alfreda89: (Books and lovers)
(I don't think I shared this essay over here, either. Yes...still alive. It's been complicated. Maybe I can get a manuscript snip up here this month.

When I can see my way out of this, I will share part of what has been going on.

It occurs to me that I should mention that when I think of adding "romance" to my own novels, what I am really doing is giving characters, especially characters with less power in societies, agency. So that may be why in this case I think of Austen as giving us romance. Austen, of course, was writing out her own life observations. She wasn't aiming for HEA. For more on this, see where people have at the romantic discussion with Sherwood Smith occasionally riding herd. )

Where does ROMANCE fit as an element of modern storytelling?"

Writer Stephanie Osborn asked this question, and my immediate thought was “as a subtle puzzle piece.” I know that is not the usual response to the question. Half the fiction books published in this country every year by major New York publishers are romances, in almost every flavor you can imagine. (That is, if by flavor you are imagining one woman and one man who end up in a HEA--Happily Ever After--or, more recently, HFN--Happy For Now--relationship. Every other romantic relationship slides in from the shadows, makes a surprise appearance, or even has a small independent publishing line somewhere else.)

Where does romance spring from? I’m not asking in a technical sense, or a scientific sense. We know that chemistry and biology triggers the first flush of attraction, and we can research to find out where the modern Western concept of romance began. I always think of it as starting with Jane Austen—a woman choosing to reject offered security for the hope of at least liking and respecting her partner. That she ended up with a man whom she also loved, who was solvent enough to support her and their children, was a bonus. For most women, having it all was a fantasy, but a lovely dream. We can go back further, into legend—but most of those famous lovers did not end well.

Continued... )
alfreda89: (anime)
(I've been helping to close out and sell my parents' home, which as anyone who has done it can tell you takes a huge amount of time and effort. To let you know I'm alive, some writing neep. I've talked about this topic other places, but I don't think I've ever done it on my own blog. So...)

Writers think a lot about characters.

We think about them in the abstract, and we think about those individuals who rent an apartment in our subconscious and start rummaging around, looking for utility hookups and how to arrange forwarding on their mail. Sometimes they are just visiting for a few months or years.

Other times they move in and don’t check out until we do.
Read more... )

Examine your favorite books. Who wants what from whom? What happens if s/he doesn’t get it? Why now?
alfreda89: 3 foot concrete Medieval style gargoyle with author's hand resting on its head. (art)
I’m going to talk about one of my all-time favorite animes, Princess Tutu. Yes, I know – I can feel you cringing at the title. I can hear you thinking: A silly shojo (young girl’s) anime, about a duck transforming back and forth between a clumsy young girl ballet student and a superhero prima ballerina princess in a tutu? A dance instructor who is a cat and keeps threatening disruptive students with marriage to him? Oh, come on….

I hope that by now I’ve earned a little bit of trust. Trust me on this one. You must last through the first diskette. Give it even three episodes, and you will begin to “get it.” Princess Tutu is a story about a tale that has escaped its book, running riot into a world where the fantastical is no longer fantastic. No one has the guts to set the story right, because there’s a job to be done, a thankless job – and until a little duck takes pity on a sad prince and wants to make him smile, the story will remain frozen in time.
Read more... )
Princess Tutu is one of my only two 5 Star animes. Everyone who loves Story should see this anime. Just remember – it’s not American pacing, so it starts out as a silly shojo anime. Patience. It will all be worth it. I promise. Get a trial of Netflix just for this anime.
alfreda89: 3 foot concrete Medieval style gargoyle with author's hand resting on its head. (Feels like Autumn; USA color (WA))
The hero of my fantasy series Night Calls is Alfreda Sorensson, a young practitioner on her way to being a full blown wizard. While I am not Allie, I carry in my heart many of the things she loves and creates wherever she lives. I grow herbs when I can, seek out fresh, organic food and seasonings, and dream of growing heritage apple trees. In a sense, the seeds of her grimoire, Denizens of the Night, are stashed in bits and pieces in folders and my computer.

