Just a quick post today to share a book I read recently that has changed my approach a bit. It’s called Deep Work, by Cal Newport.
The premise of the book is thus: our modern culture is inundating us with constant stimulation, shortening our attention spans, making it difficult for us to focus on complex and difficult tasks. Our brains start to crave distraction, which is why, when I sit down with the best of intentions to bang out a chapter, the lure of the internet or Facebook sometimes proves too strong. Even through time is finite, I find myself wasting it…ALL. THE. TIME. Newport explains why this is happening, and why really, if we want to succeed as a modern day “thought worker” (as he puts it,) we need to be able to sit down, focus, and perform deep and difficult thinking. I mean, yeah, it seems pretty obvious, but why is it SO damn hard to do?
The book gives specific advice on how to create fixed distraction-free periods of time to perform deep work, by eliminating what he calls shallow work (I’m looking at you, email), and then batching the remaining shallow work into chunks. He also gives advice on how to decide if you need certain tools in your life, like social media, or whether a particular task or commitment is a good use of your time. Instead of asking if you get any conceivable benefit from it, ask yourself whether it is actively furthering your core goals and values. If not, say goodbye.
I found this book at THE right time. I was growing increasingly frustrated with how busy I always felt, but how, even when I was overwhelmed with tasks, I would find myself wasting time, or killing time on the easy stuff rather than diving into the meaty bits that actually required serious brainpower. I felt like this cycle was getting worse and it was driving me nuts. As a lawyer and an author who is basically working two jobs, productivity=sanity. Newport explained how your focus is a muscle that you have to exercise, and just like starting an exercise program, you can’t just jump into the gym and start to bench 350 pounds without really regretting it the next day. The way to increase your ability to focus and fight your brain’s desire for distraction is to constantly work at the skill on a daily basis, slowly upping the amount of time you spend doing “deep work.”
This is all to say two things. One, if you’re feeling like your brain spins in a million different directions yet you can’t get anything done (like I did), this book might be for you too. Second, I am going to be reducing the amount of shallow work I’m doing (i.e., spending time on social media and blogging), to increase the time and energy I invest in writing and editing my books, which is really the bit I love the most. So, I’ll still be around, but maybe not as much. But, on the flip side, this will hopefully mean yours truly will be churning out better books at a faster pace. And that feels like a win to me!
I’m Claire Luana, and I’m delighted to be a host for this awesome YA Scavenger Hunt!
A little about me:
- I live in Seattle, Washington.
- I have two dogs named Jameson and Guinness.
- Cadbury Mini Eggs are my Kryptonite.
- I’ve summited four mountains.
- I’m a lawyer for my day job.
- I know how to Scottish Highland Dance.
I’ve written three young adult fantasy novels. Moonburner and Burning Fate are published, and Sunburner is coming this August!
You are currently hunting on TEAM PURPLE!!!
Looking for my exclusive bonus content from my novel, Moonburner? You’ll have to keep searching.
But, first, a few rules.
SCAVENGER HUNT PUZZLE RULES
DIRECTIONS: Below, you’ll notice that I’ve listed my favorite number. Collect the favorite numbers of all the authors on TEAM PURPLE, and then add them up to win these amazing books (don’t worry, you can use a calculator!)
HINT: THE SECRET NUMBER IS HIGHLIGHTED IN PURPLE!
ENTRY FORM: Once you’ve added up all the numbers, make sure you fill out the form here to officially qualify for the grand prize. Only entries that have the correct number will qualify.
RULES: Open internationally, anyone below the age of 18 should have a parent or guardian’s permission to enter. To be eligible for the grand prize, you must submit the completed entry form by SUNDAY, APRIL 9th, at noon Pacific Time. Entries sent without the correct number or without contact information will not be considered.
On this hunt, you not only get access to exclusive content from each participating YA author, you also get a secret number. Add up the numbers, and enter it for a chance to win a major prize–one lucky winner will receive at least one book from each author on my team in the hunt! But play fast. This contest (and all the exclusive bonus material) will only be online until noon PST on Sunday, April 9th!
