This was too exciting not to mention… Earlier today Laini Taylor mentioned on Twitter that there was a discussion about favorite stories from her book Lips Touch: Three Times over at Readergirlz. Considering she also said she talked about her own favorite in the comments, I had to go check it out. In her comment, she said that she definitely has plans to write more stories about the Druj from “Hatchling.”

“Hatchling” is not only my favorite novella in this collection but also one of my favorite stories I’ve ever read – it’s dark and eerie and beautifully written (but then, all the stories have lovely writing, even the one I wasn’t that fond of as a story still had one of the most memorable passages I’ve ever read). Ever since I first read it, I’ve been hoping for either a full-length novel or more stories about the Druj. It’s a setting that has a lot of potential for more tales and I’m glad to see there are plans to write more.

Also, I just discovered that I am actually not out of books written by Laini Taylor to read while waiting for Daughter of Smoke and Bone to come out – Laini Taylor and her husband Jim Di Bartolo (who has done artwork in her books and it is also gorgeous, just like Laini’s writing) have a graphic novel called The Drowned.

Unfortunately it seems to be hard to find now, but it looks awesome and just went straight on my wish list:

Paris, 1800. Theophile has been moldering in an asylum for five years with no clear memory of how he came to be there. He wavers in and out of madness until the day that unseen forces compel him to escape and make his way back home to the haunted Breton coast. As he follows the tatters of memory back to the ungodly events of his childhood, striving to wring sense out of madness, he is pursued in turn by furious crows, drowned witches, a loved one long believed dead, a secret cabal of priests and a damaged orphan. Each carries pieces of a secret that emerges into two distinct but interwining tales of supernatural vengeance. As the ravages of Theophile’s buried past catch up with him at last, a battle for power begins, and the stakes are no less than the fate of the lost souls in hell.

Today I am pleased to welcome Cinda Williams Chima, author of young adult fantasy. She is currently working on the Seven Realms series, which has two books out of a planned four published. The Demon King is available in paperback, and The Exiled Queen was recently released in hardcover. She has also written three books in the Heir series (The Warrior Heir, The Wizard Heir, and The Dragon Heir), a young adult contemporary fantasy.

A Fantasy Writer’s Research Notebook

One thing about writing fiction—people assume that it’s easy because you just “make stuff up.” We’re always being dissed by the nonfiction folk, who relish telling us how many years of research went into their projects before they even began to write.

“Oh, yes,” they say, “I spent five years in Paris researching my French bread picture book.” Or, “I didn’t think I could write authentically about corals without obtaining my open water SCUBA certification.”

Well, I’m here to tell you that novelists—even fantasy novelists—actually do quite a lot of research. Yes, we do. If we don’t, we’re the ones who get the emails.

My Heir Chronicles series is set mostly in Ohio, where I live, with a few scenes that take place in the UK. Easy, right?

I set most of the action in two fictional places: Trinity, OH, a small college town on Lake Erie, and Coalton County, a fictional place in Appalachian Ohio. Trinity is loosely based on Oberlin, and Coalton County on Jackson and Scioto Counties, where my mother’s family is from. I didn’t use the real places because I didn’t want anybody emailing me and saying, “There’s no Bluebird Café in Oberlin.” Anyway, I wanted to put my town on Lake Erie, because I like a water view. It’s in a kind of nonspecific location along the shore west of Cleveland and east of Toledo.

Although my characters lived in Ohio, they needed a magical language. I’m no Tolkien, who started with language and moved on to story. The magical guilds have roots in the War of the Roses in England, so I went back to Old English for many of my magical terms. There are Old English-English dictionaries online that I used as sources. You can find many of the magical terms used in the books on my website here.

In The Wizard Heir, the book opens in a club in Toronto, so I spent time online researching the club scene there. I also looked into the differences between Canadian English and U.S. English, since my viewpoint character was born and raised in Canada. For instance, Canadians say carpark instead of parking lot, and washroom instead of restroom.

My Seven Realms series is high fantasy, set in a mythical medieval world. That requires a different kind of research.

One of the viewpoint characters is a street thief, Han Alister. Over the course of the four novels, Han transitions into someone who can operate successfully at court. So I had to give him a street slang pattern of speech that could change over time.

Much of Han’s colorful language is drawn from dictionaries of British thieves’ cant or slang from the 18th century. I’m in the process of developing a thieves’ slang dictionary for my website.

Nothing throws a reader out of a story like stumbling across factual errors. My characters do a lot of traveling by horseback. I’m not a horse person, so I had to study up on such issues as how far a horse and rider can travel in a day. I also had a friend who owns horses review the equestrian parts.

