Tuesday, 30 October 2012

TRILOGY BOOK #2 - FINISHED!

Well, not really finished. The first draft is, though, and is printed out and waiting impatiently in its sealed blue plastic case on the cushion on the rocking chair in the corner of the writing cave. It'll be staying there for the next two weeks while I gorge myself on new books, Season 4 of Castle, and sushi. Hopefully when that fortnight is up, I'll have enough distance to be able to revise it and improve it a bit before sending it off to Wonder Editor and Super Agent.

In the meantime: Whoooooooot!

Interesting facts about Book #2 of The As Yet Unnamed Trilogy (subject to change at the whim or myself or Wonder Editor):

The book has a title.

The title of the book is also the title of the final chapter.

The final chapter is eleven pages long.

The first word of the book is 'stealing'.

The final word of the book is 'home'.

For the first half of that final chapter, I was listening to the piece of music called 'Courtyard Apocalypse' from the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two sound track.

For the second half, I was listening to 'The Moment I Knew' from Taylor Swift's new album Red.

I listened to 'The Moment I Knew' twenty-three times before I was finished.

I cried for approximately three and a half hours while writing that chapter (which was not the whole day, but pretty much the whole afternoon).

Even though I call this the first draft, technically it's the third. That's because I write everything longhand in my notebook first, then type it up, revising as I go. And each day, before I start writing in my notebook, I read the day before's work and edit it again. This means that by the time Wonder Editor and Super Agent actually get to see it, it's really on the fourth draft. Which is sobering, when I consider how many drafts Wonder Editor and I normally go through...

In Other News! I'm very much hoping that I'm going to get to see the cover of The Night Itself soon, and that I'll be able to share it soon after that, along with the new series name (because it's not actually called The As Yet Unamed Trilogy, guys, okay?).

I think that's it for today, my lovelies! See you all for - I think - a writing related post on Thursday.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

RETROTUESDAY: WHO DESERVES A HAPPILY EVER AFTER?

Hi guys! Happy Tuesday to all. I'm working on a reader question post for Thursday, but today I felt it was a good time to unearth an essay that I wrote last year (mainly because I've come across yet another review which raised the same issues). So sit back, relax, and enjoy the ranty stylings of:

RetroTuesday: 
WHO DESERVES A HAPPILY EVER AFTER?

Over the weekend I got a Google Alert to tell me that an early review of Shadows on the Moon had appeared on a blog. I checked it out and the review was generally positive and had lots of nice things to say about the book, but despite this it caused me to nearly fall off the sofa in utter horror at two issues the reviewer raised.

I'm not going to name the blog or provide a link. For a start, I don't want to cause a dogpile. More importantly, I know that the reviewer has the absolute right to think and say whatever she wants. In many ways, her opinion on my book is none of my business. I have no problem with her at all, and I don't take issue with her review.

My horror had its origin in the sudden sinking sensation that the points the blogger raised were going to come up again. And again. And yet again. We live in a prejudiced world full of unfair assumptions and privilege, and when I wrote Shadows on the Moon I didn't think about any of that. I just wrote what I wanted and needed to write. My horror came from the realisation that we live in a world where people can still make statements which I feel betray a terrible lack of understanding for those different from them, without any apparent consciousness of the fact. If these points are going to end up being common in the discussion of the book - and I feel worried that they will - then I really want to make a definitive statement about them now.

The first thing that slapped me in the face was the language used to describe Otieno, the male main character in the story. Otieno is a member of a diplomatic party visiting the heroine's country from a foreign land. He's highly educated, softly spoken, funny and intelligent. He is emotionally articulate, polite, loves music and is an accomplished archer. The reviewer acknowledged much of this. Yet they still used the terms 'exotic' and 'savage' to describe him.

Why?

I bet you've already guessed. Otieno is black.

