trilogy) by Jessica Day George
Dragonflight (and other Pern books) by Anne McCaffrey
Dragonlance novels by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
The Dragons Are Singing Tonight by Jack Prelutsky
Dragon's Blood (and the other Pit Dragon books) by Jane Yolen
Elvenbane (and the other Half-Blood Chronicles) by Andre Norton
The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
Flight of the Dragonn Kyn by Susan Fletcher
Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher by Bruce Coville
Joust (and the other Dragon Jouster books) by Mercedes Lackey
Monster's Legacy by Andre Norton
Song In the Silence by Elizabeth Kerner
Split Heirs by Lawrence Watt-Evans

Some of these books and any new additions to my have-read list will be given a closer look throughout this month. My review on Dragon Slippers will be featured on The Sharp Angle Monday. My first guest appearance. How exciting! I hope to see you there.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Welcome to the library of the dragon.

I have a long standing passion with fantasy and science fiction. Music, art, books, movies, whatever the art form, there is something alluring about delving into the mystique of strange worlds. Even the ones very much like our own have their own remarkability.

Here you will topics ranging from reviews of F/SF works, biographies of those who craft them, the creation process, and features of our own history, culture, and science that catch my eye which may provide a source of inspiration for other followers of fantasy and science fiction.

Be careful not to step on the sprites while you peruse the shelves; they tend to get giddy when visitors arrive. Spacesuits will be waiting by the portal to other dimensions should you need them. And you are always welcome to join the dragon for tea.