There are SIX contests going on simultaneously, and you can enter one or all! I am a part of the PURPLE TEAM but there is also a RED TEAM, BLUE TEAM, ORANGE TEAM, GOLD TEAM, and GREEN TEAM! Check out each team for a chance to win six different sets of signed books!
If you’d like to find out more about the hunt, see links to all the authors participating, and see the full list of prizes up for grabs, go to the YA Scavenger Hunt page.
Now that all the technical stuff is out of the way, I’ll introduce the author I am hosting on this hunt!
Dorothy Dreyer is here to talk about her upcoming book, Entangled Souls! Dorothy is a Philippine-born American living in Germany with her husband, two teens, and two Siberian Huskies. She is an Amazon category bestselling author of young adult and new adult books that usually have some element of magic or the supernatural in them. Aside from reading, she enjoys movies, chocolate, take-out, traveling, and having fun with friends and family. She tends to sing sometimes, too, so keep her away from your Karaoke bars.
Her new book, Entangled Souls, launches April 18th. Here’s the blurb
Her whole life, Lexi has known that the voices she hears in her head—omens and harbingers of important things to come—are part of being a witch. But what she doesn’t know is that a soul has escaped its reaping while on her family’s property. When handsome stranger Caden shows up on his motorcycle to tour the vineyard she grew up on, she isn’t aware that he is a Valkyrie searching for the lost soul. All she knows is that the deep attraction she feels for him is undeniable.
When Caden finds out Lexi is a witch and asks her to help him track down the soul, Lexi must come to terms with the fact that Caden is immortal and decide if her feelings for a soul reaper are worth the risks.
Find out more about Dorothy, or be the first to hear when Entangled Souls launches, on her website!
Or, you can find her on:
For any author, having their book made into a movie or TV show would be a dream come true. Just in case ENTANGLED SOULS ever needs a casting call, here are some ideas of who would make great fits for the roles. [All pictures taken from the celebrities’ Twitter, Instagram, and IMDB pages and do not belong to me.]
⇐ Indiana Evans as Lexi Montgomery
Though she’s Australian, I’m sure Indiana Evans could pull off an American accent for this role. Lexi is smart, sexy, and full of determination. She’s troubled by the voices in her head, but she’s also motivated to deal with them. She is a witch, after all. She’s got a soft spot for Caden and can’t resist him, despite her best friend Britta teasing her about having a type.
Tyler Blackburn as Caden ⇒
Caden looks like a bad boy and act like a bad boy … heck, he even rides a motorcycle and wears a leather jacket, but this Valkyrie has a heart of gold, especially when it comes to Lexi. Immortals are forbidden to get involved with mortals, but Caden thinks Lexi is worth breaking the rules for. Something tells me Tyler Blackburn would be perfect for this role.
⇐ Ashleigh Murray as Britta
Britta is witty and doesn’t take any crap. She’s a strong character, a strong feminist, and a loyal friend. She’d do anything for Lexi—except let her make a mistake and get hurt.
Dan Benson as Hamlin ⇒
Hamlin is a goofy, rule-bending, flies-by-the-seat-of-his-pants kind of guy. I needed someone funny and full of character to fill his shoes. I think Dan Benson fits the bill.
Entangled Souls comes out April 18th via Kindle Worlds (US only). Give it a read and let me know who you would pick to play these characters!
Wow, thanks so much Dorothy! Exciting that Entangled Souls launches in less than 33 days!
And don’t forget to enter the contest for a chance to win a ton of books by me, Claire Luana, and more! To enter, you have to find my secret number. Add up all the favorite numbers of the authors on the purple team and you’ll have all the secret code to enter for the grand prize!
CONTINUE THE HUNT
To keep going on your quest for the hunt, you need to check out the next author!
But before you do, enter to win eBook copies of my two books, Moonburner and Burning Fate, and a $20 Amazon gift card!