I think any regular reader of the blog will know how I feel about writing books that reflect the beautiful diversity of the real world, especially in fantasy (if not, go here, you'll soon get it). Shadows on the Moon is set in a faerytale version of Japan, so the vast majority of the characters are what we in the Western world would describe as 'Asian' in appearance. I created Otieno and his family to provide a contrast to this mono-ethnic world. I also created them to provide a contrast to the heroine Suzume's repressed, rigid, emotionally barren life. Otieno is, in many ways, the heroine's moral compass within the story.

I want to make it clear: Otieno is not 'savage'. Animals are savage. He is not exotic. Fruit is 'exotic'. Those terms are what is known as 'othering' language - language which isolates and alienates people, which subtly portrays them as less human, just because they are different to you. This is not okay. When you discuss characters of colour, please consider this.

Now we come to the second point which disturbed me: the attitude to mental illness.

The blogger very rightly picked up on the fact that Suzume suffers with depression throughout most of the book, and her ways of dealing with this are often self-destructive. No one who had been through the ordeal the heroine had by the age of fourteen could escape without suffering deep emotional trauma. Especially not if they had any vestiges of control wrenched out of their hands and were then forced to repress all their emotions about what had happened. I think it's also clear that Suzume's mother had depressive tendencies and passed these onto her daughter (just as my mother passed depressive tendencies onto me, and her mother passed them to her). To be fair, the reviewer had no problem with this.

What she did have a problem with? Was that Suzume was not cured of this depression by the end of the book. The blogger said she found it hard to believe in Suzume's future happiness because her depression was not fully 'addressed'. She wanted to know that Suzume would 'prevail' over her self destructive behaviour.

Look. This...I don't even know how to express how wrong this is. But it is sadly representative of a strong underlying assumption made by many neurotypical people (and, in fact, many people who themselves have mental health problems): that mental illness is a kind of fatal flaw in the personality, a stain on the character, an inescapable shadow on the life of the afflicted person. That it must surely be impossible for anyone to live a normal life if they're, you know, a bit cuckoo, and that in order for a fictional character to complete their story arc, they must throw off their mental illness and take their place among the normal people.

*No.*

PEOPLE WITH MENTAL ILLNESS DESERVE HAPPILY EVER AFTERS.

There is no cure for depression - not even in this day and age. Sometimes it goes away on its own, and sometimes you suffer with it periodically for your whole life. Sometimes it's as mild as feeling sad and low for no reason and sometimes it's as extreme as feeling that all you want is to kill yourself. And guess what? Millions of people live with it. I do. That doesn't mean we can't be happy, or that we need to be in limbo until we somehow figure out a way to escape from our mental illness. It doesn't mean the only worthwhile stories about us need to be stories of finding a mythical cure for the way our brains work instead of stories of having adventures *despite* our mental health issues.

And here's another fact: people who self harm also deserve happy endings. They can HAVE a happy ending even if, now and again, they may revert to self-harming again during times of stress.

How can these issues be addressed? How can a character prevail over their depression and their tendency to self harm? Well, they can take control of their own life as much as possible. They can isolate the things that trigger depression and work on that. They can make the decision to try to resist self-destructive behaviours. It's not a dramatic-flash-of-light-chorus-of-angels kind of thing. It's an ongoing process, and it's hard. This is what Suzume decides to do at the end of Shadows on the Moon. Because there is no super-special-awesome-sparkly cure for mental illness or self-harm. And the young adults who are going through similar trials in their own lives KNOW THIS.

How much of a cop-out would it have been for me to show my character shrugging off her trauma and suffering like an old cloak and skipping away with unalloyed, undamaged happiness at the end of all she had been through?

Just what message would that have given to anyone reading the book who has a mental illness? 'Get over it or you'll never get a happily ever after?'

You know what? Imma say it again:

PEOPLE WITH MENTAL ILLNESS DESERVE HAPPILY EVER AFTERS.

So do people with scars and disabilities (which is why Zira and Sorin don't get magically healed at the end of Daughter of the Flames)! So do all kinds of people who are not perfect, normal, typical and beautiful. So do people who have made mistakes, done awful things, and hope one day to redeem themselves. So do people who are lost and lonely or isolated or 'othered' by the society where they dwell.

