Bella Books is holding one of its periodic surprise sales. This time the theme is relatively recent ebooks, so if you haven't gotten around to buying Mother of Souls yet (yes, I'm secretly tapping my foot impatiently) it's only $5.99 through this weekend. Plenty of other bargains as well!
Title: A Skinful of Shadows
Author: Frances Hardinge
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Publisher: Macmillan / Amulet
Publication date: September 2017 / October 2017
Hardcover: 416 pages
This is the story of a bear-hearted girl . . .
Sometimes, when a person dies, their spirit goes looking for somewhere to hide.
Some people have space within them, perfect for hiding.
Twelve-year-old Makepeace has learned to defend herself from the ghosts which try to possess her in the night, desperate for refuge, but one day a dreadful event causes her to drop her guard.
And now there’s a spirit inside her.
The spirit is wild, brutish and strong, and it may be her only defence when she is sent to live with her father’s rich and powerful ancestors. There is talk of civil war, and they need people like her to protect their dark and terrible family secret.
But as she plans her escape and heads out into a country torn apart by war, Makepeace must decide which is worse: possession – or death.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
How did I get this book: Review copy from the publisher
Format (e- or p-): Print
Over the years, I have made no secret of my adoration for the novels of Frances Hardinge. I wait for every single one of them with bated breath, knowing that wherever the author decides to take me, it will be a journey worth following.
So here we are, with a new release, fresh off the presses, straight into my greedy hands. And just like every one of her books before this, I was transported into a world of wonders.
A Skinful of Shadows is the story of a girl. The story of a country in the throes of Civil War. The way these two stories intersect and diverge from one another. It’s a story about a brother and a sister, a mother and a daughter, a girl who needs to grow up. It has a unique found family, one bear, female spies, ghosts and terrible villains. It is above all, a story about trust and having faith in people.
Makepeace grew up with a dutiful but demanding mother in the house of her aunt’s family. Of her father she never knew anything, except for a heritage she never asked for and which her mother fled away from.
You see, Makepeace has a space within her where ghosts can find a new home. All her life, she has been trained to avoid possession, driven to despair by her mother who locked up her in cemeteries where the ghosts were plentiful and merciless. But keeping them at bay she did – until the day when after a fight, her mother tragically dies and full of guilt and grief, Makepeace makes herself open to the spirit of a… bear.
Now inside of her, Bear causes havoc – and Makepeace often loses track of her mind and her whereabouts. Unable to cope, her family seeks her father’s family – the Fellmotes, an ancient, powerful family – and Makepeace is taken away to the place where people know exactly what to do with someone with a power such as hers. And it’s not pretty.
And for the next three years or so, she will try to escape – with the help of a brother she never knew she had, but whose shared heritage brings them together. But the Fellmotes will not make it easy for them – for the two kids are needed for the very survival of their powerful household. The problem is: their bodies may be indispensable because of their power but who they are – or at least what makes them them – is effectively expendable.
Just like The Lie Tree, A Skinful of Shadows feels like a less extravagant and less fantastical novel because it is deeply rooted in the history of our world. Whereas Hardinge’s earlier novels were firmly set in secondary world fantasies, The Lie Tree was a Victorian mystery and A Skinful of Shadows, a story set in the beginning of the British Civil War.
This doesn’t mean that the fantasy aspects are less significant though – and in here, the side of fantastical is no less elaborate: in fact, it serves the larger plot and it is essential in the formation of Makepeace’s arc. The former lies in the way that the fate of the Fellmotes is intermingled with that of the country and how their actions play a part in the dispute between Parliament and the King. The latter, in how Makepace’s character develops, grows, transforms herself into a courageous young woman. If there is one thing that connects all of the author’s works is this: the principled, strong-willed, dynamic and fierce heroines she creates. Makepeace might not know whose side should be victor in this war, but she never wavers from righting wrongs and she will fight tooth and … claws to save the life of her brother and the lives of those she thinks deserve a second chance.
This goes deep into the character in other ways too: does she deserve a second chance? She doesn’t know but she knows she wants to live. That principle, the urge to live, shapes other characters’ motivations too and the cost can be high. To some is death. To other, losing something far more precious. The allure of power to those who don’t usually have it is looked at with down-to-earth lenses and over and over, Makepeace decides to trust people and to believe them.
She traverses her world – from one camp to another in the midst of one of the worst, most bloody moments in British history with villains chasing her, spies helping her, with fear at her back and hope at her core but always moved by:
“We believe in second chances, for the people who don’t usually get them.”
A Skinful of Shadows is yet another beautiful, multi-layered novel by one of the brightest stars in the YA sky. Highly, highly recommended.
Rating: 9 – Damn Near Perfect
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The post Book Review: A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge appeared first on The Book Smugglers.
Old School Wednesdays is a weekly Book Smuggler feature. We came up with the idea towards the end of 2012, when both Ana and Thea were feeling exhausted from the never-ending inundation of New and Shiny (and often over-hyped) books. What better way to snap out of a reading fugue than to take a mini-vacation into the past?
Logo designed by the wonderful KMont
Lyra is rushing to the cold, far North, where witch clans and armored bears rule. North, where the Gobblers take the children they steal–including her friend Roger. North, where her fearsome uncle Asriel is trying to build a bridge to a parallel world.
Can one small girl make a difference in such great and terrible endeavors? This is Lyra: a savage, a schemer, a liar, and as fierce and true a champion as Roger or Asriel could want.
But what Lyra doesn’t know is that to help on of them will be to betray the other…
Title: The Golden Compass (US) / Northern Lights (UK)
Author: Philip Pullman
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: First published 1995
Paperback: 448 pages
Stand alone or series: First in His Dark Materials series
How did we get this book: Bought
Format (e- or p-): Print
REVIEW & DISCUSSION
This October, The Book of Dust–the first book in a brand new “equal” (not prequel, not sequel) spinoff trilogy, La Belle Sauvage, set in the His Dark Materials world–will reintroduce us to Lyra, Will, and the world of daemons, magic, and science.
With the new book’s release nearly upon us, we decided that it was high time to reread the His Dark Materials books. HOW DID WE FARE?
For this review, we’re approaching things a little differently and answering prompts to thematic questions about the book. If you’re so inclined, we welcome you to also answer the questions and join the conversation!