Han Alister collects herbs and medicinals in the wild and sells them at the market to supplement his income. I researched medicinal herbs and flora he might encounter in the mountains. Of course, some of it, I just made up. Like Deathmaster mushrooms, and two-step lilies, so poisonous that you only go two steps before you die.

Another viewpoint character, Princess Raisa ana’Marianna, lives in a castle. I studied castle architecture, terminology, and details about castle life, finding answers to such questions as, What do they call those toothlike projections that top castle walls (crenelations) and Where did they go to the bathroom in a castle (the garderobe, which dumps into the moat.)

Here are some other questions I’ve had to find answers to:

  • How does a catapult work? How far can it sling a projectile?
  • Does a crossbow make a sound? If so, what does it sound like? How do you load a crossbow, anyway?
  • What kind of food might be served in medieval taverns? What about drink?
  • How does a longbow work and how do you take care of one?
  • Where might you change trains in the north of England? (Carlisle.) What does Carlisle look like?
  • What are some street-fighting techniques that a small person can use against a larger, more powerful opponent?
  • Where would you stab a person in order to inflict a mortal wound?
  • How big are the salt mines under Lake Erie? Could you hide the population of a small town in there?

All I have to say is, “Thank God for the Internet.” In truth, I actually enjoy research, sometimes to the point that I’m actually tempted to try nonfiction.

But I just lie down until that feeling goes away.

The Demon King is now available in paperback, and The Exiled Queen released September 28. There will be four books in the Seven Realms series, followed by two more Heir books.

Excerpts from each of my books are available on my website, Help for writers can be found under Tips for Writers, including a document called, “Getting Started in Writing for Teens.”

I blog at, where you’ll find rants, posts on the craft of writing, and news about me and my books.

Blameless is the third novel in the Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger, a nominee for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer this year. The first two books in the series are Soulless and Changeless in that order, and the next book, Heartless, will be released in July 2011. Timeless, the final book, is scheduled for publication in 2012. It has been a great year for this series – not only was Carriger nominated for a major award but both books released in 2010 (Changeless and Blameless) were on the New York Times bestseller list.

Note: There is simply no way to talk about the plot in this book without spoiling the ending of the previous book. The “My Thoughts” part of the review will be spoiler-free, though, so just continue past the horizontal line to read that part of this review if you want.

As if being cast out by her husband were not bad enough, Alexia now has no choice but to live with her frivolous mother and sisters – that is, until they read the morning paper and cast her out as well. After all, the woman involved in The Scandal of the Century will completely ruin her unwed sisters’ prospects for marriage. Alexia is all too happy to leave, especially considering she just got an invitation to stay with the far more amiable Lord Akeldama.

However, when she arrives at Lord Akeldama’s estate she finds it empty except for one man charged with giving her the cryptic message: “Check the cat.” When leaving, her carriage is pursued by mechanical ladybugs intent on her destruction. Alexia decides to brave the lack of tea and travel to Italy to seek the wisdom of the Templars, who may be the only hope for learning more about Alexia’s condition – and why this state is bothersome enough that someone wants to kill her.

The Parasol Protectorate is becoming one of my favorite new series. It’s comedic historical fantasy set in a steampunk version of London populated with both humans and the supernatural (vampires, werewolves and ghosts). The first book in the series, Soulless, was also somewhat of a romance, but the next two books are not. In my opinion, this latest installment is about as enjoyable as the previous book and both are more polished than the first one.

Blameless is full of clever, whimsical humor and it struck me a couple of times while reading it that nearly every sentence is hilarious. There are so many well-worded phrases, but while there are plenty of funny situations the book doesn’t compromise characterization just for the sake of being amusing. Alexia has become a character I really care about; she’s so logical and courageous it would be difficult not to like her. Her mother and sisters remind me so much of Lizzie’s family in Pride and Prejudice so it’s easy to feel sympathy for her when they’re around, although her mother cracked me up when she was trying to explain the state of existence for werewolves:

“Your husband is basically dead, or was basically dead and is mostly dead now.” Mrs. Loontwill seemed to be confusing herself. [pp. 12 – 13]

It was also a pleasure to see the inventor Madame Lefoux play a large role in this novel, and Professor Lyall got some more page time as well as he was desperately trying to manage the Woolsey pack. We also got to see a different side of Ivy than just the girl with the funny hats. And I now want to know so much more about Alexia’s father after reading all the little references to him that I hope Gail Carriger decides to write stories about him.

One of the highlights of this newest installment was getting to see more of how the other nations treated the supernatural. While England figured they might as well use them, they seem to be a rarity as other parts of Europe despise them. In this book, Alexia travels to both France and Italy so there is a chance to see the difference between these countries and England – and learn facts such as how Italian perception of the supernatural affected the popularity of pesto.