These are the people that Shadows on the Moon was written for. And to them I offer a big virtual hug, and a virtual cookie, and the assurance that there are people out there who do understand. You are not alone.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

FINALE FEAR

Hi everyone! Today's post is about a new writing experience I have just discovered: Finale Fear.

Finale Fear is sort of a new thing for me, and I think it's because right now I am writing Book #2 of the As Yet Unnamed Trilogy. Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up (will I ever get tired of quoting The Princess Bride? Probably not!).

Normally when I come to write the finale of any book I am so excited about finally getting there, finally getting to the end - usually writing one of the first scenes I ever envisioned for the story - that I get swept along on this tide of euphoria. It's an amazing feeling that often produces some of my best writing, and it lasts until about half an hour after I've typed The End, at which point I get a bit tearful and need chocolate and Taylor Swift or possibly Katy Perry.

Anyway, the point is: I love writing endings. Normally. The only exception to this was the end of FrostFire, for reasons which people who have read FrostFire will probably understand.

Now, the ending of The Night Itself was no exception to this. Long-time readers may remember that my Finale Euphoria was so strong that I wrote the whole thing (nearly 9,000 words of it!) in a single mammoth session one Sunday, and that I had to ice my hand afterwards because my hand kind of swelled up and went all stiff.

But somehow, the ending to Book #2, which I will be starting as of tomorrow, is freaking me out.

Maybe it's the fact that I love the ending of The Night Itself so much. Because I do. Something magical happened during my insane writing frenzy that Sunday and for the first time in my life the stuff that ended up on the page? Actually matched the stuff in my head. Which may sound really crazy but I know the writers out there get what I mean. That *never* happens. Except this one time it DID. It might never happen to me again, so I cherish the experience - but it does mean that future finales have a lot to live up to.

Or maybe it's because the events of this finale are huge, dramatic and emotional and yet - because there is another book to come - they aren't really the *end* of this story. Obviously plenty of threads need to be left lying loose or there would be nothing left to happen in Book #3. With The Night Itself I don't think the fact that I was writing a trilogy had quite sunk in yet. After spending the last ten months editing The Night Itself and drafting Book #2 at the same time? It has now definitely sunk in. So even though I'm going to put everything I have into writing this finale, some tiny part of my brain is not seeing it as a proper ending, and is refusing to give me my delicious euphoria.

But whatever the reason, now that I'm looking at the final 10,000 words of so of my book, instead of Finale Euphora, I have Finale Fear. Oh, the FEAR. It is not delicious at all.

Cross your fingers for me, my lovelies! I need all the help I can get.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

A QUESTION OF BOYS ONLY

Hello, Dear Readers, and a very happy Tuesday to you all.

Today we're tackling a question from the comments in response to the WOMEN DOMINATE? post. It goes as follows:
...I know of a school library that opened up a Boys' Zone in the corner of the library. Like, a place only for boys, where there are books that the school believes may be good for boys only. So I felt that I should tell YOU about this, because I wanted to hear your opinion on this. Should a school be doing this? Opening up a 'boy zone' in the corner of their library, making an impression that it is only 'cool' for boys to read those specific books? What do you think?
Commenter, you are not alone. I have heard of several schools and libraries who have been trying to encourage boys to read in this fashion.

So what do I think of it? Well, I think it's great that schools and libraries are trying to remove the stigma of reading - the idea that it's boring, or nerdy, or something you have to endure 'for your own good' like a dose of Cod Liver Oil - and present books to young men as a source of fun and excitement. Because I believe that reading can and should be both of those things.

Unfortunately, I not think that segregated reading areas is going to achieve this. In fact, I think it's tackling the problem pretty much exactly backwards, and it's likely to do a lot more harm than good.

From here on out, commenter, I will address my reply to the people who have come up with this scheme, rather than you, just so that I can argue to the best of my ability.

I laid out the reasons that I believe boys drift away from reading in adolescence in great detail in my previous post so I'm not going to go through all that again. But the simple fact is that by making a special Boys Only area in a library and banning girls from that area, you are just deepening young men's impression that the female of the species is 'other'. What other impression would they get, when all the authority figures in this scenario (librarians, teachers, parents) are endorsing this view by their actions?

In your Boys only area 'girl books' - eg. books which have female authors, which deal with traditionally feminine subject matters, or which simply have prominent female characters - are excluded. This means that you are creating a special new library just for the young men. But what kind of library?

A library which offers them only a male perspective on life? A library full of books that reinforce only traditional western ideas of what it is to be male? A library which, by excluding feminine stories, tacitly confirms that they are not worthy of inclusion - and that to be interested in them is somehow wrong? A library that represents only 50% of the human race, but pretends that this is somehow entirely sufficient?

Men already dominate our literary tradition. We know this. The majority of the 'classics' that we study in school are by men, men get the majority of sales, of awards, of critical attention. But now, to take that a step further and create a new library within the library, a library within which any books tainted by the feminine are simply not allowed to exist? A library where it is assumed that anything so inferior as to be written by a woman, or about a woman, or preferred by women, is simply unnecessary?

What kind of a library is that?

In my opinion, it's not a library at all.

Segregating boys in this way may indeed make them feel special and privileged. But boys and men are already treated as special and privileged in this society. That is why they refuse to touch books written by women, starring women, or popular with women. In telling them that it is perfectly OK and natural for them to scorn the feminine, that women and girls and the stories and viewpoints of women and girls can and should be ignored, you are simply reinforcing that message of privilege which has been broadcast at them since birth by everything from toy displays in the shops to films, TV, magazines and advertising.

Is it possible to believe that this bombardment will achieve anything other than to deepen young men's prejudice and contempt for female authors and readers? It is possible to believe that while this huge barrier of privilege exists - that while young men are not only able but encouraged to live inside a Boys Only Zone, and treat the mere idea of empathy for women and girls with scorn - that they will grow up to be passionate and wide-ranging readers, who treasure the knowledge and sense of discovery that books offer?

I very much doubt it. Why would they ever want to come out from behind that wall and embrace scary new ideas and information, once they're firmly entrenched in a space where they are the centre of the universe?

Let's stop and think for a moment. You've created your Boys Only Zone. It's pretty small, just a corner. So now 85% of the library is for everybody, and 15% is Boys Only (or whatever percentage it works out to). Do you really believe that having created a special area just for them, the boys will now ever be persuaded out of it? Do you think they will be caught dead in the rest of the library? No, of course not. Because while you may believe that the other 85% of your library is for everybody, the boys have got the message loud and clear: if 15% of the library is for boys, then the rest of it must be for girls.
 
And they cannot go where girls go, or read what girls read, or even be interested in the stories they write. They know this, or else why would you have given them their own special part of the library, just for them, where girl's books do not exist? Where there is no female perspective and no need for one?

You can forget about the idea of those boys exploring the library and discovering new favourites elsewhere. They won't. Those other books are all for girls. The only books that they need - that they are allowed to need - are Boys Only Books.

Meanwhile, what message do you think young women are taking from this? When you ignore their passion for books, turn away from their love of words and stories and their achievements in reading with a dissatisfied frown because they're not boys? When you exclude them from parts of the library and dedicate resources that are supposed to be for all young people to boys alone, because they are more important to you?

Boys Only Zones are crazy. Not crazy in the good way. Just crazy.

Don't do it.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

MONSTERS CALLING HOME

Hello and happy Thursday, Dear Readers. Calm yourselves - today's post title doesn't mean that I'm about to start ranting about something (again).

Monsters Calling Home is an indie band that I discovered on the blog of Ellen Oh (thank you, Ellen!) and have been listening to almost constantly since. They have this beautifully textured, lush sound that's made up of accoustic arrangements and mellow vocals, and they not only perform their own quirky, unique songs but do the occasional unexpected cover.

What I really love about this band, though, is that (from the videos I've seen, anyway) they're really sweet, humble people who've achieved the success they have through being willing to work ridiculously hard and put up with a lot of discomfort. They're not huge yet, but I hope they will be one day. They deserve it.

I tweeted about them all over the place a couple of weeks ago, but it only occurred to me this morning that I'd never recommended them 'officially' on the blog. So here we go! I officially recommend them!

Check out the Monsters Calling Home website here. You can buy their songs either directly from their website or through iTunes. Here's a sample of their music:

My favourite song of there's is possibly their emotional, lyrical, cover of The Killer's Mr Brightside. I'm unable to embed that here, but this is the page where you can listen to it for free. 

And here's a video of the band performing another great original song, Foxbeard:


I now feel that my work here is done :) See you all on Tuesday, lovelies!

Monday, 8 October 2012

WOMEN DOMINATE? IN WHAT UNIVERSE?

Hello, my lovelies! I know it's not Tuesday yet, but the Tuesday post has rolled around early because I want to share with you an article I read today, which made me feel like choirs of heavenly voices were singing and casting golden light on me: Gender Balance in YA Awards

The glory of this article, Dear Readers! It has confirmed what I always suspected based on knowledge of my field: while there may be slightly more female YA authors (and why is that supposed to be a problem? More on that below!) men still dominate in terms of critical attention and also (although this is not covered explicitly in the post) tend to dominate in terms of sales, with the average NYT Bestseller list (as pointed out by Shannon Hale and Maureen Johnson) showing an 8:2 ratio in favour of male writers.

And yet! It is still widely accepted as fact that YA is 'dominated' by female authors and female stories, and that somehow the ladies are to *blame* for a drop in boy's interest in reading during teenage years. So widely accepted that while that post was making the rounds on Twitter this afternoon I actually saw a male author arguing that there is a 'boy crisis' in YA, and that the stats in the Gender Balance post don't work because male authors win a disproportionate amount of awards.

Um. What? If male authors win a disproportionate amount of awards in the YA field, doesn't that merely illustrate the same point?

I'd really like to know what the people who continually harp on about this - about the lack of 'boy books' and the 'feminisation' of YA - would like to see as a solution. Female authors realising the error of their ways and discarding their silly novels about silly girls, and henceforth writing only books about young men being traditionally manly? Female authors taking on androgynous pseudonyms in order to avoid scaring young men off with their lady cooties? Female authors retiring from the field of YA writing altogether and running cakeshops instead so that the men can take their rightful place as leading lights of YA?

Having, in the past, witnessed some commentors stating that there needs to be a drive to create an influx of male editors, publishers, cover designers and writers into the YA sector (to drive away the girl cooties?) I fear that ludicrous as it seems, the above paragraph might actually be more accurate than the people obsessed with 'boy books' would admit.

Of course, if a large number of women were to stop writing YA books and the number of female protagonists and books specifically aimed at young women were to drop, that wouldn't hurt anything, would it? Everyone knows girls are happy to read about the universal experience of being a boy, whereas boys are naturally horrified at reading about that weird niche experience of being a girl. It's not like women and girls actually make up just over half the human race - and therefore half of the human experience - or anything.

And even if literacy rates among girls did drop - maybe to levels lower than the current levels for boys - well, that wouldn't matter either, would it? That's the way it always used to be, boys coming first in everything, and it never did anyone any harm, did it?



Has anyone stopped to question why it is that there *are* slightly more female authors and slightly more female editors in the field of children's and YA publishing? I should say it's fairly obvious. It's for the same reason that there are more female pediatricians, female nursery-school/kindergarden assistants, female elementary/primary school teachers, female nannies etc. etc. Because our society teaches us, every day and in every way, that being interested in and looking after children is women's business. That's it's OK and natural for us to get into any job that is concerned with kids.

Men don't go into those fields very often because, in general, it's not considered normal or natural for them to be interested in or want to care for children. You only have to watch the episode of Friends where seemingly sensitive, New Male character Ross is repelled by the very idea of a male nanny, to see the attitudes that are likely to put young men off from any career where their primary business is dealing with kids. Not to mention that any field in which the majority of roles are filled by women is likely to be far lower paid than a field which is dominated by men. We're still nowhere near pay equality anywhere in the world.