1.Let’s talk about personal reflection, and how The Golden Compass holds up to the test of time. First impressions: How does the book stack up to the memory and expectation?
Ana: I am so glad we are re-reading His Dark Materials. I first read it in 2004: I had just moved to the UK and I was looking for Fantasy novels similar to The Lord of the Rings (because at that moment in time, it was the one Fantasy reference I had) and I ended up borrowing it from the library. This was in many ways, my gateway into reading contemporary Fantasy, a first taste of YA AND the first novels I read in English. I remember reading it and thinking: wow this is better than The Lord of the Rings. As such, as I was a bit terrified about this re-read. This first book re-read was a mixed bag for me: I still really loved it but found it to be more slow moving that I was expecting? Memory told me The Golden Compass was non-stop action but really, there are very slow moving scenes/info-dump followed by action-packed ones – so in the end, I thought this first book to be rather uneven.
Thea: I actually was introduced to this series through my four-years-younger sister, back around the time I was starting to get into Harry Potter. I’d read The Golden Compass back then (early 2000) and remember enjoying it a bunch… But I didn’t continue the series. It wasn’t until eight years later, just before starting The Book Smugglers, that I rediscovered The Golden Compass and blazed through the series in a frenzy of awe and passion. I loved these books. So, rereading was a big deal–I was terrified that this first book would not hold up (and I had already been burned by that lackluster movie adaptation).
The good news is that The Golden Compass totally holds up. Yeah, it’s a lot of info dumping and yeah, there are things that are handled in clunky fashion. But on the whole? Lyra is still the heroine of my heart.
2. Daemons are badass. What are daemons in your opinion? And what would your daemon be?
Ana: Well, in the book the impression one has is that daemons are a person’s own soul outside their bodies which is really fascinating. The world in which Lyra lives is only one from many and I love the rules build around daemons and the correct way of approaching them (it’s not polite to touch another person’s daemon for example) and how that’s integrated into the worldbuilding and in the relationship between characters. It is also fundamental to the very foundation of the series: it is the understanding of daemons and how they affect children and adults in different ways that move the Church as well as the main antagonists of the novel.
What would my daemon be? Probably some sort of a cat? But one of the fun things about daemons is that sometimes a person has a vision of themselves that don’t correspond to what their daemons are, so maybe a freaking dog?
Thea: I am glad Ana touched on the taboo of touching another’s daemon, and the intimacy of that relationship. Having just recently reread the Harry Potter books, I can’t help but compare these to horcruxes–albeit ones that didn’t require the destruction of a soul, though in spirit they are parts of the soul outside the body. But daemons are cooler, because they are the natural order of things in Lyra’s world (not products of murder) and how cool would it be to have a part of you, that intimately knows everything about you, who you can talk to and confide in, outside of your body? Like Ana, I would like to think my daemon would be some kind of enormous hunting cat, like Lord Asriel’s snow lion (mine would probably be more mountain lion or jaguar). But I would also not be surprised if it was something amphibious, like a frog or a lizard.
3. Let’s look at gender roles specifically in this novel. Why are daemons the opposite gender of their humans, for example? How are Lyra and Melissa Coulter’s roles different than Lord Asriel or Lee Scoresby’s, for example?
Ana: The daemons being the opposite gender to me reads like the ideas of anima and animus from psychology: “in the unconscious of a man, this archetype finds expression as a feminine inner personality: anima; equivalently, in the unconscious of a woman it is expressed as a masculine inner personality: animus.”
However, the gender aspect of the novel seems very fixed and binary and even though I love this world, it also begs the question with regards to other genders and how would their daemons work for trans people, non-binary folks, etc. I don’t think we ever see this at play in the world?
In terms how that divide applies to characters, I see both men and women being equally great and nurturing or equally nasty and ambitious. So equal opportunity for character development.
Thea: I agree that the novel is incredibly, frustratingly binary in its approach to gender and gender roles–I wish there had been some acknowledgement of or development of trans characters, for example, or genderqueer humans and their daemons. As it stands, when I first read the book, I loved the idea that one’s daemon would be “opposite”–but now many years later, I find it limiting, frustrating, and frankly, hurtful in it’s approach to gender.
As for traditional gender roles, however, I do love that Philip Pullman is an equal opportunist, as Ana points out. I think there are similar gender role expectations in Lyra’s world–but damn, don’t Miss Coulter and Lyra break those restrictive buckets.
4. The Golden Compass is full of binary relationships and themes. Whether it be about a woman and her lost overseas father, or the very difference between Lyra’s universe and that of her world’s interdependence on other worlds–there is a lot to unpack here. What’s your understanding of the way that Lyra’s world works?
Ana: I am not sure that the first book delves so much into all the possibilities as yet – giving us only tantalizing morsels of information and most of it is enshrouded in mystery as the characters are purposefully keeping things from Lyra. That is actually one of the most interesting but frustrating aspects of the novel: the nature of what is happening to Lyra, and how it is all moved by an unspoken prophecy that predicts a child will change the world forever but only “if she doesn’t know she is doing it”. Hence, another binary or dichotomy we can discuss is the idea of free will vs destiny: is Lyra really that important and why? The book doesn’t break away from this just yet, the plot moving along to coordinate with this very idea. The bloody, tragic ending just one of the ways that the worldbuilding fucks Lyra up.
Thea: Philip Pullman likes his binary relationships. I noticed this a lot in this first book–but I agree that Lyra is like the centerpiece of a wheel with many outward radiating spokes that represent these binary relationships. There’s her lost father, and her feelings after her world is upended. There’s the intensity of her relationship with Pantalaimon (and the things Pan knows that Lyra does not or only subconsciously notices). There’s the fascinating layered relationship with Miss Coulter, and on and on. The prophecy adds a depth to all of this and enhances these 1:1 relationships–and yes, it’s all SUPER messed up when we get to that horrible silver guillotine and everything else the horrid church and Coulter have been insidiously executing.
5. What’s your favorite thing about the novel?
Ana: JUST THE ONE? I think maybe the witches? I love Serafina even though we only see a bit of her. And also maybe the bears and how Lyra got around tricking them/saving them? I admit this is now two favourites AND ALSO THE ENDING. Ok, three.