It’s the season for her elderberry cordial, so I thought I’d share her recipe with you.

This recipe is traditionally used to keep pretty much everything in the unfriendly microbe category away. Fans of it back in colder climes start making it in November and take it until March. Refrigerated the mix can last two months or so, and then seems to go off slightly in flavor. If you cut the honey, it doesn’t last as long. I personally make 2-3 batches a winter. If you are taking it only for preventative purposes and stay healthy, you probably need only a teaspoon a day. If ill or immune compromised, or everyone else at work is ill, you may choose to take up to a tablespoon a day. When ill, if you can keep it down, a half teaspoon an hour might help.

Does this really work? Well, I haven’t had flu in the ten years I’ve made this recipe. So either it works for me, or my immune system is now scary strong. YMMV. I am not a doctor or a practitioner.

Yes, this could be the base for an alcoholic version, but the honey benefits will probably die gasping under the alcohol. Check with your herbalist, or research medicinal cordials. I never add alcohol to mine, but alcohol in correct proportions could make it shelf stable. Use good honey, not mixed from all over the world pasteurized stuff. Honey has curative properties, but you don’t want the honey to get too hot. So do NOT add honey before boiling; add after the mix has cooled down quite a bit.

Remember, do not give this to a child under two years of age. Research honey–there are sound reasons why you don’t give it to infants or toddlers.

Elderbery Cordial for Health

1 cup dried elderberries (organic if possible)
4 cups filtered water
1 square inch peeled organic ginger, slivered up or grated (if desired)
1/8 tsp. cloves
1/4 tsp. allspice
sprinkle ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. Ceylonese cinnamon
1/2 tsp. Saigon Cassia cinnamon

Up to one cup unpasteurized local honey.

Bring water, berries, ginger, and spice mixture to a low, rolling boil. Cook at a gentle roll for fifteen minutes, mostly covered (it can spatter) but not sealed as boil-over will happen. Then set aside to cool down a bit.

Set strainer in 4 quart Pyrex measuring cup; strain mixture. Gently press berries and ginger to get last of juice out. Compost berries, if you compost. Let juice cool some more. You may have up to 3 cups of liquid.

Add one cup of unpasteurized honey. I sample until desired sweetness is reached, but do not add more than one cup. Stir until dissolved, then carefully pour into a clean one quart wide mouth ball jar. (You may add more spring water to recover a full four cups, if desired. But boil that water first.) Refrigerate. Always use a clean spoon each time you dip into the jar. I actually stir and then pour into a shot glass and shoot my morning cordial. You’ve got enough for 1 tsp. a day for three people, with a full recipe. I have halved this in the past to keep it fresh, or if I am heading out for holidays for a few weeks. I try to start taking this two weeks before extensive travel, and then make more on my return.

Thanks to writer Becky Kyle for the ginger suggestion.

I will add that I most definitely am not a medical practitioner. If this has entertained you, I’m glad. And if you feel this traditional berry can improve your life, Allie is delighted that you made its acquaintance!
alfreda89: 3 foot concrete Medieval style gargoyle with author's hand resting on its head. (Oxblood Lilies)
I've been reading a wonderful book called "Fastest Things on Wings" by Terry Masear. (Thank you, Lee!) It's a memoir of Masear's early days as a hummingbird rehab specialist. I've done a review that will crop up at Book View Cafe and Goodreads, but in the meantime, let's save a few hummingbird lives. Here are some things I either didn't know, or suspected. Let's share them and save some lives.
Read more... )
Go forth and do right by hummers. Read the book--it will both delight you and tear your heart out. You have been warned.

(Photo by Tz'unun - Feeding station at Beatty's Guest Ranch in Miller Canyon. Previously published:, CC BY-SA 3.0,
alfreda89: 3 foot concrete Medieval style gargoyle with author's hand resting on its head. (A light in dark places)
I've been quiet for both good and bad reasons. First I was quiet because I started a new book, something fun and different my subconscious insisted on, and I'm 80,000 words into it. Then I was quiet because the heat of an Arizona summer hammered me flat, and I was trying not to lose the ground I'd gained earlier in the year.