Why the sudden outcry, then, at the idea that there may be slightly more females working in YA or children's publishing and writing, even if guys do in general win the majority of the awards and get the majority of the sales in that field?

Because, all of a sudden, YA and children's publishing have become high profile and lucrative. And this has caused all the people that previously dismissed writing for children or working in children's publishing as petty and unimportant - and therefore, naturally, 'women's work' - to discover a deep interest in it. But to their shock and disgust, the three biggest names in children's and YA writing are women (Rowling, Meyer and Collins) and many of the most successful agents and editors are also women. Women are doing BETTER than the men! Not in terms of general sales or award attention or anything, but STILL! What is the world coming to when such a high profile and lucrative field is full of GIRLS? The WOMEN are taking up room and attention that the MEN need!

No wonder boys don't read!

Bunkum. It is that attitude, that very one, which causes boys not to read. Nothing to do with icky female authors and their icky books that dare to treat female characters and their stories as important. Everything to do with a society that teaches young men that in order to be normal they must embrace the traditional ideals of masculinity by rejecting any activity might might be considered feminine, even tangentially (like reading) and throwing themselves into sports and outdoor pursuits and an obsession with sex and violence. Everything to do with a society that teaches young men that being a great reader is nerdy and girly or even - worst of all! - GAY, and that if they do read, they must be careful to never, ever, ever betray any interest in anything 'girly', like a book with a woman's name on it or a girl protagonist.

Everything to do with a society that accepts male dominance as so natural, so unquestionably normal and right, that the NPR list of Best YA Novels, which was split quite equally between male and female authors - 59 women, 44 men - is heralded as evidence of some unnatural, sick 'feminisation' of the publishing category. The people who reacted with shock to this list feel instinctively that YA ought to be dominated by men, just like TV, films, advertising, academics, medicine and every other profitable field in our world.

So what if male YA authors do appear to get more awards and more sales? That isn't enough. The idea of a significant amount of women being prominent beside men in any important field is so alien that a slight majority of female YA authors (even if they're not receiving as much critical attention or getting as many readers) is considered, in itself, a problem. Things will only be right when things flip the other way and male authors not only dominate in awards and sales but also sheer numbers. Only then will the natural order be restored, and boys miraculously become great readers - even though, of course, they will still scorn and turn away from any books written by, giving starring roles to, or marketed at, girls.

What is the betting, Dear Readers, if that through some twist of fate being a nanny suddenly became a high profile and lucrative field, people would be leaping out of the woodwork straight away to condemn the female domination of this profession? That suddenly fingers would be pointing at the women who've been quietly doing this job for decades and blaming them for the 'feminisation' of the young people under their care? That there'd be talk of trying to encourage men into the field so that boys - those poor, misunderstood boys! - didn't miss out unfairly?

Listen up.

Fewer boys read because our society teaches that it is not 'normal' for them - ie., manly for them - to be interested in sitting quietly in their room reading books. Since they're also taught that the most horrible, awful thing to be accused of in the world is being unmanly or, in other words, 'girly' (or, le gasp, GAY, quelle horreur!) of course many of them jump ship from reading to killing things on computer screens as soon as they hit puberty.

Fewer men enter the field of children's and YA publishing because our society teaches that a career focused on children and young adults is not 'normal' for them - ie., manly - and because they are aware that 'women's jobs' are not as well paid (even though it turns out that many men will be rewarded for entering this field with better sales and critical attention).

THIS IS NOT WOMEN'S FAULT.

Stop blaming us for the effects of a society that oppresses us. We're not the ones that built it (even though many of us are so indoctrinated by it that we will fight to defend it). That's why it's a patriarchy. If you don't like it, try dismantling it. Good luck. I'll be over here writing the stories I want to write in the way that seems best to me, without any regard to you, or any other group that apparently sees my contribution to my chosen field as so utterly pointless and insignificant. I don't need to justify the fact that I'm female or that I'm interested in the stories of female characters, and nor do the other lady children's and YA writers out there.

WE HAVE THE RIGHT TO EXIST, THE RIGHT TO CREATE, AND THE RIGHT TO PROSPER.