There have been a lot of complaints about the ending to this book, but personally it didn’t bother me. Unfortunately, I can’t really go into depth about why without spoiling it, but I felt it was a logical conclusion based on Alexia’s nature and the progression of her reactions throughout the story.

Blameless is every bit as wonderful as the previous book in the series. It’s unique and delightfully quirky, but at the same time it’s more than just an entertaining novel good for a few laughs but not much more. In addition, it has both a well-developed setting and a diverse cast of characters that are better fleshed out in each book. More is revealed about Alexia’s unique heritage, and I’m looking forward to learning more about what this new information means in Heartless.

My Rating: 8/10

Where I got my reading copy: Review copy from the publisher.

Interview with Gail Carriger

Other Reviews:

Reviews of other books in this series:

Before getting to the books, just a couple of things for this week. Currently I’m working on a review of Blameless by Gail Carriger so I’m hoping to have that up soon. On Thursday Cinda Williams Chima, author of The Demon King and its newly released sequel The Exiled Queen, will be here talking about her experiences with research for writing fantasy – and why fantasy writers need to do their research even if their world is made up.

So this week I bought one book I couldn’t resist even though it is short and I think I may be trying to avoid short books this month in order to get caught up on some of these reviews. I just read 8 short-ish books in a row plus I’m probably going to be working some on setting up existing posts with the new site design format. I also received two books in the mail that both look interesting and will be coming out early next year.

The Sworn by Gail Z. Martin

The Sworn is the first book in the Fallen Kings Cycle, and it picks up after Dark Lady’s Chosen. Even though this is a continuation of The Chronicles of the Necromancer books, it is supposed to be a decent starting point for those who have not yet read any of the series (thus the new series title). The author’s website has the first chapter available to read or listen to. The Sworn will be on sale on January 25, 2011.

Summoner-King Martris Drayke must attempt to meet this great threat, gathering an army from a country ravaged by civil war. Tris seeks new allies from among the living – and the dead – as an untested generation of rulers face their first battle. Meanwhile, the legendary Dread are stirring in their burrows after millennia of silence and no one knows what hand wakes them and whom they will serve when they rise.

Now, Drayke turns to the Sworn, a nomadic clan of warriors bound to protect the Dread. But even the mighty Sworn do not know what will happen when the Dread awake. All are certain, though, that war is coming to the Winter Kingdoms.

THE SWORN is the beginning of a new adventure set in the world of The Chronicles of the Necromancer.

Masques by Patricia Briggs

As I’m sure you know by now, I adore the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs. Masques is her first novel, and it was just re-released this past week after being out of print for a while. Although it was rewritten some for the new release, Briggs says on her website that she mostly left the plot alone even though she can see things she would have done differently now. Wolfsbane, the sequel which has never before been released, will be available on November 2 of this year.

After an upbringing of proper behavior and oppressive expectations, Aralorn fled her noble birthright for a life of adventure as a mercenary spy. Her latest mission involves spying on the increasingly powerful sorcerer Geoffrey ae’Magi. But in a war against an enemy armed with the powers of illusion, how do you know who the true enemy is-or where he will strike next?

The Fallen Blade by Jon Courtenay Grimwood

This is the first book in the Vampire Assassin trilogy and Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s fantasy debut (he has written some science fiction novels, two of which have won the British Science Fiction Award for Best Novel). It’s set in 15th century Venice and it has assassins so it looks pretty intriguing to me. It will be on sale on January 27, 2011.

In the depths of night, customs officers board a galley in a harbor and overpower its guards. In the hold they find oil and silver, and a naked boy chained to the bulkhead. Stunningly beautiful but half-starved, the boy has no name. The officers break the boy’s chains to rescue him, but he escapes.

Venice is at the height of its power. In theory Duke Marco commands. But Marco is a simpleton so his aunt and uncle rule in his stead. They command the seas, tax the colonies, and, like those in power before them, fear assassins better than their own.

In a side chapel, Marco’s fifteen-year old cousin prays for deliverance from her forced marriage. It is her bad fortune to be there when Mamluk pirates break in to steal a chalice, but it is the Mamluks’ good luck – they kidnap her.

In the gardens beside the chapel, Atilo, the Duke’s chief assassin, prepares to kill his latest victim. Having cut the man’s throat, he turns back, having heard a noise, and finds a boy crouched over the dying man, drinking blood from the wound. The speed with which the boy dodges a dagger and scales a wall stuns Atilo. And the assassin knows he has to find the boy.

Not to kill him, but because he’s finally found what he thought he would never find. Someone fit to be his apprentice.


Is it just me or does each month go by faster than the last? Or maybe it just doesn’t feel like October since the last week has been 70 degrees… in Maine. It was even approaching 80 degrees a couple of days ago. Crazy.