Thea: I love the subtle flashes of OTHER WORLDS and the importance of these other universes that we only start to see in this book thanks to the Dust, the alethiometer, and Lord Asriel’s ambition. Well, that and the swing between joy (Lyra riding triumphantly with the mighty Iofur Raknison towards her goal) and horror (what Lyra discovers is actually happening and her father’s obsession).
Ana: Torn between 8 and 9. Will go with 8
Thea: 8 – Excellent and I know it’s only getting better from here, baby.
Now over to you! Please feel free to engage with the questions (and our answers), come up with your own talking points, and/or please leave links to your reviews!
Anand got the toy he most desired for his 8th birthday (a Nintendo Switch) and I am not sure I have ever seen a child so ecstatic. He is trying to play the game (Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild) but is so happy and excited that he keeps getting up and jumping around. He can’t contain himself. He is trying to explain the game to us (he has watched many, many YouTube play through videos about it), and not spoil it for us, but he can’t help giving us hints — ‘the old man isn’t just any old man! Ha ha ha ha ha!!!’ Just now, Kevin went downstairs for something, and Anand ran down a minute later because he had gotten to a particularly exciting bit and he didn’t want Daddy to miss it.
Because yesterday I got to hang out a bit with Alison Moyet, who if you didn’t know is one of my absolute favorite singers, both in Yaz, and with her solo work. We’d become Twitter buddies in the last couple of years and when I mentioned to her Krissy and I would be at her Chicago show she suggested we have a real-life meet. And we did! And it was lovely! And brief, as she had to prepare to entertain a sold-out show (and she did; the concert was excellent), but long enough to confirm that she’s as fabulous in the flesh as she is in her music. Which was not surprising to me, but nice regardless.
(Alison has also blogged about our meet-up as part of her tour journal, which you can find here. Read the entire tour journal, as she’s funny as hell.)
I noted to some friends that I was likely to meet Alison this week and some of them wondered how it would go, on the principle that meeting one’s idols rarely goes as one expects (more bluntly, the saying is “never meet your idols.”) I certainly understand the concept, but I have to say I’ve had pretty good luck meeting people whom I have admired (or whose work I admired). I chalk a lot of that up to the fact that while I was working as a film critic, I met and interviewed literally hundreds of famous people, some of whose work was very important to me. In the experience I got to have the first-hand realization that famous and/or wonderfully creative people are also just people, and have the same range of personalities and quirks as anyone else.
If you remember that when you meet the people whose work or actions you admire, you give them space just to be themselves. And themselves are often lovely. And when they’re not, well, that’s fine too. Alison Moyet, it turns out, is fabulous, and I’m glad we got to meet.
(Which is not to say I didn’t geek out. Oh, my, I did. But I also kept that mostly inside. Krissy found it all amusing.)
Anyway: Great Tuesday. A+++, would Tuesday again.
My box of author's copies arrived. Front looks like this, more or less -- Baen's shiny foil does not scan well.
The back looks like this:
They somehow got the first draft of the cover copy onto this one, and not the final one as it appears on the hardcover jacket flap. That last line was not supposed to be, misleadingly, All About Miles, but rather to put the focus on the book's actual protagonists and plot, and read, "...the impact of galactic technology on the range of the possible changes all the old rules, and Oliver and Cordelia must work together to reconcile the past, the present, and the future."
Ah, well. Most readers (who bother to read the back at all) will figure it out, I expect. Those that don't will be no more confused than usual.
posted by Lois McMaster Bujold on September, 20
The one-day workshop I’m teaching for Clarion West on Sunday, 8 October, is full, but it’s still possible to add a couple of names to the waiting list. Given that there’s almost always a cancellation or two due to the vagaries of life, the first couple of people on that list stand a very good chance of getting in. Apply here for the waiting list.*
The workshop is called What Readers Like—And Why:
Why do readers respond more strongly to some fiction than others? How does a writer immerse a reader into the protagonist’s world and persuade them to feel as the protagonist feels, see what she sees? Using examples, you’ll discuss the neuroscience behind what makes a particular word, sentence, or paragraph more likely to evoke empathy in a reader. Then with writing exercises and discussion you’ll learn how to analyze fiction—yours and others’—to discover how to make it more powerful. Prepare for this workshop with assigned reading and viewing, and come ready to learn how to make your readers’ hearts beat faster.
Only a bit of the workshop will be neuroscience; there’ll be a lot of stuff about genre and reader expectations, about awe and joy and reversals, about the sense of recognition. Also many other things I haven’t figured out yet. Most of it will be learning what makes great fiction gripping, and how to check your own work to make sure you’re enticing your reader rather than repulsing them. So it’s not just about what makes great story but also what makes a reader think, Ugh! and throw the book at the wall. We’re all different, though, so I’m expecting some of the discussion to be, y’know, lively…
One more thing. Until Clarion West commits to a timetable for accessible summer workshops, this will be the last thing I teach for them. This may or may not have any bearing on whether or not you apply.
Today, award-winning author Fran Wilde has a shocking confession to make! About something she said! Here! And yes, it involves her new novel, Horizon. What will this confession be? Will there be regret involved? Are you prepared for what happens next?!?
Dear readers of John Scalzi’s blog, for the past three years, I’ve been keeping secrets.
I’m not sorry.
Trilogies are a delicate thing. They are a community of books unto themselves. They inform and support one another; their themes and actions ripple and impact one another. They have their own set of rules. Among them: Write down the main character’s eye color or favorite food so you don’t forget it. You’ll regret using that hard-to-spell naming convention by the middle of your second book. Destroy something in book one, you’re not going to magically have it to rely on in book three — at least not without some major effort. Everything gathers — each choice, each voice.
Trilogies are, by intent, more than the sum of their parts.
And, when brought together, a trilogy’s largest ideas sometimes appear in the gathered shadows of what seemed like big ideas at the time.
In Updraft, book one of the Bone Universe trilogy, what began to crumble was the system that upheld the community of the bone towers. It didn’t look like it then. So I didn’t tell you when I wrote my first Big Idea.
Instead, the first time I visited this blog, I wrote: “At its heart, Updraft is about speaking and being heard and — in turn — about hearing others…”
That was true – especially in the ways Updraft explored song as memory and singing and voice. But it was also kind of a fib. I knew where the series was headed, and voice was only the tip of the spear.