If you feel that mere fact threatens you and the young men in your life? The problem is yours. Not ours.

If you need anymore background on the different ways that boys and girls are socialised to act? Read this: Boys Will Be Boys Is No Excuse.

Oh, and if you think that I'm wrong, and We're All Equal Now, So We Should Shut Up And Go Home? That post has some pretty telling points to make on the skewed idea of 'equality' that the media presents too (but this has adult language and a trigger warning, so stay away if it's not for you). 
 

Thursday, 4 October 2012

UNSPOKEN BY SARAH REES BRENNAN: A Review

Happy Thursday, my lovelies! The week is almost over, and so it seems the perfect time to recommend you a great book that you could read over the weekend. The book in question?

UNSPOKEN by SARAH REES BRENNAN

The Synopsis

Kami Glass loves someone she’s never met . . . a boy she’s talked to in her head ever since she was born. She wasn’t silent about her imaginary friend during her childhood, and is thus a bit of an outsider in her sleepy English town of Sorry-in-the-Vale. Still, Kami hasn’t suffered too much from not fitting in. She has a best friend, runs the school newspaper, and is only occasionally caught talking to herself. Her life is in order, just the way she likes it, despite the voice in her head.

But all that changes when the Lynburns return.

The Lynburn family has owned the spectacular and sinister manor that overlooks Sorry-in-the-Vale for centuries. The mysterious twin sisters who abandoned their ancestral home a generation ago are back, along with their teenage sons, Jared and Ash, one of whom is eerily familiar to Kami. Kami is not one to shy away from the unknown—in fact, she’s determined to find answers for all the questions Sorry-in-the-Vale is suddenly posing. Who is responsible for the bloody deeds in the depths of the woods? What is her own mother hiding? And now that her imaginary friend has become a real boy, does she still love him? Does she hate him? Can she trust him?




The Review

I read this book ages ago. I mean aaaages. When I found out that advanced copies were available on NetGalley in March I was in there like a greyhound after a fuzzy toy rabbit (not surprising considering my opinion of Sarah Rees Brennan's earlier books) and I snorfled the book down in approximately three hours. When I finished I tried to stand up and fell over because I'd been sitting on my legs for so long without moving that they had completely fallen asleep. I think it's safe to say that I was gripped.

But it's taken me all this time to review the book, and that delay isn't purely because I was waiting for the book to be released before I started talking about it. The delay was mostly because I had FEELS while reading this book. Many, many feels. I still have them now, just thinking about it. My thoughts are complex and swirly and keep wanting to spurt out of my ears. Mostly when I try to talk to people about UNSPOKEN I end up making a weird face and producing these funny groaning noises, like: 'God it's so... grrrrgh. It's just arrrgh! You know? Nnnngh.'

So apologies if this review is even less coherent than usual.

First of all, UNSPOKEN is a complete change of tone and pace from SRB's previous trilogy, The Demon's Lexicon. Those books were incredibly fast paced and really dark all the way through. There was humour there but the jokes were like the inflatable emergency vessels you see on the walls of big ships: very important, and you're glad to see them there, but not really vital to keeping you afloat most of the time.

In UNSPOKEN? The humour is the ship. It's what is going to carry you where you need to go. And because this is part Gothic novel, part murder mystery, the pace is necessarily slower and the plot less action-based. SRB is subtly unspooling clues and hints and foreshadowing aaaall over the place, as well as establishing a much larger cast of important characters right from the start. The darkness comes in disconcerting flashes that are all the more disturbing because they're contrasted against an idyllic setting and quite normal teenage characters who are initially more concerned about taking naps or finding something to eat (or, in Kami's case, proving to everyone that she is the world's best Girl Detective) than survival.

Straight away, this quite daring change in writing style reminded me of a favourite author of mine: Diana Wynne Jones. DWJ's books are so wildly different from each other that it's kind of a joke among her fans. DWJ was also an author who used humour as an integral part of her work, and who wasn't afraid to contrast that with seriously horrific images and elements. Her plots tended to hinge on moments of what dramatists call peripeteia - sudden and complete reversals in the plot which shed an entirely new light on everything that has gone before. There are a few other reasons why this novel reminded me of DWJ's books, but to share them would be to spoil, so my lips are zipped.