Thanks so much for stopping by! Now head over to your next author to continue the hunt!
This is the book review where I will absolutely gush about Illuminae, a YA space opera that is a combination of Battlestar Galactica, the Walking Dead, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. This book was un-put-downable, and unlike anything I’ve ever read before.
First: We must speak about the format. This book is told as if someone was looking back and investigating what happened, and the events unfold through a review of interviews, video transcripts, classified documents, and internal messages. The book itself is gorgeously laid out, filled with images, redaction, unique charts, illustrations, etc. It really is a work of art. I mean, look at these images below! I myself listened to the audiobook, which was also amazing, with a full cast, sound effects and everything. It was like you were listening to a movie. Really well done!
Illuminae is set in the fairly distant future, where intergalactic mining is controlled by the United Terran Authority. The story begins by an illegal mining outpost, Kerenza, being attacked by rival mining conglomerate Bietech. Main characters Kady and Ezra broke up the morning the attack, but still are friendly enough to flee the planet together. They end up on separate ships as part of a small fleet fleeing the attack. The jump drives on the ships are damaged, and so they are forced to undergo a six month trip to the nearest jump point, before they can return to more populated space. The catch: they are being chased by a Bietech vessel that wants to kill all the survivors so word of the attack will never spread. Plus, the main ship, the Alexander, has an artificial intelligence system, AIDAN, that was damaged in the attack, and begins to make independent decisions with sinister results. Plus, a bioweapon used by Bietech in the original attack mutates into a super-freaky pathogen that begins spreading through the fleets.
Kady and Ezra are adorable and hilarious and super sarcastic. Kady is a talented hacker who starts digging when she realizes things aren’t as they seem in the fleet. Over the course of the book, they grow closer (seen through a series of IMs), and fall back in love. This all against the backdrop of some seriously crazy stuff that is happening throughout the fleet. There are so many twists, turns, and chilling moments in this book, it’s funny, romantic, exhilarating, and suspenseful all in one package!
I cannot recommend this book enough! I am heading straight to the sequel, Gemina, which tells another piece of the story of the attack. Apparently, the book has already been optioned for a movie, which is absolutely perfect.
I thought the following article was a helpful primer on the concept of world building, which is key in fantasy writing!
This article is reprinted by permission of the author, Randy Ingermanson.
Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 16,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.
Going Deep or Going Wide
World-building is a large topic with many aspects. We’ll focus on people groups this month, but keep in mind that it’s not the only aspect.
Generally, novelists choose to go either deep or wide in constructing people groups.
“Going deep” means focusing on one single people group that’s different from the one the target audience belongs to. (For example: Amish fiction, targeted to non-Amish readers. Alternatively, World War II fiction set in Nazi Germany, targeted to American readers.)
“Going wide” means having many different people groups that interact with each other. (For example, The Lord of the Rings has humans, hobbits, elves, dwarves, orcs, trolls, wizards, balrogs, ents, and more. The humans have several different people groups—the villages around Bree, the Rohirrim, and the men of Minas Tirith. The elves are likewise split geographically into people groups that live in Mirkwood, Lothlorien, and Rivendell.)
So how do you construct a people group? You have a lot of options, but they boil down to asking two very important questions:
- What do all members of this people group have in common?
- How does this people group split up along party lines?
As an example, in the Harry Potter series, the main people group is composed of the witches and wizards. There is a second people group composed of muggles—non-magical people. But the Potter series goes deep—the witches and wizards get the great majority of the air-time in the series.
- What do the witches and wizards have in common? They all have the genetic ability to do magic.
- How are they split along party lines? They differ in their attitudes towards muggles. Lord Voldemort’s party believes that muggles should be ill-treated. They can be killed, tortured, or harassed at will. Witches and wizards who have muggle ancestors are considered “mud-bloods” and should be repressed. Albus Dumbledore’s party believes that muggles should be treated with decency and respect.
Notice a key point. The storyline of the Harry Potter series is driven by the party differences among the witches and wizards, not by their commonality. Yes, it’s interesting to see how magic plays a role in their ordinary lives, and this provides a lot of local color to the story. But the great arc of the storyline is driven by Lord Voldemort’s attempt to take over the magical world, and Albus Dumbledore’s efforts to defeat him.
The Potter series goes deep, and the story is driven by internal factions within one people group.
That’s not the only option, however. You can go deep but have the story be driven by the battle of your main people group with some other people group. As an example, the movie Independence Day told the story of an invasion of planet earth by aliens who are mostly not seen.
Another option is to go deep and have the main conflict be driven by differences between individuals in the main people group. As an example, an Amish romance novel would feature a single people group and could have no factions at all but could simply focus on the classic romance storyline—will the hero and the heroine get together? In this case, your main work in constructing your people group is understanding the things that your people have in common, especially those things that are different from the ordinary world of the target readers.
When you have multiple people groups that play a central role in your story, you now have a third question:
- What are the central conflicts between your people groups?
In The Lord of the Rings, we have many of these:
- The orcs hate pretty much all the other people groups, and are slaves of Lord Sauron, who is not an orc but created them for his own purposes.
- Elves hate the orcs and will never cooperate with them, but they might choose to insulate themselves from the orcs, giving them free rein. The elves have the right to leave Middle Earth if they choose. Elves are impervious to disease and aging, but they can be killed. So doing battle with orcs has an enormous cost—the elves risk dying in battle.
- Dwarves also hate orcs, but they don’t like elves either, and it’s very difficult to get the elves and dwarves to cooperate to defeat their common enemy. Dwarves have fewer options when it comes to insulating themselves from the orcs. They can’t flee Middle Earth, as the elves can. Dwarves have a love for gold that makes it possible, in principle, to buy their allegiance to the dark side. But they much prefer to keep to themselves.
- Humans mostly hate orcs, but some of them have gone over to the dark side and collaborate with them. Humans look with suspicion on the elves and dwarves and believe that they have to rely on themselves to get anything done. The humans are ready to fight, but they live shorter lives than the other people groups, and they sometimes feel like they are doing most of the work in battling evil, while getting little reward for their trouble.
- Hobbits are barely aware of the wider world. They know that the elves and dwarves and humans and orcs exist, but they don’t think that the wars of these outsiders make a difference to them. Hobbits are happy to keep to themselves and live their own lives.
- Ents are a frozen race. They’re essentially immortal, but they’ve lost the ent-wives, so they aren’t reproducing. They’ve secluded themselves even more than the hobbits in their own little enclave. They’re also very slow to make decisions. But once they choose to fight, they are extraordinarily powerful.
- Wizards are sent into Middle Earth in the guise of men. It’s not clear what wizards are, but their role is to guide the free peoples of Middle Earth to maintain their freedom, but without subjugating them. Wizards can go over to the dark side, and one of them does.
So The Lord of the Rings has one central conflict—Lord Sauron and his orc minions are trying to subjugate the elves, humans, dwarves, and hobbits. The wizards, led by Gandalf, are trying to resist Lord Sauron and ultimately defeat him.
Sauron’s strategy is to divide and conquer. He’s helped by the natural animosities between the elves, dwarves, and humans, and he does his best to boost these animosities.
Gandalf’s strategy is to unify and resist. He must get the elves, dwarves, men, hobbits, and ents to set aside their differences and fight Sauron. No easy task, but if it were easy, there wouldn’t be much of a story.
When Sauron and Gandalf learn that the One Ring of Power still exists, the race is on to find it and use it to tip the balance of power. But the Ring is so corrosive that it can only be trusted in the hands of the hobbits, who are least susceptible to its power.
1) Are people groups an important aspect of your story world? (If your target audience is essentially similar to all the characters in your story, then the answer is probably no.)
2) How many important people groups do you have in your story? (The important ones are usually the ones that contribute at least one primary character.)
3) For each people group, what does this group have in common? What binds it together? (This could be religion, philosophy, geography, customs, or anything else that tends to make different people think that “we are all in this together.”)
4) For each people group, what are the internal factions that tend to destroy the group unity? Why do these factions exist? What drives the conflict between them?
The Kindle version of my novel Moonburner is on sale for .99 cents this week! Don’t miss your chance to grab a copy!
Excuse me while I gush about Vengeance Road, by Erin Bowman! I absolutely adored this book! Plus, that cover!?! Swoon! I want to get the cover designer for one of my next books!
When her father is murdered for a journal revealing the location of a hidden guild mine, eighteen-year-old Kate Thompson disguises herself as a boy and takes to the gritty plains looking for answers–and justice. What she finds are untrustworthy strangers, endless dust and heat, and a surprising band of allies, among them a young Apache girl and a pair of stubborn brothers who refuse to quit riding in her shadow. But as Kate gets closer to the secrets about her family, a startling truth becomes clear: some men will stop at nothing to get their hands on gold, and Kate’s quest for revenge may prove fatal.
Nothing in Vengeance Road is particularly novel or new. In fact, the book seems to run through several comfortable old tropes: girl disguises herself as boy (I did that one in my own book!), teen finds out there is something mysterious about her family after it’s too late, girl can’t stand cute boy until she realizes she can’t live without him, the Western trope of the search for gold and buried treasure. But, but, this is the perfect example of how old tropes can be phenomenal if they are executed well. And boy, are they executed well.
As a writer, you strive for an authentic voice for your character, which is often an ephemeral “you know it if you see it” (as in a failure of voice is only conspicuous in its absence). Not this book. The voice makes the book. The main character, Kate, sounds like she’s from the old west. The way she thinks, the way she talks, the euphemisms she uses. Here’s a quote:
“The bartender’s right ’bout one thing–the place is busy considering it’s the Lord’s day. What the stout fella don’t seem to realize is that a strong drink can numb the soul good as any prayer. Hell, I muttered ‘Oh, God’ ’bout a dozen times after I found Pa swinging, and it ain’t like it brought him back to life.”
The whole book is like that, It’s really fun to read.
Kate’s a great character, tough, determined, single-minded to a fault. She doesn’t want any help in her wild quest to avenge her Pa, knowing that it will probably spell her doom. When Jesse and Will refuse to let her travel alone, the friction between them is both comical and poignant. The romance that blooms between Kate and Jesse is sweet and believable, without being over the top. Waylan Rose and his Rose Riders make passable villains–tough, scary, cruel. We don’t actually see much of them, but they are bad-ass enough fill Kate’s journey with suspense and drama.
Bowman also does a great job of exploring the historical setting of this novel, in 19th century Arizona. The conflict and distrust between settlers and Native Americans plays an important role in the story and an interesting backdrop to the rest of the plot.
My main complaint, if I had one, would be that the plot is a bit predictable at times, especially the big revelation at the end, which I kinda saw coming. But, like I said, that’s not much of a complaint, because the prose and the characters were so enjoyable that I loved every minute of it!
I’ll be honest. One of my biggest challenges as an author is editing. First drafts are easy. It’s pure creativity, dumping words on the page like sand into a sandbox. When you start editing, you have to turn that sand into the complex and well-thought-out sandcastle that will become your novel.
So, I was surprised to find out that there aren’t a lot of books on editing. There are hundreds of books on how to write a great work of fiction, but in my opinion, the pickings on editing are comparatively slim. I tried a few, but none really gave me a method. They gave me plenty to worry and think about while editing: plot, story structure, characters, pacing, dialogue, tense, point of view…but in what order? How do you edit for the macro and the micro issues your novel might have? To actually conceptualize the cohesive whole of those 90,000 words as they currently are, let alone how they should be. None of those books told me how the heck to actually go about self-editing a novel.