I planned to return here a year later to write about leadership, and I did — and, I wrote about demagoguery too, and abut having a book come out during a charged political season. That was September 2016, Cloudbound, the second book in the series was just out, and wow, that post seems somewhat innocent and naive now. But not any less important.
Again, saying the big idea in Cloudbound was leadership was true on its face, but it was also a an act of omission. And again, singing came into play — in that songs in Cloudbound were being adjusted and changed, as were messages between leaders.
With Horizon, I’m going to lay it all out there for you. Horizon is about community.
Structurally, Horizon is narrated by several different first person voices — including Kirit, Nat, and Macal, a magister and the brother of a missing Singer. These three voices come from different places in the Bone Universe’s geography, and they weave together to form a greater picture of the world, and its threats. A fourth voice appears only through a song — a new song — that is written during the course of Horizon, primarily by one character but with the help of their community. That song is the thread that ties the voices together, and, one hopes, the new community as well.
And, like Horizon, for me, the big idea for the Bone Universe series is also community. How to defend one, how to lead one, how to salvage as much as you can of one and move forward towards rebuilding it.
In my defense, I did leave some clues along the way. I shifted narrators between Updraft and Cloudbound in order to broaden the point of view and reveal more about the lead characters and the world, both between the books (how Nat and Kirit are seen each by the other vs. how they see themselves), and within them. I shared with readers the history of the bone towers and how that community, and the towers themselves, formed. I showed you the community’s [something] – that their means of keeping records and remembering was based on systems that could be used to both control messages and redefine them. I made the names of older laws and towers much more complicated to pronounce (and, yes, spell SIGH), versus the simpler names for newer things. This community had come together, then grown into something new.
The evolution of singing in the Bone Universe is, much like the idea of community, something that can be seen in pieces, but that resolves more when looked at from the perspective of all three books together.
Remember that solo voice — Kirit’s — singing quite badly that first book? In the second book, Nat’s voice joins Kirit’s — a solo, again, but because we can still hear Kirit, and because we know her, it becomes a kind of duet. In the third book, three voices present separate parts of the story, and when they all come together, that forms a connected whole.
When you listen to a group of people sing, sometimes one voice stands out, then another. Then, when multiple voices join in for the chorus, the sound becomes a different kind of voice. One with additional depth and resonance.
That’s the voice of a community. That drawing together of a group into something that is more than the sum of its parts. It is an opportunity, a way forward, out of a crumbling system and into something new and better.
That’s the big idea.
Hello and a Happy Wednesday to all!
Today, we are proud to be hosting an exclusive excerpt from Weaver’s Lament, an upcoming Tor.com novella by Emma Newman, sequel to the excellent Brother’s Ruin!
Charlotte was certain she was going to die. She’d thought the threat of Royal Society Enforcers was the most terrifying thing she’d ever experienced, but that was nothing compared to travelling by train. Now she understood why her grandmother had always crossed herself whenever anyone mentioned the rapidly expanding rail network.
She’d been fine in the first few minutes of the journey, when the train had pulled away from Euston station in a stately fashion, even excited. She’d looked out on transport sheds and then houses, with a sense of adventure blooming in her chest. It wasn’t so bad; it was bumpy and noisy as the carriage rattled over the rails, but only a little faster than an omnibus. Quite why her father had looked so concerned when he’d helped her into the carriage, she’d had no idea.
Twenty minutes into the journey, as the city thinned and the countryside opened up, the train had built speed until the greenery at the side of the track was a blur. Surely nothing could go so fast and be safe? No wonder her mother had been so put out by Ben’s letter, asking his sister to visit him in Manchester.
“But you’ll have to go on the train!” she’d squawked. “It’s such a long way! Why can’t he come to visit us here?”
“Because he’s not allowed,” Charlotte had replied, reading the letter from her brother again. It seemed like a simple invitation, but the fact that he’d asked only for her made Charlotte nervous. Surely he missed their parents too? She feared he was getting ill again and struggling to cope. After the success of being accepted into the Royal Society of Esoteric Arts, she could imagine his reluctance to admit any weakness, especially considering the exorbitant amount of money they’d paid her family as compensation. She remembered how proud he’d been, even though it had been her magical skill, not his, that had earned him a place in the College of Dynamics and changed their family’s fortune.
“But I thought he wasn’t allowed to see us,” Father had said. “Something must be wrong. I should go with you.”
Charlotte knew Ben would be furious if she brought anyone else with her. “No, Papa, I’ll go by myself. If there was a problem, he’d have been sent home. We’d know about it. He’s probably missing us and can’t risk the entire family going to see him.”
So much concern over one simple invitation, but it was no surprise. They’d all been worrying about him, and with the six-month mark of his training as a magus coming up, they were all afraid that his previous pattern would resurface; he’d last a few months away from home and then fall deathly ill again.
“I’m not sure it’s proper for you to travel alone, Charlotte,” Mother had said. “We’re a respectable family now. We live in the West End. People will talk.”
She’d laughed. “Mother, no one will even notice I’m gone! Even George is too busy to see me this week.”
Her fiancé’s review was on Friday and he was desperate to earn his promotion to registrar. She was certain he’d succeed; the office of Births, Deaths and Marriages could not have a more dedicated clerk. But there was more at stake than his professional pride; he was adamant that they could not marry unless he was earning a decent salary in a secure position. Not even the offer of help from her parents, now very well off thanks to the compensation from the Royal Society for taking Ben, would dissuade him. “It’s a matter of principle, darling,” he’d said to her. “If I cannot provide a good life for my wife right from the start, I don’t deserve to marry.”
Charlotte would have been happy to live in a tiny terraced house back over on the other side of the city, where they used to live before the windfall, but she was willing to be patient. Life in the west of the city was surprisingly different. Her mother was so much happier there—she’d been able to give up sewing—and the house was larger, with a better landlord. But with the improvement of their circumstances came a strange set of ideas that Charlotte simply didn’t share. Her mother seemed to think that living in the West End meant they had to go promenading in the park on Sunday afternoons after church. The colour of their curtains had to be fashionable, they had to have a maid—even though they’d been perfectly fine without one before—and Charlotte had to take care of her reputation. It seemed that taking the train alone would somehow endanger it. Charlotte was certain that her secret career as an illustrator would not fit in with her mother’s ideas about how she should conduct herself, either.