But the deeper that I got into the book, the more I found myself thinking about Mary Stewart. She was an adult author who wrote brilliant romantic suspense novels, and one of the things that made her work unique was this astonishing sense of PLACE she always achieved. The rich tapestry of smells, textures, sights and sounds in her stories always made you feel that you had really visited Greece or France or Northumbria, and SRB achieves that exact feeling in UNSPOKEN. The setting of Sorry-in-the-Vale is dense with detail, with a sense of fully realised history. This is all the more remarkable when you find that Sorry-in-the-Vale is an entirely fictional setting.

The other Mary Stewart-ish aspect of SRB's book is the sense of menace. With each page the tension seems to grow, hovering overhead like stormclouds about to burst, and by a third of the way in you really are suspecting EVERYONE - even the characters you like a lot - and completely unsure of who Kami should trust.

One of my favourite things about this book, however, was the way in which it differed from most of the work of both the authors mentioned above, by creating for main character Kami a warm, loving and close-knit family. Not only are they a big part of Kami's life but they are also deeply embroiled in the mystery that Kami is trying to solve, and possibly endangered by Kami's discoveries. That was such a novelty in a book with fantasy/paranormal elements that I gloried in it. My favourite character is Ten, Kami's sensible, quiet little brother. I would swap him for MY little brother any day.

And Kami not only has a family but a large and diverse cast of friends, and it's there that I kind of want to go all fangirly and just hug the book because Angela, the beautiful yet apathetic brunette best friend character who hates almost all human interaction is basically Bella Swan, if Bella Swan was British and had a best friend (called Kami) who wouldn't take no for an answer, and subtly bullied her into getting involved in things, and forced her to have a sense of humour. Bella, I can confidently state, would have been far better off for this interference. Holly (a friend that Kami rediscovers along the way) is another common YA trope turned on its head: the busty, out-going, popular blonde who seems to think about nothing but boys. In TV and novels, she's usually a heartless b*tch who will try to wreck the heroine's life for giggles. In real life, of course, that girl wants and needs friends who see her for who she is inside just as much as the socially disconnected brunette girl does.

Something else happens with regard to Angela and Holly that also makes me want to hug the book, and SRB. But again, it is to spoil. Lips zipped.

However, now we come to the part that is so complex and where I'm basically prevented from saying anything interesting or useful because of teh spoilers. Jared. Ash. GHHGHGH! The traditional YA paranormal love triangle it is not and I. Have. The. Feels. You see, if I say that Jared is basically the antithesis of Nick from The Demon's Lexicon, and Ash is like the flip-side of Alan from The Demon's Lexicon you will not understand what I am trying to say. You'll think you do BUT YOU WILL BE WRONG. I can see what SRB is doing here! It makes me so very excited!

*Makes helpless hand gestures*

Look, just suffice it to say that the relationship stuff in this book is every bit as complicated as the relationship stuff in a real teenager's life and that's before you bring in the mind-reading soulmate aspect of the thing. Some bits, like Jared's aversion to touch and something that happens right at the end of the book are so intriguing and clever, I don't even know what to say about them. I will try to refrain from anymore of the strange subvocal noises though.

I am so looking forward to getting my hands on the next book in this trilogy and seeing SRB really dig into the magical mythology that underlies the plot and the character's heritage. There is clearly some insanely juicy (and bloody) stuff there and I wants it, my precious. I'm also on tenterhooks waiting to see where Kami and Jared (and Kami and Ash? Maybe?) will go after the devastating events of the book's climax. My need to read book #2 is increased by the unresolved ending of UNSPOKEN. I'm not sure, now that I've calmed down, that I can really call it a cliffhanger, but it's certainly open-ended, and I think we're set to see some truly mind-bending changes to the status quo that SRB set up in book #1.

In other words? UNSPOKEN = highly recommended. Go get it. Shoo.
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