Then my mother's health plummeted. She rallied under the comfort of hospice, and we had two good weeks with her. One night there was a sea change, and in scant days she "went ahead."

My mother loved Allie, and for twenty-five years she used a tattered Hidden Fires bookmark when she read. Otherwise, you'll have to read the obit. Because she was old school. A lady appears in the papers only three times. She lived her life quietly and with grace, despite health challenges. I have loved her through many lifetimes, and know I will see her again.
Read more... )
alfreda89: (Books and lovers)
Sweep in Peace (Innkeeper Chronicles, #2)Sweep in Peace by Ilona Andrews

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I realize that I am on a continuing journey seeking home. As it turns out, that may also be the bottom line for Ilona Andrews’ Indie series, the Innkeeper Chronicles. In a galaxy of myriad species and civilizations, Earth has an interesting position. It’s one of the few neutral places oxygen and nitrogen-breathing species can pause in transit. On Earth are many Inns and Innkeepers, and they have two major goals—the safety and comfort of their guests, and keeping the Inns and their inhabitants a dead secret from the people of Earth.

Dina Demille is an Innkeeper, daughter of Innkeepers, now running her own small inn. The Gertrude Hunt Inn was an old, dormant inn before Dina’s magic woke it to life again. But Red Deer, Texas is no longer upon a busy crossroads—the inn needs magical guests to survive, and to get them, Dina has to accept some chancy propositions (like dealing with dangers off the inn grounds) and dangerous guests (like a peace summit of multiple species trying to kill each other.) Dina is driven by the health of her inn, an empathic entity of powerful magic capable of extending branches to other worlds--and by the mysterious disappearance of her parents and their entire inn six years before.

All this gives her roots of her own. She had the choice to wander the universe, and did for a time, seeking her parents. But no place was home—so Dina found one, and tends it well. In Sweep in Peace, when three powerful, aggressive peoples accept an Arbitrator and a peace summit, Dina does her best to keep them calm, comfortable, and alive. This is contemporary fantasy of a kind I love. We get a dash of humor, of mystery, of romance—Like Martha Wells’ Book of the Raksura series, we get a blend of fantasy and SF that does not jar us, and we get the skillful weaving of both plot and world building the Andrews are known for. Each faction at this summit is sure they know what drives the others. They are all wrong, and even Dina is wrong at first. But ultimately it is her empathy, intelligence, and intuition plus the calculated plans of the arbitrator that give this disastrous war and distant planet a chance at peace.

Guests come, and they leave. Someday one of them will recognize her parents in the picture hanging on the wall, and Dina will begin her hunt again. But her search will happen around the home she has woven for herself and her few permanent guests, aliens who have no other home but the Gertrude Hunt Inn. We have alliances, tolerance, friendships and betrayals, cultures alike and cultures so different only an Innkeeper can help them understand each other. And we have magic—magic that makes us laugh and moves us to tears. There are aliens who are frightening, and aliens we want to befriend.

We have people seeking home, protecting home, and making a home. For so many of us, that’s a theme worth finding. I really enjoyed CLEAN SWEEP, the first Innkeeper book, but this one is an order of magnitude more. Recommended!

View all my reviews
alfreda89: (Books and lovers)
The Isle of Glass (The Hound and the Falcon, #1)The Isle of Glass by Judith Tarr

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You'll become obsessed with this series

Once upon a time a reader took a half-dozen books with her on vacation. She was lucky because they were all good books--but THE ISLE OF GLASS was so good, she became obsessed with it. As she made her way across multiple states, heading home, she stopped in every bookstore she could find in every town on the way, looking for the next book in the series. She would have settled for the third book in the series!