“I will put her on the train at Euston,” Father had said, elbow resting on the large mantelpiece, pipe in hand. “Benjamin will meet her at London Road station in Manchester. The London and North Western railway company has trains that go straight there with no changes. We’ll make sure he knows which train she will be on.”
“I shall go tomorrow,” Charlotte had said. “Then I can be back for Friday, so I can be there for George after his review.”
“That’s settled, then,” Father had said between puffs. It seemed that, for him, their change in fortune had translated to that particular pose and unfortunately smelly habit.
Now she wished her father had come with her, if only just so she would have someone to talk to. She’d brought her sketchbook, handkerchiefs to embroider and some crochet, but was unable to put her hand to any of them. Even though the terror had subsided to a constant tension and a gasp every time the carriage lurched on a corner, it was still too bumpy for her to do anything save look out the window.
Growing accustomed to the speed, Charlotte was getting used to focusing her attention out towards the horizon. It was a beautiful May morning when she left Euston and she was filled with hope as she looked out over the verdant countryside. The hedgerows were flowering, the fresh new leaves on the trees were her favourite shade of pale green and she could see lambs gambolling in the fields. George would be promoted and they would have a spring wedding and it would be perfect. As they sped through the midlands, the sky darkened and the view was obscured by driving rain. At least she was in an enclosed first class carriage. Her grandfather had told her about the old third class carriage he’d travelled in once, open to the elements during a terrible thunderstorm. She shivered at the mere thought of it.
Daydreaming about her wedding and enjoying the view could only keep her fears for Ben at bay for so long. The compartment was relatively small, seating six comfortably, and had its own door. She was lonely, yet always relieved when no one got in to share it with her at a station. She wouldn’t know what to do if a man travelling alone got in with her. She hoped another young woman would share the rest of the journey, providing company without any fear of unwelcome attention, but she was still alone hours later when the train pulled into Crewe. A comfort stop of ten minutes was announced, but she didn’t want to leave her luggage unattended, so she watched the other passengers instead. She was desperate for a cup of tea and a bun, but she decided to wait until she arrived so she could share that with Ben.
Charlotte was just starting to change her mind when she spotted a familiar flash of blond hair against a black satin collar. She jolted in her seat as she realised the man leaving the compartment next to hers was none other than Magus Hopkins, her secret tutor. The sight of him brought the usual tumult of guilt and excitement. The sense of guilt had started months before, when he’d discovered she’d helped to con the Royal Society into thinking her brother was far more magically gifted than he was. It was a permanent emotion now, reinforced every time they met in secret, even though it was only so he could teach her how to control her own ability without turning wild.
Charlotte watched him stride towards the station café along with many other passengers. Her heart pounded, as it always did when she saw him. She scowled at the back of his burgundy frock coat, silently cursing the perfection of his silhouette. Like every time she saw him, she was seized by the desire to draw him. Charlotte knew she must never give in to it. Bad enough that she even considered it.
When Hopkins was out of sight, she leaned back so he wouldn’t be able to see her through the window of her carriage when he returned to the train. Had he followed her? Surely not! She’d left a note in the usual hiding place, explaining that she couldn’t meet him that week, but hadn’t said anything about the reason why.
A knock on the window made her jump and she felt her face flush red when she saw a burgundy velvet cuff. She pulled the window down as Magus Hopkins doffed his top hat to her.
“Why, Miss Gunn, it is you!” he said with a cheery smile. “What an extraordinary coincidence!”
“Indeed,” she said, trying to hide her delight at seeing his face by frowning most deeply. “What brings you to Crewe?”
“Oh, I’m going to Manchester,” he said, patting his hat back into place. “My compartment is next to yours. We’ve been neighbours all the way from Euston, it would seem.”
She folded her arms. “Magus Hopkins, this is too much of a coincidence for me to bear. Why have you followed me?”
His eyebrows shot up behind the brim of his hat. “Followed you? Quite the contrary, Miss Gunn. I’ve been invited to assist with the design of a new clock tower. The Manchester Reform Club has proposed something quite ambitious.”
It sounded plausible enough; his specialisation in the Fine Kinetic arts was the design of efficient timepieces. The Royal Society held the Queen’s charter for the maintenance, measurement and accuracy of nationalised timekeeping, necessitated by the rise in popularity of the railways. Now that the country could be crossed in a matter of hours, localised time at individual towns and cities was no longer acceptable. The trains, in turn, were a product of research funded by the College of Thermaturgy, and one of their magi would be at the front of the train now, using Esoteric arts to keep the boiler at exactly the right temperature. Between the three colleges of the Royal Society, England—and indeed, the Empire—were evolving at an astounding rate.
No matter how plausible the reason, Charlotte didn’t believe him. But then she considered how she was simply one secret in his life, not the centre of it. She doubted that her comings and goings were of as much interest to him as he was to her. She shouldn’t be so vain.
“May I ask what takes you to the North, Miss Gunn?”
She couldn’t tell him the real reason. Ben could get into trouble if his supervisors knew he’d written to her. “I’m visiting a relative,” she said. “My aunt. Vera. My aunt Vera.”
His lip twitched in that maddening, charming way it did whenever he disbelieved her. “Oh, really? I confess, when I spotted you on the way to the café, I was certain you’d be on your way to visit your brother. He’s been assigned to a mill in Manchester, has he not?”
That was more than she knew. “I have no idea,” she replied truthfully. “Apprentices aren’t permitted to disclose their whereabouts to relatives, as you know.”
“Shame,” Hopkins said, glancing down the platform as other passengers started to return to their compartments. “I’ve heard some rather alarming rumours about a couple of the cotton mills there. It would have been interesting to know if there was any truth to them.”
He waved a hand, dismissively. “All hearsay, no doubt. But of course, it’s of no relevance to your dear aunt.”
The twinkle in his eye infuriated her. Must he always tease her so? “If my brother were—purely hypothetically—serving his apprenticeship in one of those mills, would he be in danger?”
“I would not be content if someone I loved were involved in their operation.”
She bit her lip. She knew he was steering her again, as was his wont, but she couldn’t let her pride interfere when it came to Ben’s safety. “Please, Magus Hopkins, if there’s something I should know about my brother’s apprenticeship, do tell me. Is this Ledbetter’s doing? Is it something to do with that awful cage he was involved in?”
Magus Ledbetter was the one who had recruited her brother into the College of Dynamics, an odious man whose marque was embossed on a cage that killed debtors. With the help of Magus Hopkins, she’d been able to save her father from that fate, but not her brother from Ledbetter’s clutches. As much as she feared for Ben’s health away from home, she also feared that Ledbetter would corrupt his gentle heart.
Hopkins became serious. “The mills are the province of the College of Dynamics, you understand. They wouldn’t appreciate the likes of me knowing about any difficulties they may have, let alone my telling another.”
Charlotte slid to the edge of her seat, closing the distance between them. “You said that we would work together, rooting out the likes of Ledbetter and his despicable activities. If there is anything like that cage happening where my brother is apprenticed I insist you tell me.”
“He’s asked you for help, hasn’t he?”
She looked away, torn. “He’s asked me to visit,” she confessed. “He didn’t say anything in the letter, but he asked only for me. I’m very worried.”
He nodded, satisfied with the truth. She hated breaking her brother’s confidence, but Hopkins had not let her down yet. “There have been several unusual accidents that can’t be ascribed to mechanical failure nor to human error. The accounts that have reached me speak of something sinister at play and—”
“Is this gentleman bothering you, Miss?”
Charlotte leaned back as the station guard came into view. “Thank you for your concern, but we are acquainted.”
The guard doffed his cap at both her and Hopkins. “Begging your pardon, sir, Miss, but I like to keep an eye out for any young ladies travelling alone.”
“Most considerate of you,” Hopkins said. “I was simply doing the same.”
“The train will be moving on shortly,” the guard said. “May I suggest you return to your compartment, sir?”
Hopkins doffed his hat to Charlotte again. “I wish you a very pleasant stay in Manchester, Miss Gunn.” He looked as if he were about to go, but reconsidered. “And mark my words, Miss Gunn. You are likely to see things in Manchester that will upset you, and possibly test even a saint’s temper. Best to keep your mind on higher things.”
He was warning her to be mindful of his teachings and remember her own marque. As an untrained latent magus, the risk of turning wild was omnipresent for her. In the months that had passed since Ben’s test, she knew she was getting more powerful, and Hopkins had confirmed as much. He had taught her the technique her brother would also have learned to manage his ability. Like all the magi, she’d developed her own personal symbol, what the Royal Society referred to as a “marque.” It was meaningful only to her, and focusing upon it helped to rein in her latent ability. It would also, in time, mean that she’d be able to influence objects at a distance, even out of her sight.
She wanted to ask Hopkins to come into the compartment with her so they could continue the conversation, but she didn’t dare do something so scandalous in front of the guard. Besides, Ben was meeting her at the station, and if he met her straight of the train, he’d recognise Hopkins. They’d met when Ben was tested. All she could do was give a faint smile and say, “Thank you, Magus Hopkins. I will bear that in mind.”
The guard saw Hopkins to his compartment and gave her a kindly smile as he walked off down the platform. Charlotte wished she’d gotten that cup of tea after all. She needed one now more than ever.
The crowded platform at London Road station was both a blessing and a curse. It reduced any chance that Ben might have had to spot Hopkins, but it also made it very difficult for her to be seen, too.
It was easy to pick Ben out in the crowd, as he stood at least a foot taller than many of the men there. But no matter how much she waved at him, he simply didn’t see her. She dragged her bag from her compartment and stood on it, taking off her bonnet to flap it at him. At last, he waved at her and made his way over, cutting through the crowd like a tea clipper.
He picked her up and span her around. “Charlie Bean!” he cheered. “Oh, I am so very glad to see you!”
“Put me down, silly!” Charlotte laughed, worried that far too much of her petticoat lace was in plain sight. She beamed up at him when he put her down.
He looked so well! Better than she’d ever seen him, in fact. His gaunt cheeks had filled out and even taken on a rosy hue. His dark brown hair was shining, his sideburns and moustache neatly clipped, his back straight. The coat hanger quality of his shoulders had gone and he filled out his shirt and frock coat with a broad chest. His arms had felt strong when he’d picked her up. He was the very picture of health.
“How was the journey?”
“Terrifying,” she said, and he chuckled. “It improved once I got used to it. Could you wave that porter over?”
“No need,” he said, picking up her bag as if it contained tissue paper. “There are splendid tearooms down the road. Are you thirsty?”
“Parched,” she said, tucking her hand into the crook of his elbow. “It’s so lovely to see you again!”
Charlotte clung to him as he led her through the crowd, Hopkins nowhere to be seen in the throng of passengers. They passed happy reunions and tearful farewells, until at last they made it out onto the street.
Ben disentangled himself from her. “I’m afraid we shouldn’t be seen to be close, out on the street,” he said. “Sorry, Charlie, I quite forgot myself there. I shouldn’t have embraced you like that. Not in public.”
She looked around them, but no one seemed to be paying any attention. “I understand,” she said.
Out on the street, the red-bricked buildings made her feel a world away from the fine Georgian stone and grey bricks of London. The street was pulsing with people and the thoroughfare was clogged with horse-drawn carriages and omnibuses. The skyline was dominated by mills several storeys high, mixed with rows of workers’ cottages and slums. The smell was most unpleasant, and Charlotte couldn’t help but think of miasma. Only two years before, thousands had died here from cholera.
Despite the overcrowding and filth of the city, she was happy to be there. It was such a relief to see Ben well. The ominous comments Hopkins had made about the mills seemed irrelevant now. Ben seemed full of confidence and people moved out of their way as he approached. He wore the red-and-black-striped cravat of a Dynamics apprentice, and those who noticed it stared at him as they passed with looks of envy, fear, and respect. How different it was from the last time they’d walked down a street together and she’d had to practically carry him home. This time she was hurrying to keep up.
She was glad when he guided her towards the doors of the Heywood Tea Rooms. “You must try an Eccles cake,” he said as he held the door open for her. “They are quite extraordinary.”
It was a very large establishment, filled with tables covered in crisp white linen waited on by pretty women in smart uniforms. Along the back wall, there were private booths. Charlotte suspected they were the reason he’d brought her here. When Ben asked one of the waitresses to seat them in the one in the far corner, she was certain of it.
He ordered tea for two and Eccles cakes for both of them.
“Mother and Father send their love,” she said, watching him cast an eye over the room and the rest of the patrons.
Relaxing, Ben gave her his full attention. “Did they make a fuss about you coming to visit?”
“Of course. They’re both well. George, too—he has his review for promotion on Friday. We’re hoping for a spring wedding. And there’s going to be another collection by the author of Love, Death and Other Magicks and I’ve been commissioned to illustrate it. That’s all my news, now you tell me everything!”
The waitress arrived with their order and Ben waited until she’d left again. He sighed at the way Charlotte prodded the Eccles cake. “It’s got lots of currants inside. You’ll like it.”
“When you said ‘cake’ I was expecting a sponge, not something covered in flaked pastry.” She stirred the teapot. “When I got your letter I was worried you’d fallen ill again.”
“I’ve never felt better.”
The first pour from the pot was enough to tell her it hadn’t brewed long enough. She nibbled at the edge of the pastry and took a larger bite, weathering his “I told you so” expression with as much grace as she could muster. She looked at him expectantly, deciding not to say another word until he started talking.
Instead, he stirred the teapot, too, and then poured for both of them. She took another bite and looked at the rest of the tearooms. Perhaps everything was actually just fine, and she’d got herself into a stew over nothing.
“Charlie, I need your help.”
Perhaps not. She looked at him, at his healthy glow, and saw genuine worry in his eyes. “Tell me what’s wrong.”
“It’s all been going so well,” he said. “I was so nervous when I left home, I didn’t eat for the first couple of days. But then I made a friend, and I settled in and . . . it’s difficult, dear heart; we’re not really supposed to tell an outsider about anything we do.”
Outsider? The word stung. She pushed the feeling down as best she could. “I understand. Has something gone wrong? Is it your friend?”
“No, no, nothing like that. It was very difficult at the start, I won’t lie. I struggled terribly but then I had a real breakthrough, and since then I’ve been doing so well, Charlie. Ledbetter says I’m one of the most promising students he’s had for years. Oh, don’t look like that! Surely you’re not still harbouring that grudge against him!”
“He is not a good man,” she said firmly.
“Is this some nonsense about him taking me away from you?”
“Oh, what rot! I’m not a child, Ben!”
“Then tell me what you have against him!”
She picked up her teacup, knowing she could never tell him about that awful debtor’s cage. It would put him in an impossible position, and she couldn’t risk his success. Now that the Royal Society had recruited him, he could never leave. She wasn’t prepared to make his life there a misery, and it would be, if he knew what his mentor was really like. “It’s just a feeling I have,” she finally said, hating the insipid statement. “You’ve been doing well,” she said, trying to bring him back on topic, if only to take the look of exasperation from his face. “So why did you send for me? Are you lonely? Homesick?”
He shook his head, clearly struggling to confess his troubles. He was such a loyal soul. It didn’t stop her from wanting to shake him until he spat it all out, though. She took out her frustration on the cake instead.
“I’ve been apprenticed to a cotton mill,” he finally said, “and it’s been going very well. Very well indeed.”
“Darling”—she reached across to hold his hand—“you don’t have to keep saying that.”
He sighed. “I don’t want you to think I can’t cope. I can, I swear it. In fact, I’ve never been happier.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Ben! Just tell me!”
He pulled his hand back and leaned forwards to whisper over the teapot. “There have been a few . . . incidents at the mill. Not on my shifts, I hasten to add. Looms have been destroyed and none of the witnesses are willing to tell us who did it. They’re all covering something up.”
“Have you spoken to Ledbetter about it?”
“I tried. He just kept brushing me off. I’m only an apprentice, Charlie. No one listens to me and no one explains anything to me except exactly what I need to know.”
“It sounds like it’s all out of your hands.”
“If only it were that simple. I’m being put up to the next level of apprenticeship, which means I won’t just be working the line shaft, I’ll be supervising the running of the mill as a whole. Ledbetter has a system, you see, to push the best apprentices to the top faster. I’ve been chosen as one of the final two. Myself and another apprentice, Paxton, are going to be competing against each other. I cannot risk one of these incidents happening when I’m responsible for the mill.”
“Is there no one you can confide in? Is that why you asked me to come?”
He poured more tea. “No, that’s not it. Charlie, it’s more complicated than that. We believe the looms are being destroyed by saboteurs.”
“Like the Luddites? Darling, all of that stopped well before we were born!”
“Not Luddites, trade unionists. And more than that, socialists.” He looked around the tearoom again, lowering his voice further. “There are secret organisations springing up all over the country, determined to wreak havoc. They hate the Royal Society and want to destroy us. They argue that we have too much power and that parliament values the needs of the Royal Society above those of the common man. It’s dangerous, Charlie. Sedition, that’s what it is. And I’m convinced they have a secret group working at the mill. They have a great number of sympathisers among the workforce, and that’s why none of them will out the culprits.”
Want to destroy us . . . His words widened the gap between them. Sedition? Socialists? It sounded more like sensationalism to her. Was the pressure getting to him? “Darling, is there something you want me to do? I can’t see how I can help.”
He lifted the pot to pour tea before realising he’d only just done that. She steeled herself. What was he finding so difficult to say?
“Charlie, I need you to come and work at the mill.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I need you to pretend you’re not my sister and just be one of them. One of the workers. I need someone on the inside, and you’re so kind and people open up to you so easily.”
“Good lord! You want me to be a spy?”
He twitched and looked around the room yet again. No one was sitting close enough to them to listen in. “Keep your voice down! I wouldn’t ask if it weren’t absolutely imperative. Please, Charlie. None of them will talk to me because I’m a magus. Ledbetter has said that if neither Paxton nor I root out the saboteurs, he’ll consider us to be socialist sympathisers. Paxton is a snake, and I am certain he’s already trying to pin it all on me. I caught him going through the drawers in my room the other day. He didn’t take anything but it’s clear he aims to win this round and be fully qualified, no matter the cost.” He reached across the table and took her hands. She was shocked to feel them shaking. “Charlie . . . if Paxton pins the socialist problem on me, Ledbetter will have me prosecuted for aiding and abetting sedition.”
“But that’s utterly ridiculous! Why waste a good apprentice on such an exercise when it isn’t your fault?”
“Because he has to make an example. And he has to get to the bottom of it all. Threatening us with transportation is an excellent motivator. In Ledbetter’s opinion, anyway.”
Charlotte felt sick. “Transportation? To Australia?”
He nodded, just as pale-faced as she was. “I doubt I would survive the voyage. You know how sickly I used to be. Packed into a boat with criminals rife with disease, I’d be done for.”
“Shush,” she said, squeezing his hands. “It doesn’t bear thinking about.” Her misgivings about being a spy faded into insignificance, now that she understood the threat to him.
“You’re the only person I can trust completely to tell me who is responsible for the sabotage. I have to root them out, Charlie, before Paxton finds a way to pin it all on me. If I win this round, Ledbetter will pass me for full qualification. Paxton won’t be able to touch me. And when I’m fully qualified, I’ll be able to apply for funding to build my own mill, with his support. Then I can earn enough money to support you and Mother and Father.”
“I don’t need you to support me. I’ll have George.”
Ben leaned back. “You haven’t told him, then. About your gift.”
She dabbed at her lips with her napkin. “I am not going to discuss that with you. I have everything under control. I’ll help, darling, of course I will. But I have heard some horrible stories about mills . . .”
“The London rags exaggerate things terribly,” he said. “And it won’t be for more than a couple of days. You’re such a good judge of character, you’ll spot who the ringleader is quickly, I’m sure you will.”
“So now I’m a good judge of character? Even though you don’t believe me about Ledbetter?” There was a long pause, long enough for her to regret her tone. “I’m sorry,” she said. “This is all a bit of a shock. I thought I was going to have nurse you back to health, not go and work in a mill.”
“I know this is horribly selfish of me,” Ben said. “But I’m desperate, Charlie. Help me to find the ringleader, and I’ll make sure you’ll never want for anything ever again.”
She tutted at him. “I won’t help you for financial gain, you fool. I’ll do it because I love you.”
His relief brightened his whole face. She could see how much it weighed upon him. “Thank you, dear heart, thank you. I promise it won’t be for more than a couple of days. I’ll take care of all the arrangements. Let’s have supper somewhere first, though, shall we?”
Charlotte nodded, feeling bad that she’d made him think she’d only agreed out of love for him. Hopkins said something strange was happening at the mills, and he’d made it sound like something esoteric, rather than political. She was determined to find something that could be used against Ledbetter, something she could take to Hopkins so they could build a case. The hope that it would impress her handsome tutor had nothing to do with it whatsoever.
Copyright © 2017 by Emma Newman
About the Author
EMMA NEWMAN writes dark short stories and science fiction and urban fantasy novels. Between Two Thorns, the first book in Emma’s acclaimed Split Worlds urban fantasy series, was shortlisted for the British Fantasy Awards for Best Novel and Emma was nominated for Best Newcomer. Her latest novel is Planetfall.Emma is a professional audio book narrator and also co-writes and hosts the Hugo-nominated podcast ‘Tea and Jeopardy’ which involves tea, cake, mild peril and singing chickens. Her hobbies include dressmaking and role playing games.
Weaver’s Lament is out October 17 2017 from Tor.com.
Hello everybody! We are literally half way through our campaign at literally 50% – what BEAUTIFUL symmetry.
We have added new rewards – and there is only one of each and once they are gone, they ARE GONE! There are signed copies of Maureen Johnson’s upcoming new book Truly, Devious; Provenance, the new upcoming book from Ann Leckie, the two Heroine books by Sarah Kuhn, and lots more.
We also added a super new upper level reward for super fans of Megan Whalen Turner and it includes all of her books in the new covers which will be signed for the person who get its PLUS a signed map of the Queen’s Thief World. AND all of the short stories we ever publish and will publish in 2018 added to the pack. Go over there to check it out!
With a huge thank you for your support so far and a LET’S DO THIS THING cry for help, we are
~your friendly neighborhood book smugglers
Sheena (our fearless leader at The Lesbian Talk Show) was chatting with me on facebook about how I write characters, after the review of Mother of Souls came out at The Lesbian Review (her other project), and it ended up turning into an interview for her series The Write Stuff. So here you can listen to me talking about my approach to creating three-dimensional characters and how I let the characters themselves shape their stories. Plus, you get the very very short version of "stapling the octopus to the wall".
TFW the street construction worker comes to your door to ask if you know who owns the car they’re about to tow, and you’re really glad you have a robe hanging nearby that you can grab.
A little groggy this morning, with a super-scratchy throat — oh, hello, first cold of the season. Right on schedule.
Things to work on:
– Patreon — Chris tried to schedule a few posts yesterday, but we had a string of technical difficulties — trouble connecting his computer (fixed, eventually), trouble editing photos (fixed, eventually), and even trouble cut-and-pasting (bizarre). We did eventually manage to schedule a post to go out at 9 a.m. this morning, we’ll see how that works. I feel a little weird that the Patreon content is basically all the same content I’m posting here already, but I figure FB’s strange algorithms mean that there’s no guarantee anyone reading here will actually see anything I post anyway — with Patreon, you definitely will.
I’m going to go ahead and set up the remaining posts for the week for him now — I already sent him the fiction post for Wednesday; I’m going to write up the curried potato salad recipe for Thursday; I’ll send him another fiction post for Friday, I have a plan for the knitting post for Saturday, and I have a writing prompt ready to go for Sunday. There was a while when I was working on a book about writing and identity, so I have a half-dozen exercises prepped from that. It’d be nice to do more with that project; we’ll see.
– bulbs — it rained last night, and I have some alliums (caeruleum, schubertii, gladiator) to get in the ground — I’m not going to bother with cayenne, I think, because alliums are sufficiently stinky on their own that the squirrels and bunnies should leave them alone
– course prep and grading; about an hour of each. I have some student meetings before teaching today too, so a longish day on campus. Best get going — turning off FB now, so I’m not tempted.