When I wrote my first novel Moonburner, I kinda winged it, cobbling together a method from these various suggestions. But before I wrote Sunburner, I found The Story Grid. This book is a game changer! The Story Grid, written by editor Shawn Coyne, gives you a method for full-on nerd-level dissection of your story. While other editing books generally said: make sure the patient doesn’t have one of these ten diseases…this book shows you in detail how to diagnose, and treat, those illnesses, right down to where to put the scalpel. Warning: this book is a tome. It took me months to read it and digest all of the nuggets in here, and by the time I got to the end I felt like I should re-read it all again! There’s that much good stuff in there.
Though this is a huge oversimplification, my key takeaways from the book fall into four main categories.
- Genre: Coyne has a complex view of genre that encompasses more than the categories we typically think of when we think of genre, e.g. mystery, western, sci-fi, etc. He looks at genre through a five-leaf clover of choices the author makes, from content (traditional view of genre) to structure, style, reality, and time. Each of these different elements come with different reader expectations, called “obligatory scenes.” You need to hit the right obligatory scenes, depending on what genre you are writing in, or your book won’t work. I have found these obligatory scenes to be a helpful road map for drafting and editing, to make sure you’re making your readers happy.
Told you! There’s a lot here!
- Internal versus external arc: Books are often described as “plot driven” or “character driven.” But in most well-written novels, you will have some aspect of both an external story arc (plot), and an internal story arc (character) (though the ratios between the two will look different between a James-bond type thriller versus a literary novel). Coyne talks about this in terms of “internal content genre” and “external content genre” and explains how you have to know both (1) your protagonist’s external story arc, and (2) the transformation they are undergoing on the inside. While this may be intuitive to many authors, I found it super helpful to name my internal (maturation plot) and external arcs (savior plot-action genre), so I could keep this front of mind during my editing process.
- Units of story structure: Coyne breaks down story structure into its component parts. The smallest unit of story structure is the beat: which involves five steps–inciting incident, progressive complications, crisis, climax, and resolution. This structure then repeats itself in larger story units: the scene, the sequence of scenes, the act, and the story as a whole. This is a good gut check when something doesn’t seem to be working–often you find that you are missing one of these key elements.
- The Story Grid: The Story Grid is the most exciting take-away from the book for me. The Story Grid is a method by which you set up an excel spreadsheet with each of your scenes, identifying numerous elements: such as character, point of view, value at stake, and change in the scene. You then turn this itemization into the story grid, where you can generate a visual representation of the changes in your story (see below). In my opinion, the key element of this method is identifying the value-shift, or turning point, in each of your scenes. According to Coyne, each scene needs to have some shift in value, to move the story in some direction, either good or bad, otherwise you should cut it. Example: your characters are chatting over coffee. Nothing new or exciting is revealed that effects the plot or their character arcs. No value shift. You need to rework that scene. Versus a scene where your characters are chatting over coffee and one reveals that they’re sleeping with the other’s boyfriend…now there has been a value shift. From trust to distrust and belief to disillusionment. That will be an exciting scene for your reader!
The Story Grid for the middle build of the Silence of the Lambs
I ran Sunburner through the Story Grid (a somewhat tedious process), but I learned that I had about six scenes that were effectively filler, with no real value shift. Often these were scenes where I was trying to reveal some tidbit or backstory about a character, but in the focus on character, the forward progress in my story totally stalled. The Story Grid told me I needed to re-work those scenes (see scenes below where I couldn’t come up with anything to put in the “value shift” column). Obviously, it’s ok to have moments where there isn’t traditional “action” happening in the story, but then revelations about your characters need to provide the value shift. If I include a tidbit about a character because I really like that tidbit but it doesn’t actually matter for the story…well, that’s the exact type of darling you should be killing in the editing stage.
There are a bunch of other story elements that the Story Grid will reveal to you, but identifying these turning points, or value shifts, was the most helpful aspect of the exercise for me.
The beginnings of my story grid analysis of Sunburner
If you’re a fiction writer who has struggled to find a tried and true method of self-editing, (especially large-scale, structural edits), I would highly recommend you check out The Story Grid! It will definitely play a big role in my editing process going forward.
Shawn also has a podcast called the Story Grid where he helps book marketing guru Tim Grahl try to write his first book, as well as a website and newsletter with great resources. Check out both at http://www.storygrid.com.
Yesterday was an exciting day for me! I finished the last substantive edit of Sunburner, the sequel to my debut novel Moonburner! Considering that I wrote Sunburner in October-December of 2015, it feels so satisfying to finally be done with editing! (PS writing books takes a long time, guys).
So Sunburner was with beta readers for November and December, and I got some wonderful feedback that I have spent the last six weeks incorporating. (Thanks beta readers!) I think Sunburner is stronger than ever and I’m very excited about the finished product! Now, I will do just one last read through for typos and such and it will be ready to go to the publisher!
The one thing I’m pondering currently is a change in title. I like the ease and symmetry in having the two books titled Moonburner and Sunburner…but the second book isn’t actually about the sunburners only, its really about both countries fighting together against a common enemy. So, Sunburner isn’t an accurate preview of the story. I will do some brainstorming to see if I can come up with something fantastic that fits with the story, and if I can’t, I’ll probably keep it the same. Stay tuned…
I wanted to bring you guys a little sneak preview of Sunburner! Here’s the prologue…
The days and nights blended together in this place of darkness. They slid food through the slot at the base of the door from time to time. The prisoner suspected, from the deep gnawing hunger in her belly, that it was not every day. Her body was wasting away, eating itself from the inside out.
At least they didn’t hurt her. She supposed she should be grateful for that. Overall, this captivity was far more pleasant than her last. This time, they seemed content to let her slowly waste away, forgotten and alone.
But she hadn’t resigned herself to death. And so yet again, she prepared to perform the ritual that should summon the goddess. She didn’t have light and she didn’t have a sacrifice. She only had the words, her will, and her own blood. She didn’t have a weapon; they wouldn’t have been foolish enough to leave her in here with a means to end her life. So she scratched ragged marks across her inner arm with her fingernail, bringing the warm blood welling to the surface. She couldn’t see in the darkness, but she could smell the metallic tang of the blood as it mingled with the smells of her filth, feel its slick wetness against her skin. She could feel the scabs up and down her arms, bearing witness to her previous failed attempts to summon the goddess.
This time, though, this time she had something different. She didn’t have a sacrifice, but she did have a bone, picked from the measly scrap of oily meat that had been her latest meal. Maybe the blood and the bone together would come close enough to the little creatures she used to sacrifice to summon her.
The prisoner dipped the bone in the blood coating her forearm, and chanted the words she had said so many times. Please. She willed it to work. Please.
For the first time in many weeks, something happened. A breeze tickled her skin, and energy crackled in the air, raising the hairs on the back of her neck.
The goddess appeared, radiant in gray light.
The prisoner closed her eyes and cowered from the being, the sudden brightness burning her retinas. As she cracked her eyes, letting them adjust to the light, the goddess’s figure became clear, her black gown billowing as if in a storm. She filled the space of the small filthy cell, towering over the cringing prisoner. “Why have you summoned me to this place?”
“I have been jailed,” the prisoner said. “They mean to let me die in this cell. Please free me, so I can continue your work.”
“Why should I?” the goddess asked sternly. “You failed. The moon and sunburners are at peace. The centuries of hatred and war that we have worked for threaten to be for nothing. Without the discord and death, we are wasting away.”
The irony of that statement was not lost on the prisoner, as she looked down at her own emaciated form for the first time in months, dimly lit by the goddess’s glow. She fought down the urge to laugh. It came out as a deranged hiccup.
“There must be some way I can be of use to you,” the prisoner pleaded, her mind racing. “The burners believe me a traitor. Think of what pain it will cause them if I escape and assist in their downfall. They will fight amongst themselves, blaming each other.”
The goddess seemed to consider her, though it was hard to tell though the blurry nothingness where her face should be. “Perhaps you may be of use to me yet.”
“How?” the woman said eagerly, latching on to the goddess’s statement like a lifeline. “Let me help you. I will do anything.”
“Anything?” the goddess asked. “You do not even know the task.”
The question was a test. She had no real choice here. She had made her choice two decades before, in the dark dank of another cell. “The task doesn’t matter. I will serve,” the prisoner said.
The goddess seemed satisfied. “The era of the burners is coming to an end. They have stood in our way long enough. We will destroy their power so they are left with nothing but the bitter memory of their former glory and remake this world so it serves us.”
“I don’t understand,” the prisoner admitted, afraid to voice the words, but more afraid to misunderstand her mission. “Burning needs the sun and the moon. How could you destroy that power?”
“That is not your concern,” the goddess said sternly. “Your only concern should be whether you will do your part to bring about the end of this world, and usher in a new one. A world of darkness.”
She already lived in a world of darkness. The darkness of her cell was only a shadow of the blackness that lived in her soul, what she had been twisted into. She had left the light a long time ago. “Tell me what to do.”
A Torch Against the Night is the sequel to An Ember in the Ashes, which was one of my favorite books of 2016. Read my review HERE. A Torch Against the Night picks up immediately where the first book leaves off, with Laia and Elias seeking to flee the Martial Empire, and more specifically, Elias’s cruel and ruthless mother, the Commandant. Laia has just rescued Elias from execution, the twisted Marcus is the new Emperor, and Helene, Elias’s former best friend, is now Marcus’s Blood Shrike. The story spans across the Empire as Elias and Laia journey to Koff prison to free Laia’s brother Darrin.
It’s rare that a sequel lives up to its predecessor, but this one did! The book had plenty of action, with Laia and Elias relentlessly dogged by Helene, who has been charged with finding Elias and bringing him in. The magic of the world deepens, as the inkling of Laia’s powers are revealed, we learn more about the dark power that controls the Commandant, and new magical creatures are introduced. I loved seeing more of the Empire, especially the culture of the tribesmen Elias grew up with. As with the first book, the triangle of narration between Elias, Laia, and Helene is superb, showing all different sides of a complicated story. It’s even more effective here, as Helene’s POV reveals what’s going on back in the empire, as well as her conflict about being tasked with capturing Elias, the man she loves. As with the first book, she’s my favorite character, though I was technically rooting against her.
There were a few things I didn’t love, in particular one big reveal about one of the characters who wasn’t who we thought he/she was (no spoilers!), which just seemed strange and out of place to me. The scenes in Koff with the Warden weren’t my favorite either; I didn’t buy how creepy and dangerous he was supposed to be. I also felt like the storyline about the Nightbringer and the fallen star were almost unnecessary, it took away from the more compelling storyline about the Empire and the interpersonal conflict. The human villains of the Commandant and Marcus were scarier and more evil than the supernatural villain. But I see that it’s a big part of the set up for book 3, so perhaps that will develop in more satisfying ways in the next book.
Tahir creates a captivating and deadly world populated with brave but flawed characters. I highly recommend this one! I listened to the audiobook version, and the three narrators who played Laia, Elias and Helene were fabulous as well!
I’m super excited to bring you something new for 2017:
TWELVE MONTHS OF GIVEAWAYS!
Each month of 2017, I am going to give away a copy of my MOST ANTICIPATED Young Adult book releasing that month! With one quick entry you’ll have a chance to win that month’s HOTTEST new release! (Bonus for me, I get to read these fabulous books and decide which ones live up to the hype!)
JANUARY 2017’S GIVEAWAY
CARAVAL, by STEPHANIE GARBER!
Blurb: Whatever you’ve heard about Caraval, it doesn’t compare to the reality. It’s more than just a game or a performance. It’s the closest you’ll ever find to magic in this world . . .
Welcome, welcome to Caraval―Stephanie Garber’s sweeping tale of two sisters who escape their ruthless father when they enter the dangerous intrigue of a legendary game.
Read my review of Caraval HERE.