Yes, it's that good, and to this day the glorious language and fascinating characters still dance in the back of my mind. A lost elf raised in a monastery, a hidden elven kingdom, the pageantry and intrigue of the time of Richard the Lionhearted, the Crusades--and genetics that mean elves make sense in history. If you love the works of Guy Gavriel Kay, Kate Elliott, and Alma Alexander, the feel of epic fantasy by people who know what they are doing, you must try Judith Tarr's work. Start here, with the book that made me visit two dozen bookstores in three days. (Lucky us, she's written many more wonderful tales since this one!)

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alfreda89: 3 foot concrete Medieval style gargoyle with author's hand resting on its head. (Mascot)
Come for the mentoring. Come for the Lipizzans. Come for the Sonoran Desert. You won't regret it! Judith Tarr delivers. As for me, I am still working my way through a new fantasy novel--around 190 pages in, and our heroine has figured out that her life is...oops....

Originally posted by [ profile] dancinghorse at When the Muse Attacks

Something strange has happened these past few days. First I realized that the past two years have basically blurred and mostly vanished in my mind, so that when my truck battery died, I was positive it was three years old. It was five, which is reallydamngood for a battery in Arizona. And I'd been sick for a month, so those days mostly blurred out as well, but I was able after the first week to work, which is good. And now I'm better, and that's a really good thing.

And this week my fiction brain has gone off the charts on generating new words. It hasn't done this in years and years. It's spinning out stories and space opera--shaped novel like one of those crazy Hubble galaxies with all the pieces flying off in streams that run clear off the human-perceptible spectrum.

And that is fabulous. But I must eat, and even more important the horses must eat, and writing income is s l o w. A good part of the fiction-genesis is probably fiscal panic, throwing back to when writingrealfast under contract meant payment, sometimes, a fraction faster. But there are no book contracts any more.

So! To pay the hay bill, and keep the horses in grain while the words continue to spin out of my brain, I believe it's time for various shapes and sizes of SALE. (I take personal checks within the US, and Paypal worldwide at capriole at that gmail thing.) Option 1 below is ongoing with no expiration. I'll run options 2 and 3 for a week to start, and maybe another week, we'll see.

1. I have a Patreon page. This is where the new fiction first appears, and if you've seen it before, I've revamped it and changed the rewards and perks to emphasize the fiction. Patreon is a great platform for writers and artists--we support each other, too, tossing a dollar or two or three in the pot and spreading the wealth around as much as we can.

2. I have openings for Mentoring and Editing Clients. Wide range of services from conventional editing to one-on-one classes to advice and input on the horse details in your ms. I'm offering a sale this week: 5 hours at $250, which is a $50 discount. Current mentees may participate, as always.

3. Camp Lipizzan is back! The house has been renovated since the last Camp, and all the old comforts are still here, most notably the hot and cold running Lipizzans. Summer is challenging but we're up for it if you are, and October through March are beautiful. Just for this sale, if you book at regular price, bring a friend and I'll give you $50 off the second Camp.

Questions? Leave a comment here or email me at capriole at that gmail thing. I'll be over here, writing writing writing. And oh, it's a wonderful thing.
alfreda89: 3 foot concrete Medieval style gargoyle with author's hand resting on its head. (Mascot)
Hi, I have not vanished--I am 130 pages into a book that is not going as I planned, but I am having fun. With luck this means my readers will also have fun with it. I was going to go into "don't look back" and "just keep going" and "Are we having fun?" but Jennifer Crusie just wrote a similar blog entry.

So I am going to link to it, and then get back to the craziness.

Basically, I’m playing around with a ridiculous story that’s fun to write and probably not publishable. That means that all the tension, all the pressure, is gone with this story because it’s not the one I’m officially writing, it’s really almost a conversation with you all, definitely a conversation with myself.
alfreda89: 3 foot concrete Medieval style gargoyle with author's hand resting on its head. (A light in dark places)
This is Seanan McGuire's shorthand, and [ profile] suricattus's extension, and it is wonderful.

I LOVE this shorthand. Thank you, Seanan McGuire, for suggesting such a great shorthand. Thank you, Laura Anne Gilman, for bringing it to our attention. I have been wrangling with how to start a tsunami for days.

This is perfect.

Just like the Fifteen Minute Best Friend when someone is being harassed in a bar. We can all offer some Leverage.

Originally posted by [ profile] suricattus at We provide... Leverage. (a Convention Guest's Promise)
I will be a Guest at Anachrocon this weekend, and there’s something I want everyone there to know.

I may look about as tough as a toasted corn muffin, but I lived and worked in NYC for two decades. I take no shit, and I give no shits. If you are at the convention and feel unsafe or harassed, you can walk straight up to me, no matter who else I'm talking to, and tell me you need Leverage (term in this usage suggested by the awesome Seanan McGuire).

I will listen to you.
I will be your safe space.
I will walk you to the nearest security person you feel comfortable with, and stay with you until you're ok.
I will follow-up on what I know.

And if your harasser tries to interfere, I will, within the limits of our personal safety, be the blockade needed to get you to safety. And I will not hesitate to call down the rage of heaven (aka convention and hotel security) if I think it is warranted.

With luck and the better angels of human nature, this will never be needed, there or at any convention going forward. But if it is, you have Leverage.
alfreda89: 3 foot concrete Medieval style gargoyle with author's hand resting on its head. (Mascot)
For a fun change of pace, I am so happy to announce that the Storybundle Women in Fantasy is now live! This is a fast Storybundle, only 22 days, so you want to have this on your radar, and be sure to look it over and share with friends. We're talking ten wonderful authors, and if you have not met them all, you can look forward to hours and hours of fantastic reading!

Writer and editor Kristine Kathryn Rusch curated the collection, and she says:

"There are dozens of subgenres of fantasy, not just that British Boarding School subgenre, but made-up world fantasy, and high fantasy, and urban fantasy, and epic fantasy, and contemporary fantasy, and dark fantasy, and funny fantasy. Some fantasy features ghosts; some features elves. Some has more magic than we can keep track of and some has hardly any magic at all.

"Women write all of it. Why do I harp on women? Because of something that happened last year. I discovered that much of the history of women in the science fiction and fantasy field has been forgotten."

Read more... )
All Covers Large
alfreda89: 3 foot concrete Medieval style gargoyle with author's hand resting on its head. (Mascot)
Writer Jennifer Crusie always thinks characters and conflict when she's building a plot, so she can't help analyzing books, movies, and television the same way. Here she tears apart the plot for "Lucifier" and if you checkout her LJ, she then comes up with a much better series idea.

Maybe she'll write it.

Originally posted by [ profile] jennycrusie at Questionable: Character Chemistry with the Reader

This is another one from Draft Vault, and it included this note: “Somehow I hit “Publish” while this was still in draft form. Therefore, whatever went out in the RSS feed was a rough draft. Sorry about that.” I’m pretty sure I cut almost all of the previous draft, so this shouldn’t be a re-run at all.

Cate M asked:

“Could you do a post on a character chemistry? Not necessarily romantic chemistry, although that would be helpful too. Basically, once you’ve got your checklist of goals, motivation, conflict, how do you make sure the characters are actually fun to spend time with, and better together than they are apart?”

So when you say “fun to spend time with,” you’re talking about the reader, right? You want each character to be fun for the reader to spend time with and then the relationship to be more fun for the reader to watch?

In my opinion (not to be taken as a rule or fact or anything like that):

• Readers want to spend time with characters who are fascinating, which means different from the norm but not so weird or awful that they’re off-putting. (“I don’t like this guy, but I can’t take my eyes off him.”)

• They want characters who are active because action is interesting and because action characterizes. (“Now that I see the things he’s doing in this story, he’s even more interesting.”)

• They want characters who are under pressure because pressure peels off layers of protection and makes them vulnerable. (“Boy, move him outside his comfort zone, and he’s a whole new character.”)

• They want characters who are struggling with other characters because while they want to see the human heart in conflict, they also want to see two human hearts in conflict with each other, desperately vying for the things that define them and make life worth living. (“She really moves him outside his comfort zone; he’s even more interesting with her.”)

• They want those struggles to suggest outcomes that are interesting so that their expectations for the rest of the story are as fascinating as the characters, especially when they’re together. (“I can’t wait to see what happens when these two get together again.”)

So fascinating, active, vulnerable characters in conflicted relationships that set up fascinating expectations.

Yeah, not easy.

As an example, I just watched a TV pilot that failed on almost all of these things.

Read more... )
alfreda89: 3 foot concrete Medieval style gargoyle with author's hand resting on its head. (Milky Way over WA Coast)
Writer, artist, and editor Terri Windling shares many fascinating bits of folklore, art, and myth on her blog Myth and Moor. A recent post links to Charlotte Du Cann of Dark Mountain books, and her blog about a celebration for the Cailleach, Queen of Winter, the dark aspect who stands half the year against the brightness of Bridget, Queen of Summer. This is myth being woven today by people who feel our need for it.

"Carrying the Fire's name is taken in part from the dystopic novel, The Road, where the father explains to his son that the purpose of being human is 'to carry the fire' and that if that spirit is lost the art of being human is also lost. The Cailleach is not human: she is a mythic being that lives deep in our bones and sinews, the parts of us that resonate with stones and wild weather. She reminds us of human beings' original bargain with Earth. Sometimes we need a reminder that she is still there, so we can carry the fire, come what may. So, in spite of living in a 24/7 world, we can mark time; in spite of living in a world where we are told we do not belong, we can make ourselves at home."

alfreda89: 3 foot concrete Medieval style gargoyle with author's hand resting on its head. (Mascot)
I don't have Internet right now, so I am swooping in and out as wireless presents itself. But I did see this article on effective settings, and since it mentions something I consider crucial I thought I'd share.

Beginning writers often:

* wait until it’s too late to describe and orient the reader as to place;
*or totally forget that the reader has no idea where the character is in the story, because the location has suddenly moved from a known to a new, unknown location.

If I write, Joe left his home and went to the city, the setting is so vague that it leaves you clueless and frustrated. But if I write, Joe left his beachside cottage and drove into Lake Forest City, a northern suburb of Seattle, the addition of a few specifics gives you enough to inhabit the character’s world while keeping the main focus on what’s happening in the story.

I often tell students and clients that we live in a very visual age. If you don't give enough hints to anchor a reader's vision, they will create their own scene. And then later, when you toss in something very specific, your reader has a problem. It may be very different from what they have already visualized, throwing them out of the book--or they may like their version better. Try not to bring the reader to a halt at that point. Give them a few visuals up front!
alfreda89: 3 foot concrete Medieval style gargoyle with author's hand resting on its head. (Mascot)
Over at Book View Cafe, writer Sherwood Smith talks about participating on a convention panel where everyone wrote up their top three problems/"don't do this" things, and then discussed them. My title is slightly different because some of us have blind spots and old tracks we follow, and we often remove the same things from our first stream-of-consciousness drafts. So these are beginner errors, but things like favorite words or images can creep into any writer's manuscript. Making a pass and just correcting these things will make a huge difference in the quality and readability of your manuscript.

One of my own personal favorites--always try to read the work aloud. Your ear will tell you when something isn't working, or a bad rhythm is developing.

"I think these lists interesting mostly because they reveal writerly process at least as much as they do beginner errors. Some of the best discussion arose out of what some considered no error at all, and others considered advice for revision, not for first draft errors, and what the difference was.

"For pants writers (those who sit down and let the tale spin out through their fingers before going back to see what they have) one set of rules might be helpful and another useless; for plotters and planners, a completely different set."
alfreda89: (Blankenship Reeds)
In our world today, especially if you live in the United States, it's easy to be so caught up in the proverbial Rat Race that you forget to take a break. I don't mean kicking back of an evening, melted in front of the TV, or prowling the Internet reading posts from friends and the latest news brouhaha. I don't mean a Stay-cation, where you alternate not going to work with hitting a movie theater, getting a massage, or cleaning out your garage. I don't even mean planning a six nights, seven days cruise that hits eight islands and offers five meals a day.

I mean a real break--one where you try hard to avoid smart phones, computers, and televisions. Where you lay around like a slug and don't think about doing any kind of work for at least half the time blocked out in your calendar. You try and schedule all Internet work in advance, you turn off the phone, you have no cable or satellite...and you rest. I'll let you hit town once to check email, but it's a two hour limit at the library, and you should respect it. Absolutely no driving hours every day from one place to the next, unless driving is the most relaxing thing you have ever done.

Because your body needs to recharge. It has limits.
Read more... )
alfreda89: (Winter)

I suspect that most people have a blimpcoat.

Oh, not exactly a *blimpcoat*--they have an article of clothing that they can't bear to part with because there are times it is indispensable. More than once you toss it in the box for charity, or even into the rag bag.

Later, you retrieve it. Because.
Read more... )
alfreda89: 3 foot concrete Medieval style gargoyle with author's hand resting on its head. (Mascot)
Writers are constantly urged to "write what you know." When writing especially SF or fantasy, that becomes a double challenge. You may be creating a profession that doesn't exist in the real world. But you can be rock solid on a crucial point. How does your character look at the world?

Writer Emma Newman, author of Planetfall, explains how "Write what you know" is actually an untruth.
Read more... )
alfreda89: 3 foot concrete Medieval style gargoyle with author's hand resting on its head. (Mascot)
Silver on the RoadSilver on the Road by Laura Anne Gilman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Isobel reaches the age of sixteen her term of indenture in the city of Flood ends. She has choices, now. Izzy can head south and west, into Nueva Espana, though she will be viewed with suspicion for leaving the haunted lands of the Territory. She can go east, across the big Muddy, and seek the great cities of The States—though the rumored number of people is intimidating. Isobel could go north, to the French territories and the lands where the Metis trap for fur. Or she could stay in Flood, the Devil’s town, and remain in the Devil’s West. Doing…what?

She wants to work for the man called Boss, the powerful entity who raised her. Is he the Christian Devil or merely a profoundly powerful magic worker? So far we haven’t a clue. But he’s known for running the only honest gambling house in the West. He will give you what you ask for, if you have something worth a trade. Be careful what you ask for…or offer. Isobel wishes to serve him in a Bargain, this one made not by her long-gone parents but herself. But if Maria’s job as the Boss’s Right Hand is still filled, who could Isobel be?

"The right hand gathers and gives, visible to all," he tells her. "But the Left Hand, Isobel, the manu sinistra? It moves in shadows, unseen, unheard ... It is the strength of the Territory, the quick knife in the darkness, the cold eye and the final word."

Isobel takes her deal, not truly knowing what she has asked for, and her life—and adventure—begins. Laura Anne Gilman has given us a frontier coming of age tale that weaves and pulses like the muddy Mississippi River. Isobel acquires a mentor as she heads out from Flood into the depths of the Territory, learning both how to take care of herself and how to mind the Devil’s business. She finds that the magic she has sensed beneath the soil of the Territory is born of deep roots, manifesting in new and unexpected ways. Ceaseless winds breed mages who bow to no masters, the natives have their own shamans and power, and no one is surprised when a rattlesnake brings you a Message. A silver coin at a crossroads can reveal tainted magic, a trap, or safe passage. All people who choose to live in the Territory are bound to a Bargain—with the tribes, with the Devil, with the magic itself.

Beautifully written, this is not a fast read. Sink into the Territory and the Devil’s West, and join Isobel as she discovers adulthood, magic, and destiny. Highly recommended. If you loved the Frontier Magic series by Patricia Wrede or my Night Calls series, give this a try. The fantastic American West lives!

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