First a general update… I am finally working on a new blog redesign! Or rather my husband is as I have no artistic ability whatsoever (he’s the one who designed my coffee cup and logo here). He started a new header the other night and when he told me what color it was I kind of cringed. But then I saw it… And LOVED it! So much that I keep asking to see it and end up staring at it wishing I could put it up RIGHT NOW. My husband finished the header today and has gotten most of the rest of the design and colors worked out so hopefully we can start actually setting up the website soon. I’ve been terrified about changing it, but now that I have a new look to be excited about I’m eager to get it up. And since this January will be the start of my fourth year running this site, it really is time for a new design.

September was a great month for reading – I read more books than normal, and I’ve even reviewed some of them already! Here’s the list for September:

34. Lady Lazarus by Michele Lang
35. Blameless by Gail Carriger
36. Lord of the White Hell: Book Two by Ginn Hale (Review)
37. An Artificial Night by Seanan McGuire (Review)
38. Gate of Darkness, Circle of Light by Tanya Huff
39. The Sevenfold Spell by Tia Nevitt (Review)
40. The Fire’s Stone by Tanya Huff

Favorite book of the month: Since it was every bit as good as the first book, that would be Lord of the White Hell: Book Two. It was a decent month, although I’m sure it helped that I read two new installments in series I have become addicted to (Blameless and An Artificial Night).

Now to decide which longer book should I read soon while I’m getting caught up on reviewing some of these books. Elfland? Cold Magic? Kushiel’s Chosen? Daughter of the Forest?

What books did you read in September? What did you think of them?

Silver Borne is the fifth book in the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs. It is currently available in hardcover and will be out in mass market paperback in January 2011. The first four books in the series are Moon Called, Blood Bound, Iron Kissed, and Bone Crossed. River Marked, the next book in the series, is scheduled for publication on January 25, 2011.

The day begins mundanely for Mercy Thompson as she works on fixing a car at her mechanic shop. When she receives a phone call from a friend passing along a message from Phineas to “tell Mercy to take care of that thing I gave her,” she figures he just wants back the book about the fae that he lent her. Since Mercy’s friend is worried that he cannot get a hold of Phineas she promises to stop by his bookstore to return the book that very night. However, once she gets there to find the shop closed and Phineas nowhere to be found, her instincts are screaming that something is not quite right.

Mercy doesn’t have time to dwell on something that might be wrong since she has a date with Adam. Although her date begins well, it ends badly when she finds herself acting strangely, as though she is compelled to do so. Soon, she suspects someone is using the pack bond to control her- it’s no secret that some of Adam’s wolves are not particularly happy about having a coyote as a pack member.

Later that night Mercy receives a call from Samuel asking her to go get him from the hospital where he works. Once she arrives she finds that something is seriously wrong with him: his wolf half has taken over because Samuel is too depressed to continue. She can’t tell anyone who may know more about the situation than she does because werewolves in this position must be killed according to pack law. Can Mercy save Samuel, salvage her relationship with Adam’s pack and unravel the mystery of her fae book before it is too late?

It continues to impress me that Briggs manages to pack so much into such a short novel. Each of the books in this series are approximately 300 pages long, yet the main plot is always wrapped up by the end and the characters are further developed. What I love best about each new installment, though, is that reading a new Mercy Thompson book is like reconnecting with old friends. After five books, the characters are all so familiar and true to themselves that they seem real (in spite of any supernatural abilities). Mercy has such a natural voice touched with humor that always draws me right in to the story and keeps those pages turning quickly.

This particular volume has a main mystery involving the fae, a group I particularly love if they have a dark nature instead of being happy, human-like beings. Although most of the fae in this series fit into that category, there are a few exceptions and I don’t even mind those because I love all the characters so much. While I loved the dark, fairy tale feel to the fae plotline in this story, the ending did bother me. It was just too convenient and seemed to come out of nowhere. It’s the same complaint I have with a lot of urban fantasy – it seems as though every powerful creature in the world happens to show up in the one city the series takes place in.

This is largely Samuel’s book as he’s dealing with some of the issues that have been mentioned before. Even so, there are still plenty of great parts with Adam, Bran and many of the other characters (I’m starting to really want a series about Bran and/or Samuel’s past adventures). Also, there’s more information on pack dynamics and the different bonds, and learning more about the pack social structure is always interesting.

Silver Borne is another great addition to the Mercy Thompson series with some more plot revolving around the fae aspect of the world. Although part of the ending didn’t quite ring true, the characters do and many readers will be happy to know that there is some special emphasis on Samuel.

My Rating: 8/10

Where I got my reading copy: I bought it (in hardcover even though it meant my books no longer matched – I found it for $11 and just couldn’t wait).

Read Chapter One
Read the Author’s Comments

Other Reviews of Silver Borne:

Reviews of other